Chapter 6 - Schools & Secular Education
I started school when I was nearly seven and a half. At that time Kulnura Public School was being built but wasn't quite ready, so I joined Mrs Burns' school at the Kulnura Public Hall. The classroom was under the stage, the desks were trestle tables and the seats were backless forms from the hall above, the same ones as were used for Church Services and for arranging around the walls of the Hall for dances. There were only about a dozen children on the roll and our exercises were carried out on slates. We learned numbers and “sums” by going outside and collecting little bits of stick to use for counting, adding and subtraction. We were taught the alphabet by rote and the multiplication tables by heart.
I don't remember a lot about that school, but the day I remember best was the one on which Mrs Burns didn't turn up at all because, as we later discovered, she was sick. That was an opportunity for some of the older boys and girls to get up to some mischief, but I was threatened with dire consequences if I ever “let on”, so I cannot reveal anything more about that!
Six or seven weeks later the Kulnura Public School was opened on 20th September 1928. There were about twenty on the roll, ranging in ages from six to fourteen. The first teacher was Mr. Bollard. I don't remember much about him except that I think I liked him and that he had the gumtrees in the playground lopped down to about twelve or fourteen feet. To everyone's surprise they flourished with new luxurious growth at the tops and looked very good in later years.
The scholars were divided into three or four age groups and we were all in the single room the building provided. Hence we learned a lot of things very quickly-our lessons and some of the other group's lessons too. In fact, several of us were able to pass the Q.C. Certificate when we were eleven years old, that is a year early, even though we started school a year later than was usual. Q.C. stands for Qualifying Certificate and was the prerequisite for going on to High School. The minimum school leaving age at that time was, I think, fourteen and many children stayed on at Primary School rather than go to High School of which there were rather fewer then than now.
Mr. Bollard didn't stay long and was replaced by Mr. Ridden. He was younger than Mr. Bollard, rather stout as I recall and a bachelor, although he married while teaching at our school. He was my teacher for the remainder of my Primary Schooling. He left soon after I went to High School to take up the larger school at Yarramalong. I got on well with him and I think he took extra pains with me. I soon became an avid reader and I recall that, after he returned from a trip to Sydney one time while he was boarding with us he gave me a rather splendid book on Geography with big oval shaped maps of the World. I don't know that I ever thought the world was flat, but I did think, for some time, that it was oval.
Mr. Ridden was a strict teacher. As was apparently the custom in those days he was not averse to using the cane, but only once on me, I think. I well remember the welts it raised on the tips of my right fingers. I think he aimed for my palms, but I tried to pull my hand away, although not quickly enough. He did terrify us when he produced the yard-long cane and swished it through the air.
Mr. Ridden was a bachelor and in those days the residents had to club together to provide free board for the “subsidised” teacher and as I mentioned earlier, he boarded with us for a while. However, after he married he moved to a little cottage on the Wollombi Road near the Young's farm.
Particularly well fixed in my mind are two subjects that Mr. Ridden obviously enjoyed teaching us. One was singing, and as I had a pure and true boy soprano voice I enjoyed this too. The songs we learnt were such things as “Over the sea to Skye” and “The Last Rose of Summer”. On at least one occasion he arranged a concert at Kulnura Hall during which we young songsters performed. The other subject was poetry. He loved the Australian poets, particularly Henry Kendall with his “deep, green gracious glens”. Adam Lindsay Gordon's poem “Life is mostly froth and bubble; Two things stand like stone - etc” had special meaning in our household after brother Wally, to the hilarity of our Parents, overflowed the bathroom floor with soap suds while shouting at the top of his voice “Kindness in another's trouble, Courage in your own!” A.B.Paterson's “Sees the vision splendid of the sunlit plains extended, And at night the wondrous glory of the everlasting stars.” still brings back to me a sense of awe and wonder as I see the starlit heavens from the front step here at Bateau Bay on a moonless night. Of course we also knew and remember Dorothea Mackellar's “My Country” which we used to recite sometimes during morning assembly.
My last year at Primary School and my first and second at High School were complicated with a nasty and most embarrassing affliction that I contracted. It was then known as St Vitus' Dance or Chorea. An old medical book of the period describes it thus: “Chorea or St Vitus' Dance is an affliction of the nervous system, present as a rule in children between the ages of five and sixteen, mostly girls. In some cases Chorea appears to succeed an attack of acute rheumatism or rheumatic fever. The distinguishing feature of Chorea is a succession of involuntary muscular movements in various parts of the body, from the face down to the arms and legs, and carried out without purpose whatever. They may vary from light twitches to most violent jerks. The only way to cure them is to put the patient to bed and keep him as quiet as possible. Arsenic is a favourite drug with doctors in the treatment of Chorea. Most cases recover.”
The article doesn't say whether the recovery is from the arsenic treatment or from the disease! Well, fortunately I recovered although the symptoms caused me acute embarrassment at the time because the main twitch or spasm I suffered was an involuntary stretching of the neck muscles, causing me to throw my head to one side and backwards. I have a High School Class photograph in which I am assuming this most inelegant pose! I know Mum and Dad were very worried about it, especially as a mentally bright local lad of my age, Burton Young, had just died of fits caused by epilepsy and they thought I may have such an affliction. They took me to Dr. Woolnough at Parramatta and, sure enough, he prescribed arsenic! The first doses were very small, but were increased as the body developed tolerance. I was probably seventeen or eighteen before the symptoms cleared, but even then they re-appeared (and still do occasionally) when under highly stressful situations. These twitches caused, as I said, a good deal of embarrassment and for years I suffered socially especially at High School and to some extent after I started work.
The strange thing is that there seemed to be no concern at the time as to the underlying problem. I certainly wasn't “put to bed and kept as quiet as possible”. It was not until many years later when I was applying for Life Assurance that the examining doctor told me I had a heart murmur and as a result the Assurance Company added five years to my age for calculating the premium. The doctor quizzed me about my medical history and when I told him that I had chorea as a youth he asked me if I could remember being very tired and having pains in my legs. Could I, ever! I used to have pains so bad that I cried in the night and Mum used to bring me into her own bed to warm my legs and reduce the pain. My legs ached when I rode my bike. I had hardly any physical energy and used to lie about a lot, spending the time reading. At the same time, I managed to help with the milking and a few other chores feeding the fowls and pigs, delivering the milk as previously described and helping with picking tomatoes, peas and beans.
What I loved to do, because no physical energy was involved was to read, and read and read. I can remember trying to read by moonlight after I had been told to put out the hurricane lamp that hung between my bed and Wally' s.
It is interesting to quote the following from the same medical book as quoted from above: “Acute rheumatism or rheumatic fever is a serious disease which in the opinion of some is caused by microbial infection, though many others do not think so. The principal symptoms of acute rheumatism are feverishness and pain in one or more joints. The joints more frequently affected are the knees, ankles, wrists, shoulders and elbows. Nearly all the organs of the body suffer in the course of an attack and the patient is generally weak and prostrate. The danger in acute Rheumatism is the frequency with which the heart becomes affected. Indeed, acute rheumatism is responsible for the majority of cases of valvular heart disease. The danger can best be avoided by rest in bed during and after the attack.” The article goes on to prescribe aspirin.
The Assurance Company Doctor said he felt sure I had had rheumatic fever and I was lucky that my heart murmur wasn't worse. I have had it checked frequently since and it is invariably referred to as very minor or almost undetectable. But the Doctor detected it easily enough when taking out Life Assurance was involved!
I sincerely believe that being sent off to Parramatta High School was the best thing for my health that could have happened to me. It relieved me of the chores on the farm, which were getting more arduous as I was getting older and as the Depression hit harder. I had very little to do at my Pegler Grandparent's home where I was staying the first year as I had a room to myself and they employed a maid to do the housework and help with the cooking as Gran was failing and confined to a wheel-chair. And I walked to school or was driven by Grandpa on his way to work rather than ride the bike which Grandpa seldom allowed me to use.
So I was very much a loner at Parramatta, but I didn't mind so long as I had a book to read. Grandpa had a cupboard full of books including the medical one I have just quoted from and others like “Tom Brown's Schooldays” and, surprisingly, “Sons and Lovers” by D.H.Lawrence. That was a bit of an eye-opener to a twelve year old country boy!
Later I spent six months with Grandma Hunt at “Currawong” at North Parramatta where I again walked to school and didn't have access to a bike at all. I am sure the walking was just what I needed. At “Currawong” I had a magnificent store of reading matter in the form of bound volumes of “The Boys' Own Paper”, thirty or forty years old but terrific reading, full of wonderful stuff for which I have thanked my lucky stars ever since. It was in them that I read almost the whole of Jules Verne's fabulous science fiction most of which has since come to pass in my lifetime!
At Parramatta High I was first enrolled in Class 1D which included Latin and French as well as the Academic Subjects. I soon tired of Latin and was allowed to change to the “Commercial” class 1C which still covered French but also included business principles, art and additional science subjects. There were no technical subjects at Parramatta High, these being taught at the Granville Junior Technical School. At that time I had no clear idea of what I wanted to do with my life, but I was pretty sure it wouldn't be helped by Latin which was for Doctors, Priests and Lawyers! Dad had thought of an Agricultural College but the Depression had put paid to that.
But I enjoyed the Class 1C curriculum especially the lessons of Miss Cusack who took us for English in First and Second Year. My memories couldn't be better expressed than in this extract from a letter by someone called Dulce Mortimer which appeared in the Parramatta High School 70th Anniversary History published in 1983: “My most treasured memory, however, is the 1st and 2nd Year English (do you still have the portables?) where our teacher was the now famous authoress Dymphna Cusack. Her reading of “Wind in the Willows” will live in my memory always.” It is true. She was a spellbinder of a reader! Other teachers I remember were “Auntie May” Crouch, Mrs Fields and Messrs “Gunner” Hodges, Johnson, Hingston (with his wing collars), Cranston, Castlemaine, Savage (always wore a dustcoat), Hudson, Baldock and Johns.
The headmaster was “Tommy” Atkins and the Girls' Supervisor was Miss Mackaness, who also taught Maths. Mr. Atkins retired in 1933, the first year I was at High School, and the new Headmaster was Mr. Hedberg. Parramatta High had the distinction at that time of being, I believe, the only co-educational High School in the Metropolitan area. It had a high academic reputation and many of the students later became prominent citizens, including Richie Benaud of cricket fame, and Leo Port, Lord Mayor of Sydney and a prominent City Consulting Engineer. Jean's older brother Tom was Dux of the school in the late 1920s.
I did quite well at Parramatta High School after a shaky start due to changing from the academic to the commercial course. However, I didn't shine at examinations even though I had lots of time to study and, I think, knew the work well enough. At Primary School we had only one examination, the one to qualify for High School. I had sat for a scholarship for that, and although passing the exam didn't get the scholarship, so my pass couldn't have been too brilliant.
Looking back, I find I also did quite poorly at Sunday School Scripture Exams although I think I knew the work. Anyway, as a result of my poor examination results at High School, probably coupled with the fact that I was a year younger than most of the rest of the class, I had to repeat First Year in 1934, which I think was a good thing as, naturally, I did a lot better that year, coming seventh in the class at the end of the year. At the same time, I later realised that one of my problems with school results, particularly examinations, was that I didn't make enough effort to really commit information to memory, depending more on what natural wit and intelligence I may have to get by with. This is a fault that I have never really overcome. I can usually remember what I have done and where I have been and I can generally recall events and circumstances. I can develop ideas and reason things out reasonably well, it seems, but I am poor at remembering names, numbers, place names and the like, simply because I make no real effort to remember them. Partly, this is due, I think to my mind rushing ahead to other things when I am introduced to people, being more interested in what they do, can offer, are interested in, etc. rather than what their names are.
Being aware of this shortcoming I have attempted at times to use some systematic method of remembering names by association, but it never seemed to work for me in practice. While I was working out the system of association I had lost the trend of the conversation, or moved on to be introduced to someone else and the whole thing just ended in confusion. Being aware of this problem with people's names has compounded the problem at times and I avoid putting myself in situations where I have to recall names, even of people I know very well indeed, as I get mental blocks and can't remember even first names of close friends. But perhaps I am trying to rationalise what is probably nothing more than mental laziness that has, over the years, caused me to do less than well in exams and end up in confusion when introducing people to each other.
As I mentioned above, I did quite well at my second attempt at First Year, but things were to change. Towards the end of 1934 I was to return home to Kulnura and transfer to Gosford High School. By this time I was feeling much stronger and my muscle strength had caught up with my long bones. I had better control over the St Vitus Dance symptoms and was no longer troubled with the aches and lethargy of what I was later to learn was rheumatic fever but was then called “growing pains”. I was also now in long trousers. Mum had kept me in short pants much longer than I considered necessary as I was taller than most others of my age and they were all wearing “long-uns”. Furthermore, Mum embarrassed me greatly by making me wear a Sunday suit that featured “knickerbockers” for which my peers had a much less elegant name! I was also finding it necessary to shave a couple of times a week, which was accomplished with a “Gem” safety razor, although Dad always used a “cut-throat”.
But what was very difficult about transferring to Gosford High was the long hours of travel which I described earlier. I was also expected to do some work in the orchard on Saturdays and on late summer evenings. As a result, I was constantly tired, not from sickness or weakness as previously, but from insufficient rest and sleep. Piano practice and homework went on into the night hours and I was still a keen and avid reader but with insufficient time to enjoy it.
So, my school work began to suffer. From seventh in class at the end of 1934 I dropped to twenty-first out of a class of twenty-seven at the end of 1935. Contributing to this disaster was the fact that I had 35 days absent from school. This was caused by what Dr Paul called “congestion of the lungs”. The symptoms were a terrible cough, a high fever, and complete lack of energy and enthusiasm. After a week at home in bed I was moved to a small private hospital in Gosford where I remained for the best part of a month. I was treated very kindly there by the two or three nurses and rather enjoyed the experience. I recall that one Nursing Sister seemed to be more concerned about my acne than my congestion and applied a paste of sulphur to my face each night. I can't remember if it did any good, but I do know it was an awful business trying to shave around the pimples! After a while I was well enough to get out of bed and enjoyed myself by helping around the hospital and with other patients.
But my school report for the following half year bristles with comments like: “Capable, but handicapped by absence”; “Has not made sufficient effort to catch up work lost while absent”; “Works, but long absence from school was a big drawback”. The kindest was: “Works, will pick up”. At the same time I managed to come third in English and seventh in Arithmetic.
But worse was to come. In 1936 I entered Third Year determined to do well because, during the holidays I had been working at the Packing Shed and I wanted to do well in the Intermediate Certificate Examination at the end of Third Year so I could go on to the two matriculation years, or perhaps find a professional job for which, in those days, the Intermediate Certificate was a sufficient entry, with further study at night.
The class I entered at Gosford High that year was the smallest I had been in at High School with only sixteen pupils, and they were mostly girls! The effects of the Depression were beginning to lift and I think most of the boys, having turned fourteen, were at home working on their fathers' farms or had got jobs of one kind or another. So I started the year with high hopes, only to be stricken with chickenpox about Easter time. That meant another stay in bed and, with other things, meant a total of thirty-four days off school. That is nearly seven school-weeks. As a result I missed a lot of key work and fell even further behind, finishing the half-year exams fourteenth in a class of sixteen.
But by then I had been offered a job. A cousin of Mother's, Ida Camper (later Mrs George Mackay) was secretary to Nathaniel Basnett, Chief Accountant of Babcock & Wilcox Limited at Regents Park and she arranged an interview with Mr Alan Browne the Sales Manager. Dad took me to meet him and on 21st June, 1936 I started as Office Boy in the Estimating No 2 Dept.
My education, however, was far from over although I did no more study in the year 1936 after starting work. In fact, although I had joined the Estimating Department which was Engineering based I was not sure that that was the career I wished to follow. I had done well at School at Business Principles and I rather thought a commercial career might be interesting. There was still the possibility of going back to the farm if things picked up although that didn't appeal to me very much. In the event, I had some talks with my boss, Alan Browne and he encouraged me to try to get the Intermediate Certificate which would qualify for entrance to most professions and trades in those days. So, in 1937 I enrolled at the Evening Continuation School at Parramatta, held at night time in the Intermediate High School Building in Phillip Street. At that time it was necessary to obtain four “C” passes to obtain the Intermediate Certificate. So I chose what I thought were my best subjects, English, Arithmetic, Geography and Book-keeping and tried to keep awake two nights a week while I took the lessons. Early next year the results showed a “C” pass in all except Book-keeping for which I managed a “B” pass.
That enabled me to enter the “Preparatory Diploma Course” at the Sydney Technical College in 1938. This involved three nights a week, after work, at Ultimo Technical School for two years which I successfully completed and obtained the Entrance Certificate for the Mechanical Engineering Diploma Course, which I didn't start until 1947, that is seven years later, and which I am afraid I never finished. In the meantime other things were occupying my mind and my time which I will deal with later.
Referring back to Gosford High School which I attended for one and a half years, I don't have as affectionate recollections as I do for Parramatta High. Parramatta had an air about it, a prestige, a record to uphold, a tradition that went back to 1913. And the staff seemed to me to be more dignified, happier, more sympathetic and concerned about their pupils. Probably a good deal of this was because of such people as “Tommy” Atkins, Miss Mackaness and “Auntie May” Crouch. The staff at Gosford could have been just as good and just as concerned, but if so it didn't get through to me. Also, the school always seemed “grubby” compared with Parramatta. Both schools were co-educational, but at Parramatta there was quite free contact between the girls and boys both in the classes and in the playgrounds (which were pretty meagre at Parramatta compared with Gosford). In classes like Art, run by Miss Crouch, we were literally thrown together in small groups and once a week we also had dancing classes, dramatic groups and discussion groups that were anything but segregated. Even sport was mixed insofar as swimming and tennis were concerned, although most of the girls stuck to hockey and vigoro while the boys played cricket and soccer.
At Gosford we had different gates for boys and girls to enter at each end of the school. There were also different doors to enter and I notice that these still, fifty years later, have “Boys” and “Girls” over them set in concrete! There was a Cyclone wire fence down the middle of the playground through which we could talk to the girls but not mix with them. There was very little in the way of joint activity although, of course the classes were mixed with boys on one side of the room and girls on the other. And by this time I had discovered that I rather liked girls, or one or two of them, anyway.
My favourite teacher at Gosford High was Miss Lyla Wilson, B.A.,Dip.Ed. who took us for geography and art. I still have a book of hers published by George B. Philip & Son entitled “One Thousand Geographical Facts as Questions and Answers”. It was a sort of geographical catechism. An interesting discovery I made when looking at this book recently was that many of the “facts” are fact no longer. In fifty years the geography of the world has changed a good deal, not only territorially but also where products such as petrol, rubber and coffee come from and where the largest butter factory is in Australia. I seem to remember that Miss Wilson was rather pretty and feminine with curly blonde hair.
Other lady teachers I recall were Miss Croxon who to us boys was a rather severe-appearing lady and was Supervisor of Girls, Miss Drew who taught English and History and Miss Wren who I seem to remember as being very difficult to get on with but I can't recall what she was trying to teach.
The Headmaster was Mr. H. G. Stoyles who seemed a mild-mannered man peering through pince-nez spectacles. Mr. Ingram, his deputy, who fancied himself a bit, was a terror to us boys. Other teachers were Mr. Crisp who had a strong resemblance to Humphrey Bogart, Mr. Henry who looked like a Frenchman with his short crew-cut hair and indeed taught French, Mr. Foote, Mr.Ingram who the girls thought so handsome, Mr. Moyes who always wore a dustcoat, and Mr. Easton, a quiet gentlemanly fellow who gave me a good grounding in Business Principles and who wrote an excellent book on the subject “Australian Business Principles” published in 1934. I still have my copy. I have never been back to either High School, which is a pity, except to attend concerts in the bright new auditorium at Gosford.
The reason I didn't proceed with the Engineering Diploma Course at Sydney Technical College as soon as I passed the entrance examination, after two years of hard study on the Prep Diploma Course at night time, is not easy to define. One thing is certain: I was leading a very busy life at the beginning of 1940, particularly at the Church. Also, war had broken out in September the previous year and I expected to have to join the Services before very long. At any rate, I talked the matter over with Alan Browne in whose judgement I had great confidence and together we investigated correspondence courses in Engineering. The upshot was that I enrolled in a correspondence course entitled “Boiler-house Design Course” with The British Institutes of Engineering Technology.
About this time I also decided it would be a good idea to learn Shorthand as I found note-taking and writing in long-hand rather tedious. So I enrolled at the Business College conducted by Miss Ruth Swann at the famous old Macarthur homestead “Elizabeth Farm House”. I recall that the room we studied in was white-washed stone and bitterly cold. Although I finished the basic course it was necessary to “get some speed”, but unfortunately I never did. Today I can still read a little Pitman's Shorthand if it is well-written and doesn't contain too many contractions, a skill which has not always been appreciated by some of my Secretaries over the years as I could often decipher their shorthand on unusual or difficult words when they had got stuck themselves. However, the ability to write shorthand was, unfortunately soon lost.
At that time there wasn't anything like the present emphasis on qualifications, although it was, of course, necessary to have some technical background or trades experience to become recognised as a Draughtsman. I naturally wanted to advance from the Detail Draughtsman and Estimator that I was at the time. The usual way to do this was to take the Technical College Diploma Course for which I had qualified and in which most of the ambitious young men In the office were enrolled. Several others, however, did courses with International Correspondence Schools. Only one that I know of had an Engineering Degree. That was Cecil Collins who was the senior man in the Estimating Department and supervised the rest of the staff, although there was a lot of direct contact between some of the men and Alan Browne, the Sales Manager.
The beauty of the correspondence course was that it could be done at one's own pace. It took me a long time to complete but it turned out to be an ideal course for my job. However, in later years it was not recognised as qualification for entry into The Institution of Engineers, nor would it have prepared me without extra studies for some of the branches of mechanical engineering. However, my qualifications were recognised by the Society of Mechanical Engineers, The Institute of Fuel (later changed to The Institute of Energy), the Institute of Instrumentation & Control and registration as a Chartered Engineer with the U.K. based Council of Engineering Institutions.
After the war I realised that, if I was going to pursue my career by moving to other avenues of employment I really should have the Diploma. Several of my friends and workmates had left Babcocks and gone to The Sydney County Council, State Department of Works and other similar bodies, for all of which the Diploma was a necessary qualification. At that time the Technical College was being converted into the University of New South Wales and so, with the entry qualifications achieved in 1939 I enrolled for the first year of a five year night-time course. This involved three or four nights and sometimes a Saturday morning, depending on the actual subjects being taken. In 1947 when I enrolled we had one baby daughter and, before the year was very old, another child on the way (Philip was born in January 1948.)
It was just too much. I abandoned the course during the year and made a philosophic decision to make my career with Babcocks where I believed my level of qualification was sufficient for the technical requirements of that industry. Furthermore, I realised that there were probably better opportunities for Management than in the technical sphere. So I enrolled the following year for a one night a week course in Departmental Supervision and managed to pass it quite well. That gave me a rather impressive certificate on which to build and showed my superiors in the firm where my ambitions lay.
I continued to read very widely in management, psychology, company administration, personal development, etc. This turned out to be a suitable course of action and I progressed through the Company at a fairly steady rate although the lack of a degree or diploma did hold me back for a while in the early 1970s when Spen Shirtley was retiring as Sales Manager and the Company wanted a successor who was a member of the Institution of Engineers. However, I was Queensland Manager at the time and quite happy to stay there so didn't actively seek the job. In spite of that, I was appointed to the position of Manager-Sales Administration back in Head Office in 1974 soon after Doug Brazier had been transferred to Australia from London as Sales Director to take over from Spen Shirtley. Within twelve months my title was changed to Sales Manager, the title I retained in the Company until I retired in 1983.
I later took several courses with the Australian Institute of Management of which I became an Associate member in 1969 while living in Brisbane. These courses covered “Essentials of Market management”, “Market Development” and “Speed Reading”.
As I look back I realise that the real learning area after the basics at school, college and correspondence course was “on the job”. Technical magazines, first on Engineering and later on Management were fertile and important fields for learning and keeping up to-date. And learning still goes on. For example, recent dabbling in Word Processors for the Office introduced me to the fringes of the Computer World and it surprises me, as I sit at the keyboard of my own little computer composing these notes, how many new things I have learnt recently and am still learning.