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.

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Shire: Jannali, Cronulla, family

Is it really a week since I posted this on Facebook’s Sutherland Shire Heritage page?

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That’s my sister-in-law Aileen and my niece Christine (Parkes) in front of The Cotton Shop, Box Road Jannali in 1959. My mother owned The Cotton Shop, a very successful dress shop — until she broke her spine falling over a vacuum cleaner in the shop. The business went on under a manager and in the early 1960s moved to Sutherland, but was never the same without my mother running things. In Jannali she had customers coming from all over Sydney, not just The Shire. On Facebook Mark Wright said: “Mum remembers it mate. She knew Mrs Whitfield.” That’s nice.

Couldn’t help reflecting that in 1959 I was in my final year as a student at Sydney Boys High, and that it was also the 8th term of Prime Minister Robert Menzies! He seemed to me then to have been PM forever, though I did dimly recall his predecessor. Menzies continued until 1966. They built them to last in those days!

1966 I began teaching at Cronulla High School, now in Scott Morrison’s electorate. My second HSC class there — and the second HSC ever! — have a reunion planned. I have been invited, but am not sure I can make it. Night-time events in Sydney are an issue for me these days, but I will surely be there in spirit.

Class of 1968 member Paul Weirick has also sent a list of those attending. Brought back lots of memories.  Fortunately, I had been able to attend a couple of events around the 50th anniversary of the school itself — so I haven’t totally missed out.

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Auburn Street Sutherland 2015

Posted on Facebook by my niece Christine: “Uncle Neil I thought you would like this photo I took in 2015 and sent to Dad which he loved. I imagine this brings back memories.

Does it ever!

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See also this blog and an earlier one.

Auburn Street Sutherland again–worth double posting

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61 Auburn Street, Sutherland – 28 November 2011

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61 Auburn Street, Sutherland 1946 or early 1947

Left to right: Me, my sister Jeanette (1940-1952),  my cousin Helen, my mother.

À la recherche du temps perdu — 3 on the Photo Blog.

A Shire nostalgia page

I recently joined Sutherland Shire Heritage, History & Memories on Facebook, posting a couple including this: Auburn Street Sutherland c.1941. That’s my brother Ian (1935-2017) on his first day at school.

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Member Helen Grant posted a rather sad shot of Como Hotel:

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I remember it as a magnificent — even unlikely — building. Helen Grant writes: “Como Hotel was destroyed on 3 Nov 1996, after an electrical fault in the restaurant kitchen started a massive blaze. My photo.” The hotel’s website says:

History records that the Como Hotel began its life as a German club in 1878 but wasn’t officially licensed until 1890—hence the date on the top parapet.

It was originally built for the Germans working on the construction of the railway. This hotel has had a mixture of owners & Publicans from the Catholic Church in the late 1880’s to that legend of Australian rugby league Arthur Beetson.

One of our greatest poets, Henry Lawson, lived at Como West in the years before his death in 1922 and it is believed he was a frequent visitor to the hotel, often reciting poetry in the bar. Unfortunately the hotel that saw two world wars come and go could not withstand the fire on Sunday 3 November 1996.

Affectionately known as the Como Hilton, the Hotel was re-built 5 years later keeping the original brickwork and retained the burnt door which was salvaged from the fire in the hotel’s restaurant.

In its heyday:

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After all, I was only seven years older than them…

Had an email from one of the people shown in the following repost, inviting me to a reunion of Cronulla High’s Class of 1968 later this year. Oh my!

More on yesterday’s Shire excursion

The Classes of 68 and 69 may be found here.Flies_away

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prefects1968aprefects1968bDr Colin Glendinning

Left: Paul Kelly, T Griffiths, Paul Weirick, R Priddy

Centre – Colin Glendinning 1968 — Right and in 2011.