This begins with Covid vaccination and Adrian Phoon, who long after I had left lived in his young days in the same street in Caringbah South where I once lived back when I was teaching at Cronulla High.
…the house on Willarong Point. Not that we had a yacht, but there was a boat house at the bottom of the garden where I used to sit and read, and in the water just close to shore swim around with scuba and face mask seeing what was what… We rented the house for a year — house sitting really — and it was probably the most beautiful place we ever lived in The Shire. Oddly, Adrian Phoon hales from somewhere rather close…
Adrian was a blogger a few years back, and that is how we first met. We have subsequently met in real life, when I was living in Surry Hills. Adrian has recently been involved with quite a number of things — see this story from The Guardian for one of them.
So on Facebook two days back Adrian revealed he was now fully vaccinated, after which came a longish congratulatory thread from friends, including me. But there was another point of interest in it for me, which is the first teacher moment:
The “masticate” thing always went well with my teenage students, as I explained Latinate style. I would say my mother encouraged me to masticate thoroughly at least three times a day…. You probably get it….
“Osculate” went down well too…
It did not take long for me to discover what Daniel has been up to. I think it was 1998 when he was in my Year 11 class. I have not seen him since,
Soon after posting those to Facebook I happened upon a brilliant musician in his twenties. I had never heard of him, but listening hooked me. He has toured the USA, Asia (including China), Europe… And I had never heard of him. Not surprising I suppose as at 77 I am not up on the latest music. Anyway, here he is with other musicians in the US just pre-COVID.
A few things have popped up lately, mainly on Facebook.
First I was sent to YouTube to watch an episode of an Australian current affairs show I rarely watch these days, for reasons that will come out in my Facebook comment on it. But first, here is the show:
I wrote a mini-essay of a comment on Facebook:
Teachers are wonderful!
This one is anyway and eclipses most of the political and bureaucratic crap and (even worse) the shit that appears in anything Murdoch. I am far too old, a retired campaigner these days, but heartened that people like this teacher exist.
A shame about the idiot from The Australian, Greg Sheridan, who trots out combined ignorance and ideological prejudice, but he is thoroughly and politely put down for the fool he is. I have coached in the kind of place Greg Sheridan describes — a Korean one — and my experience very often was the majority of the parents who sent their kids were wasting their money. The Chinatown one I worked in for a number of years that was strictly on a one-on-one basis, and not so much about profit, was an entirely different matter.
That decrepit old bastard from The Oz is the only waste of space in this episode of The Drum.
The ABC alas too often bends over double backwards with pike to placate the spurious claims of “left bias”. This is sadly one reason I rarely watch The Drum, though there are good moments, as in this one.
I see the ABC as having a commendable bias towards intelligence.Adrian Piccoli, though a one-time LNP NSW Education Minister, and a good one, really does understand. Well worth having on this segment.
Some of the teachers I named commented afterwards, and in response to Greg Sheridan I referred to a post I wrote while I was still an ESL teacher at Sydney Boys High: Thoughts on coaching.
There is nothing surprising about parents seeking to have their children coached. Many of the SBHS parents come from cultural backgrounds where such help is the norm, even if (as we see in the hagwon story below) it may be argued that this is over-the-top. China’s determination to reduce the burden on students and to seek a broader view of education (see below) is interesting too.
Xiao Wu (Year 12 2001), a very successful HSC student, now counsels parents and students to realise that the pressure to get into a selective school ought not to be so strong; it is not like China where getting into the right school is the only way to ensure a first-rate career or choice of university. (It should be added that coaching is not so common in China as it is in Korea or Japan.) Xiao also sees the importance of participating fully in any cocurricular activities the school offers, citing the burn-out factor as being a significant reason for being somewhat less academically single-minded. In his case he had little choice, but does have regrets that he could not participate as much as he would have liked.
One can understand parents seeking coaching when the system confronts them with high stakes tests such as the Selective Schools Entrance Test–especially when parents feel they cannot help their children themselves in this new environment. Their feeling–not entirely wrong–is that their sons and daughters are starting behind the line compared to native speakers. To try to correct that by whatever means is not in itself reprehensible. However, the ethics and activities of some coaching colleges are quite clearly reprehensible.
The argument that coached students are hot-house specimens does, however, deserve rebuttal. If it were so, they would wilt once the initial purpose of coaching had been achieved. Actually being in a competitive selective school environment would show their weakness. It is fair to say that in the majority of cases this is simply not apparent. The students in general thrive, and were probably deserving of entry anyway. Nor are all coached students nonparticipants in cocurricular activities; if that were so the situation at Sydney Boys High in music, debating and sports would be far worse than some fear it is. Indeed, to judge from the 2006 edition of The Record (which did come out on time this year!) all the above are very healthy indeed, even if participation rather than absolute success characterises a few sports.
Clearly I would have posted, and indeed did post, quite a lot related to teaching on my blogs — search “teaching” or check the categories “education” and “schools” in the sidebar.
The first suggests that I left at one stage — and indeed there have been breaks in my career. In a statement I just made recently on Facebook I wrote:
Being a good teacher is not just about qualifications and measurable outcomes. It is about humanity and empathy — and fallibility. It is in fact a relationship. It can be a glorious job, but it can also bring pain at times. Sometimes we win, sometimes we make mistakes, sometimes we burn out. I have done all three in my time.
1985 marked my recovery from one such period of burnout, in the early stages of which I spent much time contemplating the grass in Glebe Point’s Jubilee Park, and also had my first sessions of therapy… However, that time also saw the editing of the magazine Neos: Young Writers and a productive job at Harkers Bookshop in Glebe. From Term 3 1985 I was back in the saddle at Sydney High where the young ScoMo was a Prefect! I was getting to know the people who became the wonderful Class of 1986, quite a few of whom I am still in touch with. That entry on returning to teaching tells of them.
My first teaching appointment was Cronulla High School — 1966 (practice session in 1965) to 1969. I have been back, particularly in 2011 when the school had its 50th birthday. See these posts.
Just the other day on Facebook this class photo appeared. Bundeena is to the south of Cronulla, just across Port Hacking. Students from Bundeena Public School normally went to Cronulla High.
I suggested there was every chance I taught some of them at Cronulla High, and then came one of those magic teacher moments:
Does my ageing bones good to get a comment like this from the person who posted this school photo from more than 50 years ago: “Neil, you taught me English for my School Certificate I think it was 4E5, we had a great year & you were so good to us, thanks, I am bottom row extreme left.”
And here is the young teacher he remembers — a student took this in 1968 or 1969:
How good is that! Yes, I remember 4E5 — they were for a young teacher a touch difficult at times, being shall we say very different to what I had been used to as a student myself at Sydney High, or of course at Sydney University. But it really is heartwarming to have been so remembered by one of them at least after all these years!
I was learning about teaching in a real-world way from them at the time…. And here is another post for you to look at.
I like to post Chinese doing unusual things, as an antidote to the political norm these days. Preferably Chinese doing amazing and brilliant unusual things. Entertaining too, it goes without saying. Take the first one. I posted it on Facebook a couple of days back with this note:
More Chinese doing dastardly things to charm us with music. Careful. You might be lured into thinking they are actually human and immensely talented. That would never do! Or you might just sit back and enjoy something brilliant, and bugger the politicians!
And then there is Zhou Shen, whom we have met before. This is really unexpected, and it is in English:
Here he teams up with two others — and yes, I think you know the song:
The last offering on this post is local and classical, though it no doubt includes a number of Mainland Chinese background. I noted:
That Hall I have known so well! Been on that stage more than once over the years, from being in the choir way back in the 50s to occasionally getting a prize on Speech Night, to much much later sitting there in academic dress as a staff member on Speech Night…
The orchestra is so good nowadays! Much more than Rugby and Rowing at the old place, eh! Though I no longer mock those things either….
And a note to all those who have wrung their hands and had conniptions in recent years — Western culture, in this instance Mozart, is very much alive and well and being done proud even with so many Asian faces looking back at us from their instruments! Good stuff!
About that violinist in the first video
Since this post was published I have been looking into this amazing artist some more. A comment on one of his YouTube videos says: “Can this man get any more perfect? It’s not only that he’s talented as f but he’s also such a kind, fun and genuine artist.” I note also that he appears on South Korean as well as Chinese TV.
Henry Lau (born October 11, 1989), commonly referred to mononymously as Henry, is a Canadian singer, songwriter, actor, entertainer and classical violinist based in South Korea and China. He debuted in 2008 as a member of Super Junior-M and launched his solo career in 2013 with Trap. His original soundtrack “It’s You” released in 2017 became the #1 top-streamed Korean OST on Spotify for two consecutive years in 2018 and 2019.
Henry made his Hollywood debut in 2019 with the film A Dog’s Journey produced by Amblin Entertainment, the sequel to the 2017 film A Dog’s Purpose. In 2020, the action/fantasy movie “Double World” nominated for “Best Visual Effects” and “Best Action Choreography” at the 39th Hong Kong Film Award starring Henry premiered on Netflix and China’s streaming service iQiyi, becoming the first movie in mainland China’s film history to achieve simultaneous global release…
26 May 2021evening: Thanks all for your interest in this post and the previous one! However, rather than try topping either now — or more likely posting a filler, I am taking another short break — maybe two days. Feel free to explore more of the blog in the meanwhile.
Over recent weeks I have posted several items about my classmates of 1959 and lately on Facebook I have been the poor old bastard looking back from 60+ years! And why not? Who knows how many of us, myself included, will be around to see 70 years on!
There was a time I thought this outrageously scary:
Nice song though… But 40 years on is 20 years ago now! Amazing.
Oh yes — and Latin. I have a soft spot for Latin, which I studied at SBHS and later at Sydney University.
Gaudeamus igitur, Iuvenes dum sumus; Post iucundam iuventutem, Post molestam senectutem Nos habebit humus, Nos habebit humus.
Ubi sunt, qui ante nos In mundo fuere? Vadite ad superos, Transite ad inferos, Ubi iam fuere, Ubi iam fuere.
Vita nostra brevis est, Brevi finietur; Venit mors velociter, Rapit nos atrociter; Nemini parcetur, Nemini parcetur.
Google and you will find a translation. “Ubi sunt, qui ante nos/ In mundo fuere?” indeed. As I remarked on Facebook: SIXTY years on for yours truly! Ubi sunt quī ante nōs fuērunt? And thank you, Edgar Bembrick (passed away 1960?) — I am glad I studied Latin!” And yes, that is a more classical version of the Latin tag.
I studied Catullus in 1959 under the tuition of Edgar Bembrick in his last year teaching. I have posted about Latin and Bembrick before:
I had studied Latin at school, mainly under the legendary Edgar Bembrick – his last class in fact. He died in 1960. See also my post 1957 or MCMLVII. So Latin as my fourth subject, just for one year, looked an easy choice. Except it turned out there was so much of it! Not just Cicero, but Livy and Horace – the Epistles, with Mr Duhigg, whose Cambridge accent charmed me.
Out of curiosity I have just done a quick search, finding that Edgar Bembrick was born in 1890, appointed to Canterbury Intermediate High in 1922, retired in July 1960. He was at Sydney Boys High long before I started as a student in 1955 — he’s in a 1943 staff photo. He was ill for some of late 1959 — cancer, I think.
Here he is, second from the left, in 1951 at SBHS:
And here am I when I first encountered him — though a Mr Maddox actually taught first year Latin, while second year was W E T Porter, a SBHS ex-pupil from 1904! Bembrick arrived in my world in third year, 1957 and we had him until his final illness in 1959.
So those 60 years on — here you are. I noted again: Even makes this ex-staff and ex-Class of 1959 pensioner a touch teary.
And way back 60+ years — though this is a publicity shot and we rather hated those hats!
Many years later:
Responding to comments made by Marcellous, here is another video from that Class of 2019. I had posted it on Facebook. Do note the white ribbons, signifying the White Ribbon Campaign, a global movement of men and boys working to end male violence against women and girls.
And in reply to Tikno, in 2017 this got a lot of publicity:
And something else to show another side of the school, from Mothers Day 2021:
NOTE: I think this post will do you for two days at least, so there will be a short hiatus here.
Memory Lane has been in overdrive!
Back Row L-R: Terry Naughton, “Pip” Dryden, Clive Kessler.
Front Row L-R: Grahame Delaney, R W “Rockjaw” Smith (coach and English teacher), Alfie van der Poorten.
Extraordinarily ancient relic! And that is just me!
That is a more or less deliberately antiqued photo of the First Grade Debating Team at Sydney Boys High in 1959. I was not in the team, but some very impressive classmates were. One featured in my blog post of 16 May and another features in today’s.
Pip Dryden arrived from Shanghai — yes, Shanghai — and joined us late in the piece. Sadly he passed away at 19 from cancer. Terry Naughton became a QC and a Judge. Clive Kessler was the subject of Sunday’s blog post and is an Emeritus Professor of Sociology at UNSW. Grahame Delaney sadly died young, I believe.
Alfie van der Poorten passed away in 2010. He was a famous mathematician. It is worth looking at his Wikipedia biography.
His childhood before Sydney High was very different from mine in quiet old Auburn and Vermont Streets in Sutherland!
Van der Poorten was born into a Jewish family in Amsterdam in 1942, after the German occupation began. His parents, David and Marianne van der Poorten, gave him into foster care with the Teerink family in Amersfoort, under the name ‘Fritsje’; the senior van der Poortens went into hiding, were caught by the Nazis, survived the concentration camps, and were reunited with van der Poorten and his two sisters after the war. The family moved to Sydney in 1951, travelling there aboard the SS Himalaya.
Van der Poorten studied at Sydney Boys High School from 1955–59, and earned a high score in the Leaving Certificate Examination there. He spent a year in Israel and then studied mathematics at the University of New South Wales, where he earned a bachelor’s degree in 1965, a doctorate in 1968 under the joint supervision of George Szekeres and Kurt Mahler, and a Master of Business Administration. While a student at UNSW, he led the student union council and was president of the University Union, as well as helping to lead several Jewish and Zionist student organisations. He also helped to manage the university’s cooperative bookstore, where he met and in 1972 married another bookstore manager, Joy FitzRoy….
Another of my childhood companions because of whom I have been historically sympathetic towards Israel, much as I despise Israel’s current government — if indeed they still have one? — but also have no time at all for Holocaust denial or any conspiracy theory that invokes Jews.
I think of two others: Herbert Huppert, Professor of Theoretical Geophysics and Foundation Director, Institute of Theoretical Geophysics, at the University of Cambridge, since 1989 and Fellow of King’s College, Cambridge, since 1970. And Peter Deli.
Back in the late 50s the Head of Science was in fact an elderly chap much stained by tobacco whom we dubbed “Dodo” – as in the extinct bird.
Tracking Lenny Basser (a legendary Science teacher and Athletics coach who taught Lord May of Oxford among others) led me to a former classmate, in Science at one point but more memorably in the weird Mr Levy’s French class. I had wondered what became of this lad who had come to us from Cranbrook – a decided disadvantage – little realising that he was a leading geophysicist these days!
I have found a fascinating interview with him telling me much that I had little insight into at the time. Since this is already out there, I hope Professor Huppert won’t mind my sharing.
Born in Sydney, Australia, 1943; my maternal grandfather was a shamus in a Viennese synagogue; both he and his wife were very religious; I got to know them when they came out to Australia in about 1947-8; the remarkable thing about my paternal grandparents is that I knew nothing about them; my sister and I both assumed that they perished in the Holocaust although we had not been told; my father died when I was thirteen; about seven or eight years ago my sister did some extensive research in the Viennese archives and found that both had died natural deaths in hospital in 1935 and 1937; my father rarely talked about his time in Vienna and neither did my mother; she would talk about St Stephen’s dome in Vienna and the giant wheel nearby; when I was eight I bought her a book on Vienna for her birthday with both illustrated on the cover; she was clearly upset by it and I never saw the book again; many years after when both were dead (my mother died when I was twenty-two) I heard that a few months before they left Vienna my father was told to queue up to get a visa to leave; the night before he was warned that the queue was to be bombed by Nazis; he decided not to join the queue and it was bombed; two weeks later he did get an exit visa; they left in 1938 and arrived in Australia on 26th January 1939…
…I first went to a Jewish kindergarten which I remember with both pleasure and terror; on one occasion the headmaster threatened to put me into a duplicating machine as I had been so naughty and that terrified me; generally I enjoyed the school and had lots of friends; I then went to an “institution” which my mother chose, which cost about £300 a term; it would have been better if my father had paid the money to charity and sent me to a state school; I hated this institution, Cranbrook, with a passion; I have recently come across two people who went there some ten years after me who thought it was wonderful; one is Richard Hunter who is Professor of Classics here and the other is the new Director of the Fitzwilliam…
Cranbrook was everything that I hated; I went there when I was just six; clear that I could add and on that basis put me up a class without ascertaining whether I knew anything else; I found myself a year and a half younger than everyone else and I was nowhere near mature enough; that had a bad influence on me; later it became better because when I went to a proper school I could run well, but Cranbrook was a terrible institution; I left when I had just reached twelve; I passed the exam to Sydney High and my mother gave me the choice of going there or staying at Cranbrook; if I had stayed in Cranbrook five more years I would not be here today; they taught badly; they hired a chemistry teacher who was a Nazi who told us how wonderful it had been flying over England and bombing it, and also about the problem of German Jews; it was just unbelievable; there was bullying, but don’t know whether it was anti-Semitic or just of younger people; we were forced to have a shower after P.T. after which we had to dress outside; there was a female music teacher who was constantly looking out at us; there were many things like that
21:33:13 Sydney High was much better and I can’t remember a day of unhappiness there; it was a fabulous school and has produced some brilliant people, including Bob May, President of the Royal Society, and John Cornforth, Nobel Laureate in chemistry; we had an inspiring chemistry teacher, Leonard Basser; he was also the athletics coach and I ran for the school, something what was inconceivable at Cranbrook…
Peter Francis Nicholas Deli was born on 26 March 1942 in Wellington, New Zealand. His parents, Lewis and Lily, were both Hungarian refugees who had fled Europe just before the beginning of the War. His father, an architect by training, had been a violinist in the Budapest Symphony Orchestra. His mother, who was Jewish, had tried to emigrate to Britain and Australia before settling for New Zealand. They met in New Zealand and married in 1941. After the War the Deli family moved to Sydney, Australia and settled in the Eastern Suburbs at Bondi. Sydney had a much larger population of East European migrs than the whole of New Zealand and the Delis were soon absorbed into the Hungarian community’s protective embrace. Peter’s early school years at Double Bay Primary School were far from typical of the elementary educational experience of most Australian children at the time. The extraordinary mix of nationalities and class backgrounds in the school must have had a profound effect on his early development. In 1955 he won a place to the prestigious Sydney Boys’ High School, one of the best secondary schools in New South Wales. Peter excelled in his studies during these years and matriculated with honours to the University of Sydney in 1960. During his undergraduate years he read History and Philosophy, graduating Bachelor of Arts with First Class Honours in History in 1964….
After a very interesting career, including being in Paris in 1968, Peter succumbed to leukemia and died at home in Hong Kong on 12 February 2001.
The point made there about the cosmopolitan mix at Double Bay and SBHS at the time certainly struck me when I “migrated” from Sutherland (with Ross Mackay, Arno Eglitis, Robert Burnie and Laurence Napier) to SBHS in 1955. On the other hand, much to the surprise of one of my coachees who is now at SBHS, of 206 of us starting out in 1955 only one was Chinese (ABC) and one was Indian – Ashok Hegde, who became a close friend until he went to London in 1958. Ashok’s father was in 1958 the Assistant Indian Trade Commissioner in Sydney, if I recall correctly – but thus not a permanent resident in Australia.
Such are few of the experiences of my schoolboy self that took this Shire lad into worlds previously unknown to him, and which shape his reaction to such things as politics and the events in the Middle East to this day!
More relevant to yesterday’s post, it was the consideration of such friends as those named in this post and what the theology that prevailed in the mid 1960s at Sutherland Presbyterian Church about “election” — God’s inscrutable thing of saving some and not others for reasons we poor mortals could not hope to understand — logically had in store for them gave me the uncomfortable feeling that God was some sort of petulant idiot!
Robbie Burns in “Holy Willie’s Prayer” offers a parody of that doctrine of election which, however, is not all that wide of the mark:
O Thou, that in the heavens does dwell, As it pleases best Thysel’, Sends ane to Heaven an’ ten to Hell, For Thy glory, And no for onie guid or ill They’ve done afore Thee!
There was more to it of course, but such a thought eventually became too much even tacitly to assent to. From there over time it became clear that some of the fundamentals were really off — this took a long time.
First, the idea that there is a systematic theology recoverable from the many and varied texts of the Bible became less and less viable.
Second, the idea that the Bible, wonderful as much in it is, was in any literal sense the word of God rather than the product of centuries of human beings thinking about God also seemed less and less likely — and hence the pointlessness of the first exercise. Which is not to say that the Bible is not worth reading; it certainly is, but not as I had conceived it.
Finally — well not quite! — the idea that God ever has had or is likely to have had a Chosen People is actually ridiculous, and possibly even blasphemous as it smacks of the Supreme Being picking favourites — hardly a moral position worthy of the All Knowing.
Back in 2012 I posted Searchings — 1, one of quite a few such posts in my blogs over the past 10-15 years:-
There really have been so many things I have seen or read in the past few days that deserve to be shared, that have provoked more reflection than I can possibly capture in one blog post or even two. But to begin.
That’s how I ask the question, but professional theologians use the term theodicy. It comes from two Greek words: theo, which means “God,” and dike, which means “justice.” Theodicy asks, “If God is good and just, then why is there so much evil in the world?” There are many answers to this question. Some claim that God causes evil. In which case, my question becomes relevant – Is God a Cosmic Jerk?
Let’s first examine the word “evil.” Theologian Joe Jones succinctly defines evil in his book A Grammar of Christian Faith “as the harm to some creature’s good” (280). Jones distinguishes between two categories of evil that harms a creatures good. First, there is moral evil – the harm humans inflict upon one another through violence, injustice, and oppression. The second category is natural evil – the harm caused by cancer, earthquakes, hurricanes, and other natural events…
The older I get the more unsatisfactory the theologians seem to me, and the more “fundamentalist” they are, even less satisfactory are they then likely to be – unless you are better at believing a thousand impossible things before breakfast, to paraphrase Lewis Carroll, than I am these days.
“Alice laughed: “There’s no use trying,” she said; “one can’t believe impossible things.” “I daresay you haven’t had much practice,” said the Queen. “When I was younger, I always did it for half an hour a day. Why, sometimes I’ve believed as many as six impossible things before breakfast.”
Unfortunately the impression one is left with after much fundamentalist apologetics/theology is that God indeed could very well be a Cosmic Jerk!
This especially plagues the bibliolatrists who constitute the more conservative wings of Judaism and Christianity and, alas, far too much of Islam. The unfortunate tradition of Divine Mouthpieces and Pens is as much a curse as a blessing, indeed I suspect more a curse than a blessing. Infallibility and certainty are among the most dangerous and foolish of human constructs.
For insulting the Quran, “’Thousands of people dragged a Pakistani man … from a police station … (and) beat him to death,’ police said Wednesday.”
Is it even possible to insult a book?
Has it a soul within its leaves a heart that beats an eye that winks a cord running through its spine descending from a thing that thinks?
Is a book of inky lines (of characters not themselves sublime) capable of being hurt or ridiculed or cheapened by critiques either of the wise, or fools?
Has it veins between its covers salty with the blood of lovers?
Is there something in its pages (even if put there by sages) that warrants death to critics?
Is it a thing so lame that priestly brothers (arrogant, imperious, parasitic) who worship sheaves of ink on paper must, for its sake, snuff the holy breath of others?
by Jim Culleny
Go and read the comments that follow it. An excellent series, those daily poems from Three Quarks Daily. Jim is the editor of this feature and most wide-ranging in his selection and very knowledgeable. Even Aussie poets score there at times.
#Strongwomen. "I write about the power of trying, because I want to be okay with failing. I write about generosity because I battle selfishness. I write about joy because I know sorrow. I write about faith because I almost lost mine, and I know what it is to be broken and in need of redemption. I write about gratitude because I am thankful - for all of it." Kristin Armstrong