Catch-up

Just 10 posts in August! There were 36 views a day average. Since 1 August the post viewed posts have been:

Home page / Archives 560 views
Friday Australian poem: #NS6 – Mary Gilmore “Old Botany Bay” 36
Living with the facts of our history 33
The search for the perfect burger 32
Taste of Xi’an Wollongong 28
Poem of the day: W H Auden 26
Tomorrow when the war began… 24
I’m really a conservative…. 18

And from 2009:

East Redfern: M’s orchid 1

On a balcony overlooking South Dowling Street.

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Flowers and grief: for my mother

Recently I posted about Vermont Street, Sutherland, where I lived from 1952-1955, and again in 1963-4. The circumstances of that first sojourn are well expressed in my mother’s words from the 1960s:

Then in 1945 the guns of War ceased. We hoped so vainly they had stopped for all time–and the father came home. The next few years held struggle of a different kind for the young weary parents whose lives, like so many, had been so deviously interrupted. To return to the normal, the everyday, does not perhaps seem difficult, but it is so very difficult, as so many found. Everything had altered, values and concepts had changed. One thing sustained this young family–the love of man for woman, of woman for man, of man and woman for their children. To hope, to pray, with faith, that some day, sometime, there would be a better world for all to live in. Again the years went swiftly–two years, four years, ordinary troubles, measles, mumps, broken arms, children’s hurts to mend–the guiding, the helping, the encouraging, the children growing, the joys, the laughter.

The babe of 1940 [my sister Jeanette] was now a slight, fair, lovable schoolgirl of twelve. So proud were the parents of this so dear a child who held the promise of the future in her clear blue eyes. The dreams they had–the dreams she had–such lovely dreams, such beautiful golden dreams.

The father and the mother bought a house, their first “own” home. Just an ordinary house in an ordinary street, in an ordinary suburb, in an Australian city. A house with room enough for the children to grow in to live in, to be “home” in all its true and good meaning. Moving day came with all its pressures, its turmoils, but with happiness in the hearts. The unseen figure in the shadows moved closer and struck, taking with it back to the shadows the beloved child, the child with so much promise, so many dreams–the child whose very presence had helped the mother’s war-torn soul through the years and whose sparkling nature had helped the father through the rehabilitation period. The beloved blue eyes were closed to this world forever.

So we were all grieving in that place, I see now more clearly: my father, brother, and myself no less than my mother. I can recall nightmares often involving death, and odd little memorials made of pebbles that I would make in various obscure parts of the garden.

My mother took to growing flowers, even winning a prize in the local flower show for her pansies or sweet peas or violets — I don’t quite recall which. Her flowers were those of that time — no natives among them. That came later when we moved to Kirrawee and had waratahs and wattles and bottlebrush in abundance.

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Sweet peas

iceland-poppy

Iceland poppies

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Violets

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Pansies

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Phlox

Did you know that Iceland poppies have nothing to do with Iceland?

Recalling the Shellharbour that was…

Last night I had a chat via Facebook Messenger with one of my Shellharbour cousins, who no longer lives there. I had not seen or spoken with this cousin for decades! I mentioned how different Shellharbour is today. She agreed, saying she couldn’t live there any more…

Here is how it was when my parents were young in the early to mid 1930s:

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And here Shellharbour township c 1948, in my own early childhood.

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And today, all suburbia…

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See also My 1947: ShellharbourShellharbour: very nostalgicMore “Neil’s Decades” –6: Heimat/Shellharbour.

Cascading memories

Here is a series from my archives: Reflections, mostly about a chequered teaching career: Part One, Part Two, Part Three, Part Four, Part Five, and add mais où sont les neiges d’antan? and Life’s embarrassing moments. From the last one:

Probably my most embarrassing moment was at Dapto High when I was the age Mr R is now. I had proudly been appointed teacher-in-charge of Year 8, and hence had to sit on stage in Year 8 assemblies. Dapto had 1,400 students then, so a Year 8 assembly was quite big. It was also the way the school fulfilled its scripture quota for the week, a local clergyman saying a few words at the assembly. I somehow managed to walk up to the microphone, spotlighted, only to be greeted by considerable laughter. In best teacher mode I glared and asked what was so funny…

“Your fly’s undone, sir…”

Oh dear!

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I was wearing undies.

All this from two images that came my way via Facebook. The first I found on Dapto History in Pictures. It shows the English staff at Dapto in 1969, the year before I arrived.

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Jim Gordon was Head Teacher from 1970, Tom Dobinson having gone on to become an Inspector. He inspected me at Wollongong High in 1976. Some more memories of Dapto in 1970:

The elopement

One day a member of the English staff disappeared. This was just one of several bizarre events that year, which led to questions in parliament.

We later heard she had eloped with a reporter from the local newspaper.

Skinny dipping

One staff member was around 22 and rode a World War II Harley Davidson, dressing to match. Otherwise he taught English and History. He was on good terms with “Animal” and other noted members of the Kings Cross biker scene. He had a wonderful place on the river at Minnamurra, a short swim (almost a walk at low tide) to the sandspit and beach. Many a good staff party happened there, and one warm night swimming was definitely the go. It wasn’t low tide, though, so he rowed across with his assortment of English teachers. I recall one Brian being counselled about guarding his Catholic manhood as in the then state of undress he stumbled getting into the boat almost bringing the gunwale into firm collision with his private parts.

Fortunately no-one drowned.

It’s not a good idea, kiddies, to go surfing in the dark, especially when intoxicated and there are sharks about.

The teacher who threw things out of windows

He was in fact rather popular, but when a child especially annoyed him he would, after several warnings, grab everything off the child’s desk and throw said belongings (but not the child) out the second floor window. He would then send the child to collect them. I got quite a shock when I first witnessed this.

I am sure conservatives would see this as evidence that schools today have declined in comparison with 30-40 years ago.

Breaking records

A large batch of 78rpm records destined for the school fete was stored in the staff room. One day our biker friend crept up behind someone and smashed a record over his or her head. We discovered this was painless but dramatically noisy and left very satisfying shards of black shellac everywhere. So we spent the lunch hour working through the records, not excluding any students who were foolish enough to knock on the door.

The cleaner complained.

The suit of armour

I was given the task of taking a suit of armour, a prop for the school play, to the school hall. I decided the best way was to wear it. This did get talked about for a while…

The head

I was so naive, really.

I had a class of Year 9s who were variously, well, retarded, or should I say differently abled. One of them had also been dealt a bad hand when it came to personal appearance, but was actually rather nice though occasionally given to rages. On graduation he found a job in a sheltered workshop.

The door of their classroom had a small window to enable passers-by to check on the inmates, but the glass had long gone. My young friend used to stick his head through this window and smile in a rather alarming way at people in the corridor. One day going past I asked him to pull his head in. I went further than that. Seeing he reminded me of nothing more than a moose head mounted on a wall I said, “Peter, pull your head in or I’ll mount you on the wall.”

Pleased with my wit, I recounted the story to my colleagues. “You’re so athletic, Neil,” a female teacher who later went on to considerable fame remarked.

My embarrassed blush lit the room beautifully. Honestly, governor, I meant no double-entendre!

The second picture appeared on an Illawarra Grammar ex-student’s Facebook page. Thanks, Ralph! It shows me being  “kidnapped”. As Ralph notes, “A long, long time ago …..”

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