NAIDOC Week 2021 — Healing Country — 6

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My family on Gweagal land in Dharawal Country 1944-5 — I am front left, next to my sister Jeanette, my mother Jean, and on the right my brother Ian. In the back row are my Aunt Ruth, my Uncle Neil (born 6 July 1924) in RAAF uniform, and my Aunt Beth.

Yes, it is 9 July again. And that means I turn 78. Born far to the south in the same year, 1943, was this man:

What a great man he has become, and what a life he has had! Just this week his story was brought up to date by the TV program “Who Do You Think You Are?” on SBS.

The show is often emotional; delving into the past almost always is. But for an Aboriginal man, and moreover as a member of the Stolen Generations, that was especially true for Charles.

“(I’m feeling) overwrought, and a profound sense of loss. I’m really peeved,” he says. 

“It’s causing me to lose sleep. But that’s par for the course for a member of the Stolen Generation. If I didn’t have such a high profile, I would have never learned this, I would have remained in ignorance, that I was Wiradjuri man on my father’s side.”

Charles’ family story reveals a history of activism and resilience in the face of the brutalities of colonisation. But an unknown connection to the peoples of Tasmania on his mother’s side revealed a truly remarkable, and tragic family history. 

Charles is descended of an august line; his five-times great grandfather, Mannalargenna, was a highly respected Elder of his people, and acted as ambassador and emissary to surrounding clans.

Uncle Jack Charles — “Uncle” is a term of respect for an elder

Now a question I posed on Facebook earlier in the week:

Seems odd to say “way back in 2016” — but five years is five years, and I don’t get any younger. Well, five years ago I published the post linked to this, which in turn went back to five years earlier!

Question: Am I of Aboriginal descent?

Answer: Possibly, even probably. And no, I have not had a DNA test. But the story is in a way simple. I have (as you do) eight great-grandparents. I can account for all but one of them. In the case of my grandmother’s parentage — and a fine woman but troubled she was by all accounts — the father is unknown. That is, my father’s mother’s father.

The story — which I heard from my father and mother themselves — is that this grandmother was the daughter of an Aboriginal man, probably Dharawal (or maybe Yuin). We know nothing much about him.

But it is enough to make me look at Merrigong from my window with different eyes. The story was enough for Aboriginal actress Kristina Nehm, knowing the story, to always introduce me to Aboriginal people thus: “This is Neil. He is family.”

This is apart from the story of my brother’s wife, who is a descendant of the family of Bennilong.

Here is my story.

My grandmother, Henrietta Bursill.

And let’s finish with something we can all benefit from, speaking of healing — #NAIDOC 20121’s theme after all:

UPDATE

This effectively ends this series, having brought NAIDOC Week back home to my own life and family. Remember, the matter of our national truth and the absolute need seriously to consider the Uluru Statement from the Heart are matters for every week in this country.

Yes, we have learned, and are learning, much — but there are “miles to go before we sleep.”

NAIDOC Week 2021 — Healing Country — 5

A little more about the country I am on right now, Dharawal Country. If you come in from The Shire via Heathcote you might see this sign:

Not there in my younger days — in fact living on Dharawal Country though I was, I knew absolutely nothing about it! How different it is today, as we see from this map provided by the local Catholic Education Authority:

The Shire is also part of Dharawal Country, though not on this map. It is north of Illawarra, on the other side of Port Hacking.

The clan of Dharawal in The Shire are the Gweagal.

And to the west:

Teachers!

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.

And I am sure a legion more….

Heads up to so many I have known directly or through FB, and this is just a sample: Ernie Tucker, Maximos Russell Darnley, Tess Kenway, Rowan Cahill, Darcy Moore, Steve Storey …. I could go on….

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.

Two such posts: I return to teaching — 1985 and Reflections on one ex-student, but also on the issues of partisan politics and stereotyping.

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.

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From the Class of 1986

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.

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2011 — back to Cronulla

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.

Colourised by me. It’s a composite class, so the 4E5 referred to would have been 1968 or 1969. Back row second from the left seems to be wearing a Sydney Boys High tie. Interesting.

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.

The decades used to be longer once…

Take the 1950s for example. The time that elapsed between the first of the following photographs and the second spans for me the entire decade, even if the second is actually 1955. They also cover my two worlds in that decade — The Shire and Sydney Boys High, and Wollongong to Shellharbour. Both appeared on Facebook in the past day or two, and both have been colourised for my own amusement.

Dressing sheds, North Beach Shellharbour c.1950. FB post by Shellharbour Council.

On FB I wrote: Every chance I was there sometime… That little boy in the foreground could be me, except the girl is not my sister. Could be a cousin though… I had blonde hair when younger…

Then Jeanette may have been wearing some kind of sun hat? On the other hand I would have been six or seven years old, and I am not sure my blonde locks lasted that long.

Jeanette and I maybe 4 years before that Shellharbour pic — evidence of both of us being blondes.

Now to the second photo, this one from the Historic Cronulla and Sutherland Shire FB group.

Photo: Family collection of Lisa Cooper

Back in 1959 after our Leaving Certificate exams were over my Sydney High friend Eric and I one hot summer day hiked from Jannali (where I then lived) via Woronora and Menai to this ferry, the aim being to visit our classmate Roger Dye, who lived in Lugarno — Moons Avenue to be exact!

He was not at home. But his mother was and she had of course met us before when we and other classmates came to visit Roger and go for a row on the Georges River. Mrs Dye kindly refuelled us, after which we caught the bus to Hurstville and train back to Jannali.

So the time between 1950 and 1959 seemed as I said a lifetime. And in a way it was. The time between then and now seems to have gone so much faster! The decade that I have now been back in Wollongong seems mere seconds!

And can this song really have been recorded FIFTY years ago? Surely it was just yesterday….

Trains for The Gong

Not only for The Gong, but for other Inter-City lines from Sydney west and north too. They arrived in the country via Port Kembla last year.

Here is a new train being taken to Sydney after delivery at Port Kembla up the Illawarra Line. Not under its own steam, so to speak!

NIF stands for “New Intercity Fleet” aka D-Sets. They are to replace on the South Coast line the ones mainly used now, the Oscars, or H-Sets.

Oscars entered service in 2006. Now the NSW Government has been keen to talk up their replacements, the D-Sets.

On Facebook yesterday I noted: I am interested to see the trains that will very soon be on our South Coast line — the Mariyung D-Set, the name being Darug for emu, apparently — a touch ironic as they are built in South Korea. They can be operated without guards, but I for one agree with the union’s resistance to that. There are many circumstances when one person not actually driving the train might be needed. Guards are NOT just decorative! Not to have them is yet another example of penny-pinching.

There was a problem with them being wider and longer than the trains they replace too, leading to a lot of work needing to be done on platforms and tunnels, especially in the Blue Mountains.

Yes they have toilets! They also have other interesting features including charging stations for mobile devices on each seat. However, seats are fixed and we rather like seats to be adjustable so you can face the direction of travel.

They are due to enter service this year. They look nice at least. Of course they will not be any faster than what we now have! Those old silver V-Sets were amazingly comfortable! The Oscars we now have numb the bum, and I would not be surprised if the D-Sets do the same!

When I said the old V-Sets, still being used for the time being on the Blue Mountains, here is a photo I took in 2010 when the V-Set was the usual on the South Coast Line.

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They were superb, these old ones! Very comfortable indeed! They have been with us since 1970!

Do note that none of this change is going to make our service faster. There are all sorts of issues regarding the track, essentially a 19th century one, that prevent them going much faster than they already do. Indeed, way back when I gazed in awe at the South Coast Daylight Express in, say, 1954, speeding through The Shire on its way to Bomaderry, the time that took may well have been a tad better than the shiny new ones!

Not usually two engines, mind, in 1954. This train is a special, but it is in The Shire and the Illawarra!