V2’s Scottish grandmother and her two daughters, one of whom was his father’s twin, were teachers. This grandmother had married his grandfather – an Australian soldier – in Scotland – a week after the end of The Great War. She followed him to Australia. V2 and his family were living in Sydney when his father was killed in a car accident. V2 was two years old and his brother 10 months old. V2’s mother and her two children moved to Tamworth.
The compensation court made a limited financial award – the assumption from the magistrate, when addressing her, being that she would marry again. His mother put half the award into trust for the boys, and half into a sizeable deposit on a little house for them to live in. His mother did remarry, though not happily. Her second husband, an alcoholic, was suffering, as V2 would realise later, from Post Traumatic Stress Disorder from his WWII service in Greece and the Middle East.In what was an educationally aware household, before his mother’s re-marriage, he was, apparently, a precocious child. His mother took him when he was four, to West Tamworth Public School and asked the school to enrol him a year early. He was full of curiosity and activity. Both his grandmothers were significant forces in his life. His maternal grandmother gave him a set of Arthur Mee’s Children’s Encyclopaedia and a series of Australian Pictorial Social Studies ‘comic’ style books and other sets of literary classics. His father’s twin sister began her teaching at Broken Hill High School.
At primary school, librarian Mrs Taylor, she of the blue rinse, fed him books – leading him from Alison Uttley and Enid Blyton on to Biggles. He had, he thinks, some really remarkable teachers who looked out for him. In 2nd Class he often finished work before the teacher had finished explaining it and then turned to speak with classmates who were just picking up their writing implements. This was regarded as rude and disruptive and he would be sent to Miss McLean, the Infants School teaching “Headmistress”, in her next door classroom. She would tell him to choose a book from the shelf near her front-of-class desk and to sit on the mat alongside, reading until the next break. Though she never taught him, she was always there, supporting in the background. He also remembers being able to read before entering school.
When he progressed, across the playground, from the Infants section to Mr Shanahan’s 3A class in ‘the Big School’ those who came in the first 10 in the class at the half-yearly or yearly exam got to go back and see Miss McLean. In the first half-yearly he came 16th, and, as requested by Miss McLean, was included with the others. He progressed to 5th by the end of the year. Mr Shanahan had the feel of a father, he says, even though V2 remembers being bent over and whacked across his derriere – unremarkable in those days. By the end of 5th Class – his teacher again Mr Shanahan – he topped the class. His 6th class teacher – the school principal – told stories and could be easily side-tracked. He also made predictions about his students’ futures, commenting on V2’s report card that he was ‘possibly university material’.
The upshot of this set of experiences was that he entered Tamworth High School, at the time the second largest in NSW, feeling comfortable within the milieu of schooling. Although the school was graded from “A” through to “P”, V2 was allocated to the “A” class. For his matriculation he was able to choose English, French, Geography, Modern History (Hons) and Ancient History (Hons).
At home he remained in conflict with his step-father. V2, his mother and his brother were Seventh-day Adventists. His step-father was nominally Anglican. V2, immersed in Seventh-day Adventist culture, had seen training as a Seventh-day Adventist pastor/missionary as an option for his future – one of which his mother would certainly approve. He did not, however, have the financial wherewithal for such training. Otherwise, he wasn’t sure what he wanted to do, except, perhaps sub-consciously, escape from his step-father. Teaching was clearly another possible pathway. From the time of his entry into secondary school he had been awarded a scholarship – which helped with uniforms and such through those five years. A Teachers’ College Scholarship would be his escape.
He filled out the forms for a Teachers’ College Scholarship and with his paternal uncle as financial guarantor, his pathway was established. It was only with his excellent Leaving Certificate pass – mentioned in the local Northern Daily Leader – that his step-father’s antipathy thawed – and he facilitated V2’s registration at Sydney University. 11 of the 150 students in his year won University Scholarships. Some took these at New England University in Armidale. A smaller number joined him in his entry to Sydney.
He really enjoyed his years at university, where he studied English, History, Anthropology and Psychology, his Majors being History and Education and an English Minor. In his early years he also taught Sabbath School to primary school-aged children at the Stanmore Seventh-day Adventist Church. Through his reading in Psychology he began to understand the negativities coming from his step-father. He boarded and had a lot of part-time jobs. In the Summer vacations he lived with his grandparents while working at the Sanitarium Health Food factory. He gained a year’s leave at the end of his degree to work while finishing the one subject required to gain his B.A. This extra year fortuitously gave him access to the trial of a new Dip Ed (TDP) that was experimenting with attaching students to mentor teachers in schools (thus Teacher Development Project/Program) to give greater exposure to school life and a better chance of professional relationships and learning. His placement was at JJ Cahill Memorial High School for the year. During his Dip Ed year he also worked nights and days, often falling asleep in lectures. As the total number of students in the TDP was 19, this was a noticeable infraction, as was his classmates kicking him beneath the desk to awaken him.
After his Dip Ed he applied for appointment to one of three state regions: City Metropolitan, Riverina and the South Coast – in that order. His appointment was, however, to West Wyalong. He did not accept it, but went instead into the Bridge St Head Office of the Department to argue that this was not on his list. After some negotiation, his appointment was changed to Hay – which, the official argued, was in the Riverina. The official also pointed out that Hay, being part of the Western District of the State, had an extra week of Summer holidays and had not yet resumed its new teaching year. He was also provided with a rail pass to Hay.
The Principal met him at the grand late 19th century-built Hay Railway Station – a move possibly designed to prevent him getting back on the next train away from Hay . The school had about 23 staff, with more energy than experience – half in their first year out. He had a lovely time. He joined the Rugby League Club (lasting – uninjured – till the pre-season knock-out comp. in Colleambally) and the Hay Amateur Dramatics Society. After two years the school needed to shed teachers and he volunteered for transfer, spending a year in Deniliquin. He met his future wife at Hay. They were married in Melbourne by a female Minister in the Independent Congregational Church, in Collins Street, after which they were transferred to the New England region of NSW where they taught for a further two and a half years before travelling overseas for 18 months, teaching English in Spain and Germany.
Back in NSW V2 filled a range of relief teaching positions, in the Mudgee district, then in Sydney – some in On-Arrival Centres and in hostels for migrants and refugees, before achieving a permanent placement at Homebush Boys’ High as a teacher of English as a Second language (ESL). He undertook further studies in teaching ESL. This burgeoning area of teaching captured his interest. There was in those times federal funding for Multicultural Education – Aboriginal Education and Disadvantaged Schools Programs. He also worked with the Adult Migrant Education Service, eventually working on community programs with some 40 teaching sites in the Eastern Region. As an Education Officer he conducted in-service programs for teachers, but also worked with a range of adults at night. He met amazing, intelligent people – from elderly Russian refugees to young writers. It was a time of change in the field. Writers such as Pino Bosi, Olga Masters , Peter Skrzynecki and Linda Burney visited his classes.
Over the next decade V2 worked in a school in the Hunter Region of NSW, teaching English, History, Drama and Computer Studies, but increasingly languages other than English, first introductory French and German, and then Japanese. In this period he undertook Japanese Studies, initially at night. He then undertook two years of exchange teaching in Japan during which he learned, as he puts it “a little Japanese language and a lot about Japan” and after a return for two years to Australia – he then took three years leave to return to Japan. At the conclusion of that period he resigned from his job in NSW in order to stay on in Japan.
He taught at a regional campus of the Tokyo University of Science and also in high schools and in middle schools. At the university (and in the middle school) he used an oral conversational approach with emphasis on pronunciation. Students also read English and undertook conversation in pairs. He used a conventional whiteboard to focus his classes. His students or learners ranged in age from 13 to beyond 60. He enjoyed teaching Japanese History to Japanese students as he himself was coming to understand it.
He determined not to return to Australia until he retired – so opposed was he to the assessment-regime in Australia. On his return it took him two years of ‘reverse culture shock’ to feel back in Australia.
In retirement he does some house-sitting. This enables him to spend time in the various places he has lived and to catch up with students, colleagues and friends in all the places he has taught. He and his wife travel a lot. He catches up on his reading, too – after all those years in Japan.
To respect our students, colleagues – our local community. To stand up for it. To call disrespectful manner and behaviour what it is – steering our students toward the better way – for themselves and towards others older – and their peers.
V2 has written continuously throughout his career, reflecting on various aspects of his extensive and various experience, as a teacher of English, modern languages, English as a second language, of Australian literature; as a family historian; as a pedagogue, a relief teacher, an observer of Japanese culture and an advocate of multiculturalism. He has chronicled his experience, making sense of the world as he has experienced it, working out why things are the way they are.
He talks easily of the philosophy and practices of the Japanese teacher Yoshida Shoin (1830~1859). His search for truth seems to have led him from Seventh-day Adventism, beyond the boundaries of organised religion to a place of personal and professional integrity wholly consistent with his paternal grandmother’s “Scottish sensibility towards education” and a commitment to the outcast and overlooked.
His life has been, and continues to be, a journey of learning, always towards a better way.
As he says: Wherever we are, we are the hero on the ground.