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Inside Teaching : April 2010
Inside Teaching | April 2010 SEE ME AFTERWARDS 44 A Guide to Australia’s Top Private Schools and Colleges – it’s a fascinating op-shop find and it takes WenDy HarMer back to 1969. ‘Miss Patman already has a reputation with the girls as a bit of a swinger, mainly because she was seen wearing a Mozart bow instead of a hat to church! An attractive woman in her late-30s with platinum-white hair, she is a fluent conversationalist. On one wall of her attractive apartment hang two of her works – abstracts in mulberry toning which match the linen-covered suite.’ A friend unearthed a truly fabulous treasure from an op-shop recently. Printed by the Australian, it’s a A Guide to Australia’s Top Private Schools and Colleges. 1969. Some 60 elite institutions are profiled and, 40 years on, it’s a fascinating document. This was a time when school principals were at the centre of a personality cult. They were free of the onerous tasks of endless consultation with the school, the wider community and the education department. They didn’t have to tolerate student-led activities, mollify parents, have dialogue with religious leaders or field media inquiries. The headmasters and mistresses ran their own show and, in this book, speak with an honesty that’s astonishing to the modern-day reader. Wouldn’t most principals, in their hearts, love to go back to an era where they might be described as ‘a young, athletic-looking and very much alive six-footer looking a good deal less than his 38 years’? Consider the comments from Miss Betty Archdale, 61, then headmistress of Abbotsleigh, Sydney, and regarded by the girls as ‘utterly fab, swinging, top drawer.’ ‘I’ll talk to the girls about love, sex, abortion, Vietnam, religion. I’m a virgin and I’m proud of it,’ says Betty. Whoops! ‘A lot of the girls live a very gay social life indeed. A few of the girls run wild, but we ease them out. Of course a certain amount of stealing goes on at the school.’ Alert the media! My father was a state school headmaster and principal for 33 years in country Victoria. Always perfectly groomed, he was either the secretary or treasurer for the town’s sports clubs, and enjoyed great respect in the community. ‘I was like a god,’ he says, laughing. ‘The parents and students were terrified of me. My standing as headmaster meant I was regarded as the High Court of All Things, although there was often some meat- worker who’d take a swing at you down the pub.’ Gone are those times, along with the country pubs and abattoirs. Dad rues the time in the 1980s when parents and various community stalwarts were given a say in how he ran his fiefdom. ‘Up until then, I’d made my educational decisions based on belief and experience,’ he says. ‘All of a sudden I couldn’t do anything without being harassed and undermined. Being a principal these days would be one of the worst jobs you could have.’ Back in 1969, at Woodlands School, Adelaide, Miss Thenie Baddams ‘is a square sort of women – although her reputation is far from square.’ Thenie doesn’t believe in examinations. ‘If the teachers are really good, they can make the girls want to learn without exams,’ she explains. This was, luckily, around the time when Julia Gillard was still in primary school. At Scotch College in Adelaide, headmaster Mr Charles Fisher says, ‘We are probably one of only a few schools in the world to have our own group of islands. I discovered them some time ago and we recently moved in.’ At Ravenswood in Sydney, Miss Phyllis Evans admits that she’s become somewhat shy of the press following the ‘barbecue incident,’ which produced some ‘lively reporting.’ ‘The barbecue, a gay, end-of-term-show, was allegedly penetrated by liquor and gatecrashers. Miss Evans can laugh about it now, but...’ – but, these days, Phyllis would probably have battled a media firestorm, resigned and moved on to become a marriage celebrant. At Wesley College in Melbourne, Dr Thomas Coates is ‘approachable, though firm.’ ‘You never cane a boy for a real sin, only for a misdemeanour like impertinence.’ I honestly didn’t know they still had capital punishment at Wesley in the ’60s. Mr Basil Travers, the head of Shore, Sydney, is a ‘rather rugged looking former Rhodes Scholar. Nicknamed “Gyker” – no one seems to know why – he is a firm believer in private schools. Mr Travers said that the council, with some foresight, originally bought up a large tract of land, but that space was beginning to be a problem.’ In 2009 Shore stumped up $35 million to buy the historic Graythwaite property in the face of fierce community opposition. It seems that some things never change. ■ Wendy Harmer is one of Australia’s best known humourists and authors, and a regular columnist for Inside Teaching. Back to 1969