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Sunday, March 25, 2012

97. The 2012 Year 7 Camp: Reflections on change in schooling

The 2012 Year 7 Camp
Reflections on change in schooling
Things were very different back in the late 1950s. To begin
with, fewer than one-in-ten kids went on to attempt Year 12. The small
proportion of kids who went on to University back then were required to study
(and pass) a language at Year 12 level.
To be PROPERLY educated, that meant that you had to study Latin. Latin! Imagine that.
In the early 1980s I remember being involved in the battle
to rid schools of corporal punishment. The strap was used as an almost routine
punishment, and used on a daily basis.
Hitting children with a lump of leather was seen as being for their own
good! Imagine that.
Around the same time, I recall having a long and drawn out
argument with the head of the Commerce Department at the school where I was
teaching. She was adamant that Year 10 girls MUST learn stenography and
shorthand. These were essential skills, she insisted, for any young girl going
into an office. Stenography and
shorthand –almost compulsory for year 10
girls! Imagine that.
In the 1960s the average size of most classes was between 40
and 50 in Secondary schools. Below is my
Grade 6 class. There were 51 of us present on that day. I think there were
around 60 kids in the class.

Nearly 60 kids in a class!
Imagine that.
We sat in rows; we learned our tables off by heart; we
copied notes from the blackboard; we did mental arithmetic; the government
provided free milk to school children; most kids left school after Year 8 or 9.
There were many, many jobs around for unskilled workers; most boys went into trades; most girls worked as sales
girls or office girls. Children were expected to be seen and not heard.
Our teachers believed that each one of us had been given a
certain amount of “brains”. If we were “brainy” they would urge our parents to
send us to a High school; if we were “good with our hands” we ‘d go to a
Girls’ School to learn domestic skills
or office skills or if we were boys,
we’d go to a Technical school to learn a trade.
We were taught 20th century skills. We expected
to leave school and take up a job – a career – that we would work in until we
retired. Imagine that.
I’ve just been up to the Year 7 camp. The kids were involved
in mountain skating, raft making, canoeing, negotiating a water slide, archery,
a flying fox, and cooking damper. Their teachers were a group of 16 Year 11
students who are currently enrolled in a VET Recreation course. Some of them
will go on to become Physical Education teachers, perhaps. Or personal trainers.
Or health professionals.
I spent most of Tuesday as ‘supervising teacher’ at the Camp
Cooking. Pairs of Year 11 students helped groups of ten Year 7 students cook damper. I was there ‘just in case’ the Year 11s
needed someone with “authority” to step in.
It didn’t happen. There was no need.
The Year 7s were better than well behaved. [For the whole camp, I didn’t
hear one kid say “I’m bored.” Imagine
It was late afternoon.
Keeley was working with her fifth
‘class’. She’s taught raft building, archery, downhill mountain skateboarding …
now she was supervising damper making.
‘How are you going?’ I asked. ‘Are you enjoying it?’
‘Yes … but.. I’m pretty tired.’ She paused, then added:
‘Teaching is tiring work.’ I smiled – and agreed.
There’s been a lot of talk lately about 21st
century skills. Teachers are increasingly trying to imagine what life will be
like for this generation of kids. Futurologists point out that the something
like 25% of the jobs today’s kids will enter didn’t exist 10 years ago. Imagine
that. They predict that this generation
will have to re-train for new work five or six or more times during their
working lives. Imagine that.
It’s not easy, preparing kids for such a dynamically
changing world. One thing we DO know: the old answers won’t necessarily work in
the future. Our children will have to be
adaptable; they’ll have to be confident about themselves, and able to accept
challenges; they’ll need to be fast learners; they’ll need to be able to work
independently, and to show initiative. And they’ll need to be able to work with
other people. All sorts of other people, in a work force that is constantly
changing. And they’ll need highly developed computer skills.
This kind of “21st century skills thinking” is
beginning to affect how we do things at Warrandyte.
For example:
The Year 7 kids didn’t get the chance to choose who they
were grouped with – in fact, they were quite deliberately put with people they didn’t know. They were
involved in cooperative activities – like raft building and canoeing. Each
activity lasted an hour – then they were with two new Year 11 teachers. They were challenged – by the tasks.
A relative few of the damper-makers produced edible damper.
Many produced little black rocks – which they threw back into the fire. Making good damper isn’t easy. You have to be
patient; the fire has to be just right. There are some tricks of the
trade. And there are 21st
century lessons to be learned – even in the context of 19th century
The VET Rec kids were learning on the job. At each
well-earned break they reflected on how they were going – what was working for
them, what was challenging. They were learning how important clear
communication is.
In my time as an educator, I’ve attended I-don’t-know-how-many
camps. But it is, I know, in excess of one hundred. This year’s Year 7 camp would rate as
probably THE ‘easiest’ camps I’ve ever attended. The kids participated. I
didn’t hear a single serious complaint. I didn’t hear ONE kid say, ‘I’m
bored’ or “Do we have to do this?’ They
were cheerful, friendly, cooperative. Imagine that. [Of course they weren’t
perfect. The group sleeping in the room
next to mine foolishly started a pillow fight at 6.30 am on our second morning.
I invited them to get dressed and sit with me – in silence – out on the veranda,
and watch the sun rise. Which they did. I think they actually enjoyed it. And
they weren’t resentful or grumpy or hard-done-by either.] The good behaviour of the students meant that
the teachers could relax – we didn’t have to be 24-hours-a-day police people.
The Year 7s were a terrific group of kids to work with.

Back at school – on Thursday -l they started their “ABOUT
ME” ALP (that’s Active Learning Project). All 80 were in the DOIG Centre for
the whole day. And there they were, our
year 7s, working in groups in a focussed, cooperative way throughout the whole
day. Learning how to work cooperatively, learning to be independent learners,
learning to show initiative, using computers to assist their thinking and to
record their emerging ideas: important 21t century skills.
There are some pretty exciting things happening at
Warrandyte. It’s a joy to be a part of it.

Barry Carozzi
Leading Teacher,
Learning & Teaching and Professional Learning

Tuesday, February 14, 2012

98. 'Er name's Leanne

Leanne Kipping
The poem, in the style of one of my favorite Australian writers - C J Dennis - was penned for Sunday, February 12, to commemorate my cousin Leanne's 50th birthday. A bunch of Treloars and Kippings headed up or down he highways - to Ballarat. There we shared High Tea at Craig's Hotel . A good time was had by all.

The poem - 'Er Name's Leanne - is written in C J Dennis's Larrikin Metre - the form he invented for his poem suite THE SENTIMENTAL BLOKE.

‘Er Name’s Leanne

‘Er Name’s Leanne – she’s Doreen’s little kid
Doreen and Arthur’s bundle of pure joy
And they loved everything she said or did
Not like their boy!
That Craig oo was a devil from the start
She was an angel – and she warmed their heart

Now some ‘ave said, at least as I remembered
That sometimes our Leanne was – not BAD tempered
Just – sort of wilful. Stubborn as they say.
And got ‘er way
By digging on ‘er ‘eels
and throwin’ tantrums
And squawking louder than a national anthem

Oh God, she was a terror, way back then
And not just once, but ever and again
Whenever Dor’ remembers it – she winces
But Arthur’s princess
Although she was the Devil in disguise
Could do no wrong – not in ‘er father’s eyes

She took up smokin’, went out of the town
Lived a mad life and caused us all to frown
Drank only high class booze - strictly top shelf.
Admits – herself
That little girl , thatb lond and blue eyed child
Became – ‘ow shall I put this? Pretty wild!

But THAT was THEN,
and THIS – of course – is NOW
And our Leanne has changed a lot – somehow
She’s even given up the smokes. She’s thrifty
And now – she’s 50
What brought about this change? Honest to god
The ONLY explanation is: It’s Rod

It’s HIM that got us al up ‘ere today
We’ve gathered ‘ere together just to say
Leanne – you’re 50 in a day, or less
And we confess\
Despite all of your smokin’, drinkin’, cursin’
We reckon that you’re grouse! A bonzer person

And what a bonzer, slap up treat it’s been
I doubt that they would even give the queen
A spread as posh as we’ve ‘ad ‘ere today
That’s why I say
Could everybody please no – Charge your glasses
And be upstanding – come on, off your … chairs

Leanne – you’ve had a colourful, rich life
You’ve been a daughter, sistr, cousin, wife
A niece, an aunt, a kind and generous friend
The list don’t end
Our glasses raised, each lady and each man
We wish you HAPPY 50TH - Leanne

Thursday, January 5, 2012

97. Twenty Five (+ a further 25) Statements about Life

I wrote the original 26 statements (in 'normal' font) included in this piece early in 2009. As you will see, Statements 27 onwards [ in italic font] are discoveries I made during and after the start of 2009. I've included the photographs because each holds a special meaning for me:

1. THE POLAR BEAR: Darwin said life was a matter of the survival of the fittest. But I think we survive as best we can, and with luck, find something we can hold on to to see us through.

2. THE VIOLIN/LADY Things are always more than they seem.

3. PATH IN THE WOODS This reminds me of Robert Frost's poem - about being on a path and coming to a place where the path divides, where we have to make a choice. That moment comes with EVERY moment.

4. THE IMAGE IN THE WATER IN THE CUPPED HANDS The longer we look into the contents of ANY moment, the more we can find in it.

5. THE FREEWAY : symbol of the busyness of our world - both our outer world (our freeways, our work life, our cities, our To Do list) and out inner world. These days we have, not so much a stream of consciousness as a traffic snarl of information.

1. I think I’ve had too much alcohol to drink once in my life. I put it down to a burst of adolescent stupidity. I was 35.

27. I'm increasingly seeing this as a wise decision. The latest research seems to reinforce what I have always believed: Alcohol is a dangerous poison that is toxic to the individual mind and body, and to the social body.

2. I’ve never smoked – not ever. I once dreamed of being a smoker. In the dream I looked really cool. Dad – a heavy smoker who died of emphysema – used to wake me every morning coughing up phlegm into the gulley trap outside my bedroom window. It was not a pleasant sound.

28. On July 28, 2009, at 5.35 pm, I discovered that he wasn't my biological father. Linda and Herbie had adopted me - on October 11, 1943 - three months after I was bo

3. I lost my virginity in the long grass at the back of the church car park. I was 18 I think. It was a tough time for me – I was flooded with feelings of guilt and unclean –ness.

29. The narrow social mores of the time caused much pain to many, many young people.

4. I was a lay preacher in the Methodist church at the time. I was even toying with the idea of becoming a Methodist minister. It seemed like a good idea at the time. (I put THAT down to a burst of adolescent stupidity. I was 18.)

30. That was about the time that my birth-mother, Gwendoline Bertram, died of cervical cancer. She was a victim of the narrow sexual attitudes of the 1940s.

5. I’m now an atheist. That is to say, I don’t believe in a god in the sky who cares about each and every one of us, and who notices each sparrow as it falls.

31. Christopher Hitchens, that great atheistic iconclast, is dead. And one of my favorite writers, Catherine Deveny, believes - with Hitchins and Dawkins - that "God is bullshit!" In some parts of the world, simply SAYING that would result in your being killed.

6. When I was 11 I was a member of the Victorian Banjo Club. Plink plink plink. I didn’t like the banjo mandolin. I’d wanted to play a guitar, but they were too expensive.

31. These days I much prefer the 'plink, plink, plink' of the ukulele.

7. My mum washed my mouth out with soap and water when I was 11 or 12 because I called one of our boarders a ‘poofter’. I didn’t know what the word meant – I thought ‘poofter’ was a word you used to refer to people you didn’t like much. I learned TWO things from that experience: a. Velvet soap doesn’t taste very good. B. If you’re going to use ‘bad’ words, do them where your mum can’t hear.

32. I wonder, now, whether maybe I was right. Our two boarders shared a small bungalow; there was about 6o cm between their beds ... Makes you wonder . And, of course, why shouldn't they be. They had every right to be whatever they chose. The problem was with the attitude behind the prohibition of the word 'poofter', not with the choice people might make to be homosexual.

8. When I was 19 or so, and in the midst of my necessary rebellion – I needed to break the emotional hold my mother had over me – I started to use the word FUCK in here presence – to upset her. When she objected – which she did every time – I’d say ‘Well at least a fuck is natural. You use the word bugger all the time , and you know what THAT means! (As you can see, I was a little bugger at the time, and a bit homophobic too, I guess.

33. These days, five and six year olds use the word... God, I'm getting old.

9. My dad was illiterate. He left school at the age of 14, unable to read or write. He was still in grade 5 at the time, at a Catholic school. He claimed that it was the Catholic school that was responsible for his inability to read – they just did “prayers, prayers and more prayers … and when you’d finished with prayers, you had the catechism!”.

34. He was a loving man who worked hard to enable me to live an easier life than he had had.

10. I have been present at the births of all of my children - not uncommon in these enlightened times, but back in the early 70s, when my son Piers was born, it was almost unheard of.

35. Like my older brother, I am not certain about who my father was. He MAY have been the same man who fathered Arthur, who is three years older than me.

11. I have 5 children. Piers is 40, and an optometrist. He has a social conscience – he set up the first optometry service for homeless people in Melbourne. Erin is 38, runs his own Computer Graphics business, and has represented Australia in the Hawaiian Iron man competition twice- 2006 and 2008. Dane is a forester and works in Alexandra. He’s worked in Tassie, in Albany (in WA) and in Hamilton. All three play music. Piers composes a lot of songs and is a writer too.

36. All three attended State schools; all three completed University degrees. All three have had their fair share of struggle and pain, love and bliss, in their lives.

12. My daughters, Jordan and Tanner, are 13 and 8 respectively, and are both at primary school.

37. Raising girls is very diferent from raising boys.

13. I’m grateful that I grew up at a time when drugs were virtually unheard of.

38. Today's newspaper carried the story that Australia and New Zealand have the highest rate of marijuana use - around 15% of the population - and the highest rate of amphetamine use - around 5% - in the world. We won the cricket today too. Is there no limit to our competitive edge!

14. I’ve just entered my 48th year as a teacher.

39. I have no desire to retire. I would like to reach at least 50 - maybe even 55 years. I still enjoy my teaching. In fact, 2011 was one of the most satistying years of my teaching life.

15. I’m a prolific song writer, averaging maybe a song-a-week over the past decade.

40. During October, 2011, I wrote around 27 songs - for my Year 12 class: one song per student.

16. I spent 14 years teaching Prof Writing and Editing – at Chisholm TAFE (Berwick & Frankston), Sunraysia TAFE and – for the last 9 years – at NMIT Greensborough.

41. Teaching adults - especially in a Writing course - can be very satisfying. Working with people who want to work hard and who want your help - what more could a teacher ask for?

17. I finally took up guitar at the age of 32. I’m pretty much a self taught guitarist.

42. These days, I mainly play the ukulele. It is such a simple, unpretentious instrument, and is less painful on my arthritic hands tahan the guitar.

18. During my 68+ years on this planet, I have gone through an enormous variety of FADS. I collected stamps, bottle tops and fossils in my childhood and early adolescence. I’m still fascinated by fossils. In my early 30s I became obsessed with building coffee tables and chess board tables and making chess pieces from plaster of Paris. In the 1980s I went through a jam making binge, and made quince jelly and crab apple jam.

43. The ukulele is probably my LATEST fad.

19. I’m currently going through an obsessive phase with Suduko. I spend one hour each weekend trying to work them out.

44. I read somewhere that Sudoku is good for keeping your brain cells working.

20. Karin, who I’ve lived with since 1986, used to call me ‘Baggy Monster’. She is remarkable tolerant of my obsessions. Sometimes, we have a conversation that I never tire of; it goes like this:
HER Do you know what I really like about you?
ME What?
HER Absolutely fucking nothing!!!

45. What's not to like?

21. Three years ago embarked on a new career – or rather, revisited an old career – I’m teaching English at Warrandyte High School, and thus far, I’m really enjoying it.

46. Jack Thompson quipped, when he discovered that his forbears were convicts: " Yes - I am Australian royalty!" I am Australian royalty on TWO counts:

Firstly, my great great grandfather, Lewis Bertram - was a convict, sent to Australia for stealling (of all things) DUCKS! Secondly, my GRANDFATHER served at Gallipoli, and was three times wounded in the first World War. AND went AWOL in order to marry my grandmother.
His name was Nigal. After he married Lily GENTLE, he was ever after called Tiger.

22. I recently embarked on another new venture, too, in a partnership with two other creative people: Sarah Cowan – singer, writer, songwriter, editor, and most importantly, friend; and Jerry Speiser – drummer & muso, music producer, arranger, physicist, business consultant, manager – and most importantly: friend. We’ve formed a partnership called JS Baz Music; its mission is to develop creative music projects.
Our music performance group is JS Baz. And our first recordings, GUANTANAMO BAY and GLOBAL FINANCIAL CRISIS can be viewed on YouTube. Just google “jsbazmusic” + “Guantanamo” . Our collection of children’s songs – The Music Cubby – was published in 2011.

47. Without a song and a dance, what are we?

23. I have been obsessed for several years now by the notion of the MOMENT. The idea that the past is a construction that we have made, and is ‘illusory’ in the sense that it is constantly changing. Put another way, our sense that our lives have continuity is an illusion. (A bit like movies. A movie is made up of a whole series of ‘Frames’ that pass through the projector at the rate of 16 per second – or something like that. It the film stops rolling, we simply see a STILL.) Our experience is like that: a series of STILLs – a series of MOMENTS. The past is gone; the future is indeterminate. We could – all of us – cease to be at any moment.
And each MOMENT is like a grain of sand, passing through the ‘narrow neck’ of an hour glass. That ‘narrow neck’ is the PRESENT MOMENT – it is our NOW, and it is all that we truly have.

48. And I let time go by so slow. And I let every moment last. And I thought about years - how they pass so slow, how they're gone so fast.

[From a song by Beth Neilson-Chapman]

24. Each MOMENT – each grain of sand – is like a multi faceted crystal – or like a disco ball composed of millions of tiny mirrors. And the more we look into any given moment, the more we find it contains. It’s like William Blake’s image … ‘to see the world in a grain of sand/ and eternity in an hour.’

49. How can anyone, ever, be bored, when each moment holds so much?

25. I have a detailed plan, a blueprint, for living the rest of my life. My plan is to try to be present in each passing moment – to the extent that that is possible. That means being as aware as I can be of each moment as it occurs, rather than daydreaming or scheming. In the end, being HERE, NOW is all we have.
That’s why to me alcohol and drugs are so destructive – they are escapes from the here and now; they drug our minds into a state of anaesthetic non-presence.

50. THIS moment - my moment of writing the new 25 ststements about life - has been a longish moment: around two hours of intense flow. Flow is probably the closest we get to happiness.

When I wear a suit and tie, Tanner says – each and every time: “Daddy - you look handsome!’

51. I did tell you: she IS only 8.

96. From the ARCHIVE: The Holistic Educationists' Song

The Holistic Educationists’ Song
To the tune of ‘The Philosopher’s Song’
With apologies to the Monty Python team
A work in progress

Immanuel Kant was a real pissant

Who was very rarely stable

Heidegger, Heidegger was a boozy beggar

Who could think you under the table

David Hume could out-consume Wilhelm Friedrich Hegel

And Wittgenstein was a beery swine

Who was just as schloshed as Schlegel

There's nothing Nietzsche couldn't teach ya

'Bout the raising of the wrist

Socrates himself was permanently pissed

John Stuart Mill, of his own free will

With half a pint of shandy got particularly ill

Plato, they say, could stick it away

Half a crate of whiskey every day

Aristotle, Aristotle was a bugger for the bottle

Hobbes was fond of his dram

And Rene Descartes was a drunken fart"I drink therefore I am"

Yes, Socrates himself is particularly missed

A lovely little thinker but a bugger when he's pissed

Jean Jacques Rousseau, as we all know
Thought children naturally curious
And society’s a corruptive force
It’s values are quite spurious
He wrote ‘Emile’ which many feel
Is a trifle unrealistic
But I’d go so far to say JJR
Is the father of Holistic

Holistic Education is the way to go
Make a start with Tobin Hart & Jacques Rousseau

Now Tobin Hart is a silly old fart
Who begins with ‘information’
He claims relevance can resonate
And result in motivation
Learn deep, grow soul, explore the whole
It’s in div id ua listic
Intelligence and imagination grow
That why this Hart’s holistic

Yes wisdom’s cool in Tobin’s school
He believes in transformation
A ripple can become a wave
And give us liberation
With a nice clear mind and strength of will
And a goodly dose of passion
With flag unfurled we could change the world
And fill it with compassion

Integrated intuition cultivates the soul
Tobin Hart thinks understanding makes us whole

Bernie Neville, that clever old devil
Is an intellectual bikie
He wants to Gebser-ise the world
And educate our psyche
Each morning he tells Helen
That’s it’s time to put the porridge on
And what is worse, he quotes chapter and verse of
The Ever Present Origin

Some people think that Bernie Neville’s rather odd
With his mental house that’s occupied by warring gods

David Orr was a bit of a bore
About sustainability
The interconnectedness of things
And the environment’s fragility
The fluorocarbons in the air
Are our responsibility
Recycle this, recycle that
And grow mental agility

Our rainforests are disappearing every day
Environmental education is the way

Pestalozzi claims that Love’s
Develops children’s powers
As the seed contains the design of the tree
So natural intelligence flowers
Educate the head and the heart and hands
Keep punishment down at zero
In the field of Holistic Education
He’s our Anschauung Hero

Change of tune to Carolina in the Morning
Oh nothing could be finer than to teach with Rudolph Steiner – he’s holistic
Let’s put aside our dreary stance, kids learn from their experience – he’s magnifique
Put away the textbooks, let the children play
Send them off exploring - that’s the most healthy way
Don’t give them the irrits, we should educate their spirits, so says Rudy

Don’t be too logistical, it’s best to holistical, like Rudy
Let them express their feelings and they’ll stop incessant squealing – won’t be moody
And now we come to what’s the most important part
Give them paints and crayons, educate through Art
Let them compose a ballad as they munch their Waldorf salad
Thank you Rudy.

Tuesday, January 3, 2012

95. First post for 2012: Faux Pas/ Bloo Per

I was reading a posting on Blogfarm. It concerned a lecture on the topic of PUBLIC RELATIONS. The speaker's very first Power Point slide contained a simple error - the sort of error any time-starved public speaker can make during a hasty preparation: the letter L had been left out of the word PUBLIC.

It reminded me of a most regrettable public faux pas perpetrated by an old colleague of mine. As they used to say on "Dragnet": Only the names have been changed to protect the innocent.

It happened in the mid 1980s at a Secondary Technical school in Victoria, Australia. [At the time, State Secondary education had "high schools" for the academically inclined, and "technical schools" for those headed for apprenticeships in woodwork, fitting & turning and the like.] It was a co-ed school, covering years 7 - 11.
The new Assistant Principal, Mr. Powers, was being introduced to the students - and to staff - for the first time.
"School - attention!" said Mr Harvey, the teacher running the open air assembly. There was a shuffling of feet as the boys and girls took their time to 'stand to attention'. The 800 or so students stood in lines facing the raised platform at the front of the assembly. In the front row were the year 7 girls, and behind them, the year 7 boys; behind them were the year 8 girls ... and so on. Everything in good order.

This careful organization – with a place for everyone, and everyone in their place – was quite common in the 1980s. Many Australian schools in that era continued to have assemblies that ran on military lines.

"Stand at ........ ease," came the order. The working class kids did as requested, albeit somewhat sluggishly.

The new Assistant Principal came to the microphone. Students and teachers stood, waiting to hear what the new second -in-charge would have to say.

He began confidently. He had a booming voice. He'd come from a country school where discipline was highly valued. He was in his element.

"Good morning, school. I'm very pleased to be here. However, I did notice that some students did not seem to fully understand the para-military instructions being given by Mr. Harvey. Now, when you are ordered to 'Stand to attention', you should move briskly and efficiently, bringing your heels together with an audible 'snap'!"
And he proceeded to demonstrate, his back straight, hic chin up, his heels snapping together.
"Similarly, with the order 'Stand at ease' ..."

And he went on to demonstrate how to move from 'standing to attention' to 'standing at ease'. At this point - and one can only guess at what motivated him - he turned his attention to the year 7 girls standing directly in front of him.

"Now girls," he said, "I know that you are new to the school, and perhaps you don't yet fully understand what is required of you. Let me explain it clearly: When I tell you to 'Stand at ease’, I want you to spread your legs!"

Mr Powers paused. And what happened in the briefest of moments that followed was to haunt the unfortunate man for the rest of his time in the school. The teachers responded first - mouths dropped in disbelief, eyes rolled, some staff moved uncomfortably; a couple turned away, trying desperately to stifle their laughter. But the most common response was disbelief.

Among the students, the sniggers began at the very back of the assembly, among the Year 11 boys, and moved forward, a wave of stifled sniggering. Even some of the more street-wise, knowing kids at year 7 realised that Mr Powers had erred.

For his part, Mr Powers seemed to be unaware of why there was unrest among the troops.

"Settle down, settle down. Now let me explain a little further. These para military commands are essential to the maintenance of good discipline in a school ..."
Thus, and much more, Mr Powers.

Decades later, those who were present - when they get together for a reunion, to celebrate the 'good old days' - recall, with glee, Mr Powers' first speech at the school assembly.

Tuesday, August 23, 2011

94. One Night the Moon: a poem, a reflection

Over the last couple of days my year 11 class has been watching the Australian film, One Night the Moon. It is a story of a little girl lost in the Australian bush; the girl had wandered from her parents' homestead at night. Weeks later, she was found dead. It stirred within me, this film, stirred feelings to do with my own personal history - and this poem emerged.

She wandered from her mother’s breast
The moon had beckoned her to come
She heard its music on the air
Its strange light lit the wide brown land
And made of it a magic place
In which a child might roam and dream
And some time, in the dead of night
Her mother found her gone.

They took me from my mother’s breast
The nurses at The Haven had assured her:
‘This is for the best’.

And gave me to a childless pair
Who both, for such a long, sad time had dreamed of just this moment.
They took me to their humble home
And made me welcome there.


Days, weeks, months later, when all hope was dead
They found the child, her body curled
Beneath a sheltering rock ledge
Long time dead.
In years that came
Her mother felt, within her womb
Echoes and shadows, memories of a child
That once, for nine months, dwelt within.
She never more could look upon the moon.

My twenty year old mother Gwendoline
moved on.
She left the Unwed Mothers’ Home
And went back to her parents and her son.
For sixty years or more I didn’t know
That she once bore me safe within her womb.
I sometimes wonder if she felt
Echoes and shadows, memories of a child
Who once had dwelt within her
Now long gone.

And when the moon is on the rise
And when it bathes the wide brown land in its strange light
It beckons me to come – to seek
The mother who once carried me
And brought me to his moon-washed land
Where children roam and dream alone and lost

Sunday, August 21, 2011

93. A Family Get Together

Pop - Bill Kipping and Lil Smith at their wedding, 1958.

Monday, August 22, 2010

Creative Writing class

Catching thoughts as they slide through my mind ...

The mind never stops – there is constant movement, a never-ending flow of ideas. The river of words and images and sights and feelings and memories – always memories – goes on, even in my sleep. Sometimes I wake, mid sentence. Or I wake in the midst of a story, a dream that has held me in its thrall for hours, it seems.
Right now, it’s Monday morning, and I am churning out the words. The pump is primed, the words are flowing out onto the paper ...

Yesterday I went to the Mitcham pub to my Uncle Murray’s 90th birthday. Ninety – God, Imagine living that long. And what a life he has had. He was in Darwin at the time of the bombing in 1943. He and Betty Tyres married in the years of the Second World War, and their one child – Faye – was born in 1944.
My memories of Faye are not all that clear. I recall really liking her. She was a little princess, with a face a little like the young Elizabeth Taylor. Curly hair framed her attractive face. She was over-protected and pampered, as we only children tend to be.
Once, back in about 1948 or 1949 I went by train out to Mitcham, where Uncle Murray met me and drove me through the open paddocks that were Mitcham at that time, to Alwyn Grove, a dirt road maybe 600 metres long. There were perhaps three houses in the street at the time; the rest was tall long grass. I stayed overnight at their house. It seemed so large, this weatherboard house in the open paddocks in the newly emerging suburb that would become Mitcham. And it was large by comparison with the working man’s cottage that I had grown up in in Coburg. The house at 82 Reynard Street was perhaps 16 feet across and 40 – 50 feet long – a house of maybe six squares in the old way of measuring house size. Uncle Murray and Aunty Betty's house was twice the size of my house.

What do I recall of that night? Little other than bath time, when Faye and I, both dressed in underpants for modesty’s sake, were bathed together.
Years later, when we were around 15, we danced together, at somebody's wedding. I recall smelling her shampooed hair as we danced a slow foxtrot. I recall that we held each other close, and that I felt some stirring of an attraction that could not, of course, be taken any further: relationships between cousins were taboo.
I can’t remember if Faye was at my 21st birthday party. We rarely saw each other for the next twenty years. Then I heard the news that Faye had suffered a massive haemorrhage in the brain – a stroke that wiped out her memory, her speech, most of her movement, leaving her totally dependent. She couldn’t move by herself or feed herself.
There was a terrible irony, a cruelty, in this event. For all those years when the rest of us had married and settled down and had children, Faye had been alone. She had continued to live in the Mitcham house with her parents, who continued to dote on her. But in the months leading up to her stroke she had commenced a relationship with a dentist, a relationship that looked to have some prospect of ‘leading somewhere’. She and her friend were having dinner at a sophisticated restaurant when Faye experienced a blinding, mind-numbing headache that was the precursor to the traumatic stroke that would leave her in little better than a vegetative state for the rest of her life.
She was 49 when she died, 10 or 15 years after the stroke. For that whole time Murray and Betty cared for Faye: fed her, dressed her, took her to occupational therapists and hospitals and clinics, controlled her intake of medicines prescribed to deal with the myriad of things that were going wrong with her body.
And throughout that time, I often found myself thinking of Faye and what a terrible sadness it was that her life was reduced to this.
On the window of the pub Thelma - or maybe Lynette - has stuck up some photographs - maybe a dozen photos of aspects of Murray's life. There's a photo of a very snappily dressed young man, in an expensive overcoat and cravat, with a very young Betty. There's a photo of their wedding, and another of Murray in his army shorts and army shirt, taken in Darwin. But the most poignant photo shows a beautiful young girl of maybe 11 or 12 years, sitting on a horse. It was Thelma's first horse; the girl is Faye.

The two remaining elders – Murray himself and my Aunt Doreen, now 83 – were there, along with most of the surviving cousins, gathered yesterday to celebrate Murray’s milestone. Murray remembered every one; he still has his faculties. We are all growing old. Thelma, the oldest, is 74 now. Trevor didn’t come down from Newry; he’s busy selling off their cattle, as he and Thelma prepare for retirement. Her sister, Valerie, who is 71 didn’t come down either; she’s celebrating her 71st birthday. But Ray – the third of that Kipping branch, was there. He and I chatted about the disappearance of all the old sayings that were once so much a part of Australian life: bot, ‘Up in Lizzie’s room behind the clock’, ‘a wigmam for a goose’s bridle (or perhaps bridal) ... Ray plays the computer game Hearts a lot; claims to have achieved an 85% + success rate; has played over 20,000 games. At 72, he still lives in his small flat in Northcote, and watches the neighbours come, make a mess of their flat, and then move on. He’s lived there for thirty years or more, the one solid consistent element in the ever-changing parade of short term occupants of these units.
Thelma's daughter, Sharon, is there. I have a flash of memory. I recall a time, 51 years ago, when I was a boy of 17 and she was a new born. I remember nursing her when I went down to Thelma and Trevor's farm at Newry. She was perhaps a month old. Now she has grown children of her own. Her eldest son is a singer; he's in the States, hoping to make it big, but it's hard going. Success is never easily won.

Aunty Doreen is 83 now. Her daughter Leanne and son-in-law Rod brought her down from Hamilton a couple of days ago. They visited her brother Bob Powles up in the Nursing home where he will live out the last of his days. It’s several years since they have seen each other. Thinking of Bobby reminds me that it was he who built the wooden filing cabinet that I still have in my office. It must be almost 50 years old now. He was an excellent cabinet maker, a loner, a heavy smoker. Emphysema will take him in the end no doubt.
Rod and Leanne seem pretty happy. They live out at the Hamilton airport where Rod is caretaker and odd job man. Leanne works for a hospital fund.
My cousin Craig – Doreen’s only son – and his wife Pauline and their four kids were there. They seem solid as ever, one of that rare phenomenon: the happy family. Jessica has grown into a fine young woman – focussed, thoughtful, caring, compassionate, intelligent. Patrick has emerged from the sullenness of his early adolescent and is friendly, cheerful, communicative. Georgia’s in Year 9 now, and Anna in Grade 5, and both are outgoing kids and good company.
And of course, Lynette is there. I ask how her daughters are, whether things have improved. ‘No,’ she says, feigning cheerfulness, or resignation, or a mixture of the two. She seems in good nick, and much less intrusive and attention seeking than she was a few years back. I realise, with slight discomfort, that I forgot to ask her how her relationship with Geoffrey Cox is coming along. Happiness is not easily come by; rarely do our lives live up to our expectations. Life mooches on; we struggle through, making do. I’ve always loved that Christian blessing, the Desiderata: ‘Lord, give me the strength to change those things that can be changed; the forbearance to accept those things that can’t be changed; and the wisdom to know the difference.’
Both Karin and Jordan were ill, so it was just Tanner and me. Tanner was friendly and readily fell in with her older second cousin’s – Anna and Georgia. Tanner is almost as tall as Anna, who is almost three years her senior.
Even Leanne, the youngest of the Kipping clan cousins, is rapidly approaching 50. At moments like this, all the old clich├ęs emerge: What happened to our youth? Where has the last 50 years gone? Doreen is on a walking frame. The two small steps up into the eating area are too large at this stage for Doreen – she needs help to raise her feet the necessary six inches. Murray uses a walking stick to get around. Both he and Doreen have their faculties; they remember their pasts. Doreen speaks of Kip – my Uncle Arthur who died five years ago: ‘I miss him something awful,’ she says. ‘I know he wasn’t the easiest man to live with – with his drinking – but I’d give the world to have him back.’
Thelma makes a speech. She apologises, saying that she is no orator, but her speech is honest and heartfelt. She praises Murray for his longevity, for the way he nursed first Faye and then Betty, through illness and during their final days. He is alone now; has been for – what – four years or more. Reminds us of his love for greyhounds. Says of him (though not specifically in these words) that he has coped with life’s cruelties with dignity and steadfastness and loyalty to Faye and to Betty – around whose lives his own life has orbited; and wonders whether any of the rest of us would have been so committed, so noble, so reliable. Which is a fair point to make.
At Thelma’s instigation we have each contributed toward a new TV set for Murray. He still enjoys watching the horse races.
At one point, Leanne tells me that she really enjoys reading my blog especially when I write about the past, about how things were. The way we were, but can never be again. That part of our lives has passed, and we are growing older.
And so we each find our ways of filling our days and our nights, our ways of remembering and forgetting the past that has shaped and misshapen us, the moments and days and years of our lives. We look at Murray with his paper like skin and his aging body and his walking frame, and remember the passing of Uncle Arthur, Faye, Betty, Linda and Herbie, Pop, Iris, and Ivan, and know that no matter what, that is what awaits us.
At three o’clock we say our farewells, Tanner and me, and head off home.