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Category: Writing Australia (Page 2 of 6)

In Memoriam Queen Elizabeth II—A Monarch Who Served Her People Until The End

I was brought up on pictures of real-life kings and queens: of princes and princesses, dukes and duchesses. Mum loved the photos of the royals in glossy publications, such as the Australian Women’s Weekly magazines, in the fifties and sixties. She identified with the growing family of the young Queen Elizabeth and the Duke of Edinburgh, who was Elizabeth’s loyal consort until near the end.

I’d stood in a line on the side of hot roads in 1954 when I was ten, to catch a glimpse of the Queen and Duke when they visited 52 towns and villages across the country. We children believed in the fairy story we’d been fed about Kings and Queens.

Pictures of the royal family were often accompanied by photos of horses and dogs. My mother was married to a (struggling) grazier, and her own background was in farming. Mum’s burgeoning family soon matched that of the Queen in London.

At the same time, Mum aspired to modernity. The gadgets coming out of the United Sates of America — newspaper pictures of sexy electric stoves and movies showing shiny washing machines — sang to her across the waves.

I was nine when King George the Fifth died and Princess Elizabeth became Queen Elizabeth the Second. Her father had suffered from a bad stutter, just as President Joe Biden has done all of his life. My future husband would become devoted to finding a cause for this horrible affliction.

Synchronicities — strange coincidences — begin to attach themselves to my story.

Later on, our daughter, at three years of age, presented a blossom she’d plucked from our frangipani tree, to Princess Diana, after we’d waited at Sydney Airport to catch a glimpse of the younger royal couple. All of us back then, had been enthralled by the wedding, and then devastated in the nineties, when the fairy tale ended.

Many of us grieved for the Princess and the royal family. They suffered through the tragedy of a divorce and a car crash in Paris. None suffered more than the two young princes, William and Harry.

Through it all, Queen Elizabeth remained stoic, in spite of personal upheavals, conspiracy theories and even terrorist attacks that were rocking the royal boat. You had to admire the strength, courage and devotion to duty of this woman. Like all families, hers was far from perfect and reflected the divisions and dynamics that rocked those of her subjects.

Even though I have been playing a part in moving toward a Republic in Australia, I could not fail to see the virtues of her person. Like her predecessor, Queen Elizabeth I, she brought something special to her long reign.

And like a lot of women, she died alone, after the death of her Prince.

Queen Elizabeth on her own after the death of Prince Phillip.

Feature Photo: By Willgard on Pixabay id 4695849. The photo of a fantasy castle and an ethereal-looking woman observing it from nature is a reflection of my own background relationship with royalty, nature and fantasy.

Our Australian of the Year 2021 Speaks Out: Amazing Grace Tame!

When Grace Tame from Tasmania fled to Santa Barbara in California in 2019, she was diagnosed with high functioning autism. This diagnosis, coming nine years after the abuse event began, filled in an important piece of the puzzle that had led to her being abused by a pedophile, while a pupil at a Catholic college in Australia.

The furore that followed her speaking out, and her subsequent choice as the 2021 ‘Australian of the Year’, stirred up controversy. Media interest in female and child sexual exploitation became a hot topic. There was the ‘Me Too Movement’ in the United States and the suicide in prison of convicted child abuser, Jeffrey Epstein.

In Australia, the debate about a low representation of women in Federal parliament had been raging.

Grace had been chosen to speak out and represent those she had been supporting. What came as a shock to many, and brought shame on the Coalition in power in Australia, was the fact that Grace Tame had the courage to really SPEAK OUT. In fact, she roared out her message to Australia and the world!

Grace, no longer ‘Tame’, finished her speech of acceptance with the words:

‘Well hear me now. Using my voice, amongst a growing chorus of voices that will not be silenced. Let’s make some noise, Australia.’

The law in Tasmania preventing her to speak out about her abuse had been repealed. She had been able to tell the truth for the first time publicly. She revisited, with internal trepidation, the abuse in her own words, no holds barred.

Grace described the grooming by a male teacher at the school that she attended in Tasmania. ‘I lost my virginity to a pedophile. I was 15, anorexic; he was 58, he was my teacher. He abused me almost every day. Before school, after school, in my uniform, on the floor. I didn’t know who I was.’

Support for Grace was overwhelming, outstripping the mean voices against her. It helped that she had found a supportive partner and they worked as a team. She was even able to address the girls at her old school, when she was invited back by the new principal.

Later on she explained how she was speaking out for those suffering from the long-term damage of sexual assault.

‘Predators manipulate all of us. Family, friends, colleagues, strangers, in every class, culture and community. They thrive when we fight amongst ourselves and weaponize all of our vulnerabilities.’

I applauded Grace’s courage under fire and her determination to shake up the system which allows such atrocities to occur. Other young women came out of the woodwork and roared. One of these, Brittany Higgins, was abused in an office of the national parliament. The ensuing furore touched the very fabric of our democratic system. The Prime Minister, Scott Morrison, fumbled when trying to find an honest response to these incidents, which were handled badly by officials.

Government officials were caught unawares by the force, commitment and voice of this elected ‘Australian of the Year’ for 2021.

This brave young woman has established, with her partner, a trust fund in her name to support all the victims of abuse that have been coming out of the shadows, thousands of them, requesting to be heard. And that task, gargantuan and ongoing, she has taken on in her inimitable way.

Grace Tame has lived in the US and came close to one of its many mass gun murders. She is no slouch at expressing her opinion on gun ownership and gun control in her second home of America. See her opinion article in the Sydney Morning Herald of Thursday, December 1, 2022: Land of the Gun at War With Itself or I Was Nearby For One of the Many US Gun Massacres. Thoughts and Prayers Did Nothing (November 30, 2022)

These opinions expressed by Grace are typical of Australians’ and others’ incomprehension at the ongoing mass shootings, and the difficulties faced by American law-makers and reasonable citizens in the USA to meet and deal head-on with the awful dilemma of gun laws in the country. I acknowledge, too, the dismay of our American friends at the ongoing slaughter of their citizens. It reminds me of the anti-war-time songs of the sixties, like Bob Dylan’s ‘Blowin’ in the Wind’

Feature Photo: Making her powerful acceptance speech for the Australian of the Year title: Photo by (Alex Ellinghausen/Sydney Morning Herald)

A Memorable Third Reunion for Armidale Teachers’ College

The Class of 1961-1962

A large group of us seated in front of the hallowed walls, doors and columns, of the College on the Hill, in wet October weather.

A group of 65 of us — ex-Armidale Teachers’ College students — braved the weather and returned to our alma mater on Wednesday, 19th October, 2022, for a 60th reunion held over three days.

We now know that the heritage-listed Armidale Teachers’ College was once the site of a former prison, before it was demolished and rebuilt in its current form from 1928-1930. As we began our studies in 1961, we students knew little about the history and construction of this amazing building. But now, as we enter our eighties, it has become a passion for many of us, including this ex-student, to learn more.

I don’t remember ever using the classical front steps or the terrazo staircase of the Teachers’ College to enter its hallowed walls. From memory, we used to enter via a side door on the eastern side: the tradesmen’s entrance. It doesn’t matter, because the walks up and down the hill from Smith House and Newland, not to mention the sporting events, must have kept us fit: just look at the photo of us—smiles and all— sixty years on!

For this October, in 2022, a decade after the first successful reunion in 2012, the two amazing organisers, ex-students Brian Moore and Jean Black, had planned slightly fewer active events for us, given the march of time. Yes, without Jean and Brian, we would never have had these three wonderful reunions (I was overseas for the second one!) to look back on. Can you imagine the painstaking journey they took in order to gather our names, two hundred and fifty of us, and to find email addresses? I am led to believe that Moorie and Jean surfed through the 1962 photo of the whole group, in order to begin their search. A Facebook page was then set up by David Hawke for us to message one another.

The last reunion in 2012 was a landmark event for us. It would be 50 years since we left Armidale Teachers’ College and ventured into the wide world of teaching. Sporting events were on offer, bowls and golf, which were well-attended. Also, a wonderful session viewing the Hinton art was greatly appreciated, as well as tours around the area.We even had a dance, just like in the gym at the College. The floor was crowded with couples dancing to the College Saints’ tunes, and it finished with a Greek-style conga line around the dance floor.

In November of 2012, the spring carnival was in full bloom, and roses, roses, roses were on display! Fast forward to October, 2022: Was it global warming that had sent us wet and rainy weather, with Dumaresq Creek flooding all over the road and wet hairdos for some of us? Still we were so glad that we had come.

Like last times, Jean had hired a room at the Armidale Services club for “Meet & Greet”, on Wednesday, 19th October, 2022, commencing at 5 pm. She’d organised hot and cold finger food, and drinks were available at the bar. What a buzz it was to recognise all the faces of men and women whom some of us hadn’t seen for a decade or more. Sure there were changes, and a few had not come back — some had passed on — but most were still here with us! Smiles and a certain radiating “energy” filled the room with warmth and love.

On Thursday evening, 20th October, we had the Formal Dinner at Armidale City Bowling Club in the large TOPS Function Room.

The evening started off with historic student photos, lots of them, organised by ex-student Peter Pine, and shown on a continuous video presentation as we arrived. Prayers, grace, and memories of students who had passed on, led by Kay Hogan, was greatly appreciated by the rest of us. Jean had organised the music for the college song just before the sit-down two-course meal. Alternate dishes were served at large tables amid conversation: lots of conversation!

Sounds of Gaudeamus Igitur and hits from the sixties, played during the dinner, were mostly drowned out by conversations between old friends trying to catch up on lost time.

A standout feature of the evening was the Remember When stories, prompted by returning student, Anne Skyvington, and embraced enthusiastically by many others, who entertained us with laughs and nostalgia from memorable events and hijinks narrated from the two years spent at College. Messages from abroad were also relayed to the audience.

The crowning glory of the evening was the cutting of the enormous celebration cake. Married couples who had met at the College — Roger and Angela Britton, Robyn and Peter, D’Arcy, Roslyn and Bob Barwick, Narelle and Des Hoy, and Bill and Sybil Orr, were called on to officiate.

The Amazing Celebration Cake Organised by Jean Black

Another absolute blast was the 10 am Tour of the College, followed by morning tea, on Friday 21st October. It was so special to be filled in on the current uses and status of the Armidale Teachers’ College by the President of “the Friends”, Graham Wilson. At a meeting in April 1997, it had been agreed to create a Committee to save and protect the building. This group became the Friends of the Old Teachers’ College (F.O.T.C.).

As we sat in the refurbished hall, still packed with so many memories for us, Graham talked about how the College had been saved from mothballing by the Friends of the College, and about the improvements that will happen, now that the Education Dept has taken control back from the University. We learnt that this hall is where the New England Conservatorium of Music (NECOM) now rehearses and performs recitals for the public.

Our heartfelt thanks must go to Graham and to FOTC for the wonderful work they have done, and are still doing, to save the ATC for future generations, and for the benefit of reunions like ours.

Coming down the staircase from the hall after Graham’s Talk: See portraits of former principals, including ours, George Muir.

So many wonderful memories have been stirred by this 60th Reunion: the bus tour around the region, lunches and dinners with old friends, walks around the town, and many many more… What are the standout memories of the three day Reunion for us? There are too many to choose for recounting here. But the absolute delight of old friends meeting up once again, and wanting to chat well into the night, was so heart-warming for this enthusiastic returnee and writer, that it will have to feature!

This amazing building will live forever in our hearts, the 1961-1962 alumnis of The College On The Hill.

Anne Skyvington

1963: An Outback Teaching Appointment To A Small School

How would you fare if, like Alan Parkes, you were sent to “Bourke and Beyond” to run a small school in your first year out of Teachers’ College?

Anne Writes: This is a guest post by a fellow student from the Armidale Teachers' College Class of 1961-62. I have merely reformatted it here. When I graduated from Armidale Teachers' College in 1962, I was just nineteen, like most of my fellow students. Coming from the country, I thought being sent to Granville Central School in the Western Suburbs of Sydney, was hard enough. Alan Parkes, who had opted to teach in Small Schools, was appointed Teacher in Charge at Louth Public School, south west of Bourke. Not only did he stay there for three years, but the school thrived and enrolments increased!

NSW Outback

Alan presents the following reflections about his first appointment to Louth, looking back on the three years he spent at this remote school after graduating from Armidale Teachers' College in 1962.


I can distinctly remember receiving my first teaching appointment, shortly after my 19 birthday. The letter simply read, “You have been appointed as Teacher in Charge, Louth Public School. Transport: Rail to Bourke…Mail car Bourke to Louth.”

Fortunately I had my own car (a brand new VW Beetle costing 953 pounds (approx. $1900), which was roughly my annual salary in 1963). I remember heading off from Lismore on the North Coast, (about 1000klms away), for the great adventure of my first school.

From Lismore the bitumen road ran to just west of Moree (around 500 kms) and the remaining 500 kms was unsealed. The landscape was vastly different to what I was used to—vast treeless plains & then red sandhills with low scrub, saltbush/bluebush.

I found my VW had a top speed of 72 miles per hour (116 kilometres p/h) on the bitumen flats west from Moree. I must admit I drove very sedately on the gravel roads to protect my new car and, after 3 years at Louth, my car was still in pretty good condition.

The first school term started a week later for schools west of a certain longitude, roughly 150 degrees East. I left Lismore on Friday 1st of February ready to start on Tuesday the 5th of that month.

Unfortunately, I hadn’t reckoned on Western New South Wales having 6 inches (150mm) of rain in January, 1963! I was held up for a day or so but still made it to Louth on the Monday afternoon. My new Volkswagen was certainly a mess by the time I arrived in Louth.

Enrolments & Support

On the first day, enrolments totalled nine students, however during the year, numbers swelled to more than 30. I can remember numbers staying above twenty for the remainder of my three years.

With these numbers the school was able to function well, and activities such as, Sports Days, Fancy Dress Balls, a Christmas Tree and Celebrations, and a School Concert were able to be organised.

We had a particularly strong Parents & Citizens Association. We met regularly, usually at night. Members were dedicated & hard working. The P&C Association did the catering for the Louth Races in those years, which was a tremendous achievement indicating the solidarity of the Louth community. As a result we were financially strong and the school was very well equipped.

I cannot remember being bothered by the fact that I had students spread across anything up to 10 different grades from Kindergarten to Year 9 (Intermediate Certificate), with the older students completing High School by Correspondence, under my supervision. As a matter of fact, a real sense of co-operation existed within the school, with the older students assisting the younger ones with their work.

There was no school residence and for most of my time I boarded at the store with Paddy and Mrs O’Bree, and later on when the store was sold, with Jack and Mara Fraser.

I have many fond memories of Louth, and the saying “Once you have crossed the Darling, you will always return”, certainly holds true for me. My wife and I have been back many times.

Some Fond Memories…

  • Preparing sandwiches at Mrs. Jones’ place the night before the Louth Races. It was always hectic as the Parents & Citizens (P&C) Association did all the catering in those days & we couldn’t start preparing until supplies came on the Mail Truck around 8 o’clock Friday Night.
  • Mixing the Government’s FREE MILK (powdered in our case) in a large stainless steel cylinder (almost a metre high and 20cm in diameter), complete with plunger and it holding about 20 litres. The P&C provided chocolate and strawberry flavoured “Quik” to make the taste more pleasant. The trouble was that there was no hot water to dissolve this mixer in; it was just rinsed with cold water and used again the next day. Fortunately, no one got sick.
  • The Anzac Day Service, followed by a sit-down luncheon and the traditional keg, held in the hall.
  • Jessie dropping the full quart (litre) stoneware bottle of ink and it smashing in the classroom. Poor girl, she had just mixed together the ink powder and water. The stain is probably still there on the wooden floor.

  • The dead frog in the tank.
  •  Pumping water into the school’s tank from an almost stagnant waterhole in the river in the 1965 drought. Once again, no one got sick, although the whole town relied on such water. We measured 3 inches (75mm.) of rain for the year.
  • Cars driving on and then straight off the punt during this drought in 1965, when the punt sat on the bottom of the river. Charlie Potts, the punt-man, was on a pretty high contract price with the Department of Main Roads, on about 3 times my salary, because he had to operate 24 hours a day, 7 days a week. For most of late 1964 and early1965 the punt sat on the bottom and Charlie enjoyed his sleep-ins and still got paid because he was on contract. The bridge opened in March 1965.
  •  The look on Charlie the punt-man’s face when someone “knocked off” the punt gong a few days before the punt went out of service with the bridge opening. The gong was a plough disc which was struck with a large metal bolt. This gong later re-appeared as the school, used as bird bath and is still there. At the time the culprits, Keith, Jack Fraser and myself, did not see it as stealing but simply as preserving an important part of local history. Thanks to John Maguire for welding it up.

  • Saturday Picnic to the Aboriginal Cave Paintings on Winbar,
  • Someone bringing the wild goat to the School’s Fancy Dress Ball, as part of their theme. I think it was Chris Maguire. Some of the children from stations would join in our activities, such as Fancy Dress Balls, Concerts and Christmas celebrations..
  • Young Ronnie, aged 14 years, having to get the day off school to drive his mother into Cobar, (140 kilometres each way on gravel), to see the doctor. I think he had a special licence as his Dad was constantly away droving and his Mum couldn’t drive.
  • Movie nights at the school, thanks to Bill Buckley’s movie projector & generator. No TV or electricity in those days. Films were obtained from the BP Oil Company.
The Flying Doctors Service
  • Bill’s trusty generator providing power for the dentist (associated with the Flying Doctor Service). The Flying Doctor didn’t visit Louth during my time, however the dentist would fly in each school term . The clinic was set up at the School….I think Louth kids’ teeth were the best looked after in the state in those days.
  •  Carting the school’s 12 volt car battery over to “Shindy’s” Inn to get it charged to power the school’s film strip projector.
  • Saturday Night Euchre Tournaments/kids game nights, organised by the P&C.
  • The long cylindrical canvas water bag hanging on the verandah for cool water in summer
  • Changing School operating hours in summer to start at 8am. And finish at 1pm. In order to miss the afternoon heat. This took some convincing to get the Education Dept. to accept…in actual fact I don’t think they ever approved it… the P&C took the bit in its teeth & we just went ahead with it after all parents signed a form agreeing to it.

  • The Anglican Minister… (Bush Brother Order)…. Arriving in his Tiger Moth plane for Scripture. Just as he landed on the rough strip, (immediately behind the school in those days), some of Shindy Mitchell’s sheep darted across in front of the fast moving plane. He was still white when I greeted him at the school gate. “ Did you see those bloody sheep” was all he could mutter. Up until then I didn’t think Ministers swore.
  • Noel Digamore, (Cobar Mail Truck), arriving on the Saturday morning… the day of our lunch-time Christmas Tree & Sports Day… without the presents which were always selected, wrapped & labelled by Brennan’s Dept. Store in Cobar. Fortunately the store managed to find someone travelling out to Louth & the presents unexpectedly arrived in time.
  • The impromptu BBQ organised after the above Christmas Tree… The trouble was we had no meat, so Leo Glass quickly obliged with a goat from the chiller. Only a couple of us knew & many questions were asked where we got the tender lamb from.
Alan Parkes in Front of Louth Public School in 196

An Amazing Story About Stuttering

Did you know that Australia is a world leader in Stuttering research and treatments? See: The Australian Stuttering Research Centre.

But first, let me tell you a story. Many years ago, when I was little, there were always one or two children in school who couldn’t get their words out. They sounded ‘bumpy’ when they did manage to speak. Other children laughed at them. In my uncle’s time, he was even caned for his stutter.

Enter a team of Australian speech pathologists) at Lidcombe Hospital and other locales in Sydney’s Western Suburbs, during the nineties. They devised a simple plan, based on the idea of a puppet who appeared and then magically disappeared from sight. The Lidcombe Program for treating preschool age children was born!

When refined, this program was conceptually very simple, and involved trained therapists in verbally rewarding stutter-free speech outputs and pointing out “bumpy words” in a neutral manner.

Therapy sessions, individually suited to each child, and occurring in fun and environmentally friendly settings, occur over a period of weeks. Although simple, it could ‘go wrong’ if certain protocols are not followed. In other words, it is a demanding operation, that requires a stable and subtle framework to put it into practice.

Fast forward to today. The Australian Stuttering Research Centre RC is now working on another ground-breaking piece of research. They have been researching the very deep question of WHY people stutter. The causes of stuttering have escaped researchers all around the world since thinkers first wondered about it eons ago. It is a very complex multifactorial matter and many possible starting points for scientists to work from.

Enter the Baby Solution! Researchers at the ASRC have courageously begun studying the brains of infants who are at risk of developing stuttering. Yes, it is proven to be a heritable condition, afflicting ten percent of those on the planet at some stage during their lives. At risk babies were placed in Magnetic Resonance Imaging scanners in special capsules. This is already showing amazing early suggestions of differences between ‘at risk’ and control groups.

This study is the first to investigate the brains of children before the onset of stuttering.

Professor Mark Onslow, the Australian Stuttering Research Centre founding director, says people who stutter live in a society that marginalises them with stereotypes that portray stuttering as a psychological problem. It is not caused by emotional issues, but made worse by stigma and bullying at school.

The researchers say their preliminary findings warrant replication incorporating longitudinal research. They say a better understanding about how different brain regions become disconnected will bring us closer to developing treatment that one day may completely alleviate stuttering.

How do I know this? Because I’m married to the director of the the Australian Stuttering Research Centre, Mark Onslow. And because I’m so proud of him and his colleagues for the work that they do in trying to manage this horrible affliction that ruins lives and prevents sufferers from reaching their full career potential as adults.

Read the article Does Stuttering Have Its Origins at Birth on the ASRC website at

[See the Research Paper published in the journal Neuroscience Letters: ‘White matter connectivity in neonates at risk of stuttering: Preliminary data’]

Armidale: The Gang of Four

This is a guest post by Gordon Forth, a fellow student at Armidale Teachers College, who started there in 1962, a year after me. Gordon writes: Please find attached my somewhat scurrilous account of my time at ATC. I really had a lovely time at College, but was immature, a rather lazy student, who just managed to graduate. It may give some of my fellow students a chuckle.

Though I didn’t learn much, the two years I spent in Armidale was the most influential time of my adolescence. I guess the move to this country location at seventeen was my first tentative step to explore the wider world. To an extent, it involved breaking ties with my family and friends and starting a new life. Choices opening up before me had a great deal to do with the fact that I’d be living in a student residence.

The northern regional city of Armidale with its churches, the University of New England, Armidale Teachers’ College and several private schools, promoted itself in my mind as the Athens of the North. Moving there at seventeen marked a turning point in my life. Though tame by today’s standards, my decision to go to college there seemed quite adventurous at the time.

After spending two years in Armidale and three teaching in a remote part of the Snowy Mountains, I spent the next seven years in Sydney. In 1975, my then wife Penny and I moved to Warrnambool in South West Victoria. Over the next thirty years, I taught and undertook research in Ireland, China and the United States. Since my retirement in 2001, Penny and I have undertaken regular overseas trips. But I’m getting ahead of myself here.

In March 1963, I caught the overnight train from Hornsby to Armidale. My family, friends and, in tears, my girlfriend Vanessa, lined up on Hornsby station to see me off. On the train I met Paul Coghlan and Andy Miller, also commencing the primary teaching course at Armidale. Paul and I were to remain lifelong friends, while Andy was best man at my first wedding. Another dozen or so Sydney boys and girls on that train were also starting the teacher education course at Armidale. By the time the train arrived at Armidale the next morning, I was confident Paul, Andy and I would be friends. The three of us shared a taxi to Newling House, the men’s student residence. At the entrance we were met by second year students, who carried our suitcases to our rooms. My roommate Dick Clark hailed from the northern New England town of Glen Innes. Tall and well-built, Dick was a star swimmer. We got on as roommates but were never friends.

Another first year student, Dave Martin had been allocated the room next to mine. Tall, dark and good looking, Dave was from the north coast town of Murwillumbah, where his stepfather Stan owned a banana plantation. Supremely self-confident and personable, David was attractive to women and knew it. After Introducing himself, he enquired if I was any good at wrestling. I replied I most assuredly was. Smiling, he challenged me to do battle with him on the grass outside our rooms. Having boasted of my prowess, I could hardly refuse. After a preliminary skirmish, I applied my tried-and-trusted headlock, confident of bulldogging this cocky country bumpkin to the ground. However, Dave, who was extremely strong, bent low and used his hips to throw me over his head…twice!! Eventually, I learnt to lock one leg behind his knee to make this unsportsmanlike tactic less effective. It was an unusual way to begin what became a close friendship.

Most Armidale Teachers College students were from coastal northern NSW and knew each other through inter-school sporting events. There were established cliques, most notably one consisting of former students from Woodlawn, a Catholic boarding school in Lismore. The majority of students had completed the Leaving Certificate at coeducational country high schools. Quite a few hoped to return to teach and settle in their home towns. For these students, it was this prospect as well as being awarded a teachers’ college scholarship that led to their decision to choose teaching as a career.

Students from Sydney were outsiders and tended to group together. We met up on the train travelling to and from Armidale. During the holidays several of us met at Sydney’s Tatts Hotel. One of these was Denis Field the youngest son of a working class Catholic family from the inner western suburb of Enfield. Socially inept, and something of an innocent, Denis was a good natured, likeable character. His two older brothers, Maurice and Lionel, were both high school teachers. Denis’s father was known as “Joe the Header” due to his love of Two Up. As an older teacher, Denis featured in the Sydney press, having regularly sued the NSW Education Department. Working with his solicitor, he sought compensation after being hit by a cricket ball while supervising school sport and later falling down on a school bus. After his wife Kathryn died, Denis posted photos of himself on Facebook with busty young women at the Sydney Crown Casino. Within weeks, Paul, Andy, Dave and I were a close knit “Gang of Four”. Clomping around in riding boots, I was now known as “Hoss” or “Horse”. A flashy table tennis player, Dave was “Ping Pong” or just “Ping”. Andy, with his thin bony face, was less than ecstatic at being referred to as “Skull”. Paul was “Cog”, though after a public performance, his own wild version of the American dance The Hucklebuck, he became “The Rocking Ostrich”.

A cynical hedonist, Ping rejected the conformist attitudes of most college students. Perpetually restless and randy, Ping didn’t appear to take himself or anyone seriously, including our primary teaching course lecturers. Night after night, he went out on the prowl, with mischief, drinking and sex on his mind. Ping convinced Paul, Andy and me that we didn’t need to join the plodders slaving away at their assignments after tea. Rather, he persuaded us to join him on his nocturnal rambles. On one regrettable occasion, this involved frightening old ladies walking through a local park. After one such adventure, Ping returned home in the small hours, knowing a major assignment was due the next day. He set his alarm clock for 5am in order to finish the assignment. However, when the alarm went off, Ping — suffering from a lack of sleep and a hangover — smashed the offending clock against the wall. Rather than turn up for breakfast in the dining hall, Dave preferred to start the day sitting up in bed, smoking and munching Maltesers. Too lazy to be bothered washing his clothes, he simply gave them a jolly good dusting with Johnson’s Baby Powder.

One Saturday afternoon, after turning out for a College rugby team, I showered and pressed my best shirt, trousers and sports coat before setting off for the pub. I laid my clothes out on my bed, intending to change into them for the dance that evening. Alas, when I returned from discussing philosophy in the pub, my clothing had vanished. I managed to borrow a sports coat and an ill-fitting pair of strides, and just made the 9pm deadline for admittance to the dance. There, amongst the waltzing throng was a smirking Ping ,looking resplendent in my clothes lining up yet another conquest. When I remonstrated with him about his evil deed, he merely laughed and said I should be grateful that he deemed to wear my crappy clothes.

Ping was careless about money, his own and other people’s which he had no hesitation in borrowing. His strategies for raising extra cash included auctioning his clothes and hustling in pubs. His chosen venue was Armidale’s down-market Club Hotel, which boasted a table tennis table in the main bar. With a half smoked cigarette and a glass of beer on the table, Ping and I played a set with several patrons looking on. As the straight guy, my role was to defeat him with ease. A seemingly drunk Ping then challenged any one of the onlookers to play him for a couple of quid. Once his challenge was accepted, he instantly sobered up and proceeded to demolish his opponent.

Another time, Ping placed money on the bar, then challenged anyone present to a “best of three” arm wrestling contest. Though lightly built, he had extremely strong forearms and won easily. On one occasion he defeated a surprised older opponent. It was obvious that the man’s tough-looking mates were intent on exacting retribution on this youthful conman and his accomplice (me). We fled the scene and thought it best to give the Club a miss in future. Ping was aware that his “opportunistic” ways were not always appreciated by his friends. In order to find out what they really thought of him, he hid amongst the college hockey equipment stored in the top of his wardrobe. My role was to gather his friends to his room and encourage them to air their grievances regarding his character flaws. They all, including his roommate Andy Miller, enthusiastically embraced this opportunity. To a man, they agreed that Ping was a dirty rotten scoundrel. This was too much for Ping, who jumped down from his hiding place and started semi-playfully strangling a shocked Skull. In fairness, Ping was loyal to his friends when it really counted. When an eighteen plus stone Goliath “Bill Constable” threatened Andy, Ping unhesitatingly confronted the Bull from Bellingen. Twice he managed to throw Bill over his shoulder onto the floor, smashing a bed in the process. However, on his third attempt, Ping slipped and ended up with an enraged Constable choking him. I grabbed a hockey stick and threatened to rearrange Bill’s bovine head if he didn’t release his choke hold. He did.

Though clever, Ping went out of his way to ensure that he failed. He was at least partly responsible for Paul and Andy having to repeat second year at their own expense. I’ve no doubt that, had they not been under Ping’s influence, both would have passed. Paul and Andy really wanted to graduate, while Ping didn’t care. At the start of one annual exam, Ping filled in the cover sheet, stood up and walked out smiling.

After leaving College, I caught up with Ping in the mid-sixties, when I was teaching at a rural school in the Snowy Mountains. I was playing rugby for Cooma, which meant travelling to Canberra every second weekend. At that time, Ping was employed at the Commonwealth Department of Statistics in Canberra. I was best man at his wedding, when Ping, recently voted “Mr. Statistics”, married Barbara, “Miss Statistics”. She was conventionally attractive, but boring and vain. Understandably, Barbara didn’t appreciate Ping and I mocking her. Their hasty marriage only lasted a few months. Over the next few years, I met several of Ping’s girlfriends. I remember one telling me that she knew the relationship with David wouldn’t last, but was happy to make the most of it while it did.

In the early 1970s, after I had moved in with Penny at Rose Bay, Ping turned up driving a new Datsun 240z sports car. It turned out he had won quite a large sum in the lottery. That evening, while having a beer with him at a Kings Cross pub, he pointed out two attractive mini-skirted women sitting across the room. He explained that he had paid for them to have a twosome with me. I thanked him, but politely declined. After I moved to Warrnambool, I lost contact with Ping, but often wondered what had happened to this personable, flawed human being.

Like Ping, I did the minimum amount of work at College, preferring to spend my time playing billiards, table tennis at the pub and courting. Apart from Paul, I lost track of my college friends after we moved to Warrnambool in January 1975. I was surprised and a little hurt that Andy didn’t invite Paul, Ping or me to his wedding. Doubtless, he was concerned, and with good reason, that one of us, probably Ping, would get drunk and start calling out “Skull” or something worse at the reception. Andy had been an easy target for Ping’s cruel mockery. In our post college careers, Paul and I had much in common, having completed postgraduate degrees and moved onto secondary and tertiary teaching.

When Penny and I are in Sydney, we generally meet with Paul and his wife Nola for a meal and reminisce about our Armidale days.

 Author’s Note: Born   July   1944, Gordon attended Beecroft   Primary, St Andrews Cathedral Choir School and Epping Boys High. Having  graduated  from Armidale  Teachers College,  Gordon  was a primary then secondary teacher,  before taking up academic appointments at UNSW and then Deakin University. Gordon  holds a B.A and M.Litt (UNE), M.Ed UNSW, and a Ph. D (Monash). He has been a visiting  scholar  at Trinity College, Dublin,  Nanjing  and  Kansas State universities. Since  retirement, Gordon   has  worked as a consultant,  and authored a number of commissioned histories.   He and wife Penny, with their  two whippet dogs,  live  in  Warrnambool.

Photo: Andy, David (Bing) and Gordon with an unnamed female student at the Farewell Dance in 1963. The 4th member of the gang, Paul Coghlan, is not in the photo.


The Republican Movement is Back

I’m reposting this Conversation article by Denis Altman, to mark my backing of the new model being set up by the ARM.

The republic debate is back (again) but we need more than a model to capture Australians’ imagination

Chris Jackson/AP/AAP

Dennis Altman, La Trobe University

The Australian Republic Movement has just released their preferred model for a republic.

It would see Australia’s parliaments nominate candidates for head of state, who would be put to a popular vote of all Australian voters. The head of state’s term would be for five years.

For the past two decades, the Australian Republic Movement has not had a position on what model should be used. So what does this development mean?

The 1999 referendum

Australia’s 1999 republic referendum is widely believed to have failed because republicans were divided on what model to adopt. The proposal for a president chosen by the federal parliament was opposed by many republicans, who insisted only a directly elected head of state was acceptable. Whether another model could have succeeded is unknowable.

The idea of a republic has essentially been on the political back burner since the referendum.

Major polls suggest declining support for a republic. Interestingly, support for change is weakest among younger age groups, who would have no memory of the earlier campaign.

Under former leader Bill Shorten, Labor proposed a two-stage popular vote to get to a republic: one to decide in-principle support for a republic, and if that succeeded another to decide how. However the issue is unlikely to feature prominently in the upcoming election campaign, set to be dominated by COVID and the economy.

After Queen Elizabeth

As the end of Queen Elizabeth’s reign approaches, the Australian Republic Movement has reignited the debate, following two years of consultation. Central to their campaign is the claim:

Australians should have genuine, merit-based choice about who speaks for them as Head of State, rather than a British King or Queen on the other side of the world.

Monarchists will retort that we already have an effective head of state with the governor-general, who for all practical purposes exercises the powers granted to the monarch. Ever since 1930, when the Scullin government appointed the first Australian-born governor-general, Sir Isaacs Isaacs, against the opposition of King George V, it has been clear this choice rests with the prime minister.

Becoming a republic would essentially be a symbolic, if important act. The republic movement claims we need the change so “our future, more than ever, will be in Australian hands”, but it is hard to see what effectively would change.

The biggest hurdle for republicans is the reality that Australia is already an independent nation, with only sentiment and inertia linking us to the British crown.

Most Australians, when pressed, struggle to remember the name of the current governor-general or to explain their role.

Over the past several decades, prime minsters have seemed increasingly presidential. Indeed, one might have expected a head of state to be more visible as a unifying force during the past two years of the pandemic, but Governor-General David Hurley’s messages have gone largely unnoticed.

A hybrid model

To find an acceptable means of removing the link to the crown, the republic movement is now proposing a hybrid plan. The media response to this has been at best lukewarm.

This model retains the basic premise of the Westminster system, namely that effective power rests in the hands of a parliamentary majority. A directly-elected president can be compatible with parliamentary government – this is the system in Ireland and several other European countries – although it would need strict constitutional limitations on the powers of a president.

But former prime minister Paul Keating lashed the hybrid idea, saying it would undermine the prime minister’s authority and lead to a dangerous “US-style” presidency.

Former “yes” campaign leader and prime minister Malcolm Turnbull has also criticised the proposal as unlikely to get the required support of voters, because it

will be seen by many to embody the weaknesses of direct election and parliamentary appointment models but the strengths of neither.

Indigenous recognition

Becoming a republic would require significant rewriting of the Constitution, which would then need to be ratified by a majority of voters in a majority of states. Such a significant undertaking should see us imagine more than just a name change for the head of state.

One of the major shifts since the 1999 referendum is the growing demand from Indigenous Australians for recognition that sovereignty was never ceded, and the scars of colonial occupation and expropriation remain.

As historian Mark McKenna writes:

The republican vision of Australia’s independence […] must finally be grounded on our own soil and on thousands of generations of Indigenous occupation.

A republican movement that begins with the Uluru Statement from the Heart, rather than concerns about the symbolic links to the British crown, is a project more likely to capture the imagination of Australians.

Dennis Altman, VC Fellow LaTrobe University, La Trobe University

This article is republished from The Conversation under a Creative Commons license. Read the original article.

Climate Change: Things Australians Are Doing About It

Reference: ABC Online: Future Australia

While the Federal government has come to the party at the COP 26 (Glasgow) on net zero CO2 emissions by 2050, our 2030 targets still fall far below what’s needed to keep temperature rises to 1.5 degrees Celsius. But Australian states and some powerful—as well as many ordinary—individuals are doing a lot about tackling climate change problems head on.

Solar Panels

In Australia, 2.7 million households have solar panels on their roofs. Cheap solar, both on farms and roofs, has forced a change to the electricity market, encouraging big power generators to embrace a fully renewable future. The head of the Australian Energy Market Operator (AEMO), claims that, given the low cost of renewables, there will be certain times when 100% of Australia’s power will be supplied by renewables by 2025. (ABC Online)

South Australia

Since 2016, when a storm storm knocked out power lines across the state, causing widespread blackouts, SA now has the most reliable grid in the nation, and five years on from 2016, power prices have dropped. SA boasted 100 per cent renewables last October—with 78 per cent of that from rooftop solar—and 60 per cent of their energy for 2020 from renewables!

SA has also shown the rest of the country and the world how a fully renewable grid could work, by building Australia’s first big battery at Hornsdale in 2018. The Tesla Battery has saved South Australia $166 million in its first two years. Other states are following suit, and more than 31, 000 people installed batteries in their homes in 2020. Both battery and solar panel prices are dropping. (ABC Online)

The Federal Government & The Transition

The Australian power grid is huge, and moving from coal-fired power plants to renewables requires courage and commitment. Malcolm Turnbull was trying to set up a comprehensive national energy policy for doing just that when he was overthrown. The Federal Government makes the rules that run the grid, and the current lack of clarity is an obstacle for businesses wanting to invest in renewables and storage. It’s been left to the states, individuals, and companies acting on their own to fill the leadership gap.

The lack of emissions standards encapsulates the dynamic Australia faces this decade. All transitions are painful, but the transition from coal is underway and the federal government says it’s on board. But they’re not yet doing the things required to speed it up and make it as easy as possible to move to the next stage.

New South Wales

NSW recently announced a renewable energy zone in the New England area with capacity for 8 gigawatts of renewable power. They got offers from businesses to build plants for 34 gigawatts of wind, solar and storage.

Dubbo farmer Tom Warren has discovered that sheep can graze under solar panels. It’s happening in other parts of the world, in France, for example. In the most recent drought, while other nearby farms needed additional feed for more than 18 months, his flock only needed it for three months. More and more farmers are turning to solar panels to provide that. And the benefits go both ways: planting crops underneath and around solar panels reduces the temperature and increases moisture.


Mining billionaire Andrew ‘Twiggy’ Forrest yesterday announced that Central Queensland would soon be home to the world’s largest hydrogen manufacturing facility. It is expected to make Queensland a renewable energy superpower, with predictions the plant will double green hydrogen production across the globe. The renewable energy flooding our grid could be turned into hydrogen and stored to be used when the sun doesn’t shine or the wind doesn’t blow, or shipped overseas to other countries who don’t have the same renewable resources we do. He’s also planning to build the world’s largest solar farm in the Northern Territory to power a giant sun cable via Singapore to Asian countries.


The Meat and Livestock Association announced earlier this year the entire industry would become carbon neutral by 2030. Our agriculture emissions are 12 per cent of total emissions, and almost all are from livestock. Asparagopsis grows like a weed all year round in Tasmania, and the CSIRO found that it reduces methane by as much as 99 per cent when fed to cattle.  It makes the cows fatter and healthier and farmers can spend less on feed. Tasmanian startup Sea Forest is aiming to be the first in the world to produce this plant at scale. Western Australia is also stepping up with initiatives in this area. See ABC News article: Poo Eating Beetles.

Electric Cars

For Australia to be on track to do our bit in keeping warming to 1.5C above historical levels we need 76% cars to be electric by 2030. Because we don’t build cars here, we will need to go with the flow, and every major carmaker, with the exception of Toyota, has committed to ending internal combustion engines by 2035. And there’s a race on to dominate the EV market. In Australia electric car sales tripled in the past two years. EVs are on track to become as cheap as other cars, with half the operating costs some time during the decade.

Business Backing

Unlike earlier times when this country has tried to argue the need for climate change initiatives, there is now evidence business has come to the party, and is ready to invest in renewables. Within a matter of three years, the Business Council of Australia has changed from seeing emissions reduction as economy wrecking, to describing a 45-50 per cent reduction in emissions as pragmatic and a chance for ambitious investments. The BCA is now embracing a future low-carbon world, and predicting that the economy could grow by a trillion dollars over the next 50 years, as industry moves to cheap and clean electricity.

The Future

It’s currently cheaper to build new renewables supported by batteries than to build coal-fired power plants. At some point, it will be cheaper to build renewables than it is to run existing fossil fuel power plants. (ABC Online)

We are among the largest emitters per capita in the world, and exports to other resource-needy countries triple our footprint. But if Australia can supply Asia with cheap, abundant renewable energy and carbon-neutral materials, we could make a critical difference, while pumping money into our region for decades to come.

Will Australia step up in time?

Pandemic States of Australia:

A Hermit State Forever More?

The normally united states of Australia, have entered a chequered phase of mistrust and anger. Victoria hates New South Wales for not locking down sooner and more severely. (Tongue in cheek!) We here in New South Wales sometimes envy Victorians with their sensible leader/s, while our Gladys has had to go before ICAC (Independent Commission Against Corruption). Newly elected Premier of NSW, Dominic Perrottet, conservative Catholic and father of six, (with another on the way), wants to open up to the world. The image of a chess board is not exact, but it does reflect the fact that two colours, blue and red, tend to head off against one another in this conflict. The Liberal (blue!) states of New South Wales, South Australia, and Tasmania tend to face off against the (red) Labor ones of Victoria, Queensland, and Western Australia. In truth it’s the premiers who push their own colour and brand of ideology in this way. And don’t forget that the Federal government is blue at the moment.

The states’ responses to closing borders to other states, may have seemed draconian, but they worked well while Australia had vaccine shortages. For the past three months, NSW and Victoria have suffered through tiresome and economically disastrous lockdowns. I’m in NSW, so I mustn’t forget to emphasise that Victoria had the world’s longest lockdown: 18 months or more through two winters. Not surprisingly, Victorians have celebrated freedom day, recently, with dancing in the streets. Vaccination rates are now above 70 percent, and both states are reopening. Queensland premier, Annastacia Palaszczuk, is reopening her state on December 17, when vaccination rates are predicted to hit 80 percent. Tasmania will open at 90 percent and the ACT on November 1. Mark McGowan in WA will likely follow NSW’s approach and open up once vaccination rates hit 80 percent. However, like SA and the NT, he must be cautious about exposing the high indigenous populations in his state to the virus.

Should the same logic apply to reopening international borders now? Vaccination rates of 80 percent and over could be used as the line in the sand for reopening the country to the world. ‘We can’t remain a hermit state forever,’ as Dominic Perrottet has said, putting the PM on notice. If NSW is happy to welcome visitors from Victoria—the latter recorded a Covid caseload of 2200 on October 22—then it should be safe to allow tourists or others from France, for example, which has had a much lower viral caseload by population. In any case, all arrivals would be fully vaccinated and tested before arrival.

Prime Minister Morrison wants to let in only Australian citizens in the beginning. Qantas is not dragging its feet, expecting to reinstate 11, 000 workers it stood down because of lockdowns by December.

Australian tourism and educational industries are suffering while Mr Morrison delays making a move on reopening to the world. He should take a page from the states, who have met the challenge of the pandemic on all fronts, by encouraging high vaccination rates, employing contact tracing and other measures to reduce rates and spread of the virus, and encouraging citizens with positivity and incentives.

What We’re Reading Down Under

That is, reading on the beach

I live at Coogee, close to the beach in a unit with my husband of 47 years. Coogee Beach is located on Sydney’s famous Coastal Walkway, which stretches from Bondi Beach to Maroubra Beach. The name Coogee is taken from a local Aboriginal word “koojah” which means “smelly place”. Mountains of seaweed collect on the beach at times due to winds and tide influences. But daily beach cleaning by Randwick City Council ensures that the sands are pristine and soft white, stretching along the 200 metre shoreline of the bay. The beach is partly protected by a rocky outcrop called Wedding Cake Island, and shark nets have been laid nearby, so that few sharks have been seen in the area for many years.

Australians are great sun and sea worshippers, and many are lucky enough to live near the ocean. They are also reputed to be great readers of books. This post combines those two pastime passions within it.

It was the first hot Sunday during the Pandemic and a crowd had spread out across the sands at Coogee Beach. I walked along the foreshore and saw that many people of all ages were reading books, paperbacks stuck in the sand, or held high by sun worshippers on their backs or bellies on towels; some were reading on electronic devices, but I had to eschew those for this post. I saw that most sunbathers had settled down at a safe distance from one another, that is, despite the look of the crowd in the header photo, taken from high up.

I’ve been in the habit of noticing, for some time, what people read on the beach at Coogee. Always from a safe distance, and with my mask on, during these anxious times. This day, as I looked from the shoreline with my 20:20 vision (since cataract surgery), I noted down the titles on my iphone; sometimes I slipped cautiously between bodies, to take a closer up look. Never talking, always at a safe distance…

Here are some of the books being read this day…

  • 21 Lessons for the 21st Century, by Yuval Noah Harari: This book highlights the biggest challenges in the modern world, and it offers advice on making sense of and navigating such transitional times. (Shortform Readers)
  • Gone Girl: Gillian Flynn:  A 2012 crime thriller by an American writer. The sense of suspense in the novel comes from whether or not Nick Dunne is involved in the disappearance of his wife Amy. (Wikipedia)
  • A Little Life: Hanya Yanagihara: A stunning “portrait of the enduring grace of friendship” about the families we are born into, and those that we make for ourselves. A masterful depiction of love in the twenty-first century. (Goodreads)
  • The Hunted: Gabriel Bergmoser: Nowhere to run, nowhere to hide – an electrifying, heartpounding, truly unputdownable thriller.
  • The Promised Land : Barach Obama: A memoir by the 44th president of the United States from 2009 to 2017, including the killing of Osama Bin Laden.
  • Songbirds: Christy Letferi: A beautifully crafted novel, intelligent, thoughtful, and relevant, by the author of The Beekeeper of Aleppo. (Allen&Unwin)
  • Against All Odds: Craig Challen & Richard Harris: The inside account of the Thai cave rescue and the courageous Australians at the heart of it
  • I Catch Killers: The Life and Many Deaths of a Homicide Detective, by Dan Box & Gary Jubelin: Australia’s most celebrated homicide detective, leading investigations into the disappearance of William Tyrrell, the serial killing of three Aboriginal children in Bowraville and the brutal gangland murder of Terry Falconer. During his 34-year career, former Detective Chief Inspector Jubelin also ran the crime scene following the Lindt Cafe siege. (Booktopia)
  • Karma: Sadhguru: A new perspective on the overused and misunderstood concept of ‘karma’ that offers the key to happiness and enlightenment, from the internationally bestselling author and world-renowned spiritual master Sadhguru. (Penguin)
  • China Rich Girfriend: Kevin Kwan: a satirical 2015 romantic comedy novel. It is the sequel to Crazy Rich Asians a novel about the wealthy Singapore elite. Kwan was urged to write the sequel by his publishers after the initial success of Crazy Rich Asians. (Wikipedia)
  • Midnight’s Children: Salman Rushdie: It portrays India’s transition from British colonial rule to independence and the partition of India. It is considered an example of postcolonial, postmodern and magical realist literature. (Wikipedia)
  • Sorrow & Bliss: Meg Mason: In the hands of its acerbic narrator – dealing with a crushing mental illness – even the darkest material is handled lightly, and is all the more powerful for it. (Guardian)
  • Girl, Woman, Other: Bernardine Evaristo, the Anglo-Nigerian award-winning author of several books of fiction and verse fiction that explore aspects of the African diaspora: past, present, real, imagined. Her novel Girl, Woman, Other won the Booker Prize in 2019. (Goodreads)
  • How to Win Friends & Influence People: Dale Carnegie: American writer and lecturer and the developer of famous courses in self-improvement, salesmanship, corporate training, public speaking and interpersonal skills. Born in poverty on a farm in Missouri, his most famous book first published in 1936, a massive bestseller that remains popular today. (Goodreads)
  • Your Erroneous Zones: Wayne Dyer: A popular American self-help advocate, author and lecturer. His 1976 book Your Erroneous Zones has sold over 30 million copies and is one of the best-selling books of all time. It is said to have “brought humanistic ideas to the masses”. (Goodreads)

A recent survey of Australian reading habits provides insights into contemporary preferences, behaviours and attitudes of Australians towards books and reading. The Australia Council has partnered with Macquarie University on this third and final stage of their three-year research project titled ‘The Australian Book Industry: Authors, Publishers and Readers in a Time of Change’.
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