Yesterday Is Not All That Far Away

Having Been Taught Go Forth And Teach

Old age is not a preparation for dying. It is a time when your database of life should be shared. Wisdom doesn’t grow on trees. It comes best after you have tried the alternatives. Made the mistakes that make life such an uncertain thing. And if you are lucky, had the little triumphs that justify your existence.

In other words, we ancients all have a story to tell. The joy is we are still alive to tell it.

So here I sit at my desk. I speak with my hands and this much loved computer. How different things are from fifty years ago and that typewriter with all that liquid paper!

So let us roam through some memories. Share the experience honestly. All systems go.

Suddenly I am back in a school for the blind where once I taught drama. I was a visiting lecturer in education from Nepean College Of Advanced Education who used Friday afternoons for this joyous task. Lower primary first for an hour or so, and then upper primary.

My main emphasis was on dramatic improvisations although I did write some plays which were written up in Braille. The great teacher Dorothy Heathcote used to say that child drama is giving children the chance to stand in other people’s shoes.

We stood in a lot of shoes. Animals’ paws too. I shall never forget a dear Vietnamese refugee child who had no idea what a cat’s purring was. There just weren’t any cats amid the napalm of Vietnam.

I got into a little trouble with the upper primary group. A very knowledgeable boy had this to say to me: “The Pterodactyl did NOT fly, it glided.”

So what did we do with drama to share life with these children? We did improvised role play especially. The younger ones moved as different animals and went through various life situations such as posting letters or crossing the road. The upper primary were interested in dinosaurs especially, hence my problem with the Pterodactyl, so we mimed and improvised prehistoric scenes as well as life situations such as getting help from a policeman.

I was at the time in tune with such figures at Peter Slade and Brian Way, as well as Dorothy Heathcote so the children and I improvised with great joy along the lines these figures suggested. It’s around fifty years ago now so the expanded details are not with me.

An associated joy I have was a student theatre company I founded at Nepean CAE. It was called The Phoenix People and performed in schools with support from teachers. Here are some pictures of them at the school for the blind.

In 1965, the Belgrade Theatre Company of Coventry in England formed the first ever Theatre in Education (TiE) company, dedicated to using theatrical performance and drama workshops to explore issues of cultural, social, political and moral significance as part of a free service to schools and the young people of Coventry. The Belgrade Theatre was built in 1958 as part of the reconstruction of Coventry after World War II.

My company at Nepean sought to follow the same pattern set by the Belgrade group. We sent letters to neighbouring schools seeking subjects to write plays about. We then wrote the plays and performed them in the schools. The actors were all education students (in a BEd program) and the drama they were involved in was clearly linked to their future teaching careers.

Memories of the plays still linger forcibly in my mind. One was about King Arthur and his conquest of a dragon. I remember an infant getting right behind King Arthur. “Come on King,” he cried standing up with genuine support during the fight with the dragon.

Another was about Billy Button, a convict boy who was transported to New South Wales and ultimately killed. The Emperor’s New Clothes is another memory that remains. The performances took place in the 1980s.

Here is a scene from the Billy Button play. Billy was only fourteen. The young woman who played him was so convincing.

We dressed the Emperor in very funny underclothes. He marched through the audience accompanied by Verdi’s Grand March  from Aida. Ludicrously funny. Unforgettable.

A funny thing about memories. You can never tell when they are going skip into your awareness. Just now I am remembering my one-teacher school experience: 19 children K to 10 plus me.

It was a remote school that, in the hills of the Hunter Valley in New South Wales; just a school building, a church and scattered farm houses. No electricity, no water laid on, a pit for the toilet and a narrow, dirt road with lots of bumps and potholes.

Three of the seniors were studying by correspondence and had to attend school until they turned fifteen. I taught reading, writing, mathematics, social studies, music, art, craft, natural science and cricket at lunchtime. We had a garden too that had a lemon tree. Parents looked after that garden in the school holidays. The lemon tree was invaded by gall wasp and I had to cut off the infected stems and burn them.

Those people have stayed in my mind down the years. The farmer’s son who got rid of a snake for us by chasing it with a stick. He was a fine human, a good runner. I gave him a pair of running shoes. There was the head of the parents’ association who was very helpful with some of the inevitable challenges. He was quite an old man, constantly doing what he could to help “the teacher.”

I have come to see, since those formative years of mine, every classroom as a dynamic stage. It is a unique place. An infinitely variable combination of lives. The teacher’s task is to belong to that place. To make it a sanctuary of peace, comfortable efficiency and inspiration.

Those children are still with me. There was a little child with an iodine deficiency who had to be given thyroxine before school started. She was a sweet little doll. There was the teenage daughter of the parents’ committee head. She was so serious and something of a mother figure to the younger ones. The boys were all sons of farmers. With the older girls they did the milking before they came to school. I hope they are all still alive.

I was inspected by a school inspector during my two tears there. A fine mentor he was named John Archer. He died quite young but he is still alive for me. I still heed his advice and am glad to name him. The opening line of his report said: “Mr Levi is a young man of high ideals.” Two years after that visit, at a subsequent inspection, he promoted me to the First Primary Promotions List. 

The replacement of the inspectorial system with show piece CVs and interviews has been a sad loss for education. Where should teachers be judged? In the classroom. That is where the magic of teaching happens, not in a back room committee meeting or on a flamboyant self praising history.

Memories are like naughty children – rather unpredictable. I’m having memories just now of a city class I made a film with. It was about time travel. I wrote this song as the stimulus for the action.

I Was Born About Ten Thousand Years Ago

I was born about ten thousand years ago

And I’ve seen more things than you can ever know

Archimedes in a bath Aristophanes raise a laugh

I was born about ten thousand years ago

I was born about ten thousand years ago

And I’ve seen more things than you can ever know

I saw Hitler’s ugly mo and Mussolini stub his toe

I was born about ten thousand years ago

I was born about ten thousand years ago

And I’ve seen more things than you can ever know

I saw Cook who took a look and Darwin write his book

I was born about ten thousand years ago

I was born about ten thousand years ago

And I’ve seen more things than you can ever know

Though time has passed me by yet I will always try

To see more things than you can ever know

I don’t have a memory of the other verses. We used the song as a prelude and again as a finale.

Now this class of 28 was a class of under achievers from Year 8 and Year 9. As an experienced teacher I was given the task of achieving something with these under achievers. I didn’t teach them calculus. 

But going back through history: wars, revolutions, plagues, volcanic eruptions and discovery of a new world, got them in. We had the Professor, the inventor of the time machine, and an assistant scientist. The rest had the task of creating historic events. We travelled back through time in the film.

That class met in Room 28; the Chips Rafferty Theatre was its name as Chips had once attended that school. We met once a week for two forty-minute periods. Filming had to be spread over two weeks.

In the first week we were back in Ancient Greece when the filming stopped. We planned to film the return journey to the present the following week. Then came a major problem. 

The Professor and time machine operator was expelled from the school. So we had to rewrite the script, having the Professor called back on government secret business and the assistant scientist rescued by a reserve model time machine.

Those children and I were important to each other. We shared a common cause. I have discovered since that one of them now works for the Australian ABC. I remember him so well as he was noticeable in that group. Full of the energy we all felt in that wonderful time lapse place.

I end this part of my memoir with a poem I wrote in April, 2004. It links up with time and how classrooms go on in your mind when you teach there.

Rock and Roll 

You must remember this
A kiss is just a kiss, a sigh is just a sigh.
The fundamental things apply
As time goes by.

“As Time Goes By”

Music and words by Herman Hupfeld

I taught my music class Rock and Roll today, 

Gave them the themes from a long time away, 

Felt the beat grab them, shake them and shiver them, 

Saw the words wrap them, post them and deliver them, 

Heard the old ghosts like sirens of the sea 

And recalled when they sang the same songs for me. 

I heard current laughter and present time cheers 

The attention still lingering across the years, 

Bill Haley still rocking across the clock’s face, 

Big Boppa yet fingering Chantilly Lace, 

Buddy Holly still loving his sweet Peggy Sue 

And the Marcels still claiming that the moon is blue. 

I taught my music class Rock and Roll today, 

Gave them the themes from a long time away, 

Felt the beat grab them, shake them and shiver them, 

Saw the words wrap them, post them and deliver them, 

Heard the old ghosts like sirens of the sea 

And learned that such things will last longer than me. 



Even More Miscreants

The Double Dealing Diphthong

The Double Dealing Diphthong would struggle with the truth

It ranted and raved throughout each day

And constantly stood aloof

The problem was the Vowels both long and short

It accused them of dishonesty

And integrity to be bought

So the debate raged as all were engaged

In a squabble where things turned sour

The language was rough with no anger assuaged

They argued hour by hour

The trouble was the way things were said

With A E I O and U

The Diphthong declared good diction was dead

And this caused a hullabaloo

The Vowels fought back with potent attack

And offered a number of tips

The trouble they said was the shape of the back

And the lazy use of the lips

Not so said the the Diphthong against the trend

Extremely sure of itself

There’s a desperate need it duly agreed to carefully mend the blend

But the Vowels demurred and loudly chaffed

Declaring the Diphthong wrong

Then highly amused they raucously laughed

And burst into happy song

Now a point of interest is the change today

There are signs now of a solution

The letters’ betters have something to say

Approaching a revolution

It is like this, if things go amiss,

Whether they’re alive or neuter

You can rescue your thinking from its abyss

Just hand over to a computer


The Over-talkative Robot

Once on a lot there was a robot

Whose workings went badly amiss

Most of its functions were in the right slot

But in one way it was remiss

It started to chatter and just wouldn’t cease

That prattle could be heard coast to coast

With clatter so loud it disturbed the peace

And would shatter the nerves of a ghost

The voice was so loud it seemed very proud

To radiate sound like a stentor

Its words intruded in volume so loud

It became a virtual tormentor

The minds of the owners sought disowners

And they were extremely nervous

The words of the robot were hardly a bonus

With its pleasure to be of service

But on and on and on went that voice

Entrapped in its own repetition

The listeners were stricken without any choice

Prone to robotic rendition

You cannot rule out that the law was broken

There was harm with humans offended

But the breach was clearly merely token

As the crime was not intended

And yet as can happen there was one ray of hope

An idea from a scientist’s spouse

There was one place where no listeners would mope

The West Wing of the White House

So there it stays gabbling through its days

Attracting respectful attention

And only rarely when in public gaze

Does the President get a mention


The World’s Greatest Liar

He was born on a mountain top in Tennessee

The greatest liar you ever did see

Flew to the moon one famous day in June

Wrote the words of anthems and then composed a tune

Defrocked Mussolini down Italy way

And was a secret agent of the CIA

Made his first ten trillion selling shares in oil

Invented the first working model of the hydrofoil

Flew off to China in a solar-driven plane

Then had supper with the President of Spain

Took up acting wherein he was adored

Starred in a hit for an Academy Award

Wrote the first version of Gone With The Wind

Kidnapped Al Capone soon after he had sinned

Had his own series on pay TV

Bought the Mona Lisa on a spending spree

Built the Sydney Harbour Bridge in his spare time

Helped to make the FBI the enemy of crime

Often spends his holidays in Buckingham Palace

Controls a federal agency eliminating malice

He is highly famous solving your privations

And he gives a frequent speech at the United Nations

Nominated twenty times for the Hall of Fame

Many thousand voices still give him wild acclaim

There are countless triumphs for this doer of deeds

When pretence is needed, that is when he leads

But do you know the latest plans that have just occurred?

He will soon be President; on that we have his word


The Man Who Knew Almost Everything

Winston Wise rarely felt surprise

As all things got his attention

There was nothing on earth that escaped his eyes

Or was outside his comprehension

He rejoiced in the stars knew all about cars

And read all the pages of history

Was very well versed in civic faux pas

Nothing to him was a mystery

He would talk for hours about ivory towers

And read all of Shakespeare’s plays 

He made sense of climate from cyclones to showers

And even probed the sun’s rays

In the field of law he knew so much more

While vast was his knowledge of money

The world of science was an open door

And his mastery of crime wasn’t funny

He was with films an encyclopaedia

With commerce indeed a true master

Had a grasp of all of the modern media

Saw war as a total disaster

He spoke several tongues was a star of linguistics

And famous for his diary

He was also ballistic in the field of statistics

Which guided his expert enquiry

As the days passed by there were those who would try

To fathom the extent of his learning

The challenge for them was far too high

They were but mere humans discerning

But wait a minute there was one doubt

That caused a little surprise

He said to his wife with a smile bobbing out:

“I’m fazed by that love in your eyes.”



Beautiful person

Aide to the tyrant

Close to power at the witching hour

Why tie yourself to the villain?

Is it because you need authority

That is far above sorority?

You have bought your influence

As part of a confluence

With a vile continuity

That brings you false respect

And support for superfluity

You have tied yourself

To the greatest source of power

Known to mankind

It’s a union shaped by hell

And you know deception well

Thus you rise out of the demise

Of truth and gentle pity

You enforce the divorce

Of kindness and love

As heaven above weeps in sorrow

Until with the hateful reign

Society bleeds and cries out in pain

Yours is now the destiny that walks beside doom

Sharing a room with oppression

That ensures the repression

Of peace and beauty and love

So sad it is

Yes bad it is

For your future can never be

Part of democracy’s dream of the free

And the worth

Of all that we need to be

If harmony is to reign on earth


Snake Oil Salesman

There you stand

Proclaiming your own virtue

With the light of fake morality reflected in your eyes

A rogue in disguise

Whose words eulogise

And cover up each dark deed you do

How full of risk you really are!

Outstripping by far

The declared humility of your false identity

You trumpet your bogus virtue

Many times over

Presented as reality by the lies you tell

Ideas garnished like goods to sell

In sickening banality

So note this please as pain to ease

You with all your false regalia 

Are doomed to failure

Your fame that seems so great

Will by its very nature disintegrate

And fall around you like a Slough of Despond

Thus will you not reach beyond despair 

As the sound of your voice pollutes the air

To make our earth a purgatory of disaster

That only the likes of you would seek to master

Heed this now

You, despite your place in an ivory tower,

Are a figure who makes even angels glower

An entity – identity, aiming for the greatest heights

But doomed to give our suffering world last rites

Therefore bicker on with your futile foray

And it shall follow as the night the day

There’s no way your affray will allay the dismay


False Acclaim

You clap your hands like a tycoon

Suddenly discovering wealth

With a weird mystique of pretentiousness

You are really clapping yourself

What is the reason for this season of self acclamation?

It is the fable that displays itself for the good of the nation

You strut on the stage like a peacock

With a mad desire for a mate

You open doors with a counterfeit knock

And then you gesticulate

A question arises from the crowd in shock

How could he matriculate? 

The next thing you do is nod your head

Accepting the fake glory

Then you wave your arms as the meek are led

By their ears to accept your story

On that stage you show fake rage

To disguise your lies as reality

Your babble flows on to another page

In a fictitious form of normality

While this goes on many people die

With a virus out of control

Your ignorance is noted by the well trained eye

You have no wit to extol

Yet still there are cheers mere fragile veneers

While you clap yourself even longer

The noise is your cover to hide the fears

Truth dies as your lies grow stronger

Your vanity’s disguised as fake disdain

Contempt on your bleak face lurking

With your folly no hopes remain

No plan of yours is working

So clap on child of a gorgon as times pass

The doom of the world’s in your hands

It’s the face of a fool in your looking glass

Your downfall is what truth demands


Old King Cole: Halfwit

Old King Cole was a stupid old soul

A vacuous halfwit was he

He lied for his supper in his usual role

And sacked his fiddlers three

One day he got sick with a painful rash

That made him a very slow mover

He went to a store with loads of cash

To buy and drink stain remover

That did him harm and he nearly died

Some doctors called him a fool

So he took fly spray to fix his inside

Which made him look like a ghoul

King Cole as a boss was never at a loss

With an image he thought allured

He proudly gave his big head a toss

And announced to the world he was cured

Then off he went to parliament

Denying he was contagious

He infected victims wherever he went

In a manner clearly outrageous

He was so enraged when they held a debate

He allowed no word in edgewise

Old King Cole was so irate

A bully on a hideous enterprise

But the end was quick for that king who was sick

A republic was the call

They had grown tired of each sinister trick

Now no one recalls him at all

Old King Cole was a stupid old soul

A vacuous halfwit was he

He lied for his supper in his usual role

And sacked his fiddlers three


A Beautiful World

I wandered alone and the birds talked to me

It was a lively conversation

I noticed the sky and was touched by its mystery

As I walked

A number of butterflies danced on the air

As if they were grateful to be alive

This forest was an array of undamaged trees

Standing stoically strong

Their shade was a comfort

The path wove its way between those trees

The sun was casting shafts of gentle light among them

Beautiful fungi were clustered around many trunks

An array of other things caught my eye

Including technicolour flowers

And I saw bees as willing tradesmen

Getting on with their business

Into one corner of my gaze came a possum

Eating a blossom

It seemed to regard me as a trusted friend

Further on I came to a crystal stream

Wending its way as they all do down from the hills 

I saw my reflection

Where the water was not flowing

I seemed to be part of that place

So I stayed a while 

Keen to look where the brook was moving

And above its ripples I saw a dragonfly hovering

Fixed above the water like a painting

Below the golden aura of a crayfish caught my eye

And an unnamed fish went swimming by

There was a peace in that place

And music

I heard voices there pleading with me to look after things

And the cry that all men are brothers

It gave me time to think of others

Torn apart by poverty and war and other men’s greed

There I learned I would not be forgiven

If all I do is listen to the music


One More Unsavoury Crew

Sporting Hero

He’s a sporting hero is Travistock Hones

Lives in glass houses and doesn’t throw stones

He owns a yacht that is quite a boat

It’s worth so much more than a ribboned coat

He drives a Mercedes and shows it off well

As he glories in the comfort of his sports cartel

He’s regarded by the market as free of sinning

The one criterion is to keep on winning

That’s the secret of life in this age of consent

If you win at all costs you’re from heaven sent

If you don’t win at first you’re regarded as slack

If you keep on losing you get the sack

Gone are the old ways of splendid idealism

Instead we have war and belligerent realism

With your new career you dream to begin it

Until you discover there’s money in it

Then your life changes to conform with new ways

Affluence is the influence for the rest of your days

So that is the tale that Travistock weaves

It’s the ultimate truth and what he believes

Hard cash and rash language are an enormity

Life’s to be governed by servile conformity

Behind this existence is media profit

The hero becomes a big business prophet

People buy while the days go by

As the crowds flow in they will certify

That enterprise is paying off

And only the poets are left to scoff


Climate Skeptic

Australia’s NDC outlines an economy wide emissions reduction target of 26-28% below 2005 levels by 2030.  Parliament of Australia

How many roads must that fool travel down

Before he learns to be wise?

How man years can a man be a clown

Till he stops polluting the skies?

The answer my friend is blowing in the breeze

And climate denial’s a disease

Just look at fire to quell your desire

To let the world stay the same

Will the planet transpire wrapped in the pyre

Or are you moved by the shame?

And what of the drought how can you leave out

Economic ruin of a nation?

Where is the wise voice talking about

The truth of this deadly privation?

And then there is flood with its torrent of mud

Destroying the beauty of life

Is the story of living to be written in blood

With the norm for existence strife?

Questions such as these can influence fate

As so much rests on reply

Suggestions you give can change the debate

Or we kiss our planet goodbye

Just one more thought might come to your mind

Before you answer each query

Time’s running out for our people to find

Respect for scientific theory

Yes the lesson is stark so recall Noah’s ark

Before we sink in the gloom

See the voice of reason as a light in the dark

Or would you prefer a tomb?


Photo Opportunity

I notice how you organise photo opportunity

News bulletins show your impunity

With each session you give the impression

That you are an everywhere man

Posing as a hero who never lacks a fan

Shaking hands or watching a game

Wearing a hard hat or lighting a flame

Cheering up old folks or chatting with a child

Walking with dignitaries driving crowds wild

Posing as a key man thrice blessed with friends

Acting as a film star whose fame never ends

So it is with political intrigue

You turn the world into an sheer blitzkrieg

And what is the purpose of your singularity?

Why to focus on the polls and enhance popularity

So that is why you do it

There is no other way to construe it

Your basic inception is pure deception

As you show a devious persona

You cunningly chart the desired reception

That denies you are a loner

So there we have it detail of your habit

That discloses what you are

The world can see why you grab it

You’ll be visible near and far

But your future is still prone to blunders

For what you are echoes and thunders

So beware of the thought that troubles are fought

By means of natural selection

As in the end success can’t be wrought

Except by the next election

The historian’s pen will all things mend

As truth and nothing but truth will win in the end


Benjamin Rubble: Developer

Benjamin Rubble never has trouble

Knocking famed buildings down

Life to him is but froth and bubble

As he acts the destructive clown

His influence is strong doing things wrong

And he’s paid for his devious work

He lobbies to members who all go along

With each very gainful quirk

So down comes beauty as forsaken duty

To make way for intrusive towers

The city becomes a part of Ben’s booty

A victim of his potent powers

Gone are those days when we lived to praise

The legacy of bygone times

Our children will have no sense of the days

Before these virtual crimes

It is hard to describe the new stark vision

Without complete verbosity

The mind leans heavily towards derision

As we notice each monstrosity

So the sun looks down on an unplanned scatter

Of high-rise bleak intrusions

The planners seem to ignore this matter

While critics are accused of delusions

Above all else time stands aloof

In judgement of this behaviour

The victims soon will long for proof

That Ben will be thwarted by a saviour

If it be not so it will stay sheer woe

While destruction routinely proceeds

In the end with a tear we will see so much go

As everyone’s broken heart bleeds


Weapon Maker

There is one calling that deals with death

More than the undertaker

If you listen hard and don’t hold your breath

I’ll name the weapon maker

Murder is a crime we all understand

Is punishable by law

Unless it is done with a military band

Legally killing far more

When a weapon is made it is on parade

On hand for any buyer

It can be bought with excuses made

By any skilful liar

In the name of peace he will add the grease

To tanks and bayonets and guns

Then comes the killing as the battle won’t cease

Bringing death to fathers and sons

You cannot be sure when it comes to war

How justly your weapon will be used

Integrity is kept outside every door

Wherever peace is abused

So death will come walking by your side

Whenever the mission is harm

It will flow in an ever increasing tide

Ringing the bells of alarm

At the going down of the sun and in the morning

Innocents will die in numbers

If mankind fails to heed the warning

That the god of war never slumbers

So every time you make a gun

You run the risk of disaster

You create the chance to be overrun

And the Angel of Death will be master




Hail Caesar Tin-pot Leader

Now Tin-pot Caesar

Was a smart geyser

Destined to rule the land

His methods were naughty

While he was so haughty

And decidedly underhand

One of his tools

Was the Roman schools

Where teachers taught loyalty to him

If they didn’t follow

What told to swallow

Their prospects would be simply dim

Another misdeed 

All linked to his greed

Was to make the country great

But his lies hit the roof

He was so aloof

That the land met a far worse fate

For the people starved

Their income halved

And many were horribly sick

Then the climate turned worse

It became a vile curse

So Tin-pot tried a new trick

It had nothing to do with the weather

This will knock you down with a feather

The mighty boss said we’ll be right by the fall

Then to cure all the sadness

In a blind fit of madness

The fool built a useless wall


Flawed Affection

Look at you

In your position of power

Over the fate of others

Part of university life

Absolute mastery

Exploiting completely


A vulnerable young woman

Wrapped in your program of study

How witty you are

You with your knowledge

First base to me 

A stepping stone to a social contract

With me

One thing leads to another

A different allegiance 

How lucky I am

To be so close to you

You and I are we

For all the world to see

You with me

That is a way of putting it

A periphrastic study

Of reality

See how you organise me

Control is a role

I cannot deny

You with me are one

Time clarifies things

Influence mastery domination

A way to my salvation

Not so

The truth is pain

Again and again and again

Annulment: without hesitation



Jeremiah Jones was a principal

Head of a famous old school

He strove to be close to invincible

Obedience was his rule

Every prefect 

Was alert for a defect

That damaged the school’s reputation

And each teacher

Was an orderly creature

Moral by imputation

Now life is strange

It can rearrange

And get up to tricks unexpected

So it came to pass

In a lower class

That a felony was detected

This event was a reason for change

In the way the school was run

Giving learning a more valid range

As a new era was begun

It was Teddy Tomkins of the junior school

Son of a chemist with status

Teddy did a deed that broke every rule

And caused a significant hiatus

The story ran thus with a great deal of fuss

Concerning the boy’s lawless tactics

He was doing deals with his classmates thus

Selling them prophylactics

When the word got around

That business was sound

It threw the staff into a panic

That ship they sailed had indeed run aground

It may well have been the Titanic

Now the boy was drawn from out of the ranks

In a way that couldn’t be faster

The words that were used were censored blanks

From the highly irate headmaster

Now Tomkins was au fait with the world

And coped well with the abuse

He stood quite tall when the slander was hurled

And dreamed up a clever excuse

Balloons he claimed was all they were

Balloons to check the weather

I’m doing research on the climate Sir

Science teachers and me together

Now Jones as the boss was not at a loss

Despite the convolution

That thought from the boy was coming across

As a highly useful solution

Good idea he said go into the lab

And fill them all up with helium

This will solve with a single grab

The present distasteful tedium

So the deed was done and measurements begun

To check the current weather

The condoms were filled up one by one

Until they were light as a feather

Then out through the window they were cast away

As a plan to protect the school’s name

It still has a very fine standing today

While Teddy’s in their Hall of Fame

Sex education is now programmed

With seminars every week

The boys have peace where once they were damned

What more could they seek?

But up in the sky when the sun is high

You might gain a new perspective

You may see an eagle daring to fly

Outdone by a contraceptive


Counterfeit Freedom

Give me liberty or give me death

I’ll defy lockdowns with my very last breath

I know my rights if you take me to task

I’ll fight for impunity without a mask

How dare you put a fine on me for meeting with my friends

You’ll get from me resistance from now that never ends

To hell with all your orders demanding a safe distance

My will power is quite strong enough to counter your insistence

Freedom is a church that needs a towering steeple

You should know it’s a human excuse to infect other people

I’ve spent so many days creating self rule

If you rob me of it you are but a fool

My vital cause is noble so keep your police away

If they should lay their hands on me it is you who’ll pay

And there’s another evil that is your ghastly quirk

You have pulled the levers to take away my work

You have ruined my sport 

As a last resort and done away with the crowd

You’d dig up all the cricket pitches if that were allowed

So there you have it described at last my true picture

Of the ways you bind me up in your deadly stricture

I bid you now stay ready for more words that will inspire us

I’ll be back to say them as soon as they’ve cured my virus


The Doings Of Nicely Nicely

Nicely Nicely is an entrepreneur

Intent on making a bundle

He forces his clients with a grin to concur

Reducing life’s progress to a trundle

Slowly he preaches and then overreaches

Promising the world if you buy

He would if he could sell our harbours and beaches

Wrapped up as pie in the sky

Every day come hail or shine we are incited to pay

Extremely extravagant prices

He brings his lies right into play

While we’re left to our own devices

Now Nicely Nicely has made his pile

By applying his skills quite cunningly

He makes his approach with a glamorous smile

As he reaps the profit stunningly

But there is a secret people should know

In a case decidedly sinister

This tyro with a biro always on the go

Is the soul mate of the prime minister

Who passes laws that fill Nicely’s drawers

To match how the businessman lobbies

And so it goes with so many encores

You might see them as lucrative hobbies

If you read the press you would never guess

This is such a cause of privation

All leadership speeches state with finesse

It’s all for the good of the nation

So there we have it a profiteer’s dreams

That hat fits as Nicely’s best size

He wins with all his devious schemes

In the name of free enterprise



Rapscallions Still

Vote For Me

Now I declare

You have the chance

To get me into power

So listen well

Here is my stance

My plan at this witching hour

I’m dedicated

And very well able

To make our country great

So hurry now

And vote for the fable

Ere smart owls shut the gate

Now I am one

Of this world’s attackers

And I will fulfil your dreams

I get things done

With the help of my backers

Whatever their devious schemes

Deceit won’t matter

It avoids the mess

Of government behind the times

When you make the laws

There is no duress

And you get away with the crimes

It is easy for you

To assess my might

I rival the god Osiris

Nothing will stop me

From getting things right

I’ll even ignore the virus

I will sweep aside

The opposing crew

And drive them to the slaughter

Even though it’s true

When it comes to IQ

I am but a fish out of water

But that doesn’t matter

I am your man

As long as we’ve got the numbers

I’ll get things done

With a brilliant plan

That no truth encumbers

Yes artifice is the way 

That now I choose

Convinced I’ll avoid detection

It’s the framework of fraud

I’ll astutely use

To triumph at the next election


Love’s Reality

You postured once as my friend

Convivial you might say

We laughed together in joyous mood

In such a friendly way

All the while you hatched a plan

Playing your affectionate part

Devising your scheme that was to become

A dagger to my heart

You stole away my precious wife

My children’s loving mother

You cunningly killed my self respect

Though I treated you as a brother

How clever you were with her

A singer in your choir

You led her on to be in your grasp

A victim of your desire

You used your power

Over enslaved women

Caught up in domesticity

You gave them relief from boredom’s grief

With your shallow eccentricity

Week after week you wove your charm

In the midst of each rehearsal

Had I been there I’d have felt the alarm

That for humans is universal

Schemes and dreams how easy it is

To court a victim with novelty

You laugh things off 

And never scoff

There is purpose in your frivolity

Subtle hints of sexuality

All just innocent fun

But your dark deeds in stark reality

Give your libido a run

Cause no alarms

And sweep her away

Into your greedy arms…

Here I am now many years have gone by

I wonder did you ever know

She came back to me with many a sigh

That softened the final blow

She’s dead I must tell you now

Stolen away at too early a time

Yet still loyal to the marital vow

And I forgave her for your crime

So we parted friends forever

There still was a bond sublime

That your dismal deeds could not sever

And I have a joy left still to save me

A brave reality that will last

Three children that she gave me

So attention please in heaven above

Watch my beat as the fashion

Let us listen to the music of love

That transcends all short-lived passion



So it’s your compliance

Denying the science

The evidence is there

Of the world’s despair

But money in your pocket is all that matters

Despite people dying and lives in tatters

It’s a massacre of burning

Disaster returning 

Over and over again

And the people need to know when

Your shifty mind will master

The truth of the disaster

Just look at those flames clutching the sky

A tragic reason so many die

So don’t deny the deadly white-knuckle cause

Listen to the thunder as the wildfire roars

Yet you still keep your bargain with the Devil

And allow deadly carbon at a lethal level

You pay no heed to calamities of coal

You fund the mines as a sinister role

There is no justice in your behaviour

Global warmers see you as their saviour

So as the flames sound their next death knell

Shake hands with Vulcan, you know him well


The Has Been

O why are you still talking?

You’ve been voted out of your post

You are a delinquent stalking

And you hang around like a ghost

Now you rarely rate a mention

But you frantically seek attention

As you preach your way out views

That find a place in the news

It is shocking to note the reality

Of your herd mentality

Your words are crimes 

That too many times

Promote the acceptance of death

You blindly state

A mortality rate

That leaves me out of breath

Now you’ve found a stage

That is all the rage

You consult in a foreign land

But the bottom rung

That is your tongue

Is decidedly underhand

So heed me now and take a vow

That will save the planet earth

End the violence 

With your welcome silence

That will make amends for your birth


O’Leary Was Weary

O’Leary was weary

And had a theory that the sun

Was about to set

It was a notion linked to emotion

That caused the fool to fret

The trouble was

He needed light

To keep his cabbages flowing

Whereas in the dark

The trouble was stark

As the number of snails was growing

So he got a frog

From under a log

To startle the night with a croak

His idea was simple

Like a baby’s dimple

But it turned into quite a joke

The snails were not scared but sought romance

That seemed to enhance

The frog’s percussion tune

Then along came a bird

It was quite absurd

It feasted by the light of the moon

So the snails were gone

But later on

There was yet even more trouble

Mister O’Leary

The man who was weary

Was caught in life’s froth and bubble

Yes fate turned even more savage

Along came a rabbit

With its usual habit

And consumed every single cabbage

Now the years have passed

With O’Leary aghast

And now he plays different roles

He has given up farming

Which is quite alarming

And pays for his produce at Coles



More Miscreants

Hermes Unmasked

Kane helped to change the world, but Kane’s world now is history. 

From Orson Welles’ Film Citizen Kane

So there you rule you fool

Heir apparent to the whole world

Potentate emperor sovereign monarch

What’s in a name?

Your media deeds whatever your name would be the same

Those rags

The things that you control

Are petty strings

That you pull according to your will

They are not tools of a god

Though you wield your pen at times

As if it were Thor’s hammer 

Your tabloids are odious voices scattered around the globe 

Yes and it’s you in your dealmaker’s robe 

Who is the omniscient sleuth

Deciding on the truth they are allowed to convey

So that’s it

We have established your status

But what of the hiatus?

How far can we trust you?

You a would-be icon grasping power

You yes you

You who decides what we learn 

While the other information 

Is left to burn

Your news is no more than your approved verdict

On what we lesser souls

Deserve to know

But we the little people need not dismay

For you will be dead one day

Like all of us

And history will write your obituary 

Totally free of your editorial influence


Pillage Of The Village

There’s a green one, and a pink one And a blue one and a yellow one And they’re all made out of ticky tacky And they all look just the same  From “Little Boxes,” a song sung by Pete Seeger


You plan to cut up our parklands

Dig up the grass and make a pass

Without a moral suture

At developers who fund their own future

That’s it then

Let the wonders of time

Yield to the crime of so called progress

No no no

It must not be so

The beauty of the ages

Treasured buildings of the past

Wondrous designs all meant to last

Open fields of world renown

The very spirit of the town

Are not yours to disown

All this is a universal need

Such riches must be saved 

From the jaws of greed

There is a glory

In the story

Of timeless heritage from the past

You must not pillage our golden village

Or the world will scream aghast

So remember this

Nothing will be amiss

If you value the legacies we treasure

Avoid the pain and help us maintain

The gifts only time can measure


A Lump Of Coal

An extrovert once in a fit of malaise

Hatched a wild plan to gather some praise

So he blackened his name and damaged his soul

And he held up a lump of coal

But the fires raged and the rains came

Until frightened people cursed his name

But this life of the party stayed calm on the whole

And he held up a lump of coal

Then the drought lasted and the storms blasted

And the masses used words such as guilty bastard

Yet the lively chap still stuck to his role

And he held up a lump of coal

Next oceans rose and washed away houses

It was doom of the kind that fear arouses

While the newsmaker tried for another goal

And he held up a lump of coal

Soon guilt was forming with the fearsome storming

As the world was wracked by global warming

Yet our star felt safe if linked to a poll

And he held up a lump of coal

Now folly is a roof that leaks in the rain

Only fools keep doing what brings them disdain

But a judge asked our man what caused the death toll

And he held up a lump of coal



Smoking kills

Call the Quitline Now

Get your cigarettes here

Default urban speed limit is 50 K

Our latest model will speed you away

Alcohol can cause heart and liver disease or stroke

It’s a bargain: half price sale of LEONARDO’S beer today


I am only a simple old working chap

As any one can see

But when I see folly and refuse to clap

Life is rewarding to me

It’s the thoughtless seller named Xerxes Jones

Who rattles my brain and stirs my bones

His is the stall I say with regret

Where you can buy your cigarette

Then there’s seedy speedy Leonidas Reed

Whose ads display cars built for speed

The vision we see has a grand prix role

That does not halt the state road toll

Among this group is Phidias Droll

Who makes his money from alcohol

The display for him is friendly and charming

But the violence news is quite alarming

So there you have it form with the norm

Of what might be called pretence

The need for profit makes people conform

With deeds that have little sense

Yet things can alter and rearrange

If we simply stop and think

There are many ways we can bring on change

When we breathe and drive and drink

Here’s a toast to that with a tit for tat

And I’ll turn you away from the slaughter

I’ll not smoke or speed to live longer indeed

And I’ll drink to your health with water



Zip-a-dee-doo-dah fiddle de dee

I’m a consultant for your spending spree

You seek advice lest profit be lost

You’re ready to pay me whatever the cost

Yes I’ll advise you dear client – relax

My fees you deduct from your income tax

There is one idea that now we don’t mention

How to dupe clients if that’s your intention

Of course I will help with a priceless plan

It’s the oldest gambit known to man

First praise your product with a testimonial

Make it seem great with due ceremonial

Then you double the price and market frantically

Make it alluring with a woman romantically

Offer low interest with time to spare

Then ride easy while others pay the fare

There are more schemes you might like to know

Many subtle ways to make income flow

Tobacco is a gainful ticket upstairs

If you sprinkle your funds on its stocks and shares

But there is a warning to keep things sunny

Work where you can with other people’s money

And things will be fine if you have people sign

Their lives away on a devious mine

Yes dig it up or cut it down

That’s a sure way to gain renown

There I stop

I now predict your thanks from the banks

As you join the redoubtable magnate’s ranks

And I will be pleased to serve you well

You will be safe when under my spell

But remember this

Whatever the task I will not begin it

Unless I’m convinced there’s money in it

While if we work as a triumphant pair

You will have to ignore my bursts of hot air


Where Rapscallions Dare To Tread

The Chosen One

On hearing a speech in August 2020

Your prompting script will be enough

None will dare to call your bluff

So decorate your image with pretence

Disguise each lie your sordid mind invents

No half measures as you misinform

And make deception now the ugly norm

Then praise all innocents as if you cared

Mollify the dupes so far ensnared

Tell all teachers that you are desirous

To show respect but ignore the virus

Go then, repeat your parody of dreams

Invent diversions to disguise your schemes

Incite from the crowd a robotic ovation

As you assert you are good for the nation

Attack each day with trumped up nomenclature

Claim leftist foes will vandalise all nature

Go then recruit your crass disciples

Have them speak in platitudes and trifles

Then orchestrate with nonstop fake applause

And add to the mix your trivial encores

Finish with fireworks as a master stroke

Let the gross illusion go up in smoke

There’s a lesson to be had from this inanity

Dominion can be yours over all humanity


Formula For Success

One People One Nation One Leader

Never own up to anything

Claim you are always right

If what you do is challenged

Stage a smoke screen fight

Then divert attention

With abuse and clangour

And carefully fail to mention

The original cause of anger

If you’re embarrassed

Find someone to deplore

And make sure he is harassed

In ways none can ignore

Then turn your mind to glory

Invent a golden age

Tell but half the story

Then let fantasy rule the stage

Pretend you’ve invented the golden rule

Create some Elysian Fields

Turn your opponent into a tool

As to desire he yields

Promise the world with your fingers curled

Around a money bag

Praise the nation with banner unfurled

Then smile and kiss the flag

Spread divinity across your face

And declare your faith in God

Pretend you care for the human race

Then give rich backers the nod

This above all to your own schemes be true

And it shall follow as the night the day

Your opponents will shrivel away


A Moral Tale

All hail the great achiever!

O once upon a time in a native strand

A smart man felt just born to rule the land

He wove a tale people liked to hear

And vowed to make all woes disappear

He promised the moon one day in June

All the folk heard his merry tune

His vow related to law and order

This cured John Doe of his sleep disorder

He poised alert like one of the sages

Then systematically cut people’s wages

When his mob gave praise and said encore

The hero went off and started a war

He was quite proud this created more jobs

And made him one of the world’s heartthrobs

He didn’t notice his new found shame

As the deaths of thousands brought him fame

When the going got tough at a later election

He devised a plan that was close to perfection

With a racist slant he was on the go

And revived the perversion that is Jim Crow

He got into power in the witching hour

Did dark deeds that turned life sour

His ways were slimy and oozed vulgarity

Yet still he lost no popularity

As time went by that fame grew fast

But the idol’s next deal was to be his last

He took fake pills from a counterfeit concocter

And died before they could send for a doctor


At The Top Of The Tree

A Chieftain Observed

Peter Crumpkin was a bumpkin

And got to the top of the tree

He had a head like the top of a pumpkin

And a brain the size of a pea

He spoke every word in a manner absurd

And his deeds were an absolute farce

He promised the world and the people stirred

But none of it came to pass

Every day in his usual way

He would make a weird proclamation

But the only excuse he could think of to say

Was it’s all for the good of the nation

His lies flowed fast an expensive repast

For all of the innocent flock

The trouble was the truth came last

And the country went into shock

Riots broke out and shattered the peace

As children started to cry

Yet all he could do was call in the police

And watch the mob pass by

Now anger rose as the saying goes

And discord stirred the masses

PT said we could cure all woes

If we started to eat molasses 

That was the level of thought he wrought

Irrelevance was his stance

The land was doomed as a last resort

To be led on his merry dance

But time is the cure all fools must endure

In the end the electors were wiser

They chose Rosa Parks with her great allure

Even though this did surprise her

So the bumpkin faded away that day

To a fate his kind espouses

A career befitting his life you might say

As all he does now is sell houses


A Fatal Lark With Quarks

O the grand old Duke of Parx

He had ten thousand quarks

He took them up to the top of the hill

As one of his typical larks

Now when they were up they were down

And when they were down they were up

Duplicity was a golden chance

For him to act the clown

So off he went to Westminster

Then came a deed quite sinister

He sold the quarks at a ruinous price

To the not too bright prime minister

Now here we avoid metonymy 

As we say this destroyed the economy

Wages fell and it rained like hell

And postponed all astronomy

This was not all of the terrible fall

That sent stock brokers to the wall

The market crashed as experts clashed

And business slowed to a crawl

The end came fast at the very last

Leaving observers aghast

For revolution was in the air

With the PM a thing of the past

So the old world quickly changed

Even lovers were estranged

In came a brave new order

A whole nation was rearranged

O the grand old Duke of Parx

He had ten thousand quarks

He took them up to the top of the hill

As one of his deadly larks


Now this one is not a rapscallion

There you sit

On a footpath as people pass by

Rarely giving you the eye

Acceptance leaks from your countenance

As your body leans awry

Your music is oddly fragile now

As the world is holier than thou

And all you do really is beg for money

To taste the bread and honey of others

In a social climate that smothers

You and the other misfits of the age

On your shoulder I dream up a raven

O yes your image is craven

But the bird is ready to plunder

The domains of indifferent passers by

While you sit torpidly under

The spell of longing for the tinkle of cash

Into your music case

So play on dear victim of laws that don’t exist

That might have saved you from the failure’s list

Here is my token

A pathetic kindness to a spirit broken

Mere petty cash to ease the pain

But I will remember you if I pass again




George Orwell: Wikimedia Commons

Recently I have been interested in the promotion by William D. Lutz of what he borrowed from George Orwell, DOUBLESPEAK. This involves words whose true significance is not what it seems to be. I have had some fun with my own examples. Here is my list of interpretations.

indefinite detention

gaol without trial


a folly that got you elected

committee meeting

a place where inaction is given the go ahead

big government

government functions not yet privatised

people smugglers

your excuse for indefinite detention

previously loved/enjoyed


level playing field

where nobody notices corporate collusion


a place where you drive past slowcoaches 

with great respect

strongly disagree

I thank the honourable member for the question

I am about to abuse the questioner

lunatic fringe

opponents with policies opposed to yours

border protection

approved chauvinism

listen to the experts

you choose the experts

last resort of fools

policies different from your own

business confidentiality

secret deals

tested by time

unaware of the latest discoveries

clean coal 

truthful lies

robust manufacturing sector

profit before climate

golden opportunity

an improbable outcome

extreme right

wolves in sheep’s clothing

extreme left

sheep in wolves’ clothing

centre party

a group who can’t make up their mind

public relations 

tall-tale influence inducing affluence

economic rationalism

rational ways of making irrational decisions

no such thing as a free lunch

put your money where your mouth is


replacing costly labour with cheap slave labour overseas


letting somebody else make your mistakes

classified information

covering your tracks or hiding your crimes


dismissing staff

red tape

regulations that restrict corporate exploitation or proliferation


personal or party source of funds

checks and balances

cheques and bank balances


a unity that only war or pandemic can achieve

dark horse

a rational, concerned candidate free of party politics

your grass roots

where you fund just before an election (AKA pork barreling)


organised shots of you to foster your false image

spin doctors

highly paid liars who work for you


insight into the future from the oracle

bill of rights

a human rights declaration tyrants prevent from happening

law and order

power to stop dissent

dog whistles

words (whistles) only dogs, racists or gullible voters hear


Using language to distort or even reverse the meaning of unpalatable information that has to be given. Allegedly the amalgam of two George Orwell’s creations from his novel 1984, Doublethink and Newspeak. Source:

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).

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.


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