Category Archives: reminiscences

Shakespeare Hotel: Rabbit and Sirdan

That is the company at Sunday Lunch; the menu you may divine from the plates. As generous a $10 worth as you could hope for…


Ran into Richard Allen and Karen Pearlman later at the new Surry Hills Library. And their two children! Richard was one of the editors of Neos.

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Posted by on June 21, 2009 in Australia, friends, local, personal, poets and poetry, reminiscences, reminiscing, Sirdan, Sunday lunch, Surry Hills


More on things I’m proud of…

Well, there’s this speech I made in 2000.

A Talk to Bilingual Parents

I gave this talk at the first NESB Parent Night at Sydney Boys High in 2000.

There are times when I am quite proud to be an Australian. One of those times was late 1998 when I made friends with a backpacker named Kyohiko Kato from Sendai, Japan. Why was I proud? It was when he said he had come to Australia to develop an open mind: “big heart” is actually what he said. He went on: “When I came out of Sydney Airport and saw so many different sorts of people I knew I had come to the right place.” He was only visiting for one year and I suspect he had an open mind already!

Many people who come here to settle do so because here is different from their country of birth. Others come because their country of birth is no longer a good place to be. Others come to make money, or to give their family a better chance in life. There are all sorts of reasons. My great great-great grandfather came because the English Courts in Ireland told him to.

Whatever the reason, settling is never easy. I have read a letter written about 160 years ago by one of my ancestors. He said, “You know I don’t want to die in this country.” He did of course. A great-grandmother solved the problem by losing her mind and believing her home in Dulwich Hill was actually in the Lakes District of England.

Changing countries is an emotional thing. A Chinese friend was surprised to find that now, when in China, he feels Australian. Chinese people have even congratulated him on how well he speaks Chinese. But in Australia he feels Chinese. Here are your boys now. Here they are in a school and a school system that may be quite similar to, or very different from, what you knew, or what your friends and relations back home know. There is an interesting question: where is home?

Your language and culture aren’t just decorations: they are part of who you are. Australian governments officially recognise that now, and I hope more and more people understand it in practice. Your son’s future in Australia will be even brighter if he can be a complete person — one who knows where he has come from and is proud of it, but who also knows where he is and can move freely.

You want your son to do well. Everyone wants that, but maybe migrants want it even harder. So what do you do? How can you guarantee he will do well?

Well, there are no guarantees.

But there are some good ideas — and I have found some in a very old book that some of you will know. The book is old, but it is studied by soldiers and business students all over the world today. It is Sun Tzu’s The Art of War.

Sun Tzu says

The contour of the land is an aid to an army; sizing up opponents to determine victory, assessing dangers and distances, is the proper course of action for military leaders. Those who do battle knowing these will win, those who do battle without knowing these will lose.

Sun Tzu also says:

Therefore generals who know all possible adaptations to take advantage of the ground know how to use military forces. If generals do not know how to adapt advantageously, even if they know the lay of the land they cannot take advantage of it.

Jia Lin comments:

Even if you know the configuration of the land, if your mind is inflexible you will not only fail to take advantage of the ground but may even be harmed by it. It is important for generals to adapt in appropriate ways. These adaptations are made on the spot as appropriate, and cannot be fixed in advance.

I asked a student what I should tell parents tonight. He said: “Don’t say ‘Let your boys have fun and relax.’ They will just laugh at you.” He thought for a moment and then said, “Maybe you could tell them not to set goals their kids just can’t reach.” “Yes. I will tell them that,” I promised.

Well, now I’ve told you.

Don’t be afraid of setting goals. Don’t be afraid of encouraging your boys to work hard. But let us together learn the ground, and let us together — parents, students and teachers — make the right adaptations. Then we can win the battle.

Guess I’m proud of my English/ESL blog. (242,577 hits since December 2006)

And as for Neos (mentioned yesterday) – it was rather nice to have Patrick White, Nobel Prize winning Australian writer, promoting it enthusiastically to Australian poet Robert Gray back around Issue 2.


Roads taken and not taken

Off shortly to my fortnightly appointment with Dr C.

The title of course refers to the much loved Robert Frost poem “The Road Not Taken”.

I shall be telling this with a sigh

Somewhere ages and ages hence:

Two roads diverged in a wood, and I—

I took the one less traveled by,

And that has made all the difference.

There’s an interesting discussion of this deceptively simple poem here: Robert Frost’s Tricky Poem.

Way back when (last century) when I studied History II at Sydney University with classmate Philip Ruddock I wrote a not very good essay on Edward Gibbon. I was trying to kill two birds with one stone, as Gibbon was also set for study in English. (Even the lecturer never finished The Decline and Fall of the Roman Empire.) The essay topic was odd too, being in French! Translated it meant something like: “What is a great life? A dream of youth carried out in maturity” – Discuss in relation to Gibbon’s ‘Autobiography’.

My dream of youth was to be a scientist. By youth I mean about age seven when, I am told, on our driving past the University – there was only one in Sydney then – I asserted that one day I would go there. That I accomplished at 16, the first in the family to do so. But Science didn’t figure by then. I also once considered journalism, but seem to have channelled that into blogging much later on, though I did write articles in English teacher publications and did a spot of literary editing. Still, it’s nice that now I am an occasional cub reporter for The South Sydney Herald. (My piece has been accepted, by the way. Dorothy was nice about it: “Just looked at your write-up of the Human Rights event – very professional! As one would expect from a person like you.” You’ll see it in June.)

I also was offered Law – twice: once when I left school, and once when I had a year out being an Insurance clerk for the MLC. But mostly my career turned out to be teaching English and History, and latterly ESL. (My other not much used teaching subject was Latin.) And an up and down career it has been, with a number of byways. Nonetheless it has had its satisfactions.

But who can’t sympathise with the ambiguity of that last stanza by Robert Frost?


Some non-fiction read recently 2b – the personal component

See also Some non-fiction read recently: 2a.

This goes back to 2005 and a particularly interesting if controversial event. On the day I was not there, as I had to attend a meeting of ESL teachers at Erskineville – or was it Arncliffe, one of the last such meetings for me as I retired the following year. But I did know all the participants at The Mine end, and I posted on it at the time and the following year. See Salt Mine and Islamic Students; 7.30 Report: The Mine and the Islamists; The Mine and the Islamists: cause for concern?. On Floating Life Apr 06 ~ Nov 07 there is also a major entry from April 2006.

What I found yesterday was a video on YouTube of the complete 2005 Seminar referred to in those entries. The controversy centred on the guest speakers, Sheik Khalid Yassin and Hizb ut-Tahrir’s Wassim Doureihi. These people would fall in one of Michael Burleigh’s inner circles (see previous entry) but not necessarily, of course, into the innermost circle. While I had concerns about the Mine students involved, I very much doubt they would have even considered the innermost circle – quite the opposite in fact. (I also refer to these students in my Cronulla 2005 posts.)


Stills from the video.

Mine students often show initiative, of course, and these particular students were very bright indeed and participated in all aspects of school life to the full. An earlier generation some ten years before promised they would have Barry Crocker and Kamahl at their farewell assembly. We thought they were joking, but on the day, there they were! The Tamils were especially happy. So were the office ladies.

Now you have to wait for Part C of this post.

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Posted by on April 20, 2009 in Australia, Australia and Australian, events, ex-students and coachees, faith, interfaith, Islam, multicultural Australia, personal, Postcolonial, religion, reminiscences, Salt Mine, terrorism


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.


Last night I was 15 again…

On Compass last night was a documentary that really took me back: Billy Graham Down Under. Radio National also covered it.


1959 Billy Graham Crusade gathering at the Melbourne Cricket Ground

Source — Australian heritage photographic library.

I wasn’t there, but did go to the Sydney meetings with Sutherland Presbyterian Fellowship – even if the minister expressed a few doubts about the phenomenon, though he broadly supported it. I also went independently with some school friends, including one Jew, being 15 at the time.

From Compass, where the transcript has now appeared:

143 thousand people had crammed into the MCG and another 4,000 stood outside listening to hastily rigged up speakers. They had come from all over the state and they wanted to be part of the action.
Judith Smart – Historian
I was eight at the time. I was a member of the Malvern Baptist Sunday School. The Baptists were very evangelical and they decided that they should take all the Sunday School to the Billy Graham crusade.  We weren’t close enough to actually see Billy Graham but his speech was quite astonishing.

No, I didn’t go forward when the call came. I had already done that at a Fellowship Camp at Otford a month or two earlier. Oh, and in Sydney I was close enough to see the man quite close, comparatively speaking, in at least one of the meetings.

It was all rather amazing. Sydney had never seen such crowds, particularly for a religious gathering. On the last day the overflow filled the stadium next door as well as the SCG itself.

One of my teachers did mutter something about Nuremberg rallies, I recall. We thought that quite out of place at the time.

My trip back to 1959 did produce a Ninglun’s Specials entry: Memorabilia 15: 1959 — or thereabouts where you will find some quite wonderful super-8 footage of Sydney in that period. Not mine; a YouTube member posted it.

Much water has gone under the Harbour Bridge since then!


Change and decay in all around I see…

Jim Belshaw has begun “a series on social and cultural change in Australia that began with A note on Australia Day and related matters.” I see he expects there that I may sometimes disagree with him:


Neil wrote:

“I guess we will see some posts expanding on this…”

True of course, but I suspect that while Neil may not like some of the things I plan to talk about, he may be a little surprised at the content.

The posts I have in mind are not intended to tell people what to think nor indeed what I think on specific issues. While I will make my own views clear so that people can understand my biases, I am more concerned to disentangle issues and point to what I see as trends. Where I can, I will put things in historical context. While bias is inevitable, I want to write from a professional perspective.

I will be writing from an Australian perspective, but I hope that the material will be of broader interest.

I won’t say more at this point. I leave it to you, the reader, to form your own views.

I suppose it is possible I may disagree, but I certainly don’t have any problems with the latest in the set — Ladettes – girls acting like boys. Nor do I much worry about Australia Day being 26 January; it could even be argued that date becomes a space for quite useful reflection. This was certainly my case on Australia Day 1988, the Bicentennial, as I suspect it was for many others. I agree too (which I don’t always do) with the more conservative partner in the Skeptic Lawyer blog: I’d like to know where this crap started.

Via LP, I learn that there were several ‘mini-Cronullas‘ this Australia Day, the worst taking place along the Manly Corso in Sydney. No-one dead or seriously injured this time, but people abused, people showered with broken glass, drunken nongs running around wearing the flag like a superman cape (something I find extraordinarily disrespectful), racist epithets flying thick and fast etc etc…

The Americans have somehow managed to be flag-waving and patriotic, but you never see stuff like this attached to their flag; as one American points out, if it happens there it’s the Confederate Flag that gets ‘claimed’ by various drunken nongs. And I just can’t imagine any American using their national flag as a superman cape.

Skeptic Lawyer does bend over backwards to exculpate the Howard years. While I agree it isn’t just that, I think there was a synergy between Howard, the fear generated by 9/11 and Bali etc, and the spirit (demons?) whipped up by Pauline Hanson. It does seem to be very much a right wing phenomenon. SL and I do share distaste for the development nonetheless. Not all change is beneficial.

See what I had to say on Cronulla 05. The posts there were written in the heat, because as one who lived in The Shire for many years I was really upset by what I saw, even if I now concede happily that The Shire is nowhere near as bad as these events and images would suggest. Like just about everywhere else The Shire has in fact changed and in many respects has coped well. Last year’s local government elections tended to bear this out. The extreme racist candidates didn’t get far at all. But I wrote then of Howard, thinking now also of Skeptic Lawyer’s post:

12. PM refuses to use racist tag – National – 2005-12-12 4:10:00 pm

Our PM has spoken at last, refusing to use the R-word when there can be no doubt whatsoever that racism of the crudest and dumbest kind was a big part of what happened yesterday, just as it haunts the psyches of the gang-members, or many of them, to whom the folk of Cronulla rightly object. OK, I would not say all Australians are racist either. I’m not, I hope, though I have had my moments, as we all have. But JH is and always has been namby-pamby in his reverse political correctness on the issue of racism. A bit of “ticker” would have gone down well on this occasion.

I still think that.

When it comes to social change our attitudes are very much shaped by where we’ve come from and what has happened to us. If you want at least one indicator in my case all you need to do is look at a photoset that sums up the last twenty years of my life in its way: M’s New Year party. Little wonder I was sickened by Pauline Hanson, is it?

I do look forward to Jim’s continuing series, because I know they will be, as ever, very carefully considered. Whether I always agree or not is another matter, but Jim has that pretty well covered in the note quoted above.


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