Tag Archives: history

A step back in time

I’m having a bit of a retrospective time of it at the moment. My high school is embarking on 75th anniversary celebrations at the end of the month, bringing with it an influx of old school photos onto my Facebook feed. Many of these are from before my time, although many names are familiar, partly because they are relatives of my school friends. However, the older photos have lists of names which sound like the local street directory, which I find amusing.

I didn’t study history until my last year of school, and even then, it was rather dry and ho-hum. I developed a taste for it when I was able to visit places where things actually happened. As part of that process, an interest in the history of my birthplace also developed.

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Whyalla is a relatively new place – by the standards of Europe it is virtually a baby – but it means that the links to its beginnings are still there. We visited Tony’s aunt and uncle a little while ago, which was lovely. During the conversation, out came the 100 year anniversary book from their primary school. On the first page is a faded photo of the very first students of the tiny Hummock Hill School, dated around 1905. Aunty Dawn pointed to one of the little girls in their white smocks. “There’s my mum.” Not much further along in the book is Uncle Bernie playing his fife. If my sums are right, he would have been one of the early students at my high school, which somehow makes the gap quite small. I have a feeling he was just as cheeky a little boy as he is an old man. I only wish I had met him earlier.

Built on the shoulders of industry, Whyalla is a dry and dusty place, covered in iron ore and pellet plant dust. The result is that the older buildings have a *slightly* pink tinge to them and the hot north winds have a kind of abrasive effect. The ‘Big Australian’, BHP, was keen to make the most of the recently discovered iron ore deposits in the Middleback Ranges in the early 1900s. It made economic sense to house the miners and the harbour workers nearby and so gradually a town grew on the coast.

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I think I might write more about that in another post later on, but for now, we’ll move on rapidly through a few decades.

By the late 1930s, it was decided a high school building was necessary. More children were staying in school for longer – the compulsory leaving age had been made higher – and BHP needed engineers and apprentices for its pig-iron and shipbuilding enterprises, so the education had to match. There certainly wasn’t enough room for them at the existing primary schools.

As with most major projects in Whyalla, the majority of funding for the initial building was contributed by BHP. With its first long-term Headmaster, Mr Hartley Searle, at the helm, it steadily grew. I have not had personal contact with Mr Searle, but I had reason to feel not-so-kindly in his direction as I worked my way through five years of his Maths textbooks with their imaginary and real concepts.

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My high school was unique for its time. By the time I attended this school, with its younger buildings climbing up the hill, it was the way most state schools are now – co-ed with a broad range of subjects available. But in the 1940s this was not the norm. Many of the state schools were still boys or girls only schools and there were limited choices. In ‘High’ schools, there was a choice of the General course (to go on to further study) or the Commercial (to be some sort of secretary). The ‘Technical’ high schools were for preparing students for trades.

Whyalla Technical High School combined both types of education. (The ‘Technical’ was dropped in 1971.) It also had the bonus of housing the trade school for apprentices and a flourishing night school for the community.

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I know the school was still used for community education even up until the early 1980s, as my mother attended music theory classes held by one of the music teachers one night a week. As a child, I went with her sometimes. My most distinct memory of this, apart from the lines of desks in a small room, is getting into trouble for leaving a book behind. The ballet school I attended also used the school hall for its annual recital until it moved more permanently into the TAFE College.

As I sit here writing, pictures and memories flash through my mind …

Kids running from all directions towards a narrow gate to catch the bus home.
The smell of pancake in the hall dressing rooms.
The herded feeling of the canteen queue (in, ironically, a converted dairy building).
The Principal wandering across the lawn to his house at lunchtime.
Learning dance routines for school musicals.
Blue, white and grey bodies, everywhere you look, making their way to different rooms for the next class.DSCN4826
Ducking at school assemblies while squawking seagulls fly overhead.

The coolness inside the main building – a relief from the heat outside.
Seeing the Queen racing past the school, running slightly late for an official engagement.
And what felt like rites of passage … as I look down at my pencil tin, made so long ago in metalwork class, along with at least 140 others that year alone.

The thought that this school could be closed down in the next few years makes me sad. Sad at a loss of history and sad that my hometown has diminished so much that there aren’t enough students to justify keeping it open … or maybe it’s progress. I don’t know …New Picture (6)

So, this is part of the reason this anniversary weekend is personally important.

And then another thought passes through my mind … a song from a couple of years before I started high school.

And another memory flashes by of sitting in the front foyer by the Principal’s office, with the honour boards above my head looking slightly precarious, while I anxiously wait to go to a piano exam and watch teenagers clattering down the library stairs …

Kids out driving Saturday afternoon just pass me by
And I’m just savouring familiar sights
We share some history, this town and I
….
Number one is to find some friends to say, “You’re doing well.”
After all this time you boys look just the same
Number two is the happy hour at one of two hotels
Settle in to play, “Do you remember so and so?”
Number three is, never say her name.

 

Happy 75th anniversary Whyalla High School!

 

Acknowledgements:
Flame Trees lyrics © O/B/O Apra Amcos
Songwriters: Steve Prestwich / Don Walker (Cold Chisel)

Feature Photo: Whyalla Technical High School 1945 from foto supplies – Albury Camera House (Flickr) used by permission.

Other photos … various photography classes …

 

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A Grand Jeté forward

A couple of weeks ago I celebrated the one year anniversary of me returning to ballet classes. After a hiatus of some 30 years, I was inspired to return and find the graceful me that had somehow been lost in the mists of time.

RMcD.Wed.ofI know that it is working, because the day after this auspicious occasion, I fell down the stairs at work. Don’t worry – it was only a couple of stairs, and probably the most hurt bit of me was my pride (because, of course, there was someone at the foot of the stairs watching this all unfold!!)

I find my old ballet teacher haunts me, telling me to pull my tail under, or to point my feet more. If it wasn’t for the fact that she is actually still alive, although unwell and quite elderly, I would ask her nicely to please go away and let me enjoy myself. But in a way, it is good that she’s there – because she actually was a very good teacher – although exceptionally firm – so I do point my toes more and probably I have better technique as a result.

I learnt ballet for eight years as a child/teenager, and thoroughly enjoyed it, except for pointe work. I met girls who were at different schools and who were different ages to me, so my social circle widened. It was like a family and I’m glad to have all of the ballet girls, as well as the few ballet boys, in my life. Many of us learnt for many years, so we spent quite a bit of time with each other, learning exercises for exams and later in the year, routines for the annual recital.

IMG_1288My father used to say he was a wonderful ballet mother, as he joined in the transporting of daughters to their many classes per week. Somehow my sister’s timetable and mine never matched up, so it was five or six trips per week to the ballet studio for our parents. I am amused by the fact that his ballet mother status did not extend to sewing costumes, or assisting with applying make-up, or any of the other tasks my mother was roped into doing.

When I wait to go into classes now, I look at the ballet fathers (including my dentist), and it makes me glad that they are part of this part of their children’s lives.

Ballet as an adult does not include obligatory exams or concerts – which will be a relief to the concert-goers. I’m not sure performing adults is such a great look, so I’m glad this ballet school doesn’t encourage it.

But I am back baby!

With the grace of a baby elephant, I leap around the room, with all the finesse that a few extra (unwanted) kilos bring, and adding my own creative spin on a lot of the exercises, I am there! Why, in a couple more years I could have the Australian Ballet banging on my front door, begging me to join them.

While that may be stretching the truth just a little, I am not regretting going back to ballet at all. I have met some lovely people, who mutter under their breath just as much as I do when we make mistakes. We have classes where everything goes right and classes where it is the complete opposite.

But for now, I’ll leave you with a funny story that my old ballet teacher told us when we recently visited her.

Before she started our ballet school in about 1973, she had a job teaching dance classes for upper primary in the local schools. Dance classes, she had found, were quite popular with the girls, but not so much with the boys. But suddenly, this was no longer the case. Much to the teacher’s surprise, the boys poured into dance class. She couldn’t quite work out why, until she heard mention of the name Ron Barassi … a famous footballer turned coach in Melbourne, who was including ballet in his football training. All the boys wanted to play football like him, so off to dance class they went!

I researched a little about this football legend and discovered he helped Sir Robert Helpmann with some football-inspired choreography in the mid-1960s. If you’ve ever seen the ballet “The Display”, this is the result. It also seems to have had the consequence of some unorthodox football training, which goes to show, you never know quite where ballet can take you … but that’s another story for another day …

 

Today’s featured photo is courtesy of Kryziz Bonny, a very talented photographer from Mexico. You can follow her on Flickr. (https://www.flickr.com/photos/kryziz/)

Lest we forget

I’ve been exploring around the Word Press website and it amazes me to think there cannot be a topic on this globe that isn’t covered by one (or many) blogs.

One blog I read said that new writers should write every day for the first month. Hmmm, I think I missed that boat. Also, I should have a consistent theme, or direction. Somehow, that isn’t quite happening yet either. But I promise when TAFE (study) is finished, and this year of upheaval is over, I will resume my life of supreme calm, and provide thoughtful, logical and similarly themed blog posts.

In the meantime, my thoughts go to the events of the past week. Wednesday 25 April, to be exact. This is a day full of poignancy for both Australia and New Zealand. I’m not so familiar with NZ history, but when the First World War broke out, Australia had only just joined its penal colonies and colonial-settled states as a federated nation in 1900. Fifteen years later, they joined the British Imperial Forces to fight her battles in Turkey and then along the Western Front of France and Belgium.

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Horrific losses of life occurred during this war to end all wars. The world would never be the same and by 1918, Europe’s land lay battered and destroyed.

The ANZAC spirit of mateship and facing adversity was defined in this war – where the Australian and NZ soldiers were shot down as they landed on the beaches of Gallipoli at the foot of steep cliffs. Now the Turks and Australians are friends, showing that on occasions, time can eventually heal some wounds.

Two years later – to the day – the Australian soldiers fought to save a little town in France called Villers-Bretonneux. As a result, the French (particularly in that area) remember Australians with a great deal of gratitude.

Back home, military and civilian alike rise up in the darkness, to make their way to dawn services, to stop to remember – not to glorify – but to show their thanks. It is not just for the soldiers who fought then, but also those who have fought since to protect our nation.

Many of us go to remember. Why? Because those thousands of names listed on war memorials in France, Belgium and towns and cities throughout Australia, as well as those who came home, scarred and damaged, are family.

I am not alone in this. In WW1, one of my great-great-great uncles fell on the way to Passchendaele. My great-grandfather served in the Field Ambulance on the Western Front – something I am especially proud of – that he helped those in need, rather than being part of the cause of losses in other families His son went to El Alemein in WW2 and lost his life there. My grandmother never really got over the loss of her brother … so much so that in the last few months of her life, it was him she spoke most often of calling her.

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In my travels I didn’t make it to these places. One day I might. I would like to see these places of historical significance – both personal and global, and to pay my respects to those who laid down their lives for others.

In Flanders fields the poppies blow
Between the crosses, row on row
That mark our place; and in the sky
The larks, still bravely singing, fly
Scarce heard amid the guns below.
(John McCrae)

Lest we forget.