So Facebook/Instagram take me back 50 years…

To Cronulla High. Here are shots taken very close to my time there — late 1965 to the end of 1969. A couple of samples:

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Mind you, I have changed a tad since then:

Me in 1968 — and I don’t remember this being taken!

See (2010) How young we were!, and (2018) How many HSCs is that now?

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Mr Movies — and Cronulla High

Many of us noted Australia’s ‘Mr Movies’, Bill Collins, dies aged 84. When I (and Dick Stratford) were Dip Ed students at Sydney Teachers College, Bill Collins, already well known on TV, was a lecturer — in Latin! He also like all the lecturers supervised student teachers in their prac sessions, and one such he supervised towards the end of 1965 at Cronulla High. I was also in that prac group, but supervised by someone else. (I was on Brendan O’Connor’s classes.) I think there were three of us students. Bill was rather waspish in his comments on one of our number, and we didn’t approve. I recall us ganging up on him one day about the way he was treating that colleague, but it is fair to say he took it well.

In my October 2011 post Meanwhile in Sutherland in 1954… I recalled:

[In 1954] The Odeon was still a flourishing cinema presided over by a dragon in the form of Miss Collins, aunt of  the fabled Bill Collins. Here it is in the 1930s.

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BILL COLLINS: Oh, dear! I was born in a place called Sutherland, south of Sydney, in the Sutherland Shire. And I was born there on December 4, 1934. The house where I was born in is no longer in existence. But it was within easy walking distance of the Sutherland picture show where my Aunty Lil was an usherette and where I became a frequent patron.

In 1934 there was the Depression. I say sometimes in moments of anguish, “I’m a child of the Depression.” And money was not easy. Life was a little tougher. But I think we were a lot happier then. The 1940s was an extraordinary period. The war was on and there were terrible things that were happening. But we also enjoyed ourselves a great deal. There weren’t many of the tensions that exist in Australia today. I can remember so vividly the night the Japanese submarines came into Sydney Harbour. And that was quite an extraordinary experience because by that time we had a trench in our backyard, as most people did in Australia. It was the worst of all times, and the best of all times. My mother’s name was Rita May Collins. Originally her surname was Miller. And my father was William Michael Joseph Collins. That’s why I became William, or Bill. And sometimes I think my father was lacking ambition. He just wanted to be in the police force and he loved being in the police force. My mother, she was a teacher. And I learnt a lot from her. It was my mother incidentally who started my interest really in classical music, for example. And my mother, of course, encouraged my reading and all the other things that I did during those years. When I was young, I would rather go to see adult movies than go to children’s matinees. I guess I was about nine years old when I saw ‘Gone with the Wind’. And I’d never seen anything like it before. I’d seen other big films but ‘Gone with the Wind’ emotionally, I think, got through to me. And I still remember vividly, one of the greatest scenes ever conceived and put on the screen, where she vows never to be hungry again…

This makes Bill Collins just one year older than my brother, by the way. I might also mention that in 1965 Bill Collins, then a lecturer at Sydney Teachers College, was the supervisor of a colleague student teacher at Cronulla High – and we rather gave him hell, I recall, as we thought he was unfair to her…

That has got me thinking about Cronulla High again. I was appointed to the English and History staff there in 1966 and stayed until 1969. I had my first inspection there:

 I have been here in Elizabeth Street Surry Hills since 1992, and I brought quite a bit of unsorted rubbish with me. Some items go back, well, to Noah almost.

  • My first inspection report from Cronulla High School.

Mr W is an enthusiastic and resourceful teacher who is establishing good relationships with his pupils at all levels of the school.

His lessons are thoroughly prepared and informed: he uses a wide range of material and shows enterprise in presenting this material to pupils who respond well.**

Following advice earlier this year he has improved his supervision of pupils’ work, increasing his effectiveness in teaching. The results achieved in recent examinations testify to his successful teaching: the results in Form V History and Third Level groups in English V are especially commendable.

It is recommended that Mr W’s efficiency be determined as meeting the requirements for the award of a Teacher’s Certificate.

— E. Guthrie (Inspector) July 28, 1966

I see I had Forms 1, 2, 3, 4, 5 English and Form 3 History  — That is Years 7-11 English and Year 9 History. No Year 12 as 1967 was the first Year 12 in NSW, and I took that (bottom) Year 11 class through.

** I am sure Eula Guthrie was not suggesting my lessons only worked with “pupils who respond well”! 😉

So I have been trying to recall my colleagues in the English Department in those years. Here is the list from 1969:

Looking at this list, what do I recall?

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Jack Morrison was a good old guy to have had as my first head of department. Phyllis Wheeler was totally amazing as a person and as a teacher. Soon after she moved on to the famous Frensham School in Mittagong….

Some other names that I also recall: Geoff Borny from Jersey in the Channel Islands — an interesting character, and what a career he went on to, Paul Herlinger — responsible for some great school drama productions, including a Hamlet that starred Robert Graves’s grandson:

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And more: Beth Kimball, an exchange teacher from Colorado who went on to tutor at Macquarie University then, I assume, returning to America.

Such a time it was of social change when I was 24, even in The Shire — where one Beth Kimball, an American teaching at Cronulla High School, introduced me to the following hitherto unknown exotica. Well, maybe not to the rose wine or the cappuccino, but they were new to me around that time.

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Hobbits

 bananacake carrotcake

Banana cake and carrot cake: both seemed quite odd things to do at the time…

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You would be surprised how hard it was for Beth to locate this piece of exotica. What was wrong with Bushells or LanChoo anyway?

60 years ago in Shellharbour

Back when I was 15/16 I attended the centenary of Shellharbour Public School. I was in the company of my parents, Jeff and Jean Whitfield, my grandfather Roy Christison and various Whitfield relatives in Shellharbour, such as Una Gerke. My grandfather was there as the oldest living headmaster of the school. Here are some images I posted last year:

post on Facebook’s Shellharbour History and Pictures has generated this wonderful war-time picture of my uncle Roy Christison Junior, my grandmother Ada Christison, and my grandfather Roy Christison Senior in Sydney. (Note the tram!)  Posted by my cousin Linda Christison.

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In that same Facebook thread someone asked if anyone had seen a photo of Ada and Roy taken in the 1930s when Roy was headmaster of Shellharbour Public School. Well, I have: it is in my collection. That is the headmaster’s residence in Shellharbour.

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So I looked over Trove and found three items. The last one should say Caringbah, not Callimbar! The middle one refers to my aunt Beth, Beth Heard in later life.

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Back in April 2006!

Yes, I was blogging way back then, and even further back! I have repaired the links.

In the city seeing my brother off

25 APR 2006

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It was a bit complicated getting to King Street Wharf as the city was still sealed off pretty much for Anzac Day. The bus deposited me near St James Church, not exactly close, but I got there in time after negotiating Martin Place which was full of people in kilts and/or playing bagpipes. Some Scottish regiment having a remembrance ceremony.

After seeing my brother off, I walked back to Circular Quay via the historic Argyle Cut (see pic) where you may still make out the occasional broad arrow left by the convict roadbuilders.

Easter Sunday in Surry Hills

16 APR 2006

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Just got a phone message from my brother Ian, who lives in Tasmania, from the above ship saying he was now off the town of Shellharbour, where our father was born, and expected to arrive in Sydney Harbour at 11am. So that’s where I am off to shortly.

Then at 1pm it’s off to St Vincent’s Hospital. Sirdan and I are having lunch with Lord Malcolm — I did see him yesterday — at a Thai restaurant near the hospital.

So no church for me today, but a special day nonetheless.

My past catches up

25 APR 2006

Got this email.

Hi Neil,

I was a former student of yours at Sydney Boys High. Perhaps you still remember my name. I certainly remember most of the stories you told us in English class, e.g. the fellow you met as a child named ‘Rear Admiral Sir Leighton Bracegirdle’. I also remember your recital of Caedmon’s hymn with proper old English pronunciation.

To cut a long story short, I am now working as a Computer Systems Engineer in the city and I am still in the office. I decided to do what I do whenever I am bored – an unclaimed money search.

Do you by any chance have ‘Thomas’ as a middle name? If so, the NSW Office of State Revenue has $76.80 of your money. Even if it’s not you, it should mean something that I thought of you when thinking of people to look up.


Indeed it does; but my middle name is not Thomas. Thanks, V.L. This sort of thing happens from time to time. 🙂

And look what intellectual stuff I taught in class, even if at that time — it was during John Howard’s first term — the reactionaries were bleating about dumbed-down syllabuses just as much as they do today! Pests.

Oh, and I didn’t meet the Rear Admiral: he spoke to us at a school assembly, possibly for Anzac Day.

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Leighton Bracegirdle in 1932

Talking about 1979 — 2

I see I posted extensively on my 1979 back in October 2012, the trigger being a sad event. See mais où sont les neiges d’antan?, some of which I now repost:

[repost] My time at Wollongong High teaching English, History and, would you believe, Photography was in two segments: 1975 to 1976 and 1979 to 1980. 1977 and 1978 I was working in Dip Ed at Sydney University.

But today I want to focus on 1979.

1979: Annus Mirabilis Horribilisque

There’s something about me and 9 years. 1989 was another case in point, 1959 was my last year of school, and 1969 my last year as a teacher at Cronulla High School. In 1979 I returned to Wollongong High after my Sydney secondment and the year was in fact pretty good in most ways. I had a very memorable Year 12 Class in 1979.

[There were rumours last year that Mr Smith was having it off with a Year 12 girl.]

– Would you like some coffee?

[There were rumours last year that Mr Smith was having it off with that spunky librarian.]

– Thanks, J.

[There were rumours last year that Mr Smith was having it off with the milkman. “Had your cream this morning?” the class wit, Carcase, used to ask him.]

That fictional version is true to the extent that there were such rumours which in fact were about me. None of the rumours was actually true, however, though I was in the company of the Librarian – a 20-something – and her friends more than once. And there was a boy nicknamed “Carcase”, though I fancy he spelled it “Carcass”…. And he was one of the more memorable people I ever taught.

Physically he was a stereotyped blond surfie, of South African background (or was it Dutch?), and a person with a long record of run-ins with authority. I had taught him before I went to Sydney, and in fact he was in a class I was inspected on for my dreaded “List 2” promotion in 1976. “That boy doesn’t like authority,” the inspector, Tom Dobinson, said afterwards – but congratulated me for the way I had handled him. And strangely enough when I found myself with a senior class of not the keenest students Wollongong High could offer, Carcase was in it. He had been skating on thin ice for some time, apparently, and there were rumours he had spent at least part of Year 10 working for Wollongong Council as a labourer while still at school. I won’t swear to the truth of that, but I can well imagine it.

I was younger and enthusiastic and determined to win this group over. In 1978 I had been in the Balmain Theatre Group, playing Clarrie, a Rugby League commentator, in Alex Buzo’s The Roy Murphy Show.

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Good to see it getting a run more recently.

Back in Wollongong with that senior class, we had something very daring for the time on our text list: David Williamson’s The RemovalistsI thought it would play well with the group and it did, especially after a book-in-hand rehearsed class reading that almost went wrong but in fact went very right….

In the original Kenny is handcuffed to the door when  the corrupt cop knees him in the nuts, to which Kenny replies with the C-word. Naturally I had cast Carcase as Kenny and myself as the corrupt cop. We didn’t actually have handcuffs and I didn’t actually knee him in the nuts, but Carcase, who was a great actor, gave a very loud and convincing response.

I had forgotten I was next to the Social Science staff room. The Head of Department, father of another ex-student of mine who is currently a Fairfax journalist, came in with several colleagues to rescue me, Carcase’s line not having lacked in projection. I held the book up and pointed to the line, while the class rolled on the floor laughing – well almost! Subsequent discussion with staff  along the lines of “Jeez mate, that was a bit fucken rude! You’ve got to remember there’s women about…” was somewhat ironic really, a fact I shared with the class later on before setting them an essay on whether the text was suitable for school study.

Carcase’s essay was so good it was later published in the English Teachers Association Newsletter.

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Meanwhile the Balmain Theatre Group was putting on another Buzo play, Coralie Lansdowne Says No. To extend my class’s understanding of theatre and their knowledge of Australian drama, I arranged with the director for the whole class to travel up to Sydney several times to follow the play from casting to first night.

On the casting night I was wandering about by myself on the stage feeling more than a bit nostalgic – as I would have been in the play myself had I stayed in Sydney. Carcase appeared and said something totally unexpected: “You belong here, don’t you…”

Later  after the first night performance the class and I attended some of the after party. Alex Buzo was there and I spotted him and Carcase having quite a conversation about the nature of dramatic language. “What a lovely boy,” Alex said. I assured him very many people at Wollongong High would be shocked to hear such a thing.

Then came the HSC and one of the worst events in my career, as the students found – as did I – in the exam room that even though the fact had been known and indeed publicised that we were doing Huckleberry Finn, there was no question about Huckleberry Finn on the paper. Our texts had been chosen from the previous year’s list – easy to do as they were not very well signposted in those days. It is an English teacher’s nightmare and I was upset more than you might imagine. I was of course investigated but the Head of English is the one who was really hauled over the coals. Not a good time.

In the midst of all this when I was alone back in Church Street North Wollongong and feeling very low, there was a knock on my door late one night. It was Carcase and his then girlfriend, who just happened to be the Regional Director of Education’s daughter. Carcase had come to tell me that no matter what some might be thinking, as far as he was concerned I had been a fantastic teacher and I shouldn’t worry.  Of course in the end the students were not disadvantaged as “misadventure” provisions evened out the marks.

That was the last I saw or heard of Carcase, and I have no idea what he went on to do, though I have heard some of it involved music and he ended up in Queensland.

Earlier this month Stewart Holt, another Wollongong High ex-student who, had he stayed on, would have been in the class photo above, told me he had heard Carcase had died.

Saturday’s Mercury confirms that Mark Bosman, aged 51, had indeed passed away and the funeral is next week.

Hence these stories. RIP.