A Lifetime Continued

Chapter 2:  Teachers College 1951-2

Never been away from home before. Little black sheep trying to find his way. A child in a big world, I was very daunted by the new social and study demands of college life. Very shy with girls; came from a family of boys. Good at cricket but weak in the social thicket. 

No longer a clerk with Trans Australia Airlines (TAA). Teaching seemed to me a rise in social status at the time, but I was very unsure of myself. Many of us were interviewed at the Bridge Street Head Office. We had to sing a song. We were checked for left-handedness. I passed so here I was at BTC.

My self-confidence was not helped by my lack of success with the Leaving Certificate at Fort Street Boys High School: I passed but didn’t qualify for university. Now you had the chance to study at this learning place. A new life beckoned but oh! those self-doubts made you tremble in your boots.

This letter came. 

Dear Mr. R. Levi,

I have been informed by the Director General of Education that you have been awarded a scholarship tenable at the Bathurst Teachers’ College. On your success in this regard I congratulate you, and assure you that when you report to the College to commence professional training for your chosen vocation you will receive a very hearty welcome.

This college is residential for both men and women students who do not live in Bathurst. If your home is not in Bathurst accommodation has been reserved for you. Here blankets and linen are provided, but it is essential that the following articles should be brought by residing students:

1 bath towel

1 ironing blanket 4’ by 2’

1 ironing sheet 4’ by 2’

1 linen bag

1 travelling rug

1 serviette ring (with name).

(Rest of letter sheet missing)

L.J. Allen Principal

That welcome helped allay my fears a little. Yet, when I walked into that place, I felt rather like a low ranking soldier in No Man’s Land.

What a big dormitory the men had! Separate bedrooms – four to a room. Better off than the women you later learned. Workmen around. Still building the place, for example the women’s dormitory.

Lots of fellow students, around 130 I believe, in the first intake of the College. No names here to limit the sadness re. those who are not now alive.

You can be lonely even when surrounded by people. That is true isn’t it? Gradually friends emerged. New friends of a lifetime to come. At the time of writing more than two score are still alive and still friends. Special friends today.

I am much closer now as an octogenarian to fellow graduates than I was in those two formative years at the College. Knew my room mates then well and a small number of others, but my footsteps trembled as I made my way through all the pass or fail challenges.

Then there were the lecturers in that first year. A very special array.

They were a profound influence on me and my life evermore.

College Staff 1951

Principal:  Lionel J. Allen, B.A, B.Ec,

Vice Principal:  Wilfred E. Hart, M.A., Dip. Ed.

Registrar:  Thomas C. Upton

Librarian:  Terence S. Paul

Arts and Crafts

Ellen M. Waugh, T.D.A.  


Bernard Greaves, M.A., Dip. Ed.


Shirley J.  Bonner, B. Sc., Dip. Ed.


Allan R.  Bunker, M.A.,  Dip.Ed.


Frank E. Atchison, B.A. , 

John S. Gunn, B.A. 

Archibald R. H. Millar, B.A.,Dip. Ed.


Elvie G. Cornell, L.R.S.M., L.Mus A.

Physical Education

Betty J. Pooler, Dip. Phys. Ed.

Russel C. Porter,  B.A., Dip. Phys. Ed.


Charles P. McCausland, M.A., Dip. Ed

* * *

Vivat Academia! Vivant Professores!

Unending Influence

Those members of the BTC teaching staff became very powerful and durable role models. How little of their real importance I knew at the time! They were destined to add much to education beyond the College. Alan Bunker, for example, rose to great administrative heights in the New South Wales Department of Education. John Gunn inter alia became Dean of Arts at Sydney University. A University of Western Sydney library at Kingswood honours the name of Lionel Allen. Ellen Waugh, Betty Pooler (McDonald) and Frank Atchison have enriched our reunions several times.

A Point of Interest

Badge and Motto

The College motto was chosen after Arch Millar (Lecturer in English) had sought the advice of a friend at Sydney University who was a Latin scholar.  Several phrases incorporating the idea of teaching were supplied and “Doctus Doce” (Having been taught, teach) was preferred.  The design of the coat of arms was the work of Ellen Waugh (Lecturer in Art). The badge was adopted by the College early in 1951. 

Thus we were introduced to teaching so that, having been taught, (doctus doce) we could go forth and teach. Slowly those brilliant teachers began to unfurl teaching excitement in me. 

I began to love teaching maths; strange for me who failed in General Mathematics for the Leaving Certificate. Loved the little classroom strategies to drill tables and combinations. I also met TS Eliot via his Wasteland, and the side-splitting humour of James Thurber via American Literature and The Night The Bed Fell. I was also a pirate once.

This through Gilbert and Sullivan’s Pirates of Penzance. How could I forget those performances of ours under the guidance especially of Elvie Cornell and Arch Millar? The melodies still run around my brain.

Drama too was my special study. How well I remember The Browning Version by Terence Rattigan! “Divorce you then. I’ll not have our dirty linen dragged through the courts.” That was one of my lines sixty years ago, still there in the mind after almost seven decades. Such an insight too, into teaching through Crocker-Harris and Taplow. 

So many other things to study as primary teachers: craft, physical education, biology, history, geography, mathematics, general science, music including recorder playing, and education itself. Such a range and variety of knowledge! So much to learn in just two years.

Practice teaching at Bathurst Primary School shook the rafters of the mind as you stood before a class for the first time – all those eyes looking at you expectantly – waiting. Then there was the steam train to practice in Lithgow in the second year. Travelling together with so many fellow students. A few practical jokes too trivial to mention here.

Our Practice Teaching Lithgow Train

College life was a growing up process for me, and quite a few others I think. It was a long journey.

College sport was one of the stepping stones. I was playing Grade cricket in Sydney with Glebe-South Sydney, hitch-hiking on Friday nights and back again on Sunday. The Vice Principal, Wilfred Hart, put a stop to that half-way through the season, suggesting it was harming my studies, so I then played for the College in the Bathurst competition. 

I also enjoyed playing Rugby for the College. Scored a try in the first intercollegiate against Newcastle and spent six weeks on crutches with a sprained ankle. Yes sport was my thing. I felt up to standard in that aspect of College life.

Got to know some of the immigrant workers. They were busy completing the college buildings, cleaning or doing other odd jobs. They, in the isolation of a strange land, seemed to me my kindred spirits. I played them chess many times. Can’t remember winning.

One of the conditions of Australian citizenship for the “New Australians” was two years of work in a country centre such as Bathurst. Dr Oliver Fiala, later distinguished university lecturer and educational drama guru, was one of those workmen.

I was first chair of the Student Recreation Union in my brief moments of maturity. We organised the Saturday night dances. When the musicians had their tea-break I played the drums and Peter Connolly played the piano as the dancing continued.

National Service

Three months of 1951-52 were devoted to National Service for some of us. Very few of us were model soldiers. Alan Beggs and I in particular were dedicated peacemakers. No country would dare to go to war with soldiers of our standard. Our militarisation taught us endurance if nothing else.

Our first task on arrival at the Holsworthy military establishment was to visit a hut containing straw for the mattresses of our beds. We left those beds relentlessly at 6 AM for roll-call every day of our service. Learning tasks included cleaning your rifle, 303 firing practice on a rifle range, firing practice with Bren Guns, firing practice with Owen Guns, throwing hand grenades, firing EY Rifles (hand grenade propulsion devices), five-mile route marches, and in my case later artillery experience firing 25 pounders. Firing them was frightening enough – hearing the loud noise and watching the tracer trajectory – compassion flowed for the imaginary enemies.

My job with the artillery was to broadcast instructions to the gun aimer. I might say, “Go right one hundred.” This would mean that one of the three guns in the battery would fire the next shell 100 yards to the right but at the same distance. The other two guns would not be firing (to save shells) but would follow the firing directives. When the officer in charge agreed that the guns were on target, all three would fire.

One day I remember especially was a visit to a display of military weapons and equipment. As we wandered among the display items, a deep voice came over the public address system:

“Men. Here is a song you won’t hear in civvy street.”

It was Burl Ives singing: “I am a bachelor and live with my son and we work at the weaver’s trade.” The benefits of army life for us included plenty of cigarettes and banned music.

Sport was also part of our National Service. I was chosen in the Old Holsworthy eleven to play New Holsworthy. Pat Crawford as a fast bowler on the mat was a substantial weapon for our rivals. He was very quick. One of his bouncers sailed so far over Keith Heron’s wicket-keeping head it went almost for six wides. In little more than a year Pat was opening the bowling for Australia at Lords.

George VI, our King, died during our National Service – February 6, 1952. Both Holsworthy battalions gathered in tribute. Something unusual happened just before that grand parade. Somebody stole the altar wine from the company chapel. The commandant’s words still echo.

“Men! Somebody has stolen the altar wine from our chapel. Men! I say this to you: it’s pretty bloody low. And mark my words! We will find the thief.”

The passing out parade at the end of our service is also a vibrant memory. So many of us at that final function. I remember being thankful that I didn’t follow the example of many of my comrades who actually did pass out during the ceremony. Such a humiliating experience, gun and vibrant young soldier lying side by side on the ground. The officers were compassionate however, and the victims were excused from further ceremony.

We males of the National Service group, on returning to College, were placed in a separate section for our Second Year studies. We had a lot of catching up to do, but we seemed to manage. One of our number came top in the final examination. It was not me.

I did graduate however, passing almost all subjects. Details of my one failure I shall not share here. Why should I? I worked hard to improve that discipline in later life.

Graduation was a special time. It was my first contact with Gaudeamus Igitur.  My first real discovery of the joy of learning started there. For some reason the College staff decided on an order of graduating beginning with ‘l’ not ‘a’. I was thus the first, in my era at BTC, to walk the stage and graduate. Not an order of merit.

There we were then. The first step in becoming teachers. What lay ahead?

Well, first was appointment anywhere in New South Wales – Finley, White Cliffs, Albury, Jackadgery or Bondi were all possibilities. Secondly came three years of teaching experience, each of the years to be supplemented by Departmental Inspection. 

If those visits by an inspector produced satisfactory results, supported by the headmaster (if you were in a staffed school) then  we would no longer be teachers on probation. A teaching certificate would be awarded. We students of 1951 had signed for a bond, £200 I think, and had to complete those three years or forfeit the bond. Classes were big and the work was a challenge.

So began my 50 years of teaching.

3 thoughts on “A Lifetime Continued

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