Interesting story — but don’t get carried away!

Just some reflections on last night’s Who Do You Think You Are? on SBS. It was an interesting episode, concerning television journalist Jennifer Byrne.

The TV show’s film crew follow her as she visits England to discover a series of royal connections – before ultimately finding out that her 12 times great-grandfather was Sir Edward Neville, a courtier in King Henry VIII’s court.

She then follows her mother’s bloodline back even further and incredibly discovers that her 15 times great-grandmother was the granddaughter of King Edward III – officially making her a royal.

Well, don’t get too carried away!  They went down quite a few female lines to reach Edward III — and, after all, “Mathematical models imply that virtually every English person is a descendant of the Norman and Plantagenêt kings, including those who ruled 500 years after Alfred the Great.”  So Edward was back before the 15th great-grandparents of Jennifer Byrne. So one out of… a sizeable village or town!

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I mean no disrespect here. And it was worth seeing the Nevilles’ modest castle, not to mention learning about the intriguing Katherine Swynford.

The program turned to the Chinese background of Jennifer Byrne’s father, whose father was interned by the Japanese in Shanghai’s Lunghua Camp, made famous in J G Ballard’s novel and the movie Empire of the Sun, one of my favourites. Ballard was interned there as a child. Here is Christian Bale as Jim in the movie:

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I was surprised that the program did not mention that connection; it even appears that it didn’t occur to Jennifer Byrne, which surprises me rather. Sadly, Byrne’s paternal grandfather died soon after being interned.

From the South China Morning Post — ‘Empire of the Sun’ internment camp forgotten in Shanghai.

Former internee Betty Barr entered the Lunghwa camp in 1943 at the age of 10 with her Scottish missionary father, American mother and older brother.

Her most vivid memories are blistering summers, freezing winters, and an obsession with food.

“I was old enough to know what was happening. I didn’t think it was a picnic,” said Barr, 80, during a return visit.

She still guiltily recalls taking a sip of milk produced by the camp’s only cow from a mug she was taking to her brother in the hospital.

“My father rose to be the manager of the kitchen, though he could not boil an egg, because he could be trusted not to steal vegetables,” she said.

Betty Barr appeared in last night’s episode.

Concerning Jennifer Byrne’s paternal grandfather the program makers produced an embarrassing historical clanger. The old man was rewarded for his sterling efforts during the Revolution of 1911. Here is Shanghai during that revolution:

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The Chinese historians interviewed in the program didn’t make the clanger, nor did Jennifer Byrne — though I was again surprised by her apparent lack of knowledge about this key event in 20th century Chinese history. No, it was whoever produced what we saw because they seemed to confuse the 1911 revolution, which saw the end of the Manchu Qing Dynasty, with the 1949 beginning of the People’s Republic of China! Still, what’s 38 years!

Happens I have had a longtime interest in the subject: My Asian Century. But even if all you had to go on was the movie The Last Emperor — which I think Jennifer Byrne probably saw — you’d have some idea of the significance of 1911-1912 in China! Who Do You Think You Are should be more careful about its history!

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And my footy tipping went well…

Yes, only one wrong and I got the margin score correct! So well placed so far…

I also predicted the NSW Election correctly. I honestly don’t mind Gladys. Here in The Gong Labor won hands down: 70+% two-party preferred. And in first choices look who no-one supported!

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Tonight’s must-watch: Waleed Aly interviewing Jacinda Ardern on The Project, Channel 10/WIN.

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Waleed’s interview/confrontation with Scott Morrison was broadcast ad-free in prime time last Thursday night — most unusual.  And unusual it was! Scott Morrison scored some, but also, I think, showed his critical weaknesses. I propose to watch it all again and may then comment further, but meanwhile I commend young Michael Koziol’s analysis. (He is I gather a twenty-something.)

Sincerity can be a real struggle for Morrison, partly because of his marketing background, and partly because of his own choices as Prime Minister that have sacrificed substance for political expediency (moving the embassy to Jerusalem, anyone?). So if he faces a credibility gap on this issue, perhaps he only has himself – and his party – to blame….

Not really a 21st century guy!

Or so I think every time on Sunday at 1pm when I make a point of watching the repeats of Andrew Urban‘s wonderful Aussie time capsule, Front Up, on SBS Viceland. Currently they’re in 1998. Is it just me, or does the discourse it presents seem kinder than 2018-19?

What they said about Andrew’s Front Up:

For so many reasons, Front Up is powerfully gripping – SMH

I admire the way Andrew draws people out and gets them answering the most personal questions. I also admire the way he is completely non-judgmental about peoples’ comments, behaviour etc. Keep up the wonderful work. – Cynthia Smith (viewer)

Every time I watch I get shivers up my spine waiting for someone to publicly disembowel themselves. How do you do it? Aagh – don’t tell me. It’s amazing to watch. I thank god that between me and you is my telly, and you can’t jump into the living room for just a little chat…- Andrew Maloney (viewer)

It’s amazing how even the seemingly unremarkable of lives can become nothing short of riveting television – Ballarat Courier

You may check it out on SBS On Demand.

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Now this blog: 2018 has been a modest year. Some stats:

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On IQ and reality TV on SBS, however well intended…

Frankly, I couldn’t watch it, not all the way through. I refer to SBS’s Child Genius — and mean no disrespect for the wonderful kids involved or the presenter. Partly it is that I have a healthy distrust of MENSA, not utterly dissimilar to Sophie Gilbert, who wrote in 2013:

The first thing you need to know is that no one has a good reason for joining Mensa. Pretty much anyone who tries to join a high-IQ society does so, ultimately, because he or she is an insufferable jerk. Maybe years of bullying for being a mathlete or wearing argyle sweaters well into junior high has given the person an inferiority complex, or maybe he just wants a bumper sticker that lets everyone on I-95 know he’s a genius. Either way, it’s never for noble reasons, however hard someone might pretend otherwise….

And then there’s the whole IQ thing itself. What is it really all about? Now keep in mind that the bulk of my teaching career has been in schools like Wollongong High (back in the day) and Sydney High, famously selective and into gifted education. Read Sydney High’s current approach, which I commend.

It’s not about being able to spell words which you, and hardly anyone else, will ever use. It’s not about mastering random facts, though it may turn out you have a talent that way. It is about how you engage with meaningful learning in meaningful contexts.

Now, says I modestly, I happen to know that according to my sixth grade teacher I had the highest IQ ever recorded at Sutherland Public School, at least to 1954. I know this because he employed that in arguing with my parents who were reluctant to allow me to go to Sydney Boys High, where I was one of six in the class to earn a place. My parents were concerned that my general rattiness would make the long train and tram trip involved too great a risk. After all, I had already in 5th or 6th grade had my school bag knocked out of my hand while crossing the road by a car I had failed to notice.

Mr O’Neill, the sixth grade teacher, won the day and I went to SBHS for the next five years. I learned there that my Sutherland smarts were not all that smart after all.

Mr O’Neill, by the way, did a fantastic job on myself and other gifted students at Sutherland back in 1954. He gave us our heads! I recall us running through the school PA system a “radio station” for example, on a Friday afternoon I think. (It’s all a very long time ago.) I wrote a novel — highly derivative — and illustrated it.

Speaking of:

Had an email the other day from the son of my Year 6 teacher at Sutherland Boys Primary in 1954. He had found 09 — My Teachers in my Ninglun’s Specials archive.

Grade 6 1954

The second principle Andrew Metcalfe and Ann Game derive from their corpus of interviews is:

Good teaching recognises the unique potential of each student. This is not the same as an expectation or a prediction; it is seeing students in their wholeness, as they are now. The teacher’s responsibility is to nurture students and draw out their potential by opening them to new worlds. Thus teaching is inherently ethical, allowing students to find their place in and to contribute to the world.


I would like to name Mister O’Neill, my Year 6 teacher at Sutherland Public School (or Sutherland Boys Primary as it was then, now a “special” school) in 1954, the year of the Royal Visit. I still vividly remember (among other things) going with my maternal grandfather — another inspiring teacher — through the fence and beside the track to wait for the (then) sheer magic of seeing the Royal Train go through, and Mister O’Neill rehearsed us over and over to perform appropriate songs, including a late Vera Lynn called “She’s the Queen of Everyone’s Hearts”, at the Sutherland School of Arts, where my mother won an electric jug in a raffle.

World War II was after all less than ten years before; indeed I was enrolled at Sutherland in 1949. My father had been in the RAAF.

The thing about Mister O’Neill is that he had a class of fifty or so students, all in a portable class room that baked in summer. Hardly any of the boys had shoes. Cast-off bits of military uniform were fashionable; no such thing as a school uniform, or (I may add indelicately) underpants. There were a few quite talented kids in 6A; I was a bit up myself, I’m afraid, because even though I took every August off to have bronchitis, and also that year had mumps followed by orchitis (nasty) and pancreatitis, I still managed to top the class, despite my rather alarming (and continuing) innumeracy. He let us have our heads, really. We produced school newspapers, in which I wrote and illustrated serials that were rather like Biggles, and also devised crossword puzzles. Every Friday we “broadcast” our plays over the school’s PA system.

When I was selected to go to Sydney Boys High my parents were against it, mainly because of the travelling which, combined with my absent-mindedness that led to my once almost being run over at a pedestrian crossing, they felt would not suit me. I guess they were also worried about my health. My mother at that time, I might add, was invalided with a clot in the leg, so I was also cooking dinner every night, following instructions emanating from my mother’s bedroom. She used to say what I cooked for the dogs smelt more appetising than what I made for the family — chops and three veg usually. Can’t go too wrong with that. Well, Mister O’Neill I found one afternoon when I came in from playing with the Dawson boys down the road sitting by my Mum’s bed in earnest conversation. Result: I went to Sydney Boys High. Apparently I had the highest IQ ever recorded at Sutherland Primary to that point… That may not be saying too much, of course, and I certainly found myself a small fish in a big pond at SBHS the following year.

But hats off to Mr O’Neill. Not only was he just a fascinating teacher, but so dedicated. By his complexion I suspect he may have enjoyed the odd bevvie too… At a time when many schools, especially boys schools, were “houses of swinging bamboo”, I can’t recall seeing him actually cane anyone either. I remember him with gratitude. Mind you, I don’t think I ever have quite fulfilled that potential, and at going on 65 it may be a bit late…

You will see the use Michael O’Neill made of my reminiscence on his family site: Edgar Ronald O’Neill (1918-1994) & Sheila Hudson (1919-1948)

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There he is: Eddie O’Neill, my Year 6 1954 teacher – in 1957

Gives you a good idea of what school in The Shire was like back then too…

Check the dunnies behind him… Yes, pans!

Only on the Internet, eh! What would the chances have been of making this sort of contact before the Net came along?

See also from 2010 Going back 57 years….

By the way, among the most gifted people I ever taught were certain members of Cronulla High 1966-1969 — my first teaching appointment.

War and Peace

SBS is about to screen the 2016 BBC adaptation of Tolstoy’s War and Peace.

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I’m looking forward to it. In preparation I am rereading the novel, which I last read some twenty years ago. I am really enjoying it, more so I think than last time.

Happens I am reading the Project Gutenberg e-book version on my laptop, using Calibre. Something I have noticed before: long works seem less daunting this way, and I seem to read them faster!  I am about half-way through.

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