Saturday, October 17, 2009

Saturday Morning Musings - change at a local context

Beardy Street 1905 In a post yesterday, The Armidale School (TAS) changes its organisational structure, I looked at changes in the structure of my old secondary school. This got me musing about things past and Armidale as a microcosm of change within Australia.

Just for the benefit of international readers, Armidale is an educational centre in Northern New South Wales (New England) with a current population of about 22,000.

This photo shows Armidale's main street, Beardy Street, in 1905. This was two years before my grandfather arrived in town as a farm labourer. The big building in the right background is Richardson's Department Store.

My first ever consulting assignment was to advise the new owners of this building what they might do with the upstairs' area. We suggested that the idea of a Rural Information Centre was not viable; office space would be a better alternative. As it happened, our consulting business ended as the lead tenants. We occupied the entire street facing top floor around both corners. Somewhere I have a photo of youngest still in nappy's crawling backwards down the steep stair to the tower.1905-Building

The next photo shows the main TAS building in 1905. Founded in 1894 as a boarding school on English lines, the main school building was built on what were then paddocks to the east of Armidale. Note the absence of trees and the roller. 

School conditions could best be described as austere. This was a very different world. There was no expectation of the comfort or privacy that we would take for granted today.

1913-Dorm-2 This photo shows a school dorm (dormitory) in 1913. You can see what I mean.

A modern audience seeing this photo in isolation from context - a private school where parents paid substantial sums of money to send their boys - might think of work house conditions.

I make this point because when we are considering visual material of conditions in Aboriginal establishments like Kinchella for example, we compare from today, not from the conditions of the time.

When I started at this school the conditions were not dissimilar. There were fewer beds, there was a  small personal chest of drawers between each bed, but still very similar. I was a day boy in a mainly boarding school. But I used to change in these dorms; then as a monitor on duty I had to check the dorms as the boys went to bed, reporting to the master on duty that all was well before I went to my o1962-100yds_How_Heathwn home; finally as a student (duty) master I lived in a room of one of these dorms for a school year.

Just for the sake of nostalgia, this photo shows the finals of the 100 yards at the school   athletics carnival in 1962.

The winning bloke on the far right is Rick How who won the GPS sprint that year and went on to play for NSW in Rugby with one match for Australia as wing against Ireland in 1967. I played against Rick. My god he was hard to catch. The bloke to the next of him is Rollo Heath, I am not sure who is coming third, but I am fourth on the far left. I have to tell you that these two - Rick and Rollo - were some of the nicest people I have ever met.

I remember this meet. I had met a NEGS girl on the train at the end of the previous year. I saw her again, a bit embarrassed because I hadn't bother to shave, and we started writing to each other. That's another story.

Six of my extended family have been to TAS, starting in the years of the Second World War.

I tried to find a photo to illustrate this period, but could not. This was the first period that social change hit TAS, greater I think than that that happened in the First World War. Frankly, the school was a bit of a bear garden because every boy knew that they would be entering the military as soon as they finished. The masters themselves knew this, so allowances were made.

The next big change was the ninety seventies. It began a little earlier, signs were there in my time, but the 1970s were the time of huge change in which the student body actually rejected in a combined way certain school rules and approaches. I haven't attempted to trace the social history, indeed I had no idea at a purely school level how great it had been until talking later to cousin Will.

I was not a great supporter of Alan Cash as head at the time he became head. I was actually a fairly one eyed supporter of Gordon Fisher, the former head. Now, in retrospect, I tip my hat to Alan. He took the school through a period of fundamental change, one that must have been very difficult, in ways that preserved the past while laying the basis for the future.

The first overseas students came to TAS in my last period there. I wish I could remember all their names. They had a pretty rough time of it. Boarding school life can be tough to begin with. It is a lot harder if you come from a fundamentally different culture. But things change, if sometimes more slowly than we would like.

I remember when my parents arranged to have some TAS Thai students come to stay with us. I was than at university. TAS Overseas students 1

Mum and dad did so because they had lived in Bangkok. Mum in fact cooked Thai food to give the boys a break. But the main thing they wanted to do was to have hot showers! Ex-TAS boys might appreciate this!

The next photo shows current international students at TAS.

There is an enormous difference between the TAS world that I knew and today.  The international component is only a small part of this.

Finishing, this is only a small snapshot of change in a local context.

In writing, I try to distinguish between change and my views of change. I also try to articulate those elements that I believe are worth preserving. I will pick up further elements of the Armidale story in a later post.         

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