Sydney Boys High School 1955

13 Dec

Yes, fifty-three years ago next February this little boy from Sutherland started at age 11 to go to Sydney Boys High travelling through a Surry Hills Ruth Park would have recognised. The god-like Fifth Form students — High School only went to Year 11 then — included quite a few who became, well, god-like figures.

Did you know that the Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade can trace its origins to the Department of External Affairs that was first established in 1901? Since that date, five old boys of Sydney High have headed the Department with responsibility for foreign or external affairs: Sir John McLaren (1887), 1929-1933 (as Secretary of the Prime Minister’s Department); Sir Alan Watt (1918), 1950-1954; Sir James Plimsoll (1933), 1965-1970; Sir Alan Renouf (1936), 1974-1977; and Dr Peter Wilenski (1955), 1992-1993. James Plimsoll and Peter Wilenski have also acted as Australia’s Permanent Representative to the United Nations in 1959-1963 and 1989-1991 respectively…

In fact quite a crop have been through the old SBHS, as you can see. I belong to the much greater ranks of Undistinguished Old Boys…

One of THE most god-like to us in 1955 was Marcus Einfeld, son of Jewish Labor Party politician Sydney (Syd) Einfeld and his wife Billie. He did indeed go on to a distinguished career, and it is sad to read what is befalling him at this time. Just what he did remains to be tested, but if proven it really would make you wonder why on earth he did it, as Legal Eagle does in How the mighty may fall.

It is doubly sad because Einfeld was so often on the side of the angels, as in this talk in 2001.

Some argue that it is not necessary to say “Sorry” for this awful and unlawful state of affairs. I fervently disagree. Many wrongs have been committed against our indigenous people and their ancestors during 213 years of European civilisation in Australia. They did not deserve what they received, and it cannot all be laid at the feet of the past. Certainly past generations acted quite appallingly and in a most violent and discriminatory way. The stolen children program was at best thoughtless, at worst criminal. Kidnapping, rape and other forms of assault and the other indecencies inflicted on many of the children concerned are all crimes in any country and every language. Paying young children one, two five or ten dollars a day for twelve or fourteen hours of heavy labour, seven days a week, was a monstrosity in any era. Many of the Aborigines involved are still alive today. So are many of the white people who participated. These things were still happening as late as 1970 when many of us, including me, were helping ourselves to far better products of our society. Our even more modern generation has a pretty solid case to answer as well. On this very day, against a national figure of around six per cent, the Aboriginal adult unemployment rate is forty one percent and is expected to rise to forty eight per cent by 2006. Unemployment amongst indigenous youths is eighteen times worse than their white counterparts, and the deaths of Aborigines in official custody are still happening, even increasing, despite the thirty million dollar Royal Commission Report and a considerable expenditure of effort and money…

I have recently taken out the details of ten of the recent compulsory jailings in the Northern Territory. They shame Australia. There is time today to take a close look at just one of the stories, that of a young Aboriginal lad named Chris, of Gunbalunya. This eighteen year old copped twenty eight days in jail for receiving, not stealing, two dollars worth of petrol. As far as I can find out, there have been at least five other jailings of young people for stealing or receiving similar amounts of petrol. That petrol was certainly not taken to fuel their company cars, it was to feed their addictions as petrol sniffers, about which our Prime Minister has learned only in the last few weeks. In the Northern Territory, we are jailing kids, not because they are dangerous criminals but because they are ill, and in the Northern Territory, magistrates hearing these cases are prevented by law from taking into account that these kids are petrol sniffers. What jurisdiction in Australia, indeed what country in the world would jail petrol sniffers? Where in the world is there such inhumanity? We are not yet quite in a position to lecture too many other countries.

These things should not be happening. The things in the past should not have happened. Together they are human rights, human wrongs, not for blame in the crude sense, but for the deepest regret and for a commitment to put them right as a matter of the utmost urgency. If they represent what some have called ‘a black armband view of history’ I for one wear it as a mark of sorrow and as a commitment to reconciliation.

Rather a black armband than a white blindfold to shut out the truth.

Many on the Right will feel most self-satisfied if Einfeld’s peculiar attitude to speeding fines is proven in court. I will feel sad that my boyhood hero has feet of clay, but I still won’t discount his intellect or achievement over that half century.

And 1955 is so long ago…

that this is the way I normally went to SBHS from Central, though as I got older I often walked…


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Posted by on December 13, 2007 in Australia, current affairs, Indigenous Australians, memory, multicultural Australia, personal, Reconciliation


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