Blogging the 2010s — 21 — February 2018

And SIXTY years ago I….

How’s that for old?


From Sydney Boys High School. See Found–something from my last year at high school (1959) and Memento mori – another from the Class of 1959.

My History score crashed the following year, thanks to a bad habit of guessing what would be in exam papers… Worked in 58, not in 59. The teacher, Frank Allsopp, used me as an awful warning for several years into the 60s – by which time my History score so recovered at Sydney University that in 1962 I topped Asian History, then an exciting new field. I think I recently saw a death notice for one of the two lecturers in Asian History at that time, Marjorie Jacobs. India was her specialty. The other lecturer was Ian Nish, expert on Japan and China. It was a very good course. See also My Asian Century.

See also 50 years on – 1: a classmate’s story (2009). And in reminiscent vein: 1959 revisitedTrams down Cleveland Street via Memory LaneThe year my voice broke…1957 or MCMLVII and Nobel prize winner’s obituary triggers memories.

Lenny Basser, left, and my good friend Roger Dye far right.

1958 when we were 15 – Roger and I, that is.

I was living in Kirrawee in 1958.


Avery Avenue, Kirrawee, where I lived 1956 through 1958, behind the tree on the left. And yes, we were close to transport. That’s the Cronulla line on the right. It took about an hour and a quarter to get to SBHS from here.

Sundays found me at Sutherland Presbyterian Church, Flora Street Sutherland, where I had recently joined the youth Fellowship.


See Frameworks for belief — 2 – my world 1952 to 1959. A repost and À la recherche du temps perdu — 12 — some churches.


Sutherland Presbyterian Church and manse. I was an elder here  at the age of 21, and Sunday School Superintendent. In the mid 1960s exciting events occurred in this church, the congregation mostly leaving to form the Presbyterian Reformed Church. At that time I resigned. See my 2008 post Uncertain dogma, The Shire, and related musings. See also this search for Calvin.


Blogging the 2010s — 13 — February 2010

Now we are anticipating some quite decent rain in Eastern Australia. The Queensland town of Stanthorpe is currently relying entirely on trucking in water, not having had rain for three years! Stanthorpe is not in the desert! It is well known (usually) for apple and other fruit production. Nearer here in NSW in Wollongong we have had rainy periods over the past few years, but well below the average. Nationally the Bureau of Meteorology’s annual climate statement notes that 2019 was the nation’s warmest and driest year on record. “The national rainfall was 37mm, or 11.7%, below the 314.5mm re corded in the previous driest year in 1902. The national average temperature was nearly 0.2C above the previous warmest year in 2013.”

Now we are being warned about the possibility of flash floods over the coming week…

Leaving all that, let us return to representative posts from the past decade, starting at February 2010.

SBHS, Science, certainty, climate change

No doubt about it: Sydney Boys High has produced some very distinguished people, and even more less distinguished, myself being one of that majority. Looking at that list I find I actually taught, or knew from my teaching days there, ten of them, all more distinguished than I am.

In my first three years as a student there I leaned, as I had through primary school, towards Science, until the realities of Senior Chemistry and poor mathematical skills hit me, but I have always maintained an interest. Right now, for example, I am reading Chris Stringer’s totally fascinating Homo Britannicus (2006). There’s a review here.

…On, next, to evidence from a rich Neanderthal site in Norfolk of renewed habitation in that part of Britain a mere 60,000 years ago. To speak again in thousands of years before the present: the Neanderthals perhaps managed to cling on until 30 – often keeping warm, it seems, by burning bones for fuel – but then they disappeared for ever. As a peak of climatic severity gradually approached, the tall and modern-looking Cro-Magnons began to move in, the people known best today for their cave art in France. Homo sapiens they may have been, but at 25 the British weather defeated them, and not until 15 did they return. Their cave art at Creswell Crags in Derbyshire and their suspected “nutritional cannibalism” in Somerset’s Cheddar Gorge are memorials to their time here, which lasted until a final purge by ice at 13. Only from the time of their last return, about 11,500 years ago, has life in Britain been reasonably continuous, with a climate kind enough to support, in the course of time, farming and urbanization.

So much for the bare bones of the story. Anthropologists are not afraid to stretch their canvas back to such remote periods, although few calling themselves archaeologists do so, and even fewer who think of themselves as historians, with the consequence that our gestalt view of the past is highly blinkered. Broaden your canvas to picture ice north of the Thames a mile thick, and all the fine detail of later world history suddenly seems less important. Stringer gathers the views of climatologists as to what is in store for us. Though they cannot agree on whether there will be a “super-interglacial”, warmer than anything for the past 50 million years, or a freezing over of the North Atlantic and the continents flanking it, this is small comfort, since they do appear to agree that change, when it comes, may be rapid, sweeping away communities in less than a human lifespan. Politicians should read the relevant chapter of Homo Britannicus carefully, for it will cut more ice than all that windmill nonsense…

Back to SBHS. Here is the distinguished scientists list:

  • Ronald N. Bracewell — Lewis M. Terman Professor of Electrical Engineering, Emeritus of the Space, Telecommunications and Radioscience Laboratory at Stanford University
  • Graeme Milbourne Clark AC AO — pioneer of the multiple-channel cochlear implant; founder of the Bionic Ear Institute; Fellow of the Royal Society
  • Professor John Cornforth — Nobel Laureate for Chemistry (1975)
  • Lord Robert May of Oxford — former President of the Royal Society, Chief Scientific Adviser to the UK Government (1995-2000)
  • Sir Grafton Elliot Smith — anatomist

To that I think we should add Andrew Goodwin (1996), or will do so in the near future.

Lord May you have met here before. There is an article about him in the latest New Scientist blog.

…Should scientists have a special voice when it comes to deciding government policy?

Last night Robert May, the UK government’s former chief scientific adviser, set out his views. The answer? No.

May, a former president of the Royal Society, reckons that the job of scientists is to lay out the scientific facts and – importantly – the uncertainties. After that, it’s up to the public to decide what to do about them.Scientists can and should make their opinions clear – but only as citizens. Being a scientist doesn’t give you the right to lord it over the rest of the population…

…here’s the uncertainty principle: scientists mustn’t give in to the pressure to deal in certainties.

“So many of the problems we have to worry about have substantial uncertainties associated with them,” May said. “Science is a useful way of asking the right questions, but it doesn’t always have the right answers.”

That’s why scientists have to frame the debate with their results – all of them – then step back.

It’s worth taking May seriously because he has a pedigree in this. He managed the UK’s approach to using stem cells, and encouraged the scientists involved to simply lay out the facts and let the politicians do their job, rather than lobby for a particular outcome…

By contrast Lord Monckton, recently in Australia as an apostle of climate change scepticism, is a man of no mean certainty, as befits someone whose scientific credentials are very similar to my own — except that I would rather take note of the spirit of a real scientist, such as Lord May, and accept that when people like him express a 90% degree of certainty on the subject of climate change they do not do so lightly.

Here’s a rare beast indeed: a politician who in fact was also a scientist:

…Mr President, the environmental challenge which confronts the whole world demands an equivalent response from the whole world. Every country will be affected and no one can opt out.

We should work through this great organisation and its agencies to secure world-wide agreements on ways to cope with the effects of climate change, the thinning of the Ozone Layer, and the loss of precious species.

We need a realistic programme of action and an equally realistic timetable.

Each country has to contribute, and those countries who are industrialised must contribute more to help those who are not.

The work ahead will be long and exacting. We should embark on it hopeful of success, not fearful of failure.

I began with Charles Darwin and his work on the theory of evolution and the origin of species. Darwin’s voyages were among the high-points of scientific discovery.

They were undertaken at a time when men and women felt growing confidence that we could not only understand the natural world but we could master it, too.

Today, we have learned rather more humility and respect for the balance of nature.

But another of the beliefs of Darwin’s era should help to see us through—the belief in reason and the scientific method. Reason is humanity’s special gift. It allows us to understand the structure of the nucleus. It enables us to explore the heavens. It helps us to conquer disease. Now we must use our reason to find a way in which we can live with nature, and not dominate nature.

At the end of a book which has helped many young people to shape their own sense of stewardship for our planet, its American author quotes one of our greatest English poems, Milton’s “Paradise Lost”.

When Adam in that poem asks about the movements of the heavens, Raphael the Archangel refuses to answer. “Let it speak”, he says,

“The Maker’s high magnificence, who built
So spacious, and his line stretcht out so far,
That Man may know he dwells not in his own; An edifice too large for him to fill,
Lodg’d in a small partition, and the rest
Ordain’d for uses to his Lord best known.”

We need our reason to teach us today that we are not, that we must not try to be, the lords of all we survey.

We are not the lords, we are the Lord’s creatures, the trustees of this planet, charged today with preserving life itself—preserving life with all its mystery and all its wonder. May we all be equal to that task.

Thank you Mr President.

Didn’t like her social philosophy much, but three cheers to Margaret Thatcher for those prescient words from 9 November 1989: “Speech to United Nations General Assembly (Global Environment)”.

The things I posted on in 2004!

This is a few months before my last revisit. BTW, The Salt Mine = SBHS.

Entry 127: Miserable git writes entry.

2 June 2004: A short one today — possibly a relief to my readers after the past couple.

I still feel like death, a bit of a contrast to last Wednesday, eh! It’s ironic that this cold (flu?) came on the very day I was meant to be having a flu shot at the Salt Mine, but even I knew it is foolish to have a flu shot when you are already fighting off an infection. Madam cheered me up no end by telling me that Jerry had a flu shot and was dead two weeks later…

I may give in and go to the doctor today. So far I have only missed one day at the Salt Mine, as Monday I don’t work anyway and today there is a strike. We’ll see if I am up to going tomorrow, but I certainly won’t go coaching this afternoon.

At least one consolation is that the broken tooth (it fell apart during Sunday’s lunch with the Empress and Sirdan) is not hurting, but I can’t do anything about that anyway until I am over this present episode.

Delenio greeted me via ICQ last night — first time for ages. Sent get well greetings, as he apparently still reads this diary. He is deep in some essay on historiography and finding “poor historians” (both Keith Windschuttle and his haters) very frustrating. Last time Delenio and I talked about this he was rather taken with Sir Geoffrey Elton on this subject.

Elton’s view of the nature of history and its study had a very simple starting point: in the past there were people like us, reasoning people with thoughts, feelings, ambitions, concerns and problems. These people lived and made choices and what they did produced the events, effects, creations and results which is history. When people acted in the past, exercised their will and made choices they made their futures and created our present. History for Elton was explicable, but the varieties, complexities and vagaries of human reasoning and thinking in diverse situations made it unpredictable.

… Elton was above all concerned to assert the responsibility of those who study the past to acknowledge its humanity: ‘The recognition that at every moment in the past the future was essentially unpredictable and subject to human choice lies at the heart of a study which respects the past and allows it a life of its own. If men (and women) are treated as devoid of choice, their reason is demolished; the product is a history which dehumanises mankind’.

… In Elton’s concept of history as a story of human existence and activity there was little place for those large-scale forces, trends, structures, and patterns beloved by social scientists. Everything in history–the events of the past–happens to and through people. Sociological categories may be useful descriptive shorthands of movements and outcomes over the long-run, but they remained abstractions unable to explain specific actions and events–the details and particularities of past happenings created by real people doing something. ‘History deals with the activities of men, not abstractions’, Elton wrote.

Conservative but sensible, I would have thought.

Well, that’s it again. Told you it would be shorter. See you tomorrow if I am still vertical 😉

(Wonder how this would look written in the International Phonetic Alphabet?)


Doctor Banquo tells me 1) I’ll live and 2) to go to bed for the next couple of days. Well, I’ll do that, kind of…

Entry 128: Miserable git recovering…

Con-Dopey.Ch 3 June: I am still vertical after all, even if still feeling a bit as if hit by a truck. The Salt Mine is doing without me today, though I guess given what I said last week about the peculiarity of my Wednesday/Thursday arrangements I could be said to be still on strike… Tomorrow we shall see. The Rabbit gave me a call last night to see how I was, and I was I hope articulate: very happy to have had the call, Mister R 🙂

Speaking of being hit by a truck or car, there was chaos in Cleveland Street (just around the corner from here) this morning as a power pole was almost snapped in two by an early morning collision. As of 10am they are still doing the final touches on the replacement pole. Power lines on main roads should be underground, don’t you think?

Why should any school kid have to commute up to 5 hours a day?

Quick fire update: smell of smoke here in Wollongong this morning, but Fires Near Me shows nothing close.  Could be hazard reduction…

A story that got my attention over the weekend was ‘No time to be kids’: The students travelling 100km a day for selective schools.

Data obtained from the NSW Department of Education under freedom of information laws also shows more than 300 students are travelling more than 100 kilometres a day between areas such as Frenchs Forest and Camden, or Moore Park and Wollongong to get to school.

Now of course I have a bit of a stake in this discussion, as a quick read of posts here tagged “Sydney High” will show.

mon27 037

October 2008: SBHS/SGHS students arriving at Central Station en route home


There was a student I recall a few years after Scott Morrison — and yes, I was working at SBHS from Term 3 1985! — who travelled from Liverpool, 40 km SW of Sydney, but that is nothing compared to a current student at SBHS who travels daily from Wollongong — 86 km! (I myself 1955-1959 as a kid travelled 31 km from Sutherland/Kirrawee/Jannali, and some classmates came from Cronulla, same by road but further by train. So not entirely a new thing.)

However, Wollongong? Ridiculous, in my opinion, especially given there is an excellent selective school right here: Smiths Hill High.

Back to that student from Liverpool last century: a memorable character. He arrived just for Years 11 and 12 and was absolutely determined. His background was far from affluent. In fact — and I am sure this cannot happen now — he told me near the end of Year 12 that he had been covering school expenses by making donations to the sperm bank!

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.


Leighton Bracegirdle in 1932