Yet More University Adventures

The Phoenix People performing in a TIE play: Imagination Can Set You Free: Nepean CAE in the 1970s

Maybe you have seen my descriptions of earlier journeys into academia. This is an account of my studies for a third degree. Special memories.

What a powerful influence on our lives the theatre has been. It is so involved with our language. We have a theatre of war and our lives are saved in an operating theatre. When young people die in a road accident, it is a tragedy. Our rivals will constantly steal the limelight and try to upstage us. The policy of our political opponents is either a farce or a comedy of errors. That frivolous lady friend will always be making a scene and in spite of her, all the world’s still a stage. A policeman might unmask a criminal and make a dramatic arrest. A car model might make a world debut and a debutant might play a leading role with an orchestra. Politicians might get a chorus of approval. It is such fun to study the theatre because it is so relevant to our lives.

I began my next degree course, an MA in English Literature, at the University of Sydney. The main focus was on theatre although there was some consideration of other literary forms.

I enjoyed for example, discovering the haruspication –  in ancient Rome the interpretation of omens by inspecting the entrails of sacrificial animals – in Joseph Heller’s Catch 22. In this case the sacrificial animal was a wounded airman observed by the central character Yossarian.

The divination theme was a powerful literary trick that swept me away because it was so powerful when you discovered it. I enjoyed the satire too.

Then there was Jane Austen, with her small piece of ivory two inches wide on which she “worked with so fine a brush” (her own words). There she was, writing at a time of great upheaval yet she was content with a study of manners. 

Just fancy: here was a great woman author unable to publish using her own name. I have long enjoyed the ironic realism of her work and have taught HSC classes about Emma. When you teach, there is no doubt you learn something twice.

That’s all I have room for regarding other literary content. We studied lots more.  But now for the theatre.

It is such a vast subject too. I want to share more detail of that study of mine so I’ll focus the rest of this post mostly on my condensed version of its story as I learned it all those years ago (in the 70s).

A History of Western Theatre

You can’t escape the influence of the ancient Greeks when you trace the story of our theatre. The theatron was their “seeing place,” originally for viewing ceremonies dedicated to the gods. The orkhestra was the dancing and singing place; quite different from today’s symphony connotation. It was simply a flat area where the chorus danced, presumably often to music although none of that remains.The skene was the changing tent or the place where the fatal action occurred. The Greeks never killed in public view. It was always done “offstage” in the skene.

A catastrophe was originally a turning point for the ancient chorus dancers. It meant a “turning down.” Antistrophe was another turning point this time meaning “turning against.” The chorus had traditional movements. I find the ancient word for an actor most interesting. Guess what it was: hupokrites. So the original actors were hypocrites. What a surprising and wonderful thing language is.

We have only a small percentage of ancient Greek drama available to us. The comic and tragic masks are well known though.

Masks. Attribution: Creative Commons

Masks were a definite way of portraying character. Actors would step offstage, change masks and become a different character. Sophocles apparently was an actor at first but lacked the required strong voice so turned to writing.

I believe the acoustics in the plays’ amphitheatres were very good. One of my friends who visited Greece told me so.

The word “drama”by the way comes from the Greek drao “I do.” Reminds me of a saying I have used on and off during my teaching: “I hear what you say but I see what you do.” Drama in all its forms in the classroom remains a passion with me. Actions speak louder than words is the old cliché that still seems relevant here.

As part of our studies at Sydney, we were required to read extensively from the few remaining plays of the ancient Greek period. I remember quite well the Oresteia of Aeschylus and Aristophanes’ great comedies Lysistrata and Frogs, as well as Medea by Euripides and Sophocles’ play Antigone. I won’t discuss them or any others here as I want to talk more about the theatre itself.

Now the chorus was a vital part of the Greek theatre. It had a leader. Thespis of Icaria (c. 6th century BC) is believed to be the first chorus leader with lines distinct from the rest of the chorus; that is he was the first actor (?). He apparently wrote plays with one actor. Aeschylus is thought to have pioneered more than one speaking part. Some writers say Sophocles gave us three actors although others think Aeschylus gave us all three.

At this time I came across Aristotle’s term catharsis. To him tragedy had a cleansing effect, causing the audience to suffer with the characters and then end up somehow cleansed with a better awareness. 

I later learnt of Bert Brecht’s alienation effect (Verfremdungseffekt) that took a different point of view. He seems to have sought to limit the audience’s emotional involvement and protect them from the brain washing that he alleged characterised traditional Western theatre. Brecht stressed that conscious awareness of ideas was essential for true understanding of theatre. For this effect he would from time to time write something outside the written narrative to remind the audience that it was theatre and not the real world, to break the spell you might say, perhaps to check up on whether that audience was paying attention.

This site is worth a read for Brecht.

So there we have two philosophical positions: catharsis versus alienation. Theory and practice are not necessarily the same in our contemporary productions. I have come to think that the dramatist’s instructions are what truly matter, and I am not very fond of “director’s theatre” where original ideas are often cast aside.

One of the problems I have with this post is the vastness of the subject matter. How can you deal with two and a half thousand years in a single post? I’ve decided simply to rely on pleasant memories as they come to mind. So it will not necessarily result in orderly chronology.

The Golden Age

What an incredibly fruitful era for theatre began during the reign of Elizabeth I! The period from 1580 to 1630 must be considered a golden age for dramatists. Before that time the status of actors and theatre in society was very low indeed.

The 1572 Vagabonds Act said that…all common players and minstrels not belonging to a Baron of the Realm or a person of higher status, and without a licence from at least two justices of the peace, “shall be taken and adjudged to be deemed Rogues, Vagabonds and Sturdy Beggars.” 

Actors were linked with pedlars, tinkers, jugglers and “petty chapmen” as undesirables and ready to be punished at law.

What a change came over theatre life during the period in question! Distinguished people including the royal Elizabeth and James came forward as sponsors of theatre companies. Actors had theatres for performance instead of inns or rooms in rich people’s houses. Theatre companies flourished. Audiences grew to fantastic heights.

Actors were suddenly significant and reputable. Some became the equivalent of our movie stars. Edward Alleyn, for example, was very rich. So rich that he founded a College – Dulwich – that still exists.

One of his claims to fame was his marriage to entrepreneur Philip Henslowe’s stepdaughter Joan. Henslowe was a very influential figure, an impressario, frequently paying advances to dramatists and thus promoting a spectacular array of plays for performance.

Alleyn was famous for his roles with three of Marlowe’s characters: Tamburlaine, Barrabas (the Jew of Malta) and Faustus. Richard Burbage, son of theatre builder James Burbage, was another distinguished actor. Shakespeare often wrote with these actors in mind when he created characters.

When his first wife Joan died, Alleyn married Constance, the very young daughter of John Donne, poet and Dean of St Paul’s – much  to the anger of Donne and his wife. When he died, Alleyn was worth six times as much as Shakespeare. No mean effort.

Burbage was very successful too, although not as rich as Alleyn. He was a boy actor with great success in women’s roles and worked his way into prominence as an adult. Shakespeare wrote these roles especially for Burbage: all the kings, Hamlet, Macbeth, Othello and King Lear.

Alleyn and Burbage were the leading actors of the time, very popular. But there were many others, including Nathan Field and Gabriel Spencer who enjoyed considerable success.

Spencer had a tragic life. He was an argumentative type and killed a man in a fight. He in turn was killed by Ben Johnson. To avoid execution, Johnson took the Church. That is he recited a required biblical text, the first verse of Psalm 51 known as the ‘neck verse,’ and became overtly religious, thus avoiding the hangman. He kept up this holy persona for twelve years.

While on the subject of Johnson (a close friend of Shakespeare), I found his partnership with Inigo Jones in the creation of court masques fascinating. If you get the chance to see the wonderful stage settings of Inigo Jones in colour, I recommend you see them. This site shares a little of that background.

Dramatists other than Shakespeare in the golden age mentioned above are also a captivating group. One who interested me greatly was Kit Marlowe.

Marlowe was a brilliant innovator as well as a spy for the Queen and died young in a tavern (aged 29), murdered (I believe) by another spy. During his studies for his MA at Cambridge he was frequently absent. When there was some doubt about him graduating because of his long absence, a message from the Queen via the Privy Council, insisted he be granted graduation as he had been absent from studies on important royal business. 

This business was looking for Catholic conspirators overseas. Despite the many other possible reasons now given for his death, I think he was executed because he had become an embarrassment to Sir Francis Walsingham, head of Elizabeth’s spy network. His plays, especially Tamburlaine, The Jew Of Malta  and Doctor Faustus were great successes.

Despite the triumph of the theatre in the age I mention, life was hard and many of Shakespeare’s contemporary dramatists had tragic lives. Take Thomas Kyd for instance, the author of a groundbreaking and highly successful play: The Spanish Tragedy.

Unexpectedly Kyd was arrested and tortured by government authorities in a quest for evidence against Christopher Marlowe. Had Marlowe lived in our age he would have been studied by MI-5.

One of the interesting features of the time was that many dramatists worked together to construct their plays. This was the case with Kyd and Marlowe. As Marlowe had fallen out of favour, authorities were using Kyd to get evidence on him. Hence the torture.

Soon after this arrest Kyd died at the tender age of 35. The torture produced little for the government but left Kyd very ill.

One of the interesting features for me of Kyd’s life was his attendance at the Old Merchant Taylor’s School. In 1989 I played cricket on their lovely ground during a tour of England with the Australian Old Collegians. Edmund Spenser, who later wrote The Faerie Queene, also attended that school. 

Robert Greene was another tragic figure. He was born c.1560. He had a BA from Cambridge and an MA from Oxford, a rare feat in any age. He wrote a number of plays, that were very popular. One of these, Orlando Furioso, he sold to a theatre company and then, while the company were touring, he sold it again – this time to Philip Henslowe the main entrepreneur of the time. Greene had become desperate for money.

One of his plays, Ponderoso, influenced Shakespeare’s The Winter’s Tale. Greene was a very bitter critic of Shakespeare, calling him “an upstart crow.” Greene died in poverty at the age of 32 in 1592.

George Peele was another dramatist who met a sorry end, also dying in poverty. He was a brilliant scholar, with a BA and MA from Oxford. His plays included the Old Wives’ Tale a comedy,The Battle of Alcazar, a patriotic play, and a biblical play: The Love of King David and Bethsabe. His death was a sordid affair.

So life was tough in these times when you fell out of the company of the powers that be. Shakespeare we all know was the brilliant success with no worries concerning money.

There were so many other dramatists in this golden age. They included George Chapman, Thomas Dekker, John Marston, Francis Beaumont, John Fletcher, John Webster, John Ford and Philip Massinger.

I’ve got space to talk about George Chapman here. He spent a bit of time with Ben Johnson in gaol for writing a smash hit play,  Eastward Ho, that offended King James. He was perhaps more famous as a brilliant translator of the classics. I remember in another place studying John Keats’ lovely sonnet: “On First Looking into Chapman’s Homer”

Much have I travell’d in the realms of gold, 

And many goodly states and kingdoms seen; 

Round many western islands have I been 

Which bards in fealty to Apollo hold. 

Oft of one wide expanse had I been told 

That deep-brow’d Homer ruled as his demesne; 

Yet did I never breathe its pure serene 

Till I heard Chapman speak out loud and bold: 

Then felt I like some watcher of the skies 

When a new planet swims into his ken; 

Or like stout Cortez when with eagle eyes 

He star’d at the Pacific—and all his men 

Look’d at each other with a wild surmise— 

Silent, upon a peak in Darien. 

Chapman seems to have led a more peaceful life, having given up writing plays to concentrate on translating the great works of his past.

Long before Shakespeare’s age there was another event from my study of the history of theatre that stays in my memory. It was perpetrated by Ethelwold, Bishop of Winchester from 963 to 984. After the fall of Rome with the onset of the so-called Dark Ages, events to be described as theatrical were limited indeed.

Ethelwold did something that contributed to a change of this. Looking at his church service one day he was suddenly inspired to enliven the service by adding a little drama. He devised what is now known as the Quem quiritis trope (“Whom do you seek?”). You can read about it here.

A trope is a phrase or verse added as an embellishment or interpolation to the sung parts of the Mass in the Middle Ages, according to Merriam-Webster. So that was what Ethelwold did. He jazzed up the service to add force to the story.

I believe this was the first step in the rise of Church drama in the Middle Ages, the remarkable miracle, mystery and morality plays. We spent a lot of time reading these during that course. I remember The Second Shepherd’s Play and Noah’s Flood quite fondly. The morality play Everyman seems to me to have a timeless relevance.

As the director of tertiary student plays at one stage of my teaching, I became very interested in stagecraft, especially lighting and set design. This has a fascinating history from the deus ex machine of the Greeks, Hell mouth of the Middle Ages, Renaissance sets, elaborate melodrama stages of the Victorian era and lighting from limelight to Fresnels.  

When I go to the theatre, before the play begins I find myself caught up by the magic of that environment. I look at the lighting equipment when it’s visible. I think about the staging – whether it’s end staging or arena. I think of Wagner’s idea about gesamptkunstwerk, or “universal art work,” how the theatre becomes a remarkable combination of so many art forms including music – visual effects are so magical in the modern theatre; sound is important too. I always tried to include music when I was directing.

Another aspect of theatre coming to mind now from my studies is Expressionist drama. It involved a focus on the inner workings of the human mind. I recommend a visit to this site to experience the troubled Swedish life of August Strindberg, a major figure in this type of drama.

My interest here in Expressionism was especially focused on Eugene O’Neill, the American dramatist and Nobel Laureate.

Part of my reason is that I directed one of his plays during my time as a Sydney teacher. That play was The Emperor Jones. It’s a very good example of Expressionism. In the plot, Jones is a leader of natives on an island. He is a former murderer who has fled the United States. 

He is worshipped on the island as an “emperor” but suddenly loses face and has to flee. For the rest of the play a drum beat sounds to match the rhythm of his heart. That heart beats faster as the action moves towards a violent climax. Among the characters in the play are Formless Fears who writhe across the stage on one occasion. It’s very much an illustration of the inner mind.

One other joy I had with this course was the Commedia dell’arte (Comedy of the profession). The Commedia flourished in Italy and elsewhere from the sixteenth to the eighteenth century. They were travelling players who wore character masks, improvised heavily and devised dramas appropriate to the place where they were performing.

The Commedia influence spread from Italy to England via Shakespeare and France notably via Molière. The influence can be seen in The Tempest, Love’s Labour Lost and The Taming Of The Shrew and Tartuffe for example, by Molière.

Here is a good list of  Commedia characters.

Other characters began as stock masks and developed into well-known characters in the hands of the most talented players. The Capitano developed as a caricature of the Spanish braggart soldier, boasting of exploits abroad, running away from danger at home. He was turned into Scaramuccia by Tiberio Fiorillo, who, in Paris with his own troupe (1645–47), altered the captain’s character to suit French taste. As Scaramouche, Fiorillo was notable for the subtlety and finess of his miming. The zanni, who were often acrobats, or “tumblers,” had various names such as Panzanino, Buratino, Pedrolino(or Pierrot), Scapino Fritellino, Trappolino, Brighella, and most notably, Arlecchino and Pulcinella (related to the English Punchinello, or Punch). Pulcinella, like Capitano,“outgrew” his mask and became a character in his own right, probably created by Silvio Fiorillo (died c. 1632), who had earlier created a famous Capitano, Mattamoros. Columbina, a maidservant, was often paired in love matches with Arlecchino, Pedrolino, or the Capitano. With Harlequin she became a primary character in the English pantomime’s harlequinade. The zanni had already been differentiated as comic rustic and witty fool. They were characterised by shrewdness and self-interest; much of their success depended on improvised action and topical jokes. Arlecchino (Harlequin), one of the zanni, was created by Tristano Martinelli as the witty servant, nimble and gay; as a lover, he became capricious, often heartless. Pedrolino was his counterpart. Doltish yet honest, he was often the victim of his fellow comedians’ pranks. As Pierrot, his winsome character carried over into later French pantomimes. The zanni used certain tricks of their trade: practical jokes (burle)—often the fool, thinking he had tricked the clown, had the tables turned on him by a rustic wit as clever, if not so nimble, as his own—and comic business (lazzi).

Source: Britannica

Another Point Of Interest

It is the revival of the Commedia in Italy after World War II by Amleto and Donato Sartori. There is now an International Museum of the Mask in Abano Terme near Padua in Italy. After my degree study, in 1989, I went to Padua and talked to Donato about the Commedia and mask making. The manufacture of masks is a highly specialised art form. Actors at the time of my visit went to Padua and stayed there for a considerable time being measured and modelled until the mask virtually grew on their face.

Here is a picture of an Arlecchino mask. It’s mine. I bought it in Venice for around $300.

My final task for this degree was to write a long essay with two aims: a critique of the plays of Robert Bolt and an account of my Theatre In Education work at Nepean College Of Advanced Education.

Robert Bolt has my enduring respect. I haven’t read his plays since those readings before 1980 but they are still vivid in my mind. I remember my sympathy for the central character in Flowering Cherry when he finally over reaches and dies. The Tiger and the Horse also generated my sympathy for the wife of the ambitious professor who finally realises what he has done to his wife through his relentless drive.

A Man For All Seasons  is one of my favourite plays. I particularly remember the role of the common man who acts as a chorus and as other characters including the executioner.

The Thwarting of Baron Bolligrew inspired me as a teacher. In my many teaching days I have not found a better work for children.

Vivat! Vivat Regina! is another play I remember with much respect. I remember especially the dignity with which Mary Queen of Scots faced the executioner.

State of Revolution, Bolt’s last performed play, was produced after I studied for this degree.

Theatre In Education (TIE)

Theatre in Education is my passionate field, and I have had considerable experience in it. I had my own student TIE Company, the Phoenix People, at Nepean CAE. The group performed with dignity and success in Western Sydney schools for audiences totalling more that 4,000. 

To complete my final task for the degree I had to write an account of this aspect of my teaching days. First we contacted schools around the College offering to write and perform plays on the subject of their choice. Two plays resulted, one Imagination Can Set You Free, an Arthurian play about the heroic defeat of a dragon, and Billy Button, the story of a teenage convict who was sent to New South Wales.

In my later years, I went to Coventry, by choice that is, and interacted with the Belgrade TIE Company, the originators of TIE. I used this 1987 study leave to explore theatre throughout much of Australia, in Italy, Germany, France, and in the UK.

Here are images of the King Arthur TIE play: The audience: School for Deaf and Blind, Sydney.

Here is a newspaper action shot of the Billy Button play.

School: St Marys Primary

I hope this humble set of recollections, despite my numerous flaws and omissions, touches on some of the joys of the study experience. How lucky I was to have studied before the imposition of the HECS tax on students! My knowledge from those three degrees has been shared with thousands of students. That learning was supported by governments, not penalised.


Here is the third testamur (Pass with Merit).

Another Poetical Outburst

Image Attribution: Creative Commons, “Bluemoon ” by Craig Deakin from Newcastle Upon Tyne, UK

Man In The Moon

The Man In The Moon will be speaking soon

So I hope you’ll be paying attention

If you lend your ear to his merry tune

You might even get a mention

Ah there he is coming past

From his place behind a cloud

He will simply smile if you look aghast

Your misgiving is allowed

Good evening Sir I welcome you

With your gloss on the heavenly word

We know that your statements are always true

Dispute is quite absurd

So lay on good fellow I’ve said enough

Give us your thoughts to peruse

As life with the virus has been very tough

We long to hear your news

Why it is my joy to speak tonight

And I thank you for the greeting

I hail you all with sheer delight

It is a pleasant meeting

There is much ado to share with you

In the world beneath my gaze

It’s surprising what some humans will do

As they blunder through their days

Take the climate for instance there’s little insistence

Despite the disastrous storming

The nincompoops rave with a ton of resistance

To the facts of global warming

They claim the scientist is a liar

With little grasp of the weather

When they talk the same way about drought and fire

You can knock me down with a feather

And then there’s oil lying safe in the soil

But struck it makes so much money

When it starts to boil it makes me recoil

The turmoil is far from funny

Now I’m just beginning to speak of this sinning

And put my watertight  case

Despite human thinning the stock market’s winning

While the poor can’t get to first base

And every morning at the dawning

When you breathe the foul air’s smudge

With smoke as a warning yet marketeers fawning

How can you not hold a grudge?

Another complaint I need to make

Is that rainforest gets destroyed

When they savage the trees for money’s sake

I’m extravagantly annoyed

Yet one other thought has more sad features

Because of the anguish of fire

It cremates so many beautiful creatures

As tomorrow dies on the pyre

The time has come to gently refrain

Even though I’ve more to say

The sun will soon rise yet again

To herald another day

So it’s good luck to you whatever you do

I am very pleased to have met you

I hope that my moonstruck hullabaloo 

Did not at this meeting upset you

And now I say toodeloo…


Public Relations

So that’s it

You want to get somewhere

Be a success 

Without the distress

That rains upon lesser mortals

It’s the reason that you’re here I assume

To discover a way to the top

Well let me see

I think we can talk 

First, all good deeds must stop

Next concept: you need a plan

An agenda of powerful devotions

Remote from rival emotions

Such as service to humanity

Then you cover your own inanity

With attacks on your rivals’ sanity

While you give to yourself a fair image

That may indeed not be real

But will always seem to be…

Now I note you need more advice from me

As great triumph is your aim

Why, keep it simple stupid

It is all a part of a game

Catchy abuse hurled often, can tear a foe to pieces

Opportunity never ceases

So don’t miss a chance to curse

And then you should immerse yourself

In the glory of a media story

Nurse a child, shake an old man’s hand

Wear a big hat as you traverse the land

Drink a schooner of beer in a pub

Chat with a group, and here’s the rub

Always wear a glowing smile…

Never miss an opportunity

To be seen with a doting community

Wear a hard hat in a factory

Prove your health satisfactory

By going for a swim in the surf

To reduce alarm when you visit a farm

Pick up a piece of turf

All this is par for the course

But you clearly need a horse with a different gait

If you are to manipulate Fate

Note well my friend in your quest for fame

There’s one more condition that’s linked to the game

It’s fear

Panic, terror, dread, distress are golden reasons to use duress

More sharp as a weapon than any

So create a foe who’s on the go

A danger feared by many

Lurking there, no everywhere,

Publish that threat to your welfare

Then when this foe becomes one of your tools

You can break the rules in a folly of fools

It’s like riding the waves on a porpoise

As you take away all human rights

And abandon habeas corpus

So work for that end my ambitious friend

Your struggle will then be over

You will have unlimited power

As you look down on the fields of clover

From an unassailable tower


The Further Adventures Of Simple Simon

Simple Simon met a pieman,

Going to the fair;

Says Simple Simon to the pieman,

Let me taste your ware.

Says the pieman to Simple Simon,

Show me first your penny;

Says Simple Simon to the pieman,

Indeed I have not any.

So Simple Simon went to a bank

Hoping to get a loan

When they asked him for security

He said he was on his own

Said the banker to Simple Simon

Get a fine racehorse and feed it

If it wins you’ll learn what everyone knows

We lend only when you don’t need it

Simple Simon sought to take part

In a very recent election

They addled his brain again and again

To influence his selection

When the big day came he cast his vote

According to what they said

Those fools won power and turned things sour

Then he felt not right in the head

Simple Simon wanted to learn

At a well known university

He sought to study a long held delight

In the midst of that diversity

Said the bursar to Simple Simon

You have in your hands the wrong knob

Don’t pay so much for history

As it won’t get you a job

Simple Simon now getting old

Was looking for a pension

His clothes were worn and the weather was cold

His health was worth a mention

Said the statesman to simple Simon

It’s the truth and I can’t fudge it

You’ll have no juicy steaks to carve

Because of our balanced budget

Simple Simon had had enough

He was weary of life’s harsh ways

All he wanted was a bit of peace

To help him through his last days

So Simple Simon went to church

Heard the vicar speak of things sinister

Cheer up old friend the cleric said

You could be the Prime Minister

Simple Simon was lost for words

Still finding life hard to live…

He went for water in a sieve

But soon it all fell through

And now poor Simple Simon

Bids you all adieu!


Friends Of The Jolly Miller

And this the burden of his song

Forever used to be,

I care for nobody, no not I,

And nobody cares for me

From: The Jolly Miller Nursery Rime

O I am a student

And I struggle with my debts

All the live long day

So my right to learn

Rests on what I can earn

What more can I say?

O I am a nurse

And I work for a song

Even though my day is long

Many souls I save

From an early grave

What more can I say?

O I am a teacher

I strive for perfection

And struggle to make a connection

But my piddling wage

Is the sin of the age

What more can I say?

O I’m a paramedic

Every day I strive

To keep damaged souls alive

But my income is too low

I wish it wasn’t so

What more can I say?

O I’m a social worker

And my pay is meagre

Yet I am most eager

To save both kith and kin

From their lifelong poverty spin

What more can I say?

O I am a rhymer

And I strive with rigour 

To write with vim and vigour

Although I try

It’s just pie in the sky

What more can I say?



The Muse Is Still At Work

Attribution: Creative Commons Licence

University Blues

Vivat academia,

Vivant professores,

Vivat membrum quodlibet,

Vivat membra quaelibet;

Semper sint in flore!

(May they always flourish)

I have a dream 

That I might seem

A joyous learnèd scholar

But now I fear I’ll be left on a shelf

Because of the cursèd dollar

Please if you can, give to me 

Some details of the cost

So I can seek an epitome

And my time will not be lost

As my thoughts unwind I fly

In my mind around the earth

To learn the sanctified story

Of the ages before my birth

But as I strive for this glory

There’s a scheme I may deplore

If I study history

Tell me, will it cost me more?

Other thoughts disturb me

As they kindle new dark fears

If I read for poetry

Will my invoice be in arrears?

What about philosophy?

Should I look for a deal

Or failing this, episcopacy

For cheaper religious zeal?

Another thought to cross my mind

Is a course in Egyptology

Will that expense mean I must find

My only recourse is psychology?

Now Shakespeare is a passion of mine

To be or not to be

Will the Bard be a virtual fine

And leave me in penury?

O why O why is my humble voice

Linked to the churls of finance?

Why must I fear that my student choice

Is the reason I’m held askance?

There comes a time in a world sublime

When critics are meticulous

If the chief does a deed sans reason or rhyme

It is rightfully branded ridiculous

And so kind sir I take my leave and comment on your service

You have shown me the cost when freedom is lost

And made me extremely nervous

So I will be off highly tempted to scoff yet retaining my decorum

Though every semester will demand an investor

The seers of good sense will ignore ’em… gaudeamus igitur


An Impolite Message

Let us shut our eyes

And talk about the weather

Gilbert and Sullivan: The Pirates of Penzance

Begone dull fool

And take your great lies with you

Science should be a tool

Not a horse without a tether

You must obey one rule

If you talk about the weather

Evidence my friend

Gives you the right to speak

God’s truth you must defend

Or your influence is weak

You prattle with divergencies

Designed to hide reality

Describing the emergencies

With constant bleak banality

Meanwhile the world is in a spin

With drought and fire and storm

While you proclaim with a sickly grin

It’s nothing but the norm

You spread falsehoods like jam on bread

A kind of last repast

If you have your way we’ll all be dead

False colours nailed to the mast

You lie about this you lie about that

With flights of fancy forming

Your status is slightly less than a rat

In the light of global warming

You tell tall tales and play your role

To keep the trade fires burning

While the future of man falls into a hole

With the wheels of industry turning

Thus the air we love suffers above

In a surplus of CO𝟸

You gently tweet like a turtle dove

But not a word is true

So be on your way you devious worm

Before I grind you to pieces

Or you’re put away for a sizeable term

As all that you’ve said is so specious 

That’s it; that ends my harangue

Now I’ll brush you away with a duster

So you’ll disappear with a bang

Caught up in a Southerly Buster*


*Only one thing left to say…Have a nice day.


Concerning My Black Armband



Please come in…

Take a seat…


Now we can be

Relaxed and comfortable 

Tell me

What’s all this mystery about history

Not getting your attention

As in your world 

Only business gets a mention?

Is not the now

A child of what once was?

And does not time present

Beat the drum for time future?

Were you there

When they chose to free Barabbas?

Did you seek to count the dead at Peterloo?

Did you take a breath of deadly gas at Ypres?

Have you heard of the mournful Creek named Waterloo?

Have you seen the fine Enola Gay display?

Did you notice genocide down Dresden way?

Have you found the reason yet for Vietnam’s war?

Was Rwanda an evil Hell or something more?

Were you swept away by the grief of 9/11?

Or by King Leopold’s Congo paean of greed?

Does Death still line the battered streets of Yemen? 

Does the Unknown Soldier extol a futile deed?

So many questions pound upon the brain

And conjure forth more pity than disdain

O must we not rap with hope on history’s door

If madness is to hold its sway no more?

For the sake of countless lives that were destroyed

Bygone lessons have to be deployed

There is so much from early days to master

Lest present follies lead us to disaster

O brother, why look you so aghast?

The choice is yours, there’s guidance in the past

And if I fail to change your point of view

The old will quickly vilify the new

So tell me please, just what do we need to do?

What think you, pray?

Can yesterday be relevant today?

Oh my! 

Your words are what I feared to hear you say

So on my own I’ll scan the ages proudly

Begone my friend; it’s time you went away

Leave quickly ere I curse your mind more loudly

In ways that are unbecoming…


On The Matter of Waterloo Creek

The massacre at Myall Creek was just one of a sequence of violent events that accompanied settler expansion in the Gwydir region of north-eastern NSW in the 19th century.

While it is likely that only a fraction of the violence is recorded in the conventional historical record, it is telling that a contemporary authority and eyewitness, Muswellbrook police magistrate Edward Denny Day, termed this conflict ‘a war of extermination’.

Violent attacks increased in savagery towards the latter part of the decade. The summer of 1837­–38 was particularly violent. Major James Nunn, the Commandant of the New South Wales Mounted Police, had been sent from Sydney to lead a punitive expedition against the Aboriginal people who had killed stockmen in separate incidents of Frontier conflict.

His response, however, was extreme. On 26 January 1838 Nunn and his men massacred up to 50 Aboriginal people camped at Waterloo Creek (my bold). They also encouraged nearby stockmen and settlers to murder any Aboriginal person they came across.

Source: National Museum Australia 


Dear Reader

I accidentally Liked this post and haven’t been able to erase it. I am not vain, just stupid. R.

Still More Poems

Overheard Voices

Sweet poesy! that hath anciently had kings, emperors, senators, great captains, such as, besides a thousand others, David, Adrian, Sophocles, Germanicus, not only to favour poets, but to be poets…

But I speak to this purpose, that all the end of the comical part be not upon such scornful matters as stir laughter only, but mix with it that delightful teaching which is the end of poesy. Sir Phillip Sidney: The Defense of Poesy

Polly Put The Kettle On


It’s good to see you

Thank you for the visit

The main idea is to polish our policies

Get on with the real task of running the country

As you know

Things have not been going well lately

Umberton is putting a spanner in the works

He’s a cursèd idealist of the worst kind

Wants to get rid of coal completely

Fund renewables at the cost of our oil search program

Even put the kibosh on the demolition of the town hall

Who cares if it’s the last of its kind?

Then last Tuesday

You’ll never guess what he did

He sought to penalise wrong use of insecticides on farms

Just imagine what that would do to our electorates

On top of that

And this is the last straw

He wants to force all corporations 

To contribute to an Environment Protection Plan

Bloody Hell!

What will he think of next?

You see my friend we have work to do

We’ve got to organise public opinion

Work with the Press as usual

To make sure that our program of expansion

Is not stifled

That it lives and breathes where it counts

The market must be respected

As I said in a recent speech: 

Free enterprise is the cradle that nurtures us all

We have to act now before it is too late

So that’s why it’s good to see you

I’ll tell you what

Let’s make a cup of tea

And then let’s get down to business

Really get down to business…


A Consequence Of Time

Hi there

Come right in

It’s good to see you

Through here, that’s right

In there

Take a seat

Would you like a drink?


All right then

Let’s get on with it

The reason I’ve called you in

Is quite straightforward

Things are not crash hot with the firm 

Business is uncertain

The times are truly changing

And we have had to move with those changes

You no doubt have noticed differences lately

Alterations we’ve just completed 

In fact it’s a significant restructure 

Of the company

Basically to ensure survival

This has given us a major challenge

With our staffing needs

Now what does that mean for you?

Well…how long have you been with us?

Thirty seven years

Yes I assumed it was something like that

Anyway the reality is

The work you have done so well in the past

Is no longer relevant

What does that mean?

It means my dear friend

Sadly we are in no further need of your services

The position you leave will not be vacant

It will not exist 

As I said before we have had to move on

How old are you now?


Ah yes well you see our future

To put it bluntly, depends almost entirely on youth

No there is no way we can fit you in

It’s all a matter of fiscal expertise

Indeed of survival itself

Now one of the reasons you are here at this moment

Is for me to thank you personally

For the years of outstanding service

You have given us

There will be severance pay of course

This handshake is one I give gladly

To wish you, your wife and family well 

In the days and years ahead

God bless


Send these, the homeless, tempest-tossed to me


You are most welcome

Is this your usual job?


Now where were we last time?

Ah yes

Checking out the records of detention

You will find 

Things going according to plan

Only four hundred inmates left

All confined without redress

Children not a problem any longer 

Except for a few

Despite exposés

From the inquisitive media

PR top of the class

Constant emphasis on people smugglers

Working well

Justifying our iron clad objective

To ban entry

Regarding occasional mental health issues

We have managed to curtail reporting

So this has kept things quiet

Parliamentary back-up excellent

A nice bipartisan mood still applies

Even though minorities

Occasionally disturb the peace a little

Stop the boats

An almost out of date slogan now

As indefinite detention is 

Going so well

As to the funding 

We keep it quiet

The cost is one billion a year

So there you have it my friend

Up to date facts

On our penal domain

Everything’s good

I can clearly say

No problems now remain


Survival Talk


Is that you Charles?

It’s me Merton


We have a problem

That self interested bastard Coles

Is at it again

He’s been gathering support

And I think 

We’re in for a spill

No I mean it

All the signs are there

He’s been brown nosing with Carlingford

Since our last Cabinet do

And I noticed him in close talk

With Schultz last week

At the Corporate Affairs Conference

Now this is big trouble

If we don’t watch our step

He’ll link up with Condon

And we won’t have a snowflake’s chance in Hell

Of surviving

What are we going to do about it?

Here’s what we’re gunna do my friend

We’re gunna attack

All guns blazing

Do you remember the Venus Brothel incident

A few years ago?

Yes, that’s it

Coles was photographed in the street outside it

He sued the paper for damages

And lost

Now that’s the point

He lost

The aroma of doubt still exists

Unruly testosterone in the political sphere

I know with the aid of a couple of my Press mates

We can find some new evidence

Cook up a tale of secret vice for Coles

The truth doesn’t matter

As long as the story exists

We can really go to town with this

And the sparks will fly

In the meantime

We need to keep alert with the others

Promise Carlingford our support ad infinitum

Release the report on Condon’s study leave in Paris

And back Shultz for that post overseas

All right my friend

Now there’s work to do

Go to it

I’ll talk to you later


Who Has Seen The World Aflame?

On the 2019-20 bushfires in Australia

Where have you been in recent times?

Have you seen the fiery effects of CO𝟸?

Did you feel the heat?

Did you hear the trees alight cry out in pain

And see their leaves fly away from normality

As burning embers

Setting fire to other forests of disastrous worldly schemes?

In the midst of all this

Did you support the paranoia of climate doubt?

Yes? I cannot continue this discussion

Because the world is still aflame

In my mind

Cooked to a cinder like a Pudding Lane house in 66

Yet the need arises to tell the story

To strive to impose wisdom on a witless world

Even though the smoke of the inferno

No longer curses my eyes

Or maligns my breathing with a malevolence

That takes away my sanity

As I hear again

The sirens sound the death knell

Of my tomorrows


Instructions to Schools 2084

Children must be tested

Thoroughly and without deviation

To promote compliance with the norm

Difference brings intense remediation

Plead for funds if you wish

But do not be over demanding

For thrift must be the rule

With government revenue

Teach the arts

But sparingly, lest revolution show its risky face

Train the drones for work in the market place

Beware of satire and humour

For laughter is a threat to equanimity

Teach history synthesised as a harmless piece

Of mystery

This above all, observe approved practices

As you keep costs down if you can

And it shall follow as the night the day

Each child will grow according to the plan


Curriculum 2084

What must our children learn today

In this arid testing time?

How to save water they need to know

As the rivers no longer flow

An attitude to lightning 

Will clearly be the norm

As violence shakes the world each day

In the shape of a savage storm

History of science will be much taught

With links to all the great theses

Lots of pictures and ancient films

To remind us of lost species

Admen will sponsor our daily life

With a constant barrage of lies

So children must learn the crucial art

Of rejecting what truth denies

Above all else will be the need

To reach out for pure air

Since what was once a heavenly breath

Is now no longer there

Teachers will teach and pupils will reach

A stage of desired augmentation

Whatever the outcome our leaders will say

It’s all for the good of the nation


Bedtime 2084

Time for sleeping Daddy?

Yes my love

Will you tell me things before I sleep?

Yes my love

What was a tree Daddy?

It was a tall post with arms and things called leaves my love

What was a bird Daddy?

It was a living spirit with wings that flew through the air my love

What is a flower Daddy?

A beautiful joy that one day you still might see my love

What was a butterfly Daddy?

A pretty thing that danced on the air my love

What was a tiger Daddy?

A brave and noble creature once roaming the earth my love

Why is the sea so angry Daddy?

Storms without end give it no peace my love

What is a split atom Daddy?

A nasty thing that blights the world my love

I am tired now Daddy I think I will go to sleep

Good night my love; rest well


A Word From The Sponsor

Thank you for providing such interesting films

For me to purloin for profit

I enjoy so much

Interrupting each plot at a crucial moment

As this sells so well

With the would be client’s attention at its peak

News bulletins also

Are a major source of funds

Murder and violence take interest for a ride

If you fit an ad in where the victims died

Give those soaps your approval too

Love affairs have a great sale capacity

They have what it takes to sell

And the actors play their parts so well

The actors in the ads I mean

Who catch our gaze with each scene

So there you have it

The arts whose verifiable function now is earning

Will keep the wheels of commerce smoothly turning

So let me assure you

As long as there are Academy Awards and Logies

I will be there to use a constant stream of your time

Raising interest in the adman’s bogeys

For my own ends

Yes. Thank you so much – so very much



Well now here I am – somewhere

What am I doing here?

According to many I am in my senility

Using the surplus time of my life

To fill pages with my lack of ability

That’s true enough I suppose

No work – little play

A recipe for a dull old man

And yet maybe 

There are some extenuating circumstances

(Big words I learnt seventy five years ago)

Maybe, just maybe

Someone will read those pages of mine

And get an idea for me or against me

As a consequence

The world will be just a little different

As I wander towards my grave

Rugby: For The Good Of The Game


Mr Foxtel

Thank you for your offer

In this land of milk and honey

But I’m afraid that at this stage 

I don’t have any money

Now it’s not my aim to mention

My strife on the old age pension

For I’ve coached many yes many a boy

From out of the hoi polloi

And taught them how to love the game

Spent many hours at training them

Because I felt the same

Gave my time on days of the week

Just to promote the cause

Worked till I felt my old bones creak

With not a drop of applause

Gone to great Test matches too

As a loyal fan

Read many books on players

Knew them man to man

Even played a bit myself

In my younger days

Till age put me on the shelf

As only the fit man plays

So here we are at the end of my road

As I watch your fine commercials

Cloaked as they are in a highly glamorous code

How I long to accept your plan

With up to three months free

But after three wherever I scan

I can’t find a place for me

So thank you very much kind sir

For your exciting chapter and verse

But how in the Hell can I aim for that end

With a totally empty purse?

So good luck to you with your lucrative scheme

Even though your price is high

Sport for me now is no more than a dream

Till I fade away and die…Till I fade away and die……


More Poems

I conjure you all that have had the evill luck to read this inck-wasting toy of mine, even in the name of the nine Muses, no more to scorne the sacred misteries of Poesie. Sir Phillip Sidney: The Defence of Poesie



Here we are my friend

Picking our way

Through the ruins of our future

And carefully avoiding

The little chunks of litter

That keep falling out of the past 

As if to bar the way,

Or perhaps

To point out what might have been 


But always it is in vain

For that is the nature of things

Life as the moments fade

Painstakingly dismantles all that we are

Dismembering our dreams

As if they didn’t exist

Ending our schemes

With a force we cannot resist

So that eventually

Bits and pieces of us

Fall away

Leaving only the faintest memory

Of what has been

Until we exist nowhere

But in the minds of others


Those minds in the end

Might be the only things that matter


God In Disguise
God In Disguise

Be warned all you pious people

Who frequent the well-worn paths

Of respectability

We have just discovered that God

Has decided to revisit the Earth

Be further advised

That with the foresight

He alone can manage

He has chosen to prevent commotion

By sightseeing in disguise

We hold here His media release

An agenda found on the window sill 

Of a bankrupt press agency

By their last civic roundsman

Somewhere it tells us

He will masquerade as

A lonely desperate man

Pleading for support

So take care if you pass by 

He will be watching what you do.

On another occasion

He will be that runaway child

In a twilight street with no name

Verging on the prostitute’s game

So take care if you pass by 

He will be watching what you do

Another gig of His

Will be difficult to trace

As He will be a black man

Looking for his place

So take care if you pass by 

He will be watching what you do

There’s another place you may see Him

So the message here says

At work in a vast stock market

Where deals are bought and sold

So take care if you pass by 

He will be watching what you do

Finally in the twinkling of an afterthought

He may suddenly appear

In your Parliament of Fools

Where iniquity is bought

So if voting there beware

He will be watching what you do

Dearly beloved citizens

We cannot vouch for the authenticity

Of this uncovered information

In fact it may not be true

Even so fair friends take care  

He will still be watching what you do


Have You Noticed? 

Have you noticed 

How warlike folk cook up 

A recipe for their own self-righteousness? 

They take a measure of enemies 

Add a portion of land and earthly possessions 

A generous quantity of patriotism 

Assiduously mixed with racism and false rumour 

Blended in a sauce of greed with a pinch of fear 

And bring this to the boil 

Stirring constantly until firm and consistent 

Then they garnish it with hatred and serve it 

In man-size quantities on lavish platters 

Upon a snow-white cloth adorned 

With glasses of gloom-altering wine 

To credulous novices in soldiers’ clothing 

Say grace with a serious but benevolent smile 

And then in a final act of elation 

They cry, “God bless our nation!” 



Once I saw a broken man 

Lying in the street 

Abandoned in defeat 

But I did nothing 

For I was prosperous and free 

Once I saw a foreigner 

Punished for the crime 

Of birth in another clime 

But I did nothing 

For I was a patriot and free 

Once I saw a malefactor 

Under fierce attack 

For the sin of being black 

But I did nothing 

For I was  fair-skinned and free 

Once I saw a woman 

Become a weeping wraith 

For the garments of her faith 

But I did nothing 

For I was conformist and free 

Once I saw an activist 

Held without a trial 

Because of a government file 

But I did nothing 

For I was lawful and free 

Now I see an assassin

Of overwhelming might

Pounding on my door without respite 

But I can do nothing

For there is no one to answer for me


Sixty-five Roses

(For The Children With Cystic Fibrosis} 

Intangible things morphemes 

Like imprudent dreams 

Or furtive fears 

Or flimsy formulae of faith in uncertain ideas. 

When you are a child 

Crossing over 

The towering mountains of experience, 

You try to find a pathway to understanding 

By whatever means you can. 

You reach out for things to say 

And even though your words are but feathers 

Floating in the wind, 

You hope that they will help you fly 

To find the place where words are not unknown codes 

But holy meaningful things  

Not clumsy tools that fall and hurt your toes 

But noble powerful friends . . . 

Once in a whimsy 

A child of Fate’s morning 


Sought to say what he did not understand. 

The eyes of his soul 

Saw the beauty of flowers in a garden of despair . . . 

Instead of cystic fibrosis . . . he said, ‘Sixty-five roses.’ 

Then the smiling wind 

As it has been known to do in the past, 

Caught up his idea 

Swirled it around with heavenly pity 

And charged it with such power

That it put a girdle round the earth in milliseconds. 

It was amazing to observe 

That wind of that new morning 


Whisk the words here there and anywhere 

Until by chance 

What was blowing in the wind 

Fell upon the ears of one or two surprised 

But accomplished ad-folk spinners of speech.

Suddenly the light of understanding 

Led these men and women of the world 

Laughingly beyond the place 

Where half truths and controlled innuendoes live 

To where days are pre-occupied with understanding. 

There . . . as a gift transcending even love 

These skilful contemporary bards 

Turned the thoughts of roses into charity cards 

And with the words of a fragile child 

Suddenly converted you and me 

Into a chorus line dancing with compassion

To the enchanted music of innocence

And the twinkling sounds of cash registers opening and closing 


Daddy Longlegs

Look at you

Dancing around my awareness

On your prancing legs of steel

Like a ballerina preoccupied with everything but applause

Why do you make me feel so insignificant?

Me with my old bones aching

Even though

I could crush you in an instant between my fingers

Or worse still wither you with ease

By simply pushing the button on a can

To kill both the innocent and the guilty with its spray

There you stand however

Climbing my insurmountable wall 

Just because it is there

Welcome little friend 

You diminish me so

Even though I can barely make you out amidst my clutter

Climb on valiantly

And leave me here below forever trapped in my own fragility


Work in Progress 

Doctus doce 

Having been taught 

I go forth and teach 

I do not define 

The infinity in which I work 

Or impose upon it 

The constriction of words 

But in the magic 

Of each teaching day 

As I fly on high with my fledglings 

Through the strident storms of ignorance 

And beyond the down draughts of despair 

I feel on my face 

The winds 

That will buffet the dwellers in tomorrow 

And I land on the steps 

Of their houses 

Which I cannot enter 

Except in my dreams 

And through my teaching 


Vive l’école 

A school is not a lifeless thing … 

I found this out today 

When I visited a place 

Where in my yesterdays 

I used to teach 

‘Hello Sir,’ came the voices 

And their looks of recognition 

Seemed to tap me 

On the shoulder 

As I walked across that playground 

At recess time 

And then into the hollow hallways 

Where I heard again the footsteps 

Of the past 

While in its briefly empty classrooms 

I met the echoes of my bygone lessons

And the reflected sounds of yesterday’s pupils 

With their sighs of learning struggle 

Their misdemeanours 

And their Ahas! of the once in a while 

When insight set in 

It was a weird experience this 

A haunted house without ghosts 

Not spooks 

But thoughts and words 

And struggles and despair and hope 

And growth and disobedience 

And little triumphs over learning curves 

And breakthroughs to understanding 

And punishment and distraction 

And anger and hatred and inspiration 

And penalty and injustice and impossible tasks 

And when the last bell rings

Memories of transformations that never end … 

A school is not a lifeless thing   



Here I am,

Limping through what was once tomorrow,

Struggling, sighing, crying, prying,

Lying in the clutches of the quicksand known as status. 

Why is this so?  If you should wish to know

The reason for my life’s hiatus,

Visit my classroom of a dozen years ago,

The bleak place where I shall forever be

Confined, entwined, maligned, defined as E

For all the world to see.

Not people in that place

But ordered lists of merit and disgrace,

Probing and molesting after tests ad infinitum,

Whose validity moves only fools to cite ’em.

So from that space in my stark inferiority,

Degraded by implied superiority,

I’ve wandered aimlessly beyond my sanity,

Longing to meet unclassified humanity.

O why am I cursed, reviled and frowned upon

Because I am not an alpha but an epsilon?


Super Woman 

Oh my 

What a special person! 

A priceless spirit

That woman in the supermarket crush

Who gave her place 

In the the check-out rush 

To me. 

Me with no right of passage, no space, no refuge a red hot sale 30% extra free compare our prices time to buy get it while stocks last fresh food folk make your dreams come true monster sale buy two get one free save save save with omega 3 fresh squeezed daily only six weeks to Christmas manager’s special don’t miss our best warehouse clearance win a trip to Hawaii save even more spring specials it’s new free gifts fuel discount offer out they go a free CD with every box guaranteed lowest prices nobody beats us one huge clearance bargain priced meat strong and bitey guaranteed no msg no preservatives from the garden to you end of year deals all are reduced now for quick sale please make all bags available for staff checking thank you. 

I kissed that dear lady 

For her gift of courtesy 

Giving way to me in the depths of my old age 

There should be more of her ilk 

And the only things I needed 

Were bread and butter and milk


The Right Honourable Mephistopheles

Mister Speaker 

This is an emergency

It’s a time of stress

We must balance the budget

For the good of the nation

In terms of our mandate

And to counter privation 

With our current program

No unnecessary hindrance

To implement best practice policies

Devised by several recognised experts

With the best possible intentions

As determined over and over again

Even in times of war

Or still more potently in peace time

As our nation’s history will clearly show

Unless of course the records are incomplete

Which even so will not deter us

Because we have the voice of experience

That echoes down the hallways of history

And in other places

Dedicated to the wellbeing of us all

Or even those who are not yet eligible to vote

Children or immigrants

Excluding of course the mentally ill

Who will in due course recover partially

Or fully, according to programs we have set in train

Fully funded

With the most noble intentions

For the good of us all

Give or take one or two exceptions

In the best of all possible worlds

So we must act

Mr Speaker 

Today all pensions

Will be cut by two percent



Still More University Days And Nights

Another Continuation of My University Story

I began my MEd studies the year after I graduated with my BA, 1968. In the meantime I moved from my position at Granville Boys High School to History Master at Dover Heights Girls High School. Geographically my new teaching position was relatively close to the University of New South Wales, my place of study. This was a help.

If you are a teacher, the interesting thing about such part time study of eduction is how linked it is to your profession. Somehow it makes you think twice about teaching behaviour that previously had seemed natural and appropriate.

The course work I elected to do was Child Growth and Development and Educational Planning and Administration. The second choice turned out to be a wise one when I moved to the girls’ high school as there, for the first time, I was in charge of a school department with several staff members.

I still remember much of Child Growth and Development, probably because it was so relevant to my teaching in so many different ways. I remember Freud and his id, ego and super ego. Those unconscious urges were interesting then but as time passed, I realised there was much more to learn about human behaviour. 

I remember, during that year of study, thinking how clever Shakespeare was to have Lady Macbeth constantly wash her hands to wash away her guilt. That novel Freudian idea fades away in the context of Coronavirus doesn’t it? Another memory is the struggle between life force Eros and Thanatos or death instinct. I remember feeling happy about Freud’s belief in the dominating strength of Eros.

In later life I have also learned that Edward Bernays, Freud’s nephew, possibly had more immediate and dramatic influence on society than his uncle. Bernays’ Public Relations are so much a part of modern life aren’t they?

Carl Jung is also there in my memory but I remember most clearly his notion of the collective unconscious. Somehow there still seems to be some justification for this idea. I found Jung’s opinions convincing, despite his critics. This is possibly because as a history teacher I have come to believe that we cannot escape the past.

Jean Piaget is the dominant part of my recollection regarding this course of study. I was quite swept away by the links I saw between his stages of learning and pupils I had taught, especially in my infants teaching stage. Piaget’s emphasis on the power of teaching as a part of cognitive development inspired me.

Piaget’s theory concerning the way a child constructs meaning at different stages, still rings true to me. Especially welcome is his view that intelligence is not an unchanging, predetermined statistic.

Erik Erikson is another memory of an important cognitive theorist.  I learnt about how he too believed in stages of development, in his case eight, linked to psychosocial interaction. He reminded me, in a number of ways, of Freud. His notion of stages depended on a series of crises from birth to adulthood, with success linked to trust in the earliest stage. His notion of “basic trust” seems to knock on my memory door. I still find Erikson interesting but wonder if any theorist can tell the whole story – can control all the variables of any research.

Behaviourists had an important place in this course. I remember especially Edward Thorndike’s Law of Effect as a prelude to later behaviourism. Thorndike’s principle suggests that responses giving satisfaction will recur more often. Dissatisfaction will tend to reduce recurrence. I have not found any reason to criticise the Law of Effect. It seems so logical.

John Watson and B F Skinner were important in the course. They seemed to extend Thorndike’s work. Operant conditioning dominates my memories: learning through rewards and punishment in response to behaviour. At the time, this theory dominated much of my learning. In later life I have become less fond of these theorists because of the harshness of their techniques and the effects on the animals and children used for their research.

John Watson was a major early experience of behaviourism for me. Conditioning, as I said before, was the key to his influence – a dramatic extension of Pavlov. Behaviour was to be the source of prediction and control by the psychologist. The dangers of control are a warning I now feel in later life. When I was teaching in a university milieu, some of my colleagues used to speak of “behaviour mod.” as a useful tool to establish authority. These days it doesn’t have my absolute respect.

Then there was B F Skinner. What a champion he was for my lecturers! Not for me now. I remember the Skinner box, his invention for recording the behaviour of rats. For Skinner, learning was a series of conditioned responses always controlled by the environment. Mind was nothing but a myth.

I was asked to read his utopian novel Walden Two. This I did with some enjoyment. The title is an overt reference to Henry David Thoreau’s Walden: a tale of a simple existence close to a natural environment. In Walden Two, everyone is happy as life is controlled by a program of behavioural engineering begun at birth. I remember a funny incident where a man gives performances as the World’s Greatest Bore. His performances are banned and shut down because he draws such vast crowds.

I remember especially John Bowlby and his Child Care and the Growth of Love. This researcher has stayed with me ever since, probably because I believe so strongly in the power of parental love for children. Mental health, Bowlby claimed, was closely linked to maternal care and was also a function of support from fathers and family members. In later life I have come to believe this even more strongly.

One of the interesting aspects of this program of study was the way examination trauma was reduced. We were given the final examination question on the first day of the course. This is a brilliant way to get rid of examination fears. It’s still rigorous as you have to produce your answer under examination conditions, and the answer reflects your study during the year. I managed a credit in the exam. A rare achievement for me.

My studies of Educational Planning and Administration were exciting. At 4PM every Wednesday for much of a year we met in a university room, chaired by the Professor of Education of the University, Professor J J Pratt. He was a truly wonderful teacher.

We talked about current administration experience each of us, the students, had. We took turns at holding the floor while the others made judgements and discussed solutions. We were a diverse group, working in a wide range of teaching climates. The discussions were very stimulating, with the Professor leading us to wider awareness of possible solutions to problems.

One of my memories stands out: Andrew Halpin, The Organisational Climate Of Schools. A most inspiring influence during these studies was this man. 

He was concerned intensely with what we still call school climate. I found his suggestion that every school can be distinguished by a unique administrative style or atmosphere very convincing.

To me then and now, this is like saying that each school has a personality similar to that of a particular person. As I have walked into so many schools during my lifetime, I have been struck by the range of different atmospheres (climates) unfolding. The children too, so often reflect the climate of the school – cheerful courtesy perhaps, or sometimes a cold, anxious stare.

In addition to Open and Closed climates, Halpin et al. referred to Paternal, Familiar, Controlled and Autonomous types. With the Paternal type the principal acts independently and does not use the leadership skills of his subordinates.

The Familiar Climate features much socialising but relatively little focus on task orientation. In contrast, the Controlled category is impersonal and features high concentration on task. The Autonomous Climate is characterised by leadership emerging from the group with little contact with the principal. The group is so focused on task achievement.

The two extremes I remember best. They have more support among academics than the other four categories. The Open Climate is characterised by what Halpin called “authenticity.” This involves both principal and staff working cooperatively and supportively. The Closed Climate is very different, featuring a more isolated principal, obsessed with trivia and matters irrelevant to the needs of the teaching staff. I have personally worked amidst both categories.

In all the years passing since my first study of Halpin, I have retained my respect for his approach. The terminology may change but the reality remains.

My own research program constituted the major task for this degree. I was interested in the effects of praise and blame on pupils’ classroom performance. The technique I used was interaction analysis after the Ned Flanders model (with no reference to the Simpsons), but as refined by Amidon, Edmund J and Hough, John J.

I used a control group, a praise group and a blame group. For performance data, I was testing (a) factual recall of specific lessons and (b) creativity, as defined by E Paul Torrance.

Torrance’s definition of creativity was interesting. Here it is quoted from the site given:

Torrance drew on contemporary research that related creativity to divergent thinking—the characteristic of coming up with more answers, or more original answers, rather than deriving a single best answer. That divergent-thinking trait might exhibit itself in different situations, so that, in Torrance’s view, the creativity shown by an artist was not different in type than the creativity shown by a scientist, a teacher, or a parent. The Torrance Tests of Creative Thinking were the work of Paul Torrance’s lifetime. They are still widely used to assess students and job applicants, and have been translated into more than 50 languages.

Source: Studio 360 December 14, 2017 · 4:00 PM EST Producer Kerrie Hillman.

So a unique answer was highly creative while the less creative answers were those repeated often. I was fascinated by the possibility of furthering creativity in the human spirit. A dream I still have.

In my study I worked with several classes from state schools, including some of my own from Granville Boys High School and Dover Heights girls. In those days you had to get permission to do research in state schools. This was given to me by Dr Ralph Rawlinson, Head of Research for the Department of Education. I was very grateful for the support.

At that time when there was no internet, research tools were, compared to today’s, decidedly primitive. The computer was in its infant stage. The university had one. It was a very big infant; so big it was used by the government to process exams for the whole state of New South Wales.

You had to find a good time to use it. There was nothing like today’s sophistication, so you had to punch your experimental results on cards and feed them into the computer. A day or days later, when you came to collect your results, you hoped there was a big bundle waiting for you on the shelf. If it was thin, you knew that it had failed to process and you had to do it all again.

What of the results for my research? Life is complex and so is research into it. I standardised my praise and blame so that all groups had the same words. I controlled for age, for gender, for past success, for parents’ profession and even for windy days, using analysis of covariance. I checked the scores with Kruskal–Wallis one-way analysis of variance and studied regression with my results.

I found no significant difference with either praise or blame. That was a long journey that lasted years without the result I was seeking. But that journey was worth making and had its benefits for other researchers.

There was one significant complication during my studies. An event that made things a little more challenging.

It was the loss of a brief case with all my research in it. I put it on the roof of my VW Beetle when getting in and then drove off. I noticed a bit of a bump when I rounded a corner but didn’t think twice about it. When I arrived to do some work at the Dover Heights school, I realised what I had done.

I had to repeat parts of the research, not all of it because I had some duplication. I learnt later that some of the senior girls had gone looking for my brief case along the route I took. Deeds like that plus the support of Jean Pocock, the principal, helped me keep on with the voyage to completion. Eventually the journey ended and I wrote my thesis.

The title on the cover is:


Three copies were made: one for the library, one for the faculty and one I still own. You can read the University’s copy in the archives. Its contents still have a place in my mind all these years later. I realise now I told only a small part of the story and I still have so much to learn.


Just Poems

Only a little reading time today.

Who Has Seen The World Aflame?

On the 2019-20 bushfires in Australia

Where have you been in recent times?

Have you seen the fiery effects of CO𝟸?

Did you feel the heat?

Did you hear the trees alight cry out in pain

And see their leaves fly away from normality

As burning embers

Setting fire to other forests of worldly schemes?

In the midst of all this

Did you support the paranoia of climate doubt?

Yes? I cannot continue this discussion

Because the world is still aflame

In my mind

Cooked to a cinder like a Pudding Lane house in 66

Yet the need arises to tell the story

To strive to impose wisdom on a witless world

Even though the smoke of the inferno

No longer curses my eyes

Or maligns my breathing with a malevolence

That takes away my sanity

As I hear again

The sirens sound the death knell

Of my tomorrows

5 May 2020

Instructions to Schools 2084

Children must be tested

Thoroughly and without deviation

To promote compliance with the norm

Difference brings intense remediation

Plead for funds if you wish

But do not be over demanding

For thrift must be the rule

With government revenue

Teach the arts

But sparingly lest revolution show its dangerous face

Train the drones for work in the market place

Beware of satire and humour

For laughter is a threat to equanimity

Teach history synthesised as a harmless piece

Of mystery

This above all, observe approved practices

As you impose a spending ban

And it shall follow as the night the day

Each child will grow according to the plan

8 May 2020

Curriculum 2084

What must our children learn today

In this arid testing time?

How to save water they need to know

As the rivers no longer flow

An attitude to lightning 

Will clearly be the norm

As violence shakes the world each day

In the shape of a savage storm

History of science will be much taught

With links to all the great theses

Lots of pictures and ancient films

To remind us of lost species

Admen will sponsor our daily life

With a constant barrage of lies

So children must learn the crucial art

Of rejecting what truth denies

Above all else will be the need

To reach out for pure air

Since what was once a heavenly breath

Is now no longer there

Teachers will teach and pupils will reach

A stage of desired augmentation

Whatever the outcome our leaders will say

It’s all for the good of the nation

2 May 2020

Bedtime 2084

Time for sleeping Daddy?

Yes my love

Will you tell me things before I sleep?

Yes my love

What was a tree Daddy?

It was a tall post with arms and things called leaves my love

What was a bird Daddy?

It was a living spirit with wings that flew through the air my love

What is a flower Daddy?

A beautiful joy that one day you still might see my love

What was a butterfly Daddy?

A pretty thing that danced on the air my love

What was a tiger Daddy?

A brave and noble creature once roaming the earth my love

Why is the sea so angry Daddy?

Storms without end give it no peace my love

What is a split atom Daddy?

A nasty thing that blights the world my love

I am tired now Daddy I think I will go to sleep

Good night my love; rest well

14 July 2012

A Word From The Sponsor

Thank you for providing such interesting films

For me to purloin for profit

I enjoy so much

Interrupting each plot at a crucial moment

As this sells so well

With the would be client’s attention at its peak

News bulletins also

Are a major source of funds

Murder and violence take interest for a ride

If you fit an ad in where the victims died

Give those soaps your approval too

Love affairs have a great sale capacity

They have what it takes to sell

And the actors play their parts so well

The actors in the ads I mean

Who catch our gaze with each scene

So there you have it

The arts whose verifiable function now is earning

Will keep the wheels of commerce smoothly turning

So let me assure you

As long as there are Academy Awards and Logies

I will be there to use a constant stream of your time

Raising interest in the adman’s bogeys

For my own ends

Yes. Thank you so much – so very much

12 May 2020

Minos Inc. of 2084

 The first Minos was a Greek king, very rich and powerful.

Tell me Minos Inc. what do clouds do?

Clouds give us rain polluted by me.

Tell me Minos Inc. what does rain do?

Rain gives us rivers failing to reach the sea.

Tell me Minos Inc. what does the sea do?

The sea is filled with plastic made by me.

Tell me Minos Inc. what does the plastic do?

The plastic kills the fish once caught by me.

Tell me Minos Inc. what do the fish do?

The fish float dead in the ocean.

Tell me Minos Inc. what does the ocean do?

The ocean is a garbage tip created by me.

Tell me Minos Inc. what does the garbage do?

It washes up on beaches bespoiled by me.

Tell me Minos Inc. what do the beaches do? 

They are zones of people’s despair created by me.

Tell me Minos Inc. what do those people do?

The people retreat sadly to their houses.

Tell me Minos Inc. what do their houses do?

The houses are their shelter from the grime.

Tell me Minos Inc. what does the grime do?

The wind blows it away as dust into the city.

Tell me Minos Inc. what does the city do?

The city is the marketplace where I sell my schemes.

15 September 2012


Well now here I am – somewhere

What am I doing here?

According to many I am in my senility

Using the surplus time of my life

To fill a few pages with my lack of ability

That’s true enough I suppose

No work – little play

A recipe for a dull old man

And yet maybe 

There are some extenuating circumstances

(Big words I learnt seventy five years ago)

Maybe, just maybe

Someone will read those pages of mine

And get an idea for me or against me

As a consequence

The world will be just a little different

As I wander towards my grave

14 May 2010

That’s all for the moment. Thank you for coming here.


More University Days and Nights

A Continuation Of The University Story

My journey to self awareness continued in 1963. My previous post (located below this one on this site) tells the story of the first two years.

I was feeling much more confident when my third university year began. I enrolled in English III and Education I. The latter was actually a second year subject. Psychology I or Philosophy I were prerequisites.

I managed more time in libraries then, despite my teaching commitments after being placed on Primary Promotion List 1. Remember there was no internet at this time. Information was far more remote than a click away. You had to work hard to get it, often competing with fellow students who were on the same mission in those libraries.

Modern English literature was the theme of English III. Dennis Biggins, father of the distinguished actor Jonathan 

and of other successful siblings, continued inspiring me as head of English.

I remember doing well in an essay on sexuality in the modern novel. I still recall much of my analysis, ranging through Sigmund Freud, D H Lawrence, Hemingway, Joyce, E M Forster and others beyond my memory.

I have just found an interesting article on E M Forster. It goes so much further than I went in my essay. There is always so much more to learn about everything isn’t there? 

I had a major problem while doing my final English exam. A sabre jet fighter plane from Williamtown air base, crashed just down the road from the University. Pandemonium broke out. There were sirens and bells ringing out and I quite lost my train of thought. The result was a viva voce test for me later.

Griff Duncan, former Principal of Newcastle Teachers College, became a Professor at the University and was one of my inspiring Education lecturers. Like so many of my teachers of that time he is now a university building. Our main concern during the course was to compare various education systems from around the world with our own.

I remember Scandinavian education, especially Finland. I have found a present day site that is worth visiting. It helps to explain the respect I felt for Finland all those years ago.

Another fascinating foreign insight came concerning the Jamaica Youth Corps. Here was a role model of interest to Australian teachers and I dreamed that one day I might be able to create a replica of it here. Alas that did not happen, but the philosophy of the West Indian locale influenced my teaching. This site well captures the spirit of the place.

Exam time loomed again according to the nature of things. I passed comfortably in Education and my viva voce English test went well. My teaching salary increased with this success, as I was now considered three year trained.

In the next year I studied Education II and History II. In Education we researched a ground breaking 1963 document from England, the Newsom Report: ‘Half Our Future.’ It made a case for children below the 50% level, the failures or under achievers, as opposed to the elite top decile.

That study of mine had a profound effect on my teaching. Later in life I found myself in classrooms with what were known as GA or General Activities pupils. These were depressed high school students who found normal lessons beyond them. 

Many of them were simply passing time until the school leaving age arrived. Such pupils as these were precisely the subject matter of the Newsom Report. I remember one of the pupils saying to me, “Gee Sir, you must be dumb having to teach us.” Spelling lists tended to include such words as danger, poison, wrong way go back, and keep off the grass. I did what I could to give them self respect, and helped them stand in other people’s shoes through drama.

History and philosophy of education were also my focus for study in this year. Another profound influence on the rest of my life. I learnt that education in Ancient Greece was not for all citizens. 

Privilege existed and best served the elite, for example excluding women and slaves. Plato’s emphasis on education for social justice has influenced me ever since. Here is a rather good contemporary summary of Plato’s impact.

We moved on to Saint Thomas Aquinas of the thirteenth century, a vast influence on universities in particular, but also on the earlier stages of child development. His emphasis on moral values has echoed into the present, especially in religious schools.This article is a very thorough treatment of Thomism. It is quite long and you may not read all of it, but I found it interesting.

I remember so well John Locke’s definition of early learning as writing on a blank slate or ‘tabula rasa.’ My clear recollection is probably because it is exactly opposite to my views. There is much of value in Locke’s writing, as I remember it, but I have a problem with the blank slate.

Rousseau’s Emile  was another inspiration. What a joy for teachers with big classes to dream of a one to one ratio: one teacher one pupil. Here is a summary of the influence of Rousseau that reminds me of my past studies.

I met John Dewey, the Progressivist, as part of this course. His burning desire to change society through the learning and verve of the young, inspired me. Social reform was Dewey’s mission.

I found Maria Montessori’s child-centred approach to teaching quite an inspiration. I note today that her influence is quite significant in Australia and throughout the world. 

Another interesting source of learning for me was the notion of Great Books, promoted by Robert Maynard Hutchins, among others. 

I found and still find the idea that a body of great books, say 150 in number, deserves to be an important part of learning. Books, especially in those early years of mine, were ongoing things and could be read over and over. Now we move into the cyber age but great books are still available, especially through Project Gutenberg. The choice of books for the list was in Hutchins’ day decided by tradition and the judgement of reputable authorities. I am aware of the criticism of this idea from the perspective of multicultural education. I am still thinking about that. Maybe the selection of books could be multicultural. Ideas do need to focus on the needs of the pupils.

Teaching turned out to be my profession for a long time. Meeting these university masters of educational thought, even though it was at night and often after a hard day, was a great motivation. I continued willingly.

History II was another moving experience. We focused on modern British history. I remember vividly the Irish question. The Act of Union of 1801 I learned didn’t ease the tension between the English and the Irish. On the contrary.

I remember especially the Great Hunger during the 1840s in Ireland. A million Irish men, women and children died as a result of the famine, largely caused by the potato blight that swept Ireland and elsewhere in Europe. Apparently the English landlords promoted only one variety of potato, which didn’t help. I recall my lecturer pointing out that although famine was killing so many people, Irish citizens behind barricades had to watch food being loaded onto ships as export.

Another vivid memory I have is of the Easter Rebellion of 1916. I learnt to love Willie Yeats’ wonderful poem about this tragic event that cost so many Irish and other lives. I reproduce the last part of it here:

From Easter, 1916

By William Butler Yeats

Too long a sacrifice

Can make a stone of the heart.   

O when may it suffice?

That is Heaven’s part, our part   

To murmur name upon name,   

As a mother names her child   

When sleep at last has come   

On limbs that had run wild.   

What is it but nightfall?

No, no, not night but death;   

Was it needless death after all?

For England may keep faith   

For all that is done and said.   

We know their dream; enough

To know they dreamed and are dead;   

And what if excess of love   

Bewildered them till they died?   

I write it out in a verse—

MacDonagh and MacBride   

And Connolly and Pearse

Now and in time to be,

Wherever green is worn,

Are changed, changed utterly:   

A terrible beauty is born.

One of my lecturers in English remarked that Yeats was the greatest poet since Pope. I was not equipped to confirm this, but I was certainly a fan of Yeats. I read his Cuchulain plays at another time, another place.

Success in this year’s examinations meant that I had eight subjects to my credit. One more remained and I would have my degree.

We moved from Maitland to Sydney at the end of this year. This meant I had to enrol at Sydney University for one final subject. In a fit of aberration I chose Economics I.

When that course began, the professor announced that 40% of the students enrolled would fail. Numbers studying that subject were very great. I was to fall victim to the fail category. It is hard to describe the misery of finding that news on a notice board with my wife and a young child in a stroller.

The following year I chose to study American History III. Such a good year it was. It certainly made up for the previous year’s disappointment. Memories still come flooding back.

Frederick Jackson Turner’s moving frontier was so much more than a Hollywood western. As well as creating a special way of looking at American history, Turner’s moving frontier also promoted imperialism. The Mahan Doctrine concerning naval bases outside America, also contributed to the imperialist push.

I read of the Dred Scott case with considerable compassion. I learnt of its contribution to the Civil War climate, in itself a fascinating unit of study.

I did an essay on Social Darwinism in the US. Darwin’s critical influence on such Robber Barons as Andrew Carnegie and JP Morgan et al., with the help of Herbert Spencer, made interesting reading. Those survival-of-the-fittest disciples were a tough bunch.

Another thing I remember well was William Jennings Bryan’s famous “Cross of Gold” speech. How could I forget it. It was so poignant. So relevant to the suffering American millions. So brilliant. Here is the last paragraph. A moving thing. He wanted to give silver to the poor at the expense of gold.

If they dare to come out in the open field and defend the gold standard as a good thing, we shall fight them to the uttermost, having behind us the producing masses of the nation and the world. Having behind us the commercial interests and the labouring interests and all the toiling masses, we shall answer their demands for a gold standard by saying to them, you shall not press down upon the brow of labor this crown of thorns. You shall not crucify mankind upon a cross of gold.

William Jennings Bryan, presidential candidate 1896, 1900, 1908

There, in Bryan, was a great speaker. It was quite sad in some ways that he met his doom at the Scopes Monkey Trial, even though his prosecution case was unjust. 

The Immigration Act of 1924 was another interesting part of American history to study. It was an obverse response to the massive immigration wave surging into America during the second half of the nineteenth and early twentieth century. No longer would teeming hordes enter the US via Ellis Island. Today, that past learning experience of mine about America, makes me view Australia’s present immigration policy more clearly.

From the Boston Tea Party to Wilson’s Fourteen Points American history reached out to me.  Australia has so many links with American life: films, cars, politics and world war history. I found non stop study fascinating and worth every moment.

To add to my enjoyment, I passed the exam. I was finally a Bachelor of Arts. Life was moving on in the right direction at last.


University Days and Nights

I have three degrees and all my studies were free, apart from a few insignificant charges. Why is this so? It’s because I am 86 and belong to the Silent Generation. That placed me before the neocon John Sydney Dawkins  put a hex on university learning. As Labor Education Minister 1987-91, he decided to make education a business instead of a right. Lucky me. I had no hellish university debt to pay off while I was raising children and getting a home.

I believe my category, the Silent Generation, those born between between 1928 and 1945, gets its name inter alia from the McCarthy era, where we were too afraid to speak lest we be declared communists.

I always wanted to go to university. I was disappointed not to qualify when I did the Leaving Certificate. I passed but didn’t matriculate. That left me two choices. I could do the exam again or wait until I turned 25 when I could apply for university entry.

Fate intervened to give me another place to study. There was a desperate need for teachers in the late Forties, thanks to the Baby Boomers (1946 -1964). My pass was good enough to get me into Bathurst Teachers College, so off I went.

Two years there and three years primary teaching gave me my Teaching Certificate. I was only 22 then.

Three years later, at the required mature age of 25+, I tried my luck as a correspondence student with the University of New England. My destiny at this time was not written in the stars.

Circumstances were not exactly conducive to part time study. I was teaching in a very isolated, one-teacher school: nineteen pupils, no electricity, no water laid on, a pit toilet and no weekend accommodation. I spent my weekends with my parents, seventy odd miles away in Raymond Terrace. Each of the summer Saturdays (I confess) was spent playing cricket for Stockton in the Newcastle cricket competition.

My first attempt at studies took me into English and Psychology. I was very naive still and as I have already said, very isolated. No company to discuss problems. No easily accessed library. My failure was written on the subway walls. I did so well in one psych essay the lecturer posted it to all the other students doing the course. But my exam technique didn’t exist.

To sit the exam I had to go into the nearest town. There I was in the hands of a minister of the church. A lovely man with a lovely wife. I was given tea and biscuits using superb crockery. 

That wonderful invigilator was a stickler for the rules. I was the sole candidate, working alone in a room. When my reading time began, he rang a little bell for me. Ten minutes later he rang me the little bell again to announce the beginning of writing time. Ten minutes before the end of examination time he rang the bell again and announced the warning. Finally the bell proclaimed the end of the examination. Those two people are a happy memory of a not so happy time.

My teaching went well however, which was very important to me, and I earned a very good inspection report. With cricket I was chosen in the Newcastle representative team. So I was not completely forlorn.

Things changed when I married in 1961. My wife Judy had a degree from Sydney University. She changed my life in so many ways. I was a virgin bachelor, 28 years old, with so much to learn about life, when we married. Somehow our togetherness helped me gain new confidence to try again to study.

Off I went to the University of Newcastle administration. I was interviewed by Professor Brin Newton-John, of Bletchley Park fame and father of Olivia. He gave me my chance. Another landmark in my life. He was gently encouraging and somehow I felt more confident after talking with him. I enrolled in English I and Psychology I.

So I was a university student at last, at the age of 28. But was I going to succeed at last?  I was standing on shifting ground. Part time status, teaching in the day and studying at night. I was not sure of myself. Lectures and seminars were a vivid adventure. I was quite nervous. I was what was called “provisionally matriculated.” To confirm my place in the university I had to pass in those two subjects. No room for failure this time.

My lecturers were god-like creatures to me – so aware of so much. So knowledgeable. So interesting. Some other part-time students and I formed a team to help each other during that first year. It was Warren, Norman, Valerie and Royce. We discussed lectures and seminars, found talking points to consider and filled in any gaps for each other due to absence. It was a good plan and made a difference, certainly for me. Later in life I discovered that Valerie married Brin Newton-John. By a strange twist of fate my wife Judy taught their children at Fort Street just before she died.

English did much to lift my spirits as a student. It touched my soul. During that first year I became a different person. I befriended Chaucer, the Romantic poets, and a number of more recent stars including Ernest Hemingway and Eugene O’Neill.

Psychology changed my life as well. I was surprised how much time was devoted to statistics. One psychology lecturer played a mean trick on some of us. We were given a test in a lecture and half the group (me included) were told on the test paper that the test would count towards our final mark and the other half were told it was merely practice and would not count. A nice little controlled experiment, but not so nice for some of us who found the test very hard.

Chaucer was a different story. I loved the sound of his language. I learnt of his importance when he chose to write in English in the fourteenth century. I also loved his stories. I laughed at the Miller’s Tale, the Wife of Bath’s Tale taught me about women’s “soverainte” (“mastery”) in relationships, and the Pardoner’s Tale was to me an exposé of the human trend towards ruthless self-interest.

A passion for words and their meanings became part of my makeup  during that first year. I learnt for example, that Chaucer’s horses moved at a leisurely canter because they were going to Canterbury. I remember doing an essay based on the Oxford Dictionary’s pages  dealing with the word “commonwealth,” which was originally written  as two words: “common weal.” That memory includes visions of big dictionary pages telling the history of the word and making me realise that words in dictionaries are potent, alive and changeable things.

Assignments on semantic change were significant focuses of study. I found this most interesting. I remember King Lear describing himself as a “foolish fond old man” when “fond” meant “foolishly affectionate.”

Pray, do not mock me. I am a very foolish fond old man, Fourscore and upward, not an hour more nor less. I fear I am not in my perfect mind.

Act 4 Scene 7

I remember too my discovery that once the word ‘clue’ had nothing to do with Sherlock Holmes but referred to a ball of string. You can find similar unexpected meanings here in a contemporary resource, to help you taste the spirit of my earlier semantic adventures. There is also an excellent talk on the power of words.

With psychology I was sane enough. I moved with the spirit of investigating the human mind. Statistics challenged me but I survived. Life is just a radical equation after all.

As for the meat of the subject, my lecturers seemed to belong to the supporters of Spearman’s General Intelligence or g factor. Gardener’s multiple intelligence theories (the ones I lean towards today) had not yet arrived.

My study time then was actually a golden age of the Behaviourists (alas) and I gave them the respect as a student they didn’t deserve. John B Watson and BF Skinner were part of that experience. Things are different today, as you can confirm from more recent research. 

So much to learn. That was the experience of mine in a university of the Sixties! It’s still true isn’t it? Teaching had to come first however, and took up so much of my time and energy. I was a primary teacher in Maitland, and journeyed down to Newcastle after school for the lectures. I did the university assignments at night, often working to dawn or further when essays were due. 

I did well in an essay for psychology questioning the categorisation of humanity into races. The English essays went well too. Wordsworth, Blake, Shelley, Keats and Coleridge became new  idols. I understood their revulsion concerning the factory system and other aspects of their nineteenth century life, and I shared their rebellious spirit. Here is a contemporary site I have just visited. It reminds me of those days Romantic, and takes me a little further.

One strong memory I have is how I identified with the solitary wanderer of Romanticism. Here is one of the many poems I read. Not the most significant poem, but one I remember well.

The end of that first year came so quickly. All of the assignments were done on time. Then loomed the exams. I will never forget that anxiety. To my credit, at last I had good examination technique. I planned the time and no more leaving out whole questions.

Waiting for the results was a major agony. But I had a wife this time to share the burden. Wonder of wonders I passed in both subjects.

So I had arrived. Seven more subjects to complete. Each year to be a separate challenge.

Year 2 saw me studying English II and History I. The journey to knowledge continued.

I remember being swept away by the majestic imagery of Milton’s Paradise Lost mainly, but also by Paradise Regained. Coleridge’s claim that Satan was the real hero of Paradise Lost was quite but not completely convincing. The description of the war between the Satanic forces and the angels is so vivid and imaginative (Book 6).

My contact with lecturers continued to inspire me. Harri Jones in particular, an expert on Dylan Thomas, was a source of real influence. A lovely person, so knowledgeable in English and a little inclined to be tipsy in the late evening of his lectures. I got to know him a little better and gave him a lift in my car. He left his hat behind but I returned it later. I was very sad to learn, some years later, that he was drowned, falling into the sea I believe. His teaching of Under Milkwood was so interesting, as was that play’s radio genre.

I read James Joyce’s Ulysses right through. That was a major effort but a great enlightenment. We were told that some people regarded the whole work as a gigantic lyric poem. I loved the experience of the stream of consciousness.

What a brilliant idea Joyce had! To portray the continuous process of thought. I also learned that authorised printing of the book would require a large black dot after the last words, indicating the final moment of Bloom’s awareness.

History was another adventure. I had failed the subject in the Leaving Certificate. I also failed at teachers college – my only failure I think. I had a thing about the subject then, just after the school failure. Studies at this level were a different matter.

I remember the Peterloo Massacre very emotionally, and Shelley’s passionate poem inspired by the massacre. The last stanza of the poem is very moving:

‘Rise like Lions after slumber

In unvanquishable number–

Shake your chains to earth like dew

Which in sleep had fallen on you–

Ye are many — they are few.’

From “The Masque Of Anarchy” by Percy B. Shelley

I suppose it is all my teaching of the underprivileged that makes me feel that way. Here is a good print of the poem if you have the time and energy to read all of it.

We dealt with the great reforms in England during the nineteenth century. 

1832 and the Great Reform Bill was a major point of study. I learnt it was a significant event, but not as great as it sounded. Many more changes were needed. There is a neat summary of it here. Goodbye to rotten boroughs!

1867 was our next focus. “One man one vote” was still a distant dream despite the changes of this time.

As for women, they still had a long time to wait: until 1928 I seem to remember. Yes that’s right.

I recall my fascination with the Chartists. Idealism has been around for a long time.

I love chocolate, although I am not supposed to eat it these days. Maybe that is partly why Seebohm Rowntree’s study of the poor of York in 1899 moved me profoundly. It led to the beginning of the welfare state in England.

Sport was another reason I was now beginning to feel at home at the university. Regulations demanded that because I was a student, I had to leave the Stockton cricket team and play for Newcastle University. I made many university friends in the cricket side of things.

Also I was chosen to represent the Newcastle Cricket Association against South Australia, Western Australia and the Cricket Club of India and I was also selected in an Australian Universities team. I was awarded a Blue by the university. My skill on the cricket field helped my confidence quite a lot, but far outstripped my ability as a student. Nevertheless I kept doggedly on with my studies.

And what about the second year of exams? Wonder of wonders, I passed again.

I will share some more of my journey in my next post. Au revoir. 


Only a dream at this stage

Sheep’s Clothing Words

Image Attribution: Creative Commons

Words That Seem Harmless But There’s A Wolf Inside


Australian way of life

Balanced budget

Border protection



Free market

Level playing field

Low taxes


Market forces


Private enterprise

Small government

Will of the people

Australian way of life: 

This expression contains the seeds of racism. It can be a first step in a tirade against foreigners. The White Australia Policy was our way of life for a long time. I can remember in my childhood innocently making fun of different races coming to live with us. I remember too the tones of acceptance when the term “new Australian” was introduced.

Donald Trump provides a strong illustration for another country. Burt Neuborne reveals Trump’s version of the assaults on the American way of life. 

Trump’s tweets and speeches similarly demonise his political opponents. Trump talks about the country being ‘infested’ with dangerous aliens of colour. He fantasises about jailing Hillary Clinton, calls Mexicans rapists, refers to ‘shithole countries,’ degrades anyone who disagrees with him, and dreams of uprooting thousands of allegedly disloyal bureaucrats in the State Department, the Environmental Protection Agency, the FBI, and the CIA, who he calls ‘the deep state’ and who, he claims, are sabotaging American greatness. Source

Implicit in Trump’s speeches is a glorification of his nation’s way of life and a determination to verify American exceptionalism.

Balanced Budget:

This is a catchcry of every neocon. It is one of their excuses for privatisation. For small government. It is the declared goal, the mostly unfulfilled dream of politician-treasurers. It is why welfare, hospitals, education and pensioners suffer reduced financial support in Australia and elsewhere. It has been a longstanding missed target. But the dream lingers on. Stephen Grenville, writing in the Financial Review makes a relevant point.

Meanwhile, the Thatcher/Reagan revolution was underway, extolling free markets, private enterprise and radical deregulation. The moment was right, as both the USA and the UK had sclerotic institutions in need of shaking up. Like all revolutions, it was driven by fanatics and went too far. But the central fiscal message stuck: governments should run small balanced budgets. Source

It is very striking to note how Covid-19 has reversed this way of thinking. The virus has changed the world and taught us a lesson. According to your sense of values, some problems actually demand you run into debt to solve them. Maybe now there is hope for the poor suffering souls of the earth.

Border Protection:

A connotation of this term is that borders are under threat. Fear of outsiders by voters is a very useful political tool. It helps make excuses for highly lucrative weapons manufacture, as well as laws that restrict the freedom of your enemies or rivals. Indefinite detention of refugees is an example. Amazingly, these suffering fellow humans of ours are so often managed by privatisation.

The Department of Home Affairs has begun taking steps to outsource its visa processing to private service providers… Home Affairs claims privatisation will improve efficiency and reduce costs. But it also comes with major risks, some we’ve seen already play out in the privatisation of immigration control through commercialised immigration detention, such as on Christmas Island. Source


Must we constantly compete to achieve perfection? Has not cooperation in times of crisis saved many a society? Look at the current Covid-19 episode to see what good cooperation can do throughout the world. And should even our children be forced into competitive situations?

Alfie Kohn has some interesting ideas on this.

There is good evidence that productivity in the workplace suffers as a result of competition. The research is even more compelling in classroom settings. David Johnson, a professor of social psychology at the University of Minnesota, and his colleagues reviewed all the studies they could find on the subject from 1924 to 1980. Sixty-five of the studies found that children learn better when they work cooperatively as opposed to competitively, eight found the reverse, and 36 found no significant difference. The more complex the learning task, the worse children in a competitive environment fared. Source


Democracy is these days a well-worn, idealistic platitude. Recently some leaders, elected by the majority, have behaved appallingly. There are so many examples from Hitler to Thatcher to Nixon to Trump. If the majority choose a leader, does that mean that the leader and the associated crew will automatically work in the best interests of a nation? No.

The tyranny of the majority is a very real plague in many democracies. Witness the lot of minorities such as muslims, Kurds, hispanics, indigenous peoples and refugees in so many unjust, political situations. Minorities should not be ignored in civilised society. Unfortunately, because their votes don’t count, they are so often treated as if they don’t exist.

A person may cause evil to others not only by his actions but by his inactions, and in either case he is justly accountable to them for the injury. John Stuart Mill: On Liberty Fourth Edition, Longmans London, 1869, p.24.

Free market:

The free market in my experience is a myth. Like the level playing field it doesn’t exist. There are too many distortions of freedom. Even if it did exist, it would be a cruel thing. Kimberley Amadeo sums this aspect up quite well with a simple statement.

The key mechanism of a market economy is competition. As a result, it has no system to care for those who are at an inherent competitive disadvantage. That includes the elderly, children, and people with mental or physical disabilities. Source

I would add the homeless to the list of disadvantaged, voiceless minorities.

Level playing field:

The existence of a level playing field depends on equality of opportunity. The fantasy of untrammelled, level, magical market forces that intrinsically produce the best outcomes, has been blown to pieces throughout recent history.

If you look at the great playing fields, such as the Sydney Cricket Ground, you will find they are not level. Indeed the star players are those who use the slope to their own advantage. It’s the same with business. Expansion is the goal. Collusion is the reflex action. The playing field is deliberately kept askew.

Goliaths like Woolworths and Coles go to great lengths to control product sources; this gives them dominance over prices. That playing field is not level. For example, many a dairy farm has come close to grief because of vertical milk integration – a strategy whereby a company owns or controls its suppliers, distributors, or retail locations to control its value or supply chain. (Google Dictionary)

As he so often does, Noam Chomsky has some important thoughts.

The “dominant theory” is that of the rich and powerful, who have regularly advocated liberalisation for others, and sometimes for themselves as well, once they have achieved a dominant position and hence are willing to face competition on a “level playing field”–that is, one sharply tilted in their favour. The stand is sometimes called “kicking away the ladder” by economic historians: first we violate the rules to climb to the top, then we kick way the ladder so that you cannot follow us, and we righteously proclaim: “Let’s play fair, on a level playing field.” Source

Low taxes:

Billionaire citizens and their mouthpieces are hypersensitive concerning taxation. They constantly denigrate welfare policies as sources of big taxes.

This you will understand if you do the arithmetic. Tax me 5% of my $50,000 annual salary and you get $2,500. Tax me 5% of my billion and you get $50,000,000. Now that is really a sizeable amount. It is well worth spruiking the constant propaganda against high taxes, in an effort to keep it.

Call me a tax lover if you like because I am. I see it as a kind of crowd funding. If you want good hospitals, good education, good public transport, good lifestyle in general, you should be willing to pay for it. The pain is small when everyone pays. If your paying population is 25 million, 25 million times $2,500 (5% of my hypothetical annual wage) is a lot of money and would help to keep ownership and control of all the resources in the hands of the people. Really quite a small price though, for each individual to pay.


The meaning I am interested in is this: the authority to carry out a policy, regarded as given by the electorate to a party or candidate that wins an election. (Google Dictionary) Such alleged authority is so often misused.

For example, if your election policy is border protection and you are voted in, does this give you the right to forego habeas corpus with asylum seekers or even terrorism suspects? I don’t think so. But authoritarian governments, especially past Fascist entities, would disagree with me.

Society can and does execute its own mandates: and if it issues wrong mandates instead of right, or any mandates at all in things with which it ought not to meddle, it practises a social tyranny more formidable than many kinds of political oppression… John Stuart Mill: On Liberty Fourth Edition, Longmans London, 1869, p. 13.

Market Forces:

The belief in the essential nature and validity of the free market is a present day religion. Speeches linked to the stock market refer to trust of the free market as axiomatic.

Noam Chomsky sums up the deception reality well. Regarding this religion he is a learned atheist. 

And the principle of really existing free market theory is: free markets are fine for you, but not for me. That’s, again, near a universal. So you — whoever you may be — you have to learn responsibility, and be subjected to market discipline, it’s good for your character, it’s tough love, and so on, and so forth. But me, I need the nanny State, to protect me from market discipline, so that I’ll be able to rant and rave about the marvels of the free market, while I’m getting properly subsidised and defended by everyone else, through the nanny State. And also, this has to be risk-free. So I’m perfectly willing to make profits, but I don’t want to take risks. If anything goes wrong, you bail me out. Source


Once in the days of the guilds, craftsmen survived through pride in their work. The apprentice on graduating became a journeyman, travelling to find even more skills to devote to his craft. Today things are very different.

In the age of efficient markets, cutting costs has become a major philosophy. Why spend costly hours refining your work when you can get slave labour to do it overseas for half the cost? Lower the price and elasticity of demand makes you rich. To Hell with pride in your work. This is the age of miracles and wonder. Gesture hypnotically and the product sells.

Private Enterprise:

Private enterprise is a euphemism for unlimited profiteering. Its motive is financial gain ahead of service. As a young Australian I was very “rich.” I owned two banks, an airline and more than one airport, a very functional post office, an insurance business, electricity generators, well paid up water storage systems, serum laboratories, aerospace technologies, an industry development corporation and a fine government printer, to name but a few of my riches. One government publication explains this really well.

In a plague of mindless efforts to balance budgets and pay off debts, people have drastically reduced, since the 1990s, my control of my wealth. Instead of creatively building sources of productivity, above and beyond what you can dig up or cut down, the drones of government have sold off the family jewels to get their funds.

Small government:

This is the axiom of the kakistocracy. It is the catchcry of the billionaire activist to promote privatisation for his own benefit. It is a scream of self interest well illustrated in Australian history. To keep the government small you sell off what you can to the corporate world.

For more details, go back to that government publication.

Will of the people: 

Fascism promised renewal of the nation and irresistible power to the people. Are we in danger of a fascist revival today? Note, for example, Donald Trump’s promise to the people: “Make America great again!” Jonathan Wolff has some relevant words on this posture.

Ours is the age of the rule by ‘strong men’: leaders who believe that they have been elected to deliver the will of the people. Woe betide anything that stands in the way, be it the political opposition, the courts, the media or brave individuals. Source

Liberal democratic institutions, such as those we have now, exist only so long as people believe in them. When that belief evaporates, change can be rapid. Beware leaders riding a wave of crude nationalism. Beware democracy submerging into a vague notion of the will of the people. But why now? In 1920s Germany, it was obvious. Loc. cit.

These additional words of Burt Neuborne (loc.cit) add meaning:

The Nazis did not overthrow the Weimar Republic. It fell into their hands as the fruit of Hitler’s satanic ability to mesmerise enough Germans to trade their birthright for a pottage of scapegoating, short-term economic gain, xenophobia, and racism. It could happen here.

My word, some of those words in that list have important, subtle meanings. All of them in fact.


Revived from an earlier post: “A Little Book Of Monsters”

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