Memories from Sydney Technical High School in the 1960s

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Stephen Gard, 2017

Interviewee: Stephen Gard
Date: 5 June 2017
Subject: Education in St George/ Homeschooling
Interviewer: Birgit Heilmann
Transcript: Sarah Su, Birgit Heilmann

For further details regarding this recording, you can find the recording in the Georges River Libraries Catalogue under Memories from Sydney Technical High School in the 1960s


Stephen Gard [SG]
Birgit Heilmann [BH]
Anna Mullen [AM]


This is an interview with Stephen Gard, conducted by Birgit Heilmann and Anna Mullen from Hurstville Museum and Gallery on the 5th of June 2017. This interview is for the project: Education in St George.

Biographical questions

[00:25] I’m starting with some personal information questions, just to get an orientation. Can you please state your full name and address?

Yes. Stephen Donald Gard. [Section of Transcript deleted].Thirlmere New South Wales 2572.

[00:43] Excellent. And when and where were you born?

[Section of transcript deleted] 1952 and I was actually delivered at Roslyn Private Hospital in Arncliffe, but as we say these days, I was ‘born’ in Oatley because that’s where my parents lived. But the actually accouchement was in Arncliffe.

[01:07] So you grew up in Oatley?

I’ve never grown up, no. 65 years of age and I still haven’t grown up. Most of my youth was spent in Oatley, yes.

[01:21] And can you give us a little bit of overview of your family?

Upper blue collar. Working-class plus. School tradesmen. That’s the fibro house Australia set. That’s who you get here [Hurstville. SG] and what you still see from the train as you come in is those lower middle-class homes, particularly over there in South Hurstville, Penshurst, Mortdale out to Oatley. My parents moved there just post war and as some of the Australians did then, on a block of land built their own house. Literally, with their own hands. So that’s my background, the social class that I come from.

[01:57] And do you have any brothers, sisters?

One brother and an older sister.

[02:03] And where do you live now?

Thirlmere, which is down in the Southern Highlands of New South Wales. About 100 km south-west of here.

[02:12] It’s a nice area, I love the Southern Highlands. And can I ask what you currently work or do?

I’m a freelance author.

[02:20] And you’ve qualified in this-

Well, all authors are self-taught, aren’t they? There’s no real training course for authors despite all the silly Bachelor of Creative Arts and all the rest of them offered by universities these days. You teach yourself to be an author and you learn by submitting and rejecting and submitting and rejecting and eventually, it takes off and it’s a lifelong process, you never finish. You never finish learning to be an author. I certainly haven’t.

Oatley Public School

[02:46] Thank you. I guess starting – because the whole project’s about school memories. It would be great if you could start when you first got to school – can you talk about where you first got to school and what your memories are.

How long do we have?


Because I could write a short novel about this. Let’s start about 1955 – no 1957 when the school starting age was 4 years and 11 months from memory. And like most Australians, I enrolled in the local primary school – state primary school, run by the government. And I was in kindergarten at that time the primary school system went kindergarten, first, second, third, fourth, fifth, sixth class. So there are actually 7 years of elementary school education. Around about the middle of my second year of primary school which was then called transition – transition between the kindergarten with the ideas of Friedrich Fröbel, meaning it was a playground, and kindergarten, you know, a place to play and learn. Transition was abolished and we suddenly all got promoted into the first grade. So there’s a hiatus, a sort of time gap in my education where you suddenly jumped a year. Caught up with my friends because I was slightly younger, fourth year, and I moved into a cohort that was a little older. On the primary school, it was relatively small for schools these days. I think there are 5 primary classes and 2 infants’ classes and it was odd in that it was split between 2 campuses, so we had to cross the road to graduate to the primary department. And it was a typical primary school of its time.

[04:29] Bare floorboards, the school built in the 1920s, I think it’s coming up for its 75th or 100th or whatever it was but it had the 14-foot ceilings with tongue and groove ceilings, absolutely nothing on the floor. Desks screwed to the floor in rows, tilt up seats. Inkwells, and nothing on the wall except for the Queen at the front, and I think we had the map of the world at the back. So visual stimuli/stimulation – nil. Discipline – savage. Reading, writing, and arithmetic. School milk at 11 o’clock. This was to build up – why are you nodding (to Anna Mullen), you’re not old enough to remember this!

Yes I am.


– to build up strong, healthy Australians, it was free milk distributed to primary schools across the nation, this came at 11 o’clock-

It was warm. [05:15]

-and it appeared in – and it was always warm because they would deliver it in steel cages and with chunks of ice which the boys [Milk Monitors. SG] would then take out, throw it at each other, so by 11 o’clock when you had to have it, it was revolting. So what they invented instead was straws with a little sliver of flavour inside them, so you put the straw in the milk and that would give it some flavour. But most of our food, our diet in primary school would be sandwiches and fruit.

[05:43] And the school had a canteen, which we called a ‘tuck shop’, which is really a borrowing from English public school-ism, which they called it an Oslo lunch. The idea of a Norwegian doctor, who said that children’s diet should consist of these food groups and so on, so it was sandwiches and fruit and whatever. And we came to school with a brown paper bag that our mother had written our lunch order and our name and our class with the money inside it, that would be handed in to the roller shutter of the canteen in the morning. And the ladies – there were no men. All the mothers came up and volunteered to butter bread and fill the lunch bags and they would be delivered to your classroom in a wooden box with ‘Tip-Top’s the one’ on the side just before lunch, and you would have your lunch handed out in the classroom. That’s for the kids whose parents were organised enough to do it – the ones who didn’t would have a vegemite sandwich or bread and dripping sandwich. And in some cases, no lunch at all because they just didn’t get around to doing it.

[06:46] Well that was primary school right up ’til year 6. And the curriculum was entirely contained in one volume. I have a copy of it myself at home. Having been a primary school teacher, this kind of thing interests me – it was possible once to teach everything that was necessary to know from one book. And teacher’s programs consisted of how many minutes per week they would teach each of those areas of the curriculum. So it was very much the basics. Very little in terms of what we would call a liberal education in cultivating the individual – it was still the 19th century hangover from preparing you from – for the workforce. And I finished with primary school from 1963. Edit point.

[07:27] (laughs) And, um –

You want more, you want me to go on?

I just wanna ask how big were the classes when you were in primary school?

Class sizes – oh, could be up to 40. The teachers’ federation had already stepped in and insisted that class sizes be limited. So they weren’t the gigantic 120 children class you would see at a, in rural school in the old days taught by monitors. Monitors were the older students who’d been entrusted with the care of little modules around the room. And were in effect, trainee teachers. None of that. None of that, no. We were a bit better off than that. The classes still were large, you know. 35 to 40 students. And the rooms, they just fitted us. They were not large classrooms. They didn’t have extra space for sinks, you know, to do art in. Or any of the additional teaching aids and areas there would be today. They were very functional places just for processing children.

[08:35] Yes. And some punishment accessories for naughty kids?

Oh yes, the cane was regularly used. It was the only method of punishment[1]. It was – it was quite extraordinary to think about it these days, that little boys who misbehaved in the playground for terrible things like running on the ‘ashfelt,’ it was called. Should be asphalt, but nobody said asphalt. They said ‘ashfelt.’ If you ran on the asphalt, or splashed water in the toilets or any of those wicked things, being out of bounds – because I was in the deputy principal’s class, we’d come in after lunch, there’d be a row of boys standing in front of the blackboard with their hands behind their back, waiting to be caned. Now the extraordinary thing is not one of them ever thought of tearing up the classroom, throwing the paint around, misbehaving, anything. That was the system. You’re getting in trouble so you wait. And this happened, this was part of the system.

[09:21] And can you remember what kind of school dress you would have?

We – it was interesting that there was a school uniform. But not everyone at my school at the time was wearing it. I don’t know why, and it could be the fact that there was still parents not able to afford a school uniform. But it consisted – when the girls wore one, a grey – the girls wear cotton tunic, not the box pleated skirt, just a tunic and the badge on the pocket. OPS [Oatley Public School. SG]. For the boys it was a grey shirt and grey shorts, black shoes, black leather shoes. If you wore it but not everyone was expected, it wasn’t enforced then so much as it was later on. It just – I don’t know why, I never asked.[2]

When we got to high school, it was different.

Sydney Technical High School

[10:16]  Let’s move to High School, I think that’s kind of interesting. You went to Sydney Tech High? And it’s a selective school?  So do you know why – how did you end up going there. So did your parents choose-

No it was an IQ test. You either went because your grandfather or your father went there and that wasn’t the case in my case, or you passed an IQ test – you had to have an IQ in excess of 120. Sydney Tech was a selective school for boys and St George [Girls High. SG] was a selective school for girls and these were introduced quite early in the 20th century as a way of the state answering the private school selectivity about choosing the best and brightest to go on. And that was Sydney Tech’s purpose when it started, and it was located in the city, of course originally in Ultimo. I wasn’t there at the time, but in Bexley when it moved in 1955 it retained the name Sydney Technical High School and retained the selectivity.

[11:22] And can you remember – describe your first day of school when you got there?


Tell us!

First of all I was – and my parents were terribly proud that I’d got in to a selective school. Neither of them had much education, they finished what would be called these days, they would call year 10 [year 9 correct. SG]. Because they came through ‘the Depression’ and for many Australians this was the big landmark [wall?] you know. I got through ‘the Depression’ and for their son to get into selective school is a big deal. So they bought me a briefcase, and a fountain pen. And they went to Beare & Ley which I noticed is still here, to be fitted for my blazer. Blazer being a very old fashioned idea actually, the blazer was fashionable for Edwardian youth to go boating in. A very, very brightly coloured jacket and a straw boater. And this was intended to encourage young men to enjoy school – in the Edwardian era. It’s like today everyone has to come to school with a shaved head and tattoos, you’ll enjoy school better, it’s part of the uniform. You know, it was the same sort of psychology. So if we fast forward into the 60s, the idea of a school blazer and a boater is absolutely absurd. But it’s become set in concrete, and people actually send their kids to private school for that discipline, for the look. For the culture, and all that goes with it. 

[12:46] So Sydney Tech, yes, I remember wandering around the place being overawed because there were 1000 students there. And the boys in 5th form – 6th form was introduced a year later – all seemed like old men to me. You know, adults – some of them shaved. They were pretty scary looking people. The thing is about Sydney Tech was, because it was a selective school, everybody there was bright so there weren’t any thugs, there weren’t any bullies, there weren’t any things I heard about in other high schools which was more like a Borstal,  you had to continually be on your guard.[3] Everybody at Sydney Tech would be civilised. And for that reason, it was a privilege to go there I think – the fact you were amongst, these days because you could see them [State Schools. SG] heading for privatisation that their schools are going to be like the prisons privatised. They’ve [Syd Tech High. SG] now got our Rouges gallery along their corridors. Of all the famous students who had been here.

[13:46] And some of the people I studied with were particularly outstanding in their field. Oncologists and professors of mathematics, outstandingly intelligent young men and really nice people too, and that’s the thing about it – we’re really, we’re proud of each other. Because even though I went through at the bottom of the school, I did no work at all let me tell you right now, I was an ‘E’ student. The guys in the ‘A’ classes, we didn’t sneer at them. We just knew that they were bright, that they worked – and this was the big factor, this is the difference. They worked. They really worked as well. The teachers told me years later, you put something on the board, they knew it and said ‘what’s next?’ And this could be calculus or anything, they were that kind of brain. So it was a privilege to be here just to be with those type of students. The staff we were told were handpicked. No one was allowed to teach at Sydney Tech unless they had a degree which was unusual for other teachers then. And so we had teachers who were very focused on pressure cooker type teaching, you know, you’d have to do the best because this was our school. This is our ‘Manners Makyth Man’ school with a Wykehamist motto[4]. So that was my memory of first form.

[15:02] And did you have any friends or other school children you knew from primary or from your growing up following you?

Only 4 of us went there, the rest went to Hurstville Primary. One boy, because his brothers were there. And the other 3 on IQ. But I didn’t pursue those friendships at Sydney Tech because it was a much larger palette of people to choose from. I was more interested in so – because I was a composer and a musician, I was interested in boys who were interested in music, I was interested in boys who had a sense of humour and no particular focus on study. So those were the guys that I liked to hang out and have a great time with. Yeah, so those were the friendships I made there. And I won’t say they were lifetime friendships, but they were sustaining during the time.

[15:57] You often have your friendships for school and for university, it’s changing.

Absolutely, yes. It’s a shared experience and then once that experience is over you may or may not take those people with you, and often you don’t.

[16:11] Maybe, going back to the school complex –

Yes, I suffer from the school complex. Have for years.

(laughs) So can you explain a little bit about, what you can remember how the school looked like in comparison to when you first went there, and then comparison to Oatley. Was there any big differences-

Oh well it was a very big school on a very big block of land. Hideous architecture. Absolutely ghastly. Public service – and I say that now, as a child it was just overwhelming. But looking at it now, goodness knows who designed it. It had no facade. If you go to the United States, you see those schools with those enormous mock Greek porticoes, you know ‘you’re going to be educated in this academy. At Sydney Tech was a carpark in front. (laughs). It was no clear entrance to the place at all. You slithered off to one side through a door here or a set of glass doors here so as a piece of design, it was – not how I can see how a fake Greek portico might inspire students to think this is an important place to be, but Sydney Tech, it looked more like the Department of Public Works headquarters or something like that. Not particularly inspiring. It had a big auditorium, quite a large auditorium with a lot of fixed seating in it, and we went there once a week to be harangued by the principal.

[17:34] What about?

Whatever was on his mind at the moment that we’d done wrong. Most it went in one ear and out the other, you know. Some of those – remember we got a school full of very bright boys. And I’ve talked about the doctors, the lawyers, the engineers. But in the middle, there were some boys with an amazing sense of satirical humour. Really anarchistic. Despite the threat of terrible canings, because that was the – how you dealt with everything, just thrashings for slight stepping out of line. But there were teachers, I’ve read in Borstal Boy[5] and other books about people in institutions. Powerless people have their ways of subversing and getting around it. Say for example – we had to recite a school pledge: ‘I honour my God, I serve my Queen, I salute the flag.’ But we didn’t salute. We put out hand over our heart, and then we put it down. Well every boy in the school managed to (Stephen hits desk in the interview) hit his hand on the desk or the chair in front when he put it down. This was a little form of social protest. This annoyed the deputy principal very much indeed, so he posted teachers all up and down either side of the auditorium to catch the boys who were doing it and they didn’t get any of them, but they still did it. And they kept that up. Particular teacher we didn’t like, it was a heavy-weight who would walk down the aisle between us, (begins stomping) everybody would start tramping their feet in time with him until the whole building was shaking. Just little bits of rebellion like that, which are school boyish, but they do assert the fact that you are powerless, but you can get back – Nick-namings for example, of teachers, could be quite terrifying and quite savage, are also evidence of some powerless people responding to the situation. Of course the nick-names sometimes could be highly affectionate, which therefore expressed a liking.

[19:24] I’m curious about the caning. Did that carry through right until the end of the schooling-

Oh yes.

-because I thought there would be an age where the kids would start to-

Girls were not allowed to be caned over the age of 12 because of course they’d have hysterics and they might be menstruating and they might faint and that kind of thing. Girls up to the age of 12, certainly. But no, absolutely not. Right up to the time you left, it was the final sanction. Of course in our age of course it was no longer for not knowing your work, that kind of thing had gone out long ago. It was for breaches of severe discipline of insolence, for example, violence. Misbehaviour in the classroom. It was very dangerous to be put outside the door of the classroom for talking because the deputy principal would patrol along and take you back to the office and you’d get a belting for that. Um, as a sanction against behaviour, it was just one of those things that you lived within any institution – there are penalties for things and you think how much is this worth – is it worth it to do that? [Disobedience. SG]

[20:24] So we got to the auditorium. Behind the auditorium, an enormous gymnasium. Physical education was part of the curriculum. I haven’t spoken about the curriculum – are we going with the architecture, or return to the curriculum?

[20:36] We can do both.

I’ll finish with the architecture – it was all brick. The whole thing. The entire thing was brick, black brick. It was built on a slope so that when you walked out through the administration block, you were out on the large terrace which we called Bong’s [Quarterdeck; since demolished. SG]. We nicknamed the principal, Bong. I never found out why. Mr Harrold B. Brown – Bong. BSc. A man who went everywhere in his academic robes and had no contact with the students at all. He wasn’t interested in us, he had very much felt his position as the figurehead of the enterprise.[6]

[21:13] That’s quite interesting, when you think it’s a selective school, you wanna educate the brightest students, and then you would think the teacher’s education should be somehow different than normal schools, but it was the same, strict-

The student-centred education didn’t arrive until the late 60s. It was – this is why it was a very interesting school to be, too. It was a collision between two cultures happening. The boys were full of 60s ideas, and the teachers were full of, well, 19th century ideas. We were all called by our last name, there were no Christian names said in the school, so it was very much the British public school cold water, football, cricket discipline, ‘get your haircut son, you look like a girl’ – apparently looking like a girl was bad-

[22:05] It was the worst. (laughs)

Imagine being a girl. So no, not a child-centred environment at all. It was the old cold water and toughen you up stuff, you know. We don’t want any fairies who would become engineers, you know, none of that sort of thing. And I don’t know that was because the teachers were particularly harsh, it was simply the culture of the time you know. There was still that 19th century hangover with the school producing people who were industrial fodder, that was the whole idea of compulsory education – it was to feed the factories with people, not to create individuals.

[22:42] So – Bong’s striding platform, and then over to the left of it, a very tall staircase and the top of that had a landing which was Bing’s shouting platform, and Bing was the deputy headmaster. He resembled Captain Binghamton in McHale’s navy and I think that’s how he got his nickname. Humourless martinet. Absolutely a man who detested anything to do with the 60s and was hoping to flog it back into submission, any evidence he saw of anyone being different. And then a huge concreted quadrangle with towers of classrooms either side. We called it Colditz. Do you know? That’s what it looked like. And unfriendly in one respect, but not oppressive because we weren’t there looking to be uplifted by our surroundings. But blank and look back on it now, I mean ‘how did you survive that place, it must have been so oppressive’ but we weren’t prisoners. It was just not imaginative. Classrooms were just long, cricket pitch, football pitch long corridors of polished parquet floor. They spent a little bit on that school you know, which were kept clean. But the classrooms were just blank walls painted that neutral cream, Celotex ceilings, that was the soundproofing material at the time – or I think it might have been asbestos, I think it was severely politically incorrect.

[24:13] Stairwells with rather nice handrails of carved timber. It was somebody slipped up there – instead of making them steel. Down the bottom of the school was the industrial arts block, where we learned woodwork, metalwork, and technical drawing which was to prepare you for a career as a draughtsman. Perhaps an architect. The teachers in the industrial arts section were considered to be a lower form of life amongst the teaching staff, not by us, because they were friendlier. They are most of them had been recruited from industry. They weren’t actually trained teachers. Whereas up there in the English staff room, you had the leather patches and the pipe types. There was an occasion when our principal gave an address on the retirement of one of the industrial arts teachers and couldn’t remember his name, couldn’t pronounce it. Which means he’d taken no interest in the man whatsoever which was a bit disgraceful but that’s the way it was.

[25:11] Underneath the towering block of classrooms was the canteen, the tuck shop, the place where you bought food for making pimples on boy’s cheeks – custard tarts, sausage rolls, Coca Cola, paddle pops, and again it was run by the mothers of the boys in the school, it was quite a good money spinner – 1000 boys to feed, it was a reasonable income for the ladies auxiliary as it was called then, who even had their own newsletter for the school. And they were an interesting political power in the place, in the boy’s school, the ladies auxiliary. The way they got things done: books for the library and other feminine frills, you know, actually made the place human. That’s the thing that changed I saw – I left early, I left in ’68 instead of going through to 1969, but there were more and more female teachers and the place began to get more and more human the more female teachers there were and, less savage. It was nice having a lady teaching you. And we were really gentlemanly towards these young women, some of them who were straight out of university and still a bit worried about being in a classroom full of boys. If they knew their job, we were usually quite nice to them, if they didn’t we gave them hell.

[26:33] Tell me about nice teachers, any memories of teachers you particularly liked?

Yes, several, there were several. The type of – who were actually moving towards taking an interest in you  as an individual, not just as a class full of faces who had to be instructed in algebra and if you didn’t get it you were a nitwit – Well, Geoff Brooks the commerce teacher. Tremendous sense of humour. I was a bit resentful of being in the commerce class, because I would have like to have studied languages. I wanted to do French and German but they said your marks aren’t good enough, you can’t do any German, you don’t have the commercial, you obviously aren’t the type to spend your life with journals and ledgers and so on. So ‘Spooky’ Brooks as we called him, because he had dark circles under his eyes, he had a sense of humour which is the thing that saves so many situations – ‘Get out son!’ You know, I’m going to send you to the deputy’ he’d be more likely ‘Son, look, if you really want to write songs, write this one about the beautiful breeze outside but whatever you do, shut up and stop talking’, you know, a fun person, you know. He’s someone I remember and then of course there was Reg Byrne, the rebel. Reg Byrne, an English teacher. He was one of the cohort hanging out in Sydney with Germaine Greer, the push. So he was an interesting type – hair falling across his eyes and so on, reading his rebellious poetry. Continually looking out the window, wondering when he was going to get out of here. Younger teachers, some of the older teachers, again if they had a sense of humour, and would say things like ‘look, I’ve taught you all I know and you know nothing’ that kind of thing. They were fun. The rest of them, they divided into either unremarkable people who are forgettable I’m afraid, or the beasts. The baton wielding beasts who you tried to avoid as much as you could. Worse than the cane, really was sarcasm. For someone that age. For somebody young and bright to have someone of authority saying damaging things about your personality, about you when you’re still forming it I think is much worse than any beating, really. And there were a few teachers like that, they didn’t like the way we looked. They didn’t like the way we thought. I was always in trouble for having long hair, which was-

[28:55] How long was it?

-about as long as yours [collar lenth]. That was really bad. ‘Well, look, it’s down past your ears!’ and so on you know. So that got you scorn and sneering, ‘what do you think this is, a girls’ high school, son?’ That sort of silliness. But again, that’s why I say it was interesting to be there at the juncture of two cultures when we were moving into the 60s and our ideas were younger, and they were still looking backwards and saying ‘why don’t you look like its 1930, what’s wrong with your values and attitudes?’ You know ‘there’s something wrong with you young people today.’ So that’s the architecture. Not prepossessing, but functional.

[29:34] The curriculum. Okay, this is the 60s, post Sputnik. You know the significance of what I’m talking about? When the Sputnik went up, the western world went mad with terror. They said ‘the Russians are beating us in technology, the Reds are coming.’ Well they turned to the universities and said ‘how has this happened?’ And they said ‘the Russians value their young people, they cherry pick the bright ones, they fast track them through their universities for free’ and that’s when Australia and the rest of the world went mad for the science curriculum. So we all went to school with a gigantic volume of Harry Messel’s science curriculum[7] which weighed as much as the Webster’s dictionary – science was everything, science was compulsory. Fortunately it was hands on. So it was interesting. So we had a lab and a bunsen burner and chemicals – no goggles to protect your eyes! You know, it was just, if you mixed the water with the acid and it blew up in your face, well it was on the board and why didn’t you read it, you know? So science-

[30:38] Any injuries with mixing?

No, no, absolutely not. No, no boys put their head in the fume cupboard and died of bromide poisoning. Common sense! You know there used to be a thing called common sense. So I cannot remember any injuries, deliberate or otherwise. So science was compulsory. English, mathematics were the other two compulsory things. Mathematics was algebra with no explanations at all, just you know, ‘a equals x minus y according to the distributive law’ – what the hell are you talking about? But you just did it, and I never understood it. And myself and another boy used to compete for being bottom of the year in mathematics, you know, like 12%. It was a little game we used to play. Languages, well, French and German – I think they were just phasing out Latin. Pity, I would like to have done Latin, but it was just the utilitarian aspect of education where they just said ‘what use is Latin in the workforce?’ No. And Indonesian of course, Asian-

Pharmacist. Or doctor.

[31:46] Hrm?

Pharmacists required it.

Perhaps, yes. People who named drugs, I often wonder where they learned enough Latin to do that. Or Greek. But Asian languages were coming in – Indonesian, Bahasa Indonesia we were taught, which was a lot of fun. Because we had a lovely female teacher and she said she’d been to Indonesia and had seen the Wayang Puppet Theatre, I’d never got over it and we had to hear about the Wayang Puppet Theatre every week. ‘Selamat pagi, saudara?’ That’s the only Indonesian I remember, because then the person I won’t name set fire to her chalk box.  So the teacher’s chalk box went up in flame from lighter fluid. So while we were dealing with that, we didn’t get through the Indonesian lesson. Terrible. 

So what’s the translation?

[32:32] (laughs) Selamat pagi, saudara? It’s just ‘good morning mate, how you going?’


Selamat pagi. Yes, but our teacher there, lovely – lovely lady but not meant for a boys school, she was a space cadet. She couldn’t understand what we were doing. So languages – now I’d mentioned the industrial arts block. So there was woodwork and metalwork, which as I said carpentry and bashing bits of tin plate into sugar scoops which your mother put in the cupboard and never used, or you made a toasting fork for the fireplace your parents didn’t have. And in woodwork, I can’t remember what we made, but it would have been terribly useful like a box for putting shoe cleaning materials in or something like this. The – we all enjoyed that because it was hands on you see, and it wasn’t terribly demanding. And our metalwork teacher – Col Stanger, he was a comedian. He told us to gather around the front bench when he wanted to demonstrate something, but he didn’t want us standing to close, so he’d get an oxy torch and 9-foot long flame and whoosh, stand back! So we all stood at the edge of the flame. Nobody’s jumper caught fire and we got the message. And technical drawing which I was hopeless at, but this was for boys who were going to become engineers and were going to draw gearboxes in 9 dimensions and so on.

[33:57] And I guess the equipment for technical drawing was also quite different from today.

Oh we had a lump of charcoal, you know. We’d draw on the wall Bison and men spearing them and so on. Actually, that was the most expensive outlay of the student in first form I now recall. We were expected to buy a set of Conte drawing instruments you know, straight off the boat from the federal republic of Germany, terribly expensive but beautiful instruments. And we had to have clips to put our paper on the drawing board for draughting. And a set of HB pencils – back in those days the letter ‘H’ was pronounced haitch. HB pencils and 2B pencils and so on. All of these were carefully –  you know there was a sheet this long of things you had to buy. And this was the difference of going to a selective school, it was expected that your parents wouldn’t jib at having a financial outlay, apart from the uniform which was absolutely compulsory. This amount of equipment. And you had to have an apron, for your metalwork to wear, to keep your uniform clean. You had to have for our PE – physical education it was called – we had to have white shorts and white t-shirt and sand shoes, the correct stuff for that. There was a gym – there was a shower, set of showers under the gymnasium where we all went and washed and changed. And there was the locker room humour that went with it. But not only was there boy’s locker room humour that went with it, there was a door and some of those boys there should have had a superb criminal career because they could pick locks. There was a door that went out of the shower recess under the gymnasium into a whole catacombs under the school.

[35:50] Oh wow.

It was, you know, probably the area of this building. And naturally, the boys, the naughty ones – I wasn’t involved – would go in there and they had enclaves and they had little caves and clubrooms underneath the principal’s office.

[36:08] Would the principal know?

We don’t think he ever did because he didn’t know anything. He didn’t go anywhere, he wasn’t the type who’d go down and – he never went down to the playground backslapping and say ‘how’re you doing boys, how’re you studying?’ We never saw him except in his academic robes, up on stage, shouting into a microphone. He was the figurehead principal. And underneath, I doubt if anybody knew. I don’t know if anybody wanted to know, they might have to go in and get their clothes dirty. But that is another example of the powerlessness I speak of, the sort of Colditz mentality, let’s find out how you get through the theatre underneath the school and so on. So that’s the curriculum. There was later on they introduced art. There was music which was my major interest, being a musician, which meant a choir and school orchestra if you owned an instrument, which is entirely different. I’d just been back to the school for their 50th, I can’t believe how well equipped they are. I can’t believe the equipment in that place. So I was in the school orchestra playing percussion. We had a very lively English music teacher- 

[37:13]So when – what class would you join this orchestra, later? Because you said-

I was in the choir first form, and the orchestra in second and third form.

So this would be 19-

Oh, well ’64 I started. This was Beatle time. I used to have a picture of the Beatles inside my school case. Even when the French teacher said ‘the Beatles? Quartet of queers!’ He never married. So I was in the orchestra playing percussion, we played Serenata which I thought was a lovely piece, and still do.[8] And then we had a music teacher whose name was Miss Ley  after whom I lust all these years, god she was gorgeous. And she did, God bless her, the Magic Flute! Die Zauberfloete with St George Girls’ High, our sister school.


[38:05] Yeah! We had girls on stage, yeah. And what would happen when they’d come for rehearsal was that our principal in his academic robes would sit in the auditorium and carefully watch where the boys and the girls were sitting so there could be no scandal. I played one of the genii in that, the little angels that appear early in the piece, in a piece of bright shiny, probably lycra. It was bloody cold I could tell you. (laughs) But that was lots of fun, she did it very well, I can’t believe she did the entire thing on her own, and played the piano. I often wonder what happened – I think she went to a girl’s school, poor thing. Nobody ever lusted after her again.


So music was important to me, and was enjoyable, and again it was a hands on thing. A lot of it was listed to records and writing appreciations they didn’t teachers notation or any of the important skills like harmony and analysis. [39:14] Commerce was a big deal, meaning you were being taught to use ledgers, journals, cash books and all that stuff to suit you for a commercial career. History – well history, that’s my interest of course but I wasn’t interested in it then. Geography – I didn’t do geography. That tended to be for the less bright boys because they would take them out and show them rocks. And that was pretty much as much as they could understand. Let’s go out and see rocks. But regularly, every year for as long as I was there and I think it continued for a while – third form history would go on an excursion to Hill End to camp as part of their studies of the Australian Gold Rush. And the connection there was one our teachers Brian Hodge, his uncle had written a book about Hill End. Harry Hodge. Canberra Rural Star Press. And another of our teacher’s father was the rector of Kelso church,  so we’d drop in there on the way. So camping weekend out there, a little bit of panning of gold in the creek. Another hands on connection with Australian history. Singing around the campfire at night when people would make up the most outrageous satirical verses about their teachers. The old boy scout favourite ‘The Quartermaster’s Store’ they would sing and add ribald verses to the end of those. And then we’d all come back again to Sydney Tech and back to normal, short back and sides and put on the blazer and the tie.

Sounds good.

[40:50] So the teachers didn’t accompany you out-

Oh yes! Oh yes, yes, they sat around and listened to the satire, some of them joined in.


Yes, there was a – you may or may not put this on the recorder, but my friend Paul Feldman was the one who invented the verse about our librarian Virginia Sumpter.  It went ‘[There was] Sumpter, Sumpter,

the virgin ’til they jumped her,

in the store, in the store


My eyes are dim, I cannot see,

I’ve been at the pub since half-past three

I’ve been at the pub since Half. Past. Three.

-and that’s the kind of boys we have you know. For him to make that up on the spot was bloody brilliant, I mean when he – he was 15, you know? And there were others that were even worse on the spot. Yeah, I remember these things but it’s astonishing how much my peers don’t. But I’m a writer so I’ve got that ragbag mind you know. So that’s what we did all day, in the classroom – out of the classroom, in the playground, there was a lot of standing around talking.

[41:41] The active boys would go out in the playground and play chasing or brandings with is throwing a tennis ball at someone so it hurts, and general rough and tumble games to burn up the energy. As far as sport went it was a big thing, it was still the cold water, muscular Christian thing so we had football teams and cricket teams and basketball teams, and there were cricket blues[9] and football blues and photographs of the polo – water polo team and so on, that was a very big part of the school, is this sports and maleness.

[42:16] Was it a bit hard to be selected into the teams I guess?

The first 11? Oh yes, big deal if you were. You played – and some of those boys went on to become professional sportsmen. Stephen Edge in  our co-cohort, I think he’s now the coach of Canterbury. I’m not a football person but I occasionally see him at the reunions and then I say, that’s Steve Edge. First-grade player for St George. So there were other excellences amongst the boys as well as being the professorial types.

[42:47] Did you join any sporting team?

No, I was made to play football but what we did instead was, we managed to get ourselves excluded and do nothing. And just wander – because it was always jocks who wanted to do that thing. They played football in the weekend, they played football when they went to school, they got into the school team you know? I was an aesthete you know. I was a creative type, I didn’t do sport. I didn’t want to. So we would just wander around the sports field until we got our names marked off and then we go home. It wasn’t enforced, there were no teachers there.

[43:20] Can we just come back to the experience with having the girls in school for the Zauberfleote [theater play]. I was just wondering, because I was co-educated and  for me, it’s kind of normal to have boys in the class from an early age on. So how was it when you were at high school?

It only happened once.

Obviously you met girls somewhere else-

Oh I see! We’re getting to pubescence, is that what you’re on to now?

But I wonder how – what’s the question-

How did we cope without girls around? Is that what you’re asking?

Yes or how-

You don’t know what you’re missing until you’re (laughs)

So it was kind of normal to have only boys around you and then you’d be ‘oh, there’s a girl’ or?

And then you would – what was the verb you used?

Oh, you would just ‘oh, the girls-‘

No, we were not astonished at the sight of girls, not at all, no. Just because you went there during the day it wasn’t like a boarding school where you were locked up 7 days a week all the time with nothing but boys and all the festering homosexual overtones of that, not at all. We were girl mad. Absolutely girl crazy, when you go to school with girls on the train, you go home with girls on the train. Across the road from the school used to be St Mary’s Star of the Sea convent, and those girls were reputed to be easy – I didn’t know but that’s what they used to say. There were the Penshurst girls who were a cut below the St George Girls who were untouchable you know. No, we were not girl free. Absolutely. And when you have a large number of young men, all they talk about is girls. This is before the days of sex education, and I guess it’s compulsory sex education. So this means that therefore, we didn’t have our sex lives spoiled by being taught anything about it. See otherwise it became a school curriculum subject, you might lose interest. I don’t know.

I can’t remember – it was not really interesting I think. The sex-



[45:25] It was biological. It wasn’t about technique, it was just about biology. I remember one science teacher said ‘boys, there’s a vast difference between the penis and the testes. Hahahaha’ – that was his joke, he tells it every year.

[45:38] So what else were you talking about amongst your friends when you were on school recess or after school.


Only girls?

Music. The Stones. Jimmy Hendrix. All rock bands. Hairstyles! This is the 60s, okay? It’s personal adornments coming in, we started to do backcombing like the small faces hairstyle, that was cool[10]. Beatle boots.[11] At school, there was a rigid uniform code that everybody got around. For example, tab collar shirts – they were so cool. Tab collar shirts, oh my God I remember. And you didn’t wear a singlet, because that was uncool to wear a singlet. Mothers made you wear singlets, so you’d wear a school tie loose and show your chest, show that you had no singlet. Flared trousers, if you could get away with flared long trousers – that was another little sign of rebellion. And although we had to have black leather shoes, there were things we used to call pixie boots which were Italian designed – actually, I’m still addicted to them. They looked like Cornish pasties. So these little rebellions would happen in dress – you know, the pushing the envelope type of thing, whereas in girls’ schools the hems would go up. And they would get shorter and shorter and the headmistress would make them kneel in a line in the playground and anybody’s – because what the girls would do, their mothers would cut their uniform to be the correct length, and they’d hitch them up under their belt. You probably never did that.

[47:11] No. (laughs)

I was lucky to have no school uniform.

It was also the girls who had the terrible legs who did that too, the mottled ones, the ones you didn’t want to see.

[47:22] Question on after school, on the way home. Would you go straight home or would you do something else?

I came to school on the train, from Oatley Public School, and there’s another thing, there’s another little ritual about travel: everyone at the station had their own place to stand. There were cool places to stand and uncool places to stand at Oatley Station and on Penshurst and Mortdale and all the rest of them too. So you’d try to stand on the cool place.

[47:52] So where was the cool place?

The cool place for us was halfway down the terminator. The terminator was nothing to do with Schwarzenegger. It was the train – there were two trains, there was the express that went through, straight through from Oatley to Hurstville and the good people caught that one so they get to school on time. And the slack people like us who would get the terminator because that was waiting on platform 2 until the express went through. And you’d get onto the terminator and you would talk for a while before it slowly made its way, and standing on the platform in various groups along there were the cool people – the Penshurst girls tried to stand next to the senior boys at Sydney Tech because the senior boys at Sydney Tech were the brightest and the coolest of all, and the Penshurst girls were there with the uniform hitched up trying to get them to notice them. I’ve got this first-hand from the Penshurst girls, I’m not making any of this up – but I’ve been to reunions and had all this secret women’s business revealed to me, you know? The St George girls were more studious, they didn’t do the uniform thing. They were box pleat skirts and ‘the blood and bandages’ they used to call their school tie. And they would gather in a group at a particular point at Oatley station, so there was ritual, you know about travelling to school on the train. 

[49:00] If you caught the express train, what that meant was that instead of getting off at Allawah which was Sydney Tech’s station, you would get off at Hurstville and you’d walk through Diments arcade and buy chocolates. And then you’d make your way up Forest Road to the school. On the way home, Allawah station through a little corner stop shop to buy a bottle of Passiona. Or else again, you’d take the long walk down Forest Rd and back through Diments arcade and up into what was brand new and exciting then, the Hurstville Super Centre. The Hurstville Super Centre was built on top of the railway station in living memory, when I was in second form I think. And this was one of the innovations of the 60s – malls. For example: Roselands opened when I was in primary school. Miranda Fair opened – this idea of a shopping mall, everything under one roof. And to go shopping there was a big adventure, you know and having something to eat in the food court was a big adventure. So we’d go to the Hurstville Super Centre and again buy the type of food that gives you pimples. Or we’d go to the slot car track, which I was working at for a while. [50:10] So rarely did we go straight home, because the time between the end of school and sun down was kind of ours. Unless you had to go to something like cricket or football practice or a music lesson or whatever, none of which I did. I did my music lessons in the morning. So we didn’t get up to anything criminal – that I’m willing to confess. I was just looking at Forest Rd and remembering what some of the boys told me about a milk bar that’s just around the corner there. It was reputed to have prostitutes in the back, and if you went in and asked for a black milkshake with a bent spoon, they allowed you through the back.

[50:48] Oh, which milk bar was that?

Well it’s gone.

On Forest Road?

On Forest Road, yeah, just around the corner there. It now says there’s something like the – forgive me – the ‘Hang Fuk grocery.’ (laughs) It’s what it says! 

So it’s on the bend Forest Road, and you’d go on the bridge?

I never went there myself, I was only told about it.

I was just asking because we had an exhibition of different milk bars in the area, and I haven’t heard about this so it’s quite an interesting story. [51:19]

A schoolboy rumour. I never tested it myself, school boys have lots of hypotheses that don’t stand testing. You know, but shoplifting, none of that. We always went to the music store: for example, in Diments arcade, there’s a music store that’s where I bought my first electric guitar and Maurie Maven’s music store which is vanished now under an enormous block of flats with laundry hanging out of them – Maurie Maven was the music store here and he had seriously expensive good guitars like Gibsons and Fenders and things, and we’d always – we 14 year olds with no money in our pockets would go in and play Maurie Maven’s guitars after school. So that’s one of the things I got up to that was non-criminal and a great memory.

[52:03] I was curious, you mentioned before about part time jobs. Did many of the kids your age have the jobs?

Yes, I worked in the slot car factory, slot car shop there. There were paper boys – what other work was available? Most of them would have something that they would do. You know, local – let’s try to think, what kind of things – we didn’t have a lot of pocket money but then we didn’t expect to have a lot of pocket money. What would you spend it on? It wasn’t a consumer society like it is now, you wouldn’t expect to have a new baseball cap every week. If we did have pocket money it would go on food. Sweets. Coca-cola. Not a lot of portable property. What would you have? There were no phones. So yes, after school we would amuse ourselves and gradually make our way home.

[53:01] Do you have any questions?

What were you getting up to on the weekends, you know, were you gathering together with friends?

Bands for me. Garage bands. That’s how I was – all the way through from oh, all my high school years that’s how I would spend my weekends. Practicing garage bands, playing in the local places. On the corner here there was a building which has since vanished, which was the Police Boys Club. And upstairs we had a dance every Saturday night. There was – are we on the right street, is this where the – there was a place here that always had a dance.

Yeah, what’s it called- [53:45]

The Rocklea, the something-

The Rivoli-

The Rivoli! Thank you, well done. The Rivoli. Is that in this street [MacMahon Street]?

Rivoli Hall, MacMahon and Dora Street Intersection, Hurstville NSW, ca 1975


Okay well next, opposite the Rivoli, like not that side but that way, there was another building. In which we played there every Saturday night for a dance. 

[54:01] So what instrument did you play – the drums?

I was electric guitarist. And if in those days they had portable keyboards, I would have played keyboards too. But all our amplifiers and guitars were cheap, they were not – it was very difficult to get really good equipment in the early 60s. You could read the Beatles history and see the same thing, when they went to record first in Abbey Road, all their equipment was so terrible that they actually had to go out and buy new amplifiers because you can’t record with this, because it’s awful and buzzes and clicks and okay for a live gig. Our bass guitarist built all our amplifiers because it was his hobby, he got the circuits out of a magazine called Electronics Australia. And another thing we would do on the weekends is go to places like Tempe tip [12] to buy older surplus military equipment and get the valves and transformers out to build our own amplifiers. And the speakers from old car radios and cut up the cabinets and buy cloth and so on, so it was all homemade. The guitars were awful, they wouldn’t stay in tune. But we didn’t know any better, you know. And in a noisy garage band, no one could tell the difference anyway. [55:03]


So that would be most of the time, how I’d spend my weekend, yes. It was a tremendous fight one night in the Police Boys Club. When we were playing the band once. We had it rumoured our lead singer – was very good looking guy, and he was a local from Bexley, and he knew what was happening and he said Hurstville Incorporated is going to rumble this place tonight, and Hurstville Incorporated were the local gang of roughs.[13] And he said, if they do, just keep playing because if the noise keeps going the fights – kids keep dancing and all that and it actually did. For no reason that you could see, suddenly there were fights all over the place, that just erupted into fist fights. Everybody there’s average age is about 17 you know, it’s only young people thing. But then what happened immediately was – and I’d never realised before – amongst them were a whole lot of plain clothes bouncers, I mean it’s the Police Boys Club right? So the fight started and immediately they stopped because all these coppers picked up these kids and belted the hell out of them, threw them in the corner, down the stairs and we just kept playing. And the fight was started and was over in something like 60 seconds. You know, Hurstville Incorporated made their move, the local cops had known about it, and it dealt. [56:30] You know, like [Fred Daves?] said, just keep playing. So we kept playing, you now. La-da-da-da-da-da-da-da-da-da-da-da – and that’s not smoke on the water, it’s an awful old song called ‘We ain’t got nothin’ yet.’[14] All your repertoire depends on what a 15 year old can play, you know – 4 chords. And nothing, no leg breaks, too difficult because the strings are too high off your fret board for anything fancy. When I actually got my first Fender guitar, I couldn’t believe how easy it was to play and that’s the difference between a $50 guitar and a $5000 guitar. (laughs)

[57:03] And what was your outfit on the stage?

Ah! I’m almost too embarrassed to admit – almost. I wore white shoes in those days. And stove-pipe trousers in chalk stripes. And I had my hair cut with a fringe here, the Beatle fringe. And – isn’t that enough, isn’t that bad enough? Yeah, I’ve got a son who dresses for attention, I don’t know where he gets it from. (laughs) But Dave – there was a time we all decided we were all going to wear a black shirts because it was cool, if you could afford one. But we didn’t try for matching stage outfits, we didn’t go quite that far – first of all, we weren’t what you’d call these days a ‘boy band.’ We weren’t about the looks, we were about the music, and secondly, who could afford it anyway. 

[57:55] Did you have a following?

(laughs) I wish. I wish! I will say that when we played at some dances, you’d see the same faces so if there was a following, they must have followed us. But I know [laughs] I saw a poster about this year’s later, you know, you think you’ve got a following but it turns out to be all the other teenage boy guitarists in the district coming to try and steal chords from you. (laughs) ’cause I remember one of them saying to me, you’ve got that fuzzbox with a special setting on it, haven’t you? And I said no and he said, yes, I’ve seen you using it, it makes it louder – actually it was a faulty potentiometer they used to turn it past to make it go but he thought it was a secret piece of equipment. That was the name of our band – the Secret-the Silver Lining. We were called the Silver Lining which was named after a Jeff Beck song – Hi Ho Silver Lining.

[58:46] Great memories.

Oh, it was 60s was a great time, sorry you weren’t there because you never forget the 60s.


Everything was happening, it certainly was. I mean you asked what we do on the weekends, when we weren’t playing at a concert, we would go to a concert or we would go to the discos in Sydney where all the live music was and we’d see Billy Thorpe, or we’d see Lobby Loyde, or we would see the La-Di-Dahs… we’d see those bands who were just so exciting then. Live music was really happening. A lot of them were doing covers so you could get to hear some of the stuff on the radio – actually sounded like live, it was because it was not mixed.

[59:29] That’s another interesting little point about the 60s that I heard from a Brit friend of mine years later, he said he’d been involved in bands in the United Kingdom. When he came to Australia, he said ‘the standard of your average band is really really high’ and he thought about why, he said ‘I know what it is, it’s you only really hear them on records don’t you? You don’t hear these guys live – they’re crap!’ You hear them live in the concerts in London, they’re terrible! When they go to the studio, they fix everything. But you young guys, you only hear the records. So your minimum standard is what they put on the records, so all the live bands here have always been good because we’ve got the tyranny of distance thing, you know we have to catch up with the rest of the world.

After school

[1:00:02] Let’s jump ahead a little bit in your school life. When did you leave/graduate school?

I left halfway through 5th form, I wasn’t a good student, wasn’t interested in school, wanted to go out and have a real life. So that’s the middle of 1968. Um, do we go on, do you want to know what I did?


Okay, well not having any proper qualifications and pieces of paper were still important then, um, I had a very mediocre school certificate which has got on it year 10.

[1:00:34] Did you do a test for this or its just if you leave school at a certain-

There was an examination for the school certificate, I don’t know what they have now but the school certificate, yes you had to, an examination. I mean you still couldn’t do things like get into a TAFE, get into a college of education without a school certificate, there had to be some evidence that you could do book work of some kind. So yes, that was an examination. I went from there to um, a trade publishing company in Chippendale – Thomson Publications, and they provided magazines, exciting magazine like Building Handling Materials Monthly, Construction Equipment Monthly, Australian Advertising Rate and Data Service flyer. And I ran an addressograph machine was a horrible device which has since vanished from the face of our Earth. It addressed envelope labels by putting them into the machine, which would then bang and make the address on the envelope, and they were tin plate – like little squares of tin plate, and they were created on the machine a typewriter which actually struck and imprinted – impressed the letters on the tin plate because I had to do that too. Terrible noise. You know – bang! Bang! Bang! You’d make these, and you’d make some mistakes so then you’d do another one. We had a whole – we bought a magazine and had a whole bunch of these to do, like 2000 subscribers, so we got one of the typists from upstairs to come down and – she only lasted an hour. She ran away in tears, it was industrial nightmare, I don’t think you’d be allowed to do it now. So that was my job there, and then I got promoted that to supervise the guy. (laughs) Actually, put the envelopes through the machine. So that was my first job. And it’s all I was really qualified to do with a school certificate. Since I wasn’t interested in doing a trade.

[1:02:32] And then you told me that later on you did your [higher] school certificate at-

Oh yes, I got tired of working for a living you know. There must be easier ways to get through life than actually work. So I went back to do my HSC – this the result of a friend of mine who’d become a teacher. Got a teacher education scholarship which they were handing out then like ‘My Lady Bountiful’, you know. Because the population explosion, they needed a lot of teachers so the state government was giving scholarships, so you get an education and a living allowance. And he’d done his high school certificate at St George TAFE as an adult student, you could do it in one year. So I just followed in his footsteps and to do what he did, I thought I would go to Alexander teacher’s college and – but this was the first time in my life that I ever actually had anybody say to me ‘you realise you’re bright?’ ‘no’ – school I came from was rigidly streamed into bright and stupid, it was A down to E class, you know. And she said, ‘you don’t want to be a primary school teacher. Go to university, do English studies. Do it as a major.’ Right! Will do! So I did first level English and went to university.

[1:03:49] And, but I chose to be a primary school teacher because there was a parallel life here. Music and theatre. So again if you ask me what I was doing on the weekend as well as garage bands, I was working in children’s theatre. There was a little theatre in the King’s Cross called the Wayside Theatre which was run by Reverend Ted Noffs. He had an outreach centre there and had a theatre at the back which had a lot of long haired poets reading dreadful, dreadful verses. But it also had a little theatre group. The Grove and the Players run by 2 gay men who loved dressing up in costumes. My aunt got involved in that, she was actually working backstage and mentioned it and invited me to go along and have a look. And my parents were not the type to go to the live theatre, so I just – ‘what’s this?’ Purple lights, pink lights, people in costumes, talking in silly voices, I was just – (Stephen makes funny noise) this is me. So I was involved in that, I started composing music for the children’s theatre group there. And that got me involved with the children’s theatre group at the new theatre which was really a much healthier sort of thing going but it was child centered and we had children in the group, lot of those kids went on to become serious actors or serious musicians, I mean this is – we’re talking about kids from Sydney’s eastern suburbs you know. Money. But really lovely kids and lovely families going to free schools like Guriganya.[15]

[1:05:14] That got me plugged into education because there were a lot of people there who were seriously into education, teachers from Demonstration schools for example, I never seen teachers like that before. And one of them took me to his classroom and he unscrewed all the desks and had a museum corner and a painting corner and I said ‘wow, I didn’t know school could be like this!’ This was the late 60s, this is when the child centred classroom came in, this is when you put things around the walls, you had seashells to pick up and tortoise shells to handle and you had an exper- you know. Every classroom has them now, they’re just run of the mill. But then it was startling to me, and that’s what made me say ‘I think I could do this, I think I could- [1:05:52]

When you decided to become a teacher-

I decided to become a primary school teacher-

Where did you teach?

Um, I went to Macquarie University and then I made probably a tactical error in that my friend had gone and had a little one teacher school out the west of New South Wales and he said ‘this is the way to do it, you know your own school, your own building, you control everything, it’s wonderful!’ So I put my name down you know, any school west of Wagga Wagga. So they sent me this tiny little weatherboard box in the middle of the wheat field. And the thing I hadn’t factored in was he was married and had someone to go home to at night and I didn’t, so I was dreadfully lonely. I realise now was that what you should have done was a couple of years in a staff school to pick up your skills, to learn how to run a classroom before – that’s what they do now, they won’t let you go to a one teacher school unless you’ve had years of classroom training and know how to organise a group of kids. So that’s those two parallel lives came together in my theatre interest, working with children, Kid’s Activities Newtown [KAN, a vacation play centre] – I was one of the counsellors there, I was one of the people who established the Reverse Garbage truck [Marrickville]. All that stuff, and that came together with my university studies, majoring in education and then they put me in the little weatherboard box in the middle of the wheat field. Where none of this applied. (laughs)

[1:07:09] How long did you stay there?

Oh I was in that school for 4 years. And then I came into town to teach, I’d met my wife by then so we moved into town. And that was the beginning of the end, that’s when I discovered that this was not for me. I should have realised this a long time ago that I’m not a day-to-day person. That there after a while there comes a time when I say ‘I’m not doing this again am I? Here we go again.’ No, no, I lasted 7 years as a teacher and then I got out. Being married to an angel, she said ‘darling whatever you want to do, you do it. If you want to be a writer, you go and be a writer.’ God bless her. Thank God I’m still with her. Next question.

School reunions

[1:07:52] So, I was thinking, because I googled about Sydney Tech High and then came across your name because you’ve set up this reunion webpage. That’s how I did find you, and I’m interested in your work in the reunion and keeping this blog alive-

Excellent question. How much longer do we have? Okay, I had to make a reconciliation with myself because I hated high school and I saw the teachers as oppressive and I saw that they didn’t stimulate – fulfil my needs, horrible vanities let’s face it. I wasn’t going to have anything to do with the reunions, I wanted nothing to do with Sydney Tech that, you know. Off my agenda. But the fellow who was organising them contacted me and said ‘I would really like it if you would help us by making’ – he said a ‘mailing list’. An online mailing list and I said ‘I think you mean a website, don’t you.’ I mean a point of gathering. Because it was not only for the people who were involved in the reunion, but there were still several hundred out there we had lost track of. Now if you have a website, you can do a Google and gather them. And I said ‘I’ll make you a website.’ Well I started with a website and it began to mean a sort of healing process. Because I gathered together as much information I could about the school, and then I started telling stories about it. Anecdotes of memories, attitudes – you’ve seen the [Boomalacka. SG] blog but did you actually see the website?

[1:09:23] Yes, I saw a few pages. You sent me the link to the website.

Yeah so that’s me. I mean I’ve gathered material from the other guys but the attitudes there are me, my opinion of that time as I’ve spoken about those two cultures and clashing together, and what it did for us as well as to us. No, I think one of our friends put his finger on it saying you know, ‘if you went to school in the 60s, High School, it didn’t get much better than Sydney Tech.’ You know, don’t give me SCEGGS, don’t give me any of that stuff. It didn’t get any better than a place like Sydney Tech. It really was a privileged time to be there, the level of teaching if you cared to work, the sky was the limit. If you wanted to mess around, you were with a bunch of really interesting young men. On the whole, the teachers were tolerant except for a few of them who couldn’t cope with the 60s. All of that went into the website. To me – for me it’s like a post-modern novel. It’s a multi-dimensional cyber novel that’s full of little corridors to go down sometimes literally, because I went back there for their 50th [Anniversary celebration. SG] and took a lot of photos of places.

[1:10:33] So when was that, last year?


A while ago, yep.

Yesterday, as far as I’m concerned. Took a lot of photos and wandered around the place, and re-examined a lot of attitudes and a lot of those photos I put on the website too, and I had dialogue for a while with who was the gentleman who was the deputy principal there, who of course is my own age now, that clash of cultures and what the place I mean the place now is like a seminary. It’s not like a high school at all. You have this priesthood of quiet, devoted, intelligent young men and one of the old teachers I spoke to, he said ‘the boys here, they’re pussycats, they’re all pussycats.’ There is no disobedience, there’s no subversion, they’re all totally focused on their work and they’re all going out there into the community with IQs of 170 to be, well, very important Australian citizens in terms of their contribution.

[1:11:29] Do you think it comes from the demographic or is it coming from the parental – because there’s a greater parental involvement through schooling now isn’t there, but it could be also

If you look at the honour boards which are still up in the school, you compare the names on the war memorial out there that I’ve just been looking at. You know the Pearsons and the MacDougalls and the Smiths, and now you’ve got Asian, Asian, Arabic, Asian names. Highly focused, career oriented people. It’s just a degree factory really, I mean they’re heading for serious careers. And there isn’t the raffishness anymore, there isn’t the experiment, there isn’t the daring. From my point of the view I was only there for a few hours, but the whole place appeared to be polite notices – ‘please don’t knock on this door at lunchtime.’ You do that kind of thing. No graffiti. Clean classrooms. Everything in its place. Beautifully equipped. But no rebels. We produced some writers and poets and a couple of artists. I think they might produce some graphic designers but I don’t know there are going to be anybody down there who’s disobedient and daring in their artistic life unless it was on the curriculum and they get marks for it.

[1:12:52]. So that’s what I saw when I visited that place and the comparison I made between it and where it is heading and where selective schools are now, they are certainly selective in terms of looking at a career. But it is not a blank if you pass this IQ test you get in, there are other factors as well. Just the IQ won’t be enough. Syd Tech when I was there it was 5th form muck up day when I arrived and then … …. what was known as the Wyndham scheme, from the Professor Wyndham who said that our high schools needed to have two separate years to prepare students for university. More and more students were going to university. It was an educational inflation, you don’t get in with the leaving certificate, then you get in without a high school certificate then you don’t get in without a bachelor’s degree now you don’t get in without a Master’s and so on.

[1:13:52] He could see that happening. And the Wyndham scheme was supposed to have two senior years at high school in a separate institution, not at the same grounds at all. The funding wasn’t there for that. It didn’t happen. I believe the St George College, is it? And the campus of that is Penshurst Girls High School and now whatever. So it is kind of coming to its own noun possibly it was inedible. [1:14:19] Anyway, when the boys had their last day of school, the senior boys, the oldest boys, they had a muck up day where the teachers would turn their blind eye to them playing a lot of pranks in the spirit of university foundation day when everybody runs around and does silly things like painting mustaches on statues and that kind of – school boy prank.

[1:14:40]. But the funniest thing I saw across the facade of our very boring auditorium which Sydney Technical High had school spelled out in white letters,  they had many … together. I don’t know how many cigarette packages had spelled out in capital letters, Stop School Boy Smoking. That was the funniest thing I have ever seen in my life. It must have taken them forever. It was really witty. In some years they would go putting up posters on staff room doors making fun of the teachers in there. And they were all in-jokes that can’t be shared to with the teachers’ names or their …

[1:15:19]. They are not explicable unless you are part of the club, you know. But a lot of them were very funny. For example, one of the teachers whose name was Bob, a very egotistical, and they were offering to tour us to Bobbin Head, which is a place in Sydney.  It was just a little joke but it was just, if you were in the school, it was really, really witty. So those muck up days were inspiring to me as a young person looking at how people who are very intelligent can be disobedient in a way that is admirable, that’s clever and not just let’s go and graffiti the place and kick windows in. It was fun, they would leave for longer corridors over chairs and so on. They were the muck up day pranks. [1:16:08] But there were other pranks during the year which you probably read on the website.

I can’t recall any – 

Oh, the exploding toilet was one of them. Back in those days, there were fireworks for sale which are now banned. The favourite school boy weapon of choice was called a penny banger which was about the size of your index finger. You could unpick the fuse, so it was about that long [20 centimetres. SG]. And what some of the boys would do, excused themselves to go down to the toilet. Toilets were underneath the school with a huge cavernous echo in place. They would get a penny banger and extend the fuse and in the other end they’d put a cigarette – as long as those boys smoked, you know. They would light the cigarette and of course the cigarette would take five minutes to burn down until to hit the wig. By this time he is back in the classroom putting down his [something]

[1:16:55] with this terrible explosion, which nobody could be blamed. [1:16:59] On another school boy muck up day someone had gone along with a can of shaving foam and put a little dot on every seat of the boys toilet which shocked some of us – oh god, so other people do it too then, ok – (laughter). Another horrible trick some of those boys would play it was cyclone fencing all around the cantine under the school. And they would call some poor innocent boy over, a first former so someone who knew nothing and they put a coca cola bottle nicked through, nick first through the cyclone wires, and saying ‘hold on to this’ – and this stupid would hold on and then he would go away and leave you. And suddenly you realise if you let go the bottle it would fall down on the concrete and smash. And you get into trouble for that.

[1:17:49] Or (laughing) get a garbage bin and fill it with water and then cover the top with papers and say, ‘here you boy, come and push this papers down.’ So you would push the papers down and you get a wet leg. School boy humour. Hm. Then there was a game I didn’t take any part of, it was apparently classroom football, where you would play football by getting in trouble with the teacher if you are told to stop talking that was a try, if you were set out it was a converted try, if you were sent to the deputy headmaster that was a field goal, and some of them would spend the entire lesson toading up points to see which side of the room would win.

[1:18:29] This is the classes where they not focusing on becoming engineers and doctors. (Laughing). This is where they learning about people. About human interaction. And I had a friend whose sole target in object and life is to make as many circuits of the library as he could in one period. We were taught in 40 minute periods, and after every 40 minutes the bell would ring. In the library he would walk around, in the library, he was supposed to do lessons in research or something, and he walked the perimeter of the library. He would just keep walking around and around and around it, watching to see if the teacher was noticing. And she wasn’t. They have a score of how many times he had walked the perimeter of the library; it was his little act of revenge, little act of rebellion, it had no sense in it, but – I think it was a bit like – I believe there was a rule in one of the military establishments in America like Annapolis, that for your first year, you were not allowed to walk straight through a room, you had to walk right around the perimeter if you were [a freshman, SG.].

[1:19:34] It would teach you mindless discipline because that’s what you were going to ask from your troops and you had to know what it was like yourself to obey an order that made no sense to you at all, so think next time when you issue one as an officer, what you are asking people. And I think that was his little experiment in ‘look at the mindless thing I am doing instead of studying’. I think he got up to something like 40 circuits in the library, he kept sneering all the time.

They were the people who made high school rich, those eccentrics. Thank God for them, because it would be pretty blank otherwise. All you do is learn things.  (Laughs). 

[1:20:10] That’s right.

So you have collected all these memories on your website, and –

On the Sydney Technical High School 1969 website, yes, they are all there, and some of the memories from the other guys too, and some analytical essays too. Because, at the reunions which I began to attend, I ended up being organiser and convener, because they couldn’t stop me. But I now always give an opening address. Because they can’t stop me. And a slight show, a power point presentation because no one was telling me I can’t. But I always have an address on why we are here, why we are doing this, why do we need the reunion. Because the questions I asked myself, why did you create the website – what is important about these anecdotes, how did the school form and changed you. Um, and these are the things I have put on the website too, an analysis of perhaps [something] our generation, who does it. I don’t know. They fade with coming generations. [1:21:14]

[Section of transcript deleted].

[1:22:03] I think that was quite a lot already, very great stories, do you have anything we haven’t asked, we haven’t talked about, you think would be interesting or worth recording?

I think if you look through the website and look at the headings and look at the things I have chosen to share, and any questions you have from there, that would tell you. I would just conclude to say that I think I was really fortunate to attend, even I was very angry, and I would use the word advisedly, angry about the schooling I had, because I felt it didn’t address me personally. But I am not the only one who felt that way. And again, this arises from this juncture, two cultures, one of them saying, – because the baby boomers never got over themselves – we have never got over the idea we would going to change the world, and here it comes – it is 2017 and we haven’t done anything. [1:22:55] Wait a minute what did go wrong? There is a whole new generation  in charge, and they don’t value us at all. Some are out there. Something is not right, we must have misunderstood the message.

Do you have any photos or memories, memorabilia – memorabilia you would like to share? Yes. So maybe for an ex- we are planning an exhibition hopefully in 2019. So I am sure I want to have some maybe some photos.

Well, the Sydney Tech High School journals were published at the end of every year and I have put them on our blog, scan and put them in there for the ones from our year. The copyright in there resides in the school. Yup. I believe they still have them in the library, whether they have the original print, I very much doubt. But that would be an excellent source of material, visual material there. Whatever’s on my website, that’s mine and you have my permission to use them, you can well – I will. send them a letter that you will like anything that isn’t mine and get permission from the guys who sent it to me. There’s perhaps less the visual material than you might think because not everybody had a camera – and those of us who did have a camera tends to be a Box Brownie and film wasn’t cheap – and so we didn’t carry it around with us all the time. So … … … was not captured, except up here and some of it is anyway. If you find something on the website that really interest you- let me know. Now you also, I also mentioned to you that I knew friends who had also gone to local schools and might wanna talk to you. So for everyone of them said, ‘Let’s see what she does to you first.’ (Laughs) I hope we’re not scary. No. I thought— No. Not many, not many are as analytical as I am. I have actually, you know, gone back and plundered the past and take it all apart and examine it and some people say, ‘I don’t remember any of that Steve.’ (Laughs) [1:24:52]

I’ve got one more question I’ve got to ask. In your school reunions when you go back, are you still, I guess having a few friends coming with you? So are you seeing from your class, are there still many also joining you at the reunions or still — You mean personally? Mhmm. Am I- I’m a bit of a loner really. I have acquaintances rather than friends and it was the same with high school. There was a cohort that was a group, people are belong to. We had good times together but I dropped them all when I left cause I did different things. It’s nice to see them, and again, I always stunned at how much I remember but I always had that kind of mind and I don’t, I can’t explain why some things are endurably edged to my mind and they say I have no recollection of that at all. I, you can’t explain how selective memory is- Most of the boys there, most of those who are the keen re-unionists come from the upper classes, so to speak. [1:25:55] They have more to share, they are more successful. They have a bigger collegiate feel about the place- I didn’t organise the original reunion but the fellow who did organise the very first reunion said that he had a very negative response from a small number of them, in terms of, I haven’t done as well and I am not coming to the reunion to say that I, I’m just a motor mechanic rather to Associate Professor Hall from the university of — which Peter Hall would never say to them, I mean, some, like I said to you, we really admire those bright, bright man; they’re nice men, nice men, you know. Really, they are in the playground with the rest of us, some of them are really good sportsmen, there wasn’t that kind of snobbery which I imagine you might get in private school. I don’t know, never having attended. But it wasn’t with us but some of them were defensive about the fact that have become truck drivers or van drivers or whatever.

[1:26:51] And we are not coming along to the reunion and just “What do you do?”, you know. But nobody does really say that, “What do you do?, Oh is that all?”, I’ve never encountered that. Everybody— what I found other than the reunion was- that we had discovered, rediscovered a big chunk of ourselves that was so precious that we thought was gone. But it was like a collective memory of the Indigenous people. We existed in the minds of every other guy there and once we started the old ‘remember when’ business, it was so reassuring, it was like finding another 90 brothers. And they all knew about you, and you realise you had belong to a very exclusive set of people and you had your place in it. You had your nickname. [My nick-name is ‘Gumby’ but it would take too long to explain why. SG] I didn’t realise this at that time, you know, the warden didn’t welcome you into your cell or whatever to say this will be. It is just, you suddenly realise that I do have a texture to my life and these people were part of it.

[1:27:50] Every one of them was welcoming and happy and you could see the boy in everyone of them. You could see the boy who was still becoming himself then with the shows of bravado that boys have. Some very funny and clever young men who I still in my mind were very witty who could comment on situations and school and reduce it immediately from fear and, and, incomprehensibility to another thing to laugh at. Previous thing to do. So that’s why I found that I went to the reunion and learn that, that I became addicted to them, then I became their archivist, then I became the one who would present the key known address once I understood and then I was saying things to them like, the reason why we reunite, one of the reasons is this, “This reassurance of that our past had a significance, that where we are today we came through there to here and we got a lot of baggage that came with it, good and bad. But because of our parents we rejected the values of our parents and said, well, “I am not wearing a suit from Fletcher Jones and I am not wearing hat or anything you do.”

[1:28:59] Alright, what are you going to do instead, how do you get older? And we all looked at each other and said “How are you getting older? How are you dealing with it?” “Okay Derrick has all his hair shaved off and he is wearing those tiny little Scandinavian spectacles and he is wearing black hem coat jeans, black shirt that is open there. Okay, alright. He is 62 but he looks really cool. Okay and how is Roger looking? Oh, he looks like what he is.” (Laughs) 

Rogers, Rogers the orthopedic surgeon. He looks, he always DID look like an ortho- Yeah. In year 7 he looked like an orthopedic surgeon. He still combs his hair like that, you know. [1:29:36].

And Peter, now Peter is a terrible rebel and 62 years of age, he’s tan, he’s got long hair and still seeking a perfect wife. He’s never grown up. 1969 and a surfboard was where Peter lived, he’s still driving a kombi van at 62. He’s still going out with the same girl. (Laughs) And on the ceiling of his kombi van, he still has little hearts (Laughs) for the girlfriend to look at while she’s inspecting the ceiling (Laughs) you know. We- it doesn’t change and the ones who have changed, I think has lost. You scratch the surface and there’s the wicked boy underneath them, they still.

[1:30:14] One of the reunions I didn’t go to but saw the photographs. They went out into the carpark and changed all the number plates on everybody’s car. Now, this includes Allen, who drives the black Porsche, and owns an advertising agency and Peter’s crappy old kombi van that got swapped and the BMW and the old Holden so you get to the carpark and I thought “You’re still boys aren’t you, you still got that wicked sense of humour. Thank God and I don’t think they’ll do it at Bexley Road now.”

Thank you very much. It’s been a pleasure. 

Thank you. I’m stopping the recording. 

[Recorder was turned back on for additional recording]

Sydney Technical High School song

We are talking about the school song? 


Ok, this is another tradition of the 19th century’s schools where you have an anthem, where you have a stirring piece of music to bring you all together. It should be ideally a march – something that you all make feel, a bit militaristic in some ways. And the words should be you, what you would call these today, your mission statement. That would some up what the school is all about and what you hoped to be. So our school song was set to the music of the old Welsh song, hm, of ‘Men of Harlech’, and the words were written, I believe, we dated them, archaeologists have dug down deeply into this. Around 1934, because they mentioned Sydney Harbour Bridge being under construction and how some of our young men had been, you know, engineers, some were building bridges on the harbour. And it is full of the stiring sentiments that goes – – – Do you want me to sing this?

Hmmm (Anna).

[01:01] [Stephen Gard starts singing. BH]

See the Tech High school assembling floors and stair ways all a trembling, happy hearts – happy smiles — happy smiles faint hearts dissembling.

As we march to school. Trig and mensuration, atomic calculation. Homework done or left undone, and ‘Manners Makyth Man” upon our hatbands. Now we have to grow up. I started the key too high. I drop it down. (Laughing). You can use audacity to shift the pitch.  So regard as your motto, some forget it too, in toto.  Till they’re cautioned, voce sotto:

“Don’t disgrace your School.” — 

Now we only sing the first verse because it goes on for half an hour. The assembly would have extended in the afternoon if we’d sung all the verses.- That was the school song and it expressed all kinds of lofty sentiment about why the school was there and what it was for, um-. I have written theme and variations on. And if you give me an internet connection I play it for you. Ohh. [02:15]

Oh no hang on, I put them in my — I send you these files, I put them in my file explorer. Because the last uhm, – everytime I go to the reunion I take photos, the last time I made a video, so —.  I turn the sound on- (music starts to play) 

[04:39] So if you like to paste that interview together with that, I will send you the digital file. Or if we want to use it for our exhibition later on —

If you want extra music composed I am very happy to do that as a creative commons thing without  a fee. I will think about it – Yeah. Excellent. 

Thank you. 


Sydney Technical High School song[16]


(Tune: “Men of Harlech”)

See the Tech. High School assembling,
Floors and stairways all a-trembling,
Happy smiles faint hearts dissembling,
As we tramp to school.

Trig. and mensuration,
Atomic calculation;
Homework done,
Or left undone.

And ‘Manners Makyth Man” upon our hatbands.
All regard it as our motto
Some forget it too, in toto,
Till they’re cautioned, voce sotto:
“Don’t disgrace your School.”


See us when we face the Leaving,
There’s no time to spend in grieving;
All are bent upon retrieving
Time we lost last year.

Chemistry and History,
All to us a mystery;
Still we plod
Until we nod,
And face the awful paper bright and cheerful.

Some go down, and some go through it;
Some there are who live to rue it.
Masters smile and say, “We knew it,
Now you know it, too.”


See us when we’re through the Uni.,
Some are wise and some are looney,
Many strong, and many puny
After years of work.

Some have gone a-mining,
Sugar some refining;
All essay
To earn their pay.

Some are building bridges o’er the Harbour.
Hydro-works for irrigation,
Dams enough to drown a nation;
Every fellow to his station,
In this world’s great work.


[1] There were other sanctions, like picking up rubbish from the playground. Or detention, being kept in the classroom instead of being allowed out to play. SG.

[2] I now recall that there was for a short time a ‘uniform’ competition among the classes at Oatley; winner being the class with the most pupils in uniform. It lapsed through lack of interest. SG.

[3] Initiations, for example, with older boys tormenting younger ones by way of a ‘welcome’ or ‘investiture’ to the school. True, in one year, some silly boys at Tech started tearing the manufacturer’s tag out of new boys’ ties as their ‘initiation’. It didn’t continue. SG.

[4] William Wykeham, founder of Winchester College and New College, Oxford, which have that motto. SG

[5] ‘Borstal Boy’ by Brendan Behan, autobiographical novel about his years in Borstal (a boy’s prison). SG

[6] Possibly not entirely correct, The principal may have taught Mathematics to some of the senior boys who were preparing for their final exams. But that was our perception of him. Remote and indifferent. SG

[7] Professor Harry Messel, Canadian born physicist and educator. SG.

[8] It was in fact an ad hoc collection of players called ‘The Tech Hugh Stromenti’. All its members supplied their own instruments, so it was more of a gallimaufry, not a real orchestra. We played Leroy Anderson’s ‘Serenata’, which I thought was a lovely piece, and still do, and some other things. We learned to sing ‘Gaudeamus Igitur’, my first experience of four-part choral work, I thought it was the finest thing I’d ever heard. SG.

[9] ‘Blues’ = Awards for sporting excellence which could be sewn onto the pockets of a blazer. The term comes from Oxbridge. SG.

[10] ‘Cool’ and ‘uncool’ were not the slang words at the time. ‘Snazzy’, ‘gas’, ‘mighty’, ‘fab’, ‘spiffy’ and other locutions abounded. Out of deference to the tender age and transoceanic background of my interlocutor, I avoided such anachronisms during this interview. SG

[11] Elastic sided ‘cowboy’ boots with heels. SG.

[12] A Government Surplus store on the Prince’s Highway at Tempe, not the present Salvation Army place. SG.

[13] ‘Sharpies’, that was their tribal name, a sub-culture of working-class youth who were devoted to natty dressing and violence. Successors to the Larrikins of the 1890s, the Bodgies of the Fifties, precursors of the Skin-Heads of the Seventies. They hated ‘Hippies’, meaning any male with long hair, and attacked them on sight. It was a class-warfare thing, really.

‘Rumble’ = Sixties slang for a crowd fight. SG.

[14] By the Blues Magoos, which will give some idea of the date of this event, late 1966. I always claimed that Deep Purple stole this riff for ‘Black Night’ (1970). SG.

[15] Guriganya, one of the ‘free schools’ of the Sixties and Seventies, like Yinbilliko and Currumbeena. Guriganya was in Paddington, NSW. SG.

[16], accessed on 3/08/2017.