Friday, April 06, 2007

Armidale Demonstration School Year 5 1955

Bruce Hoy kindly sent me this photo. Bruce and I were friends at Dem (the Armidale Demonstration School) but then lost contact. He found me through my blogs.

You can enlarge the photo if you left click on it. I am in the third row to the the right wearing an open necked check shirt. I have something of that dreamy look that marked many of my photos at the time.

The photo's composition and its its grainy texture will take you back into a now vanished world. I have referred in passing to that world. For example, here and here in my migration matters series on my personal blog.

The Armidale Demonstration School was just that, a school where students at the Armidale Teachers College came to see teaching in practice. This meant that it had certain advantages, including a school library. However, it still operated in a different way from today.

To begin with, class sizes were much larger. There are 45 kids in the photo, but my class reports suggest a class of 49. By 1955, the first waves of end war and baby boomer children were reaching the school.

While the boys and girls primary schools were on the same site, there was no co-education outside a limited range of activities. All our primary teachers were male. In fact, after infants I did not again meet a female teacher until university.

The boy's buildings were old, built in the shape of a U with a wing at the front then two parallel wings, infants on one side, primary on the other. In the centre was an open court yard with (as I remember it) a stone covered well. Nearby was the school bell.

The rooms themselves were very plain, with pot wood bellied stoves that were lit to provide heat in Armidale's sometimes cold winters. We made ink by mixing water with ink powder and used pens that were dipped in the ink stored in ink wells on the desks. These pens made sometimes lethal weapons - my memories here are not always pleasant - and could be thrown up to stick in the wood ceilings in a very satisfying fashion.

The grounds were big but undeveloped with many iron stone outcrops. This provided a solid base for games untrammelled by modern concerns about risk and insurance. However, we had no playing fields as such.

There were two open at the front weather sheds where kids gathered on cold days and where the mums sometimes served coco in the morning, at least to the lower grades.

Because of growing numbers, Siberia, the name given to the first temporary two class building used for lectures to trainee teachers back in 1928 before completion of the new buildings at the Armidale Teachers College, had been relocated on the Dem grounds to provide extra class room space.

1955, the year of this photo, was not one of my happiest years. Mr Johnson, the teacher, and I did not really get on. In the two previous year I had had Mr Fittler who had really brought me along. I still remember arriving in third class and finding the work hard.

In my half yearly report for third class I came 39th in a class of 44. I managed to get 80 per cent for reading, something that was already an obsession, but my marks then tailed away to 69 per cent for English, 67 per cent for social studies, 50 per cent each for writing and composition, 45 per cent for arithmetic, and o per cent for spelling.

Mr Fittler commented that "James tries very hard but is handicapped by his very poor spelling and lack of manual dexterity." Lack of manual dexterity is right. I would do anything to avoid wood work! As for spelling, my view was that you did not need spelling to read, only to write. Mr Carr as head essentially said that he was sure I had greater ability than the results suggested.

I did indeed do better. By the end of third class my average marks had increased from 52 per cent to 74 per cent.

I have written a fair bit on my various blogs about change in Australian education. Looking at my reports I can see that this process was already underway and earlier than I had realised.

My first report has marks and a place in class. My second report for year 3 and my reports for year 4 have marks but no place in class. Then from the start of year 5 marks vanish to be replaced by As, Bs and Cs. So we have already entered the domain in which comparison was discouraged. I still remember, in fact, how angry I was when they abolished certain school prizes before I had a chance to go for them.

Returning to the photo, there is much greater variety in clothing than there is today, nor is this necessarily related to income.

Phil Brown (back row, fourth from the left) looks very neat indeed is in his tie and blazer. Mrs Brown who was on her own supporting her family by working as a secretary. must really have battled to get him that neat. Half the group has ties, half do not. In all, there is still a very English feel to the clothes. And certainly there are no designer clothes!

This was a very mixed group, far more mixed than you would get today. Schools were zoned, most children went to public schools, especially in the country, so there was far more mixing across social groups. The University of New England had gained full autonomy the year before, so kids such as me from academic families mixed with kids whose dads (they were mainly dads who worked) did a whole variety of things.

These kids would go everywhere.

I have already mentioned singer Peter Allen as a Dem kid, although he was earlier. Another Dem kid was Green's leader Bob Brown. I looked for him in the photo, but cannot remember when he left Dem.
Earlier when I did a story on the actor Brian Barnes I got some things badly wrong because my memory, while apparently so clear, proved completely unreliable. This may well be the case with Bob. Further, there were in fact two Browns. But let me just report as memory.

I did not know that Bob experienced problems at Dem that forced him to leave Armidale, although I do remember my parents talking in hushed voices at one point about some problem at the school. I do remember Bob as a nice boy who lived in the police houses over the back fence from the school.

Looking at others, I mentioned Philip Brown. Phil and I were friends over a long period. We were especially active Methodist Church activities including the Junior Order of Knights and the Methodist Youth Fellowship.

Phil, Henry Person and I did a lot of sometimes strange things together. We went shooting and exploring and made rockets and cracker guns. For a period Henry went out with the New England writer Gwen Kelly's daughter, who if my memory serves me correctly described him something like this in a story in a women's magazine.
And then there was my daughter's blond haired, blue eyed boyfriend, Henry. He built a phone system to our house so they could talk. He said to me, hold this Mrs Kelly and you will get an electric shock. I held it, and I did!
I could not find Henry in the photo. Like Philip, his mum was alone and in Mrs Person's case earned her money by cleaning, including cleaning at our house for a period as well as the Buzo's, Alex and Adrian's parents, who she thought were wonderful.

Henry, Philip and I were in and out of each other's houses all the time. For a number of years after I left Armidale I got together with them every trip back. I remember trying to persuade Phil to go back to study, something that he finally did. Around this time he became a Morman and moved to the US where he is now teaching at Brigham Young University. For Henry's part, he became a TAFE teacher.

Brian Harrison's dad (Brian is third from the right, second row, glasses) was a local solicitor active in the New England New State Movement. Brian and I went to The Armidale School at the same time and then to the University of New England where we studied history together.

Like me, Brian was part of Isabel McBryde's pioneering prehistory group. His 1966 thesis on the Myall Creek Massacre - the first time Europeans were executed for murdering Aborigines - was the first academic study of this event and perhaps the first study of its type in Australia.

Brian was bright and intense. He and I argued religion and philosophy at school and university and were involved in some of the same Christian study groups. We also did Elementary Latin together as an extra at UNE, a subject Brian passed with ease but where I preserved my long standing relationship with Latin by failing abysmally.

Much later Brian would convert to Roman Catholicism and join a religious order. Here I found a Wikipedia stub on him that has been removed, but still exists as a cache.
Father Brian Harrison, O.S., M.A., S.T.D., is an Australian Catholic theologian and a prolific writer on religious issues. He is a professor at the Pontifical University of Puerto Rico, and also an Associate Editor of the Living Tradition, a publication of the Roman Theological Forum hosted by the Oblates of Wisdom in St. Louis, Missouri. 
He is doctrinally conservative. While opposing the incorrect interpretations of the Second Vatican Council allegedly made by Progressivists and Modernists, he also opposes what he considers an excess - the criticism of the actual texts of that Council, by such people as Traditionalist Catholics.
The little I have seen of Brian's writings suggest that he is still the same old Brian.

I have mentioned before the importance of religion in that far country that was Armidale of the 1950s and early 1960s (here for example).

I do not mean that ordinary conversation was dominated by this, but Christianity and its formal mechanisms and ceremonies was a central feature in a way that is no longer true and would indeed make most Australians of 2007 very uncomfortable indeed.

This was not always good. I was at the Methodist Church one Sunday when someone behind me dropped a ball. This rolled down the floor to the front of the church. For some reason I felt obliged to go and get it. This led to public criticism of me at the next Dem assembly for letting down the school. I still remember how hurt I felt.

The Somerville twins were the children of the Professor of Physics at UNE. Many found them difficult to tell apart. Paul is in the second row last on the far right, while Malcolm is in the front row sixth from the left. Bruce Hoy remembers meeting the twins on hist first day.

The first two classmates I met in kindergarten were Paul and Macolm Somerville. They were wearing khaki shirts, shorts and socks and I thought they looked real cool! They had been shown into the classroom at the front of the old building by Mrs Halloran, the Principal. This classroom had a masonite floor with white tramlines painted around it which was used when we were taught dancing. Ah the memories!
They are just as neat in this photo.

I had a lot of contact with the twins, in part because of the UNE connection, in part because of the Methodist Church where we went to Sunday School and Church together. This continued when the twins went to UNE especially through MYF, although they followed family tradition and studied science. Both became geophysicists, working globally with a special focus on vulcanology and earthquakes. For a number of years I saw them on some of their visits to Australia.

I did not know that Malcolm had been killed until Bruce mentioned it in an email. Here I found a rather nice obituary in an AEES newsletter. It begins:
We have tragically lost one of our wiser members. Dr Malcolm Somerville died in a house fire near Adelaide late last year and is sorely missed by his family, friends and colleagues in Australia and overseas. Softly spoken and with a wry sense of humour he would probably, as his brother Paul commented, have found something ironic about the date of his death; the ninth day of the ninth month of the ninety ninth year.
The article then says a little about his pioneering work including work on tsunamis before concluding:
Quiet, intelligent, good humoured. If there was one word to describe him it was that he was a gentleman, an eccentric, rather old-fashioned gentleman who loved jazz, red wine, large Cuban cigars and engineering seismology. His counsel and company will be missed for a long time.
I though that this captured Malcolm rather well.

Bruce Hoy can, I think, be found in the second row eight in from the left. Bruce's dad was the mechanic at the local Holden dealer. He and I spent a fair bit of time reconstructing parts of Dumaresq Creek near Bruce's house.

I lost contact with Bruce after primary school, but he has had at least as interesting life as any in the class.

After completing his Leaving Certificate in 1961, Bruce joined the Commonwealth Bank, resigning in 1967 to join Joined the Territory of Papua and New Guinea Administration as a clerk, serving in a variety of roles.

In 1978 he moved to the National Museum as the inaugural curator in the new area covering the Second World War and Aviation. This went through a number of name changes from War Museum, to Aviation, Maritime and War Branch to finally Department of Modern History, a position he held until 23 July 1988 when the position was localised and Bruce moved back to Australia.

While with the Museum, Bruce developed strong links with the US Department of the Army and their MIA (Missing in Action) programme, and continued with this work with the Army on a contractual basis until 1993. During his association with the US military, Bruce located approximately twelve previously missing aircraft that resulted in the recovery of almost 90 Americans. In his words: "Quite a satisfying period of my life."

Kneeling beside Bruce in the second row are Robert (Bob) Howie (left) and Peter Kemp (right).

Bob, whose Dad was Professor of Psychology, is another example of what came to be known as the siblings, the children of the early staff at the New England University College. Life was not always easy for the siblings in those early days. I have lost contact with Bob, although I am still in contact with his sister Janet.

The Howies lived in a big house in Garibaldi Street whose front lawns sloped steeply down to the highway. This was a street we knew well.

Tony Crane, the son of the Principal of the Armidale Teacher's College lived next door to the Howies. Just up the hill were the Halpin twins, Michael and Richard. A little younger than me, we (my brother and I) formed a close friendship with them in part because our parents were friends. Sadly, Richard died very young. Philip Brown lived across the road, as did the Jones, another family we knew well through the Methodist Church.

Peter Kemp with his shock of fair hair is on Bruce's right. Peter was another Dem boy who went onto TAS (The Armidale School).

Now a solicitor in Sydney, Peter was part of the more artistic set at TAS who gathered around the annual Gilbert and Sullivans, a very major school production. I was too shy and nervous, too wooden, to ever be part of this group. Peter really was very good.

As the final person in what has now become a very long post, Kennie (Ken) Simpson is kneeling on the far left of the second row. Ken lived in East Armidale. While I did visit him, I have very vague recollections of his family, but I think that they were pretty poor.

I really got to know Ken a little later through scouts where we were both patrol leaders in Second Armidale Troop. Why Second Armidale I never knew, there certainly wasn't a First!

Ken was a very good patrol leader and I suspect that, like me, scouts provided an environment in which he could flower. He did not go onto university, but instead became a clerk in a local solicitor's office where he completed his legal qualifications in the old fashioned way.

Later he became a solicitor at Dorrigo where I met him again in 1972 when I was campaigning for Country Party preselection for the seat of Armidale. Sadly, Ken is another in the group who died early. I am not sure of the exact date.

I hope that this post has not been too boring for those without Dem connections, but I do find it interesting just how far we have spread. It's also interesting looking back into that now very distant world.

I would love to find out what others have done. Do let me know via ndarala(at)optusnet(dot)com(dot)au.


Fr. Brian Harrison said...

Great to see all those old Dem School memories brought back, Jim. You have a far better memory than I, although I could recall the names and faces of nearly all our 5th-grade classmates in the photo. Most of them I had not even thought about for over half a century, but I guess they were still there stored in my 'hard drive'! (How meaningless and mystifying THAT metaphor would have been back when the photo was taken!)
I was sorry to see on your blog that Jo Woolmington died years ago, likewise Mal Somerville and Ken Simpson (who used to go to the Presbterian Church with me while the Belshaws were attending the Methodist Church round the corner).
I really must go back to visit Armidale: haven't been back since my late mother (d. 2005) moved to Dapto 15 years ago.
Best wishes and blessings, Jim!
Brian Harrison

Jim Belshaw said...

Thank you, Brian. it's good that we are now in email contact!

Anonymous said...

Great information Jim. Just wondering if the Ken Simpson you mentioned would he have married a Margaret McIntosh? I think in the late 60's. Best wishes - Nelly

Jim Belshaw said...

Hi Nelly and thanks. The short answer is that I don't know!