Category Archives: 1950s

Strange and sad

Such were my feelings as I watched this last night:


Back in 2007 I had mentioned the key events before: Sydney Boys High School 1955.

The god-like Fifth Form students — High School only went to Year 11 then — included quite a few who became, well, god-like figures…

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

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.

Now he is in jail.

See also Legal Eagle today: The final ignominy.

Update 26 March

It is hard to imagine a stronger contrast with Legal Eagle’s judicious and critical but still charitable post than Miranda Devine in today’s Sydney Morning Herald. She is positively crowing.

I say the good the man did – and he did much – remains good, whatever the faults or indeed crimes of the man.


More top viewing, and the pity of war

I am sure you get the Wilfred Owen allusion there.

ABC1 is running documentaries of various vintages in the Monday 8.30 slot usually occupied by Four Corners. Last night we had the 2005 docudrama The Somme, using similar methods — biographies + personal documents + archival footage + reenactments — to those used in The First Australians. Done well it is an effective way to bring history to life.

World War 1’s Battle of the Somme, fought from 1 July to 18 November 1916, was a turning point in history. It was a modern battle of such prehistoric brutality that its horror is hard to comprehend. Brave patriotic men eagerly volunteered to fight for what they saw as a great and honourable cause, only to find themselves used as cannon fodder by their military and political leaders. Whole villages and communities marched to their deaths.

Narrated by Tilda Swinton, The Somme is a docu-drama which follows a group of young men through the first day of battle – a day when a whistle blow sent British and French soldiers ‘over the top’ and towards an almost certain death. Through reconstruction and historical records, the fates of several genuine officers and nurses who fought or served at the Battle of the Somme are followed. This was a battle fought by civilians on unfamiliar territory.

Private Cyril Jose, at the age of only fifteen, had lied on his conscription papers to join the swelling ranks of young men sent off to fight for their country. American heiress, Mary Borden, had left Chicago at the start of the Great War to work for the Red Cross, and by 1916 she had selflessly set up her own field hospital behind the British lines on the Somme. Captain Charlie May was only too aware of the impending slaughter and wrote a letter of farewell to his wife and baby just before going over the top. The planning of the battle was left to British General Rawlinson – a plan that would send thousands of men marching straight into the German machine gun posts.

Through the friendships and the fear, this moving film is told through the diaries and letters of men in the field – many of whom would never be reunited.

Jose survived and, we were told at the end, became a communist after the war. Not mentioned in the ABC summary above was the famous economic historian R H Tawney, whose story is also told: “During World War One, Tawney served as a Sergeant in the 22nd Manchester Regiment. He turned down an offer of a commission as an officer as a result of his political beliefs. He served at the Battle of the Somme, where he was wounded twice on the first day and had to lie in a field until the next day for evacuation. He was transported to a French field hospital and later evacuated to England.”

It is impossible to exaggerate how long a shadow was cast by World War I. You could say we are witnessing it right now in Gaza, since our current Middle East is entirely the product of the break-up of the Ottoman Empire at the end of that war, and of the arrangements made by the victors in its wake.

Personally, I recall visiting some maiden ladies in Shellharbour NSW in 1959 with my parents and grandfather, who that year was in Shellharbour participating as the then oldest surviving headmaster in the school’s centenary celebrations. The sitting room in that house was kept in darkness, and on the mantel were memorabilia of a brother killed in World War I. In the mid 1970s I had occasion to attend the Lady Davidson Home in Sydney, a veterans’ facility. There I saw men who had been institutionalised during World War I and were still there.

The pity of war indeed.

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Posted by on January 13, 2009 in 1950s, best viewing 2009, History, TV


This just about nails it, I think. More on "Is Australia a Christian Country?"

At the beginning of Chapter 10 of Corrupting the Youth: a history of philosophy in Australia, James Franklin quotes Lord Castlereagh’s instructions to William Bligh (1805):

In a Settlement, where the irregular and immoral habits of the Parents are likely to leave their Children in a state peculiarly exposed to suffer from similar vices, you will feel the peculiar necessity that the Government should interfere in behalf of the rising generation and by the exertion of authority as well as encouragement, endeavour to educate them in religious as well as industrious habits.

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Recycle 4: from March 2006

I have been rereading Wuthering Heights in the excellent revised Penguin Classics edition of 2003. What a pleasure it is! My rereading has been prompted by my little bit of private tuition, a girl doing the HSC Advanced English course. It so happens, as I told her much to her amazement, that I first read Wuthering Heights for my Leaving Certificate in 1959 where, though I am not knocking “Rockjaw” Smith our excellent English teacher, the interpretive skills required were minimal really: basically just the oversimplified schematic interpretation by Lord David Cecil in Early Victorian Novelists plus a smidgin of Arnold Kettle’s somewhat Marxist, and very boring, analysis, plus whatever crib one could lay one’s hands on. Much more is expected of my current HSC student, in fact I would say perhaps too much.

Back in 1959 our ENTIRE course was: 1) Wuthering Heights; 2) Julius Caesar; 3) a handful of poems from a standard anthology; 4) a handful of essays from Bacon to Edwardian times, some of them splendid, many of them pointless; 5) Douglas Stewart’s The Fire on the Snow, a radio play about Scott of the Antarctic. Good too, that play, I still think.

Contrast 2006: Coleridge; Hamlet and Rosencrantz and Guildenstern are Dead; Wuthering Heights; Frontline. But that’s not all, as the Coleridge is matched with study of a range of set and student-selected texts; similarly Frontline is not the sole study there, but the student must also find other texts that explore truth and representation in some way or another.

Dumbed down? Pull the other one! In fact I think my student has to work much harder than we did in 1959. I hope she ends up being as glad to have studied Wuthering Heights as I have been.**

Note too that when comparing present and past courses, the best comparison is between the Advanced course and the older course, as retention rates become very significant. “The student retention rate has increased from around 35 per cent in the early 1980s to over 70 per cent today.” In 1959 it was probably below 30% — we were elite students doing an elite course with university — and there were only three of them in NSW — very much in mind. The nearest I could get to a retention rate for 1959 was a 1960 figure for all of Australia on this PDF file — 12% of 17-year-olds* were in school in Australia in 1960.

* See comments. It is true that in 1959 NSW had five-year high schools. In my own cohort we ranged from 15 (Ted Oliver: brilliant!) to 19 when we sat for the leaving. I was 16; maybe half were 17. Now the HSC is usually done at 17-18, with most being 18.

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Posted by on October 27, 2007 in 1950s, creativity, curriculum, English studies, nostalgia, replays, teaching


How to maintain classroom discipline (1947)

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Principals agree: cut out social subjects

Seeing this in today’s Sydney Morning Herald I had to laugh.

PRIMARY school curriculums have too many subjects and schools are too underfunded to meet standard requirements for English, maths and science, a national study of principals has found.

The study underpins Australia’s first primary school charter endorsed by principals who want the educational focus put back on literacy, numeracy and science.

However, a proposal to include stand-alone history in that list was yesterday replaced with a subject called Social Education, a mix of history, geography, and environmental and cultural studies.

The change raised concerns from the federal Education Minister, Julie Bishop, who said history should be taught as a distinct subject…

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Posted by on October 2, 2007 in 1950s, curriculum, reminiscences


Seeing potential in students

The second principle Andrew Metcalfe and Ann Game derive from their corpus of interviews is:

Good teaching recognises the unique potential of each student. This is not the same as an expectation or a prediction; it is seeing students in their wholeness, as they are now. The teacher’s responsibility is to nurture students and draw out their potential by opening them to new worlds. Thus teaching is inherently ethical, allowing students to find their place in and to contribute to the world.

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Posted by on September 30, 2007 in 1950s, inspiration, nostalgia, reminiscences, Teachers Who Change Lives, teaching