Tomorrow is Peter Brownie's funeral in Newcastle, Sadly, I will not be able to attend; it's just too difficult getting there.
From time to time on this blog I have written of the importance of good teachers, of teachers who have an undying influence and who remain etched in our memories. I am sure that if I asked you, you would remember a teacher or two who had a major impact on your development. Peter was one such teacher.
Peter came to TAS (The Armidale School) in 1952, staying there until 1969 when he left to become Head of Wolaroi College, Orange. Peter was active in all parts of school life from theatre performance to coaching the school First Fifteen in Rugby. The following photo shows Peter in pretty characteristic pose during a 1962 First Fifteen match.
In Rugby, I watched Peter from afar. I was a long standing (several years) member of the Seconds as a front rower, second rower, lock and break-away; the last was my favourite position. Peter did try me at one training as hooker, but it wasn't a success. He wanted me for my comparative size and speed, but I really had no idea and kept pulling the props down.
My increasing contact with Peter came via the academic sphere. I was a bookish child, an omnivorous reader, but also one whose school results were poor. There were reasons for that, but the end result was that I got five Bs in the Intermediate Certificate, then just four Bs including geography in the School Certificate the following year. Not deterred, Peter asked me to do geography honours and enrolled me the small geography honours class. Then he did something far more cunning, although I only came to realise this later.
The honours course focused on Asian geography. He gave me books to read. Not school geography texts, but the leading scholarly publications on Asian geography. Have a look at this, you might find it interesting. I didn't have to write essays or anything like that. He would just ask me later what I thought. He asked me to help form a school geography society. He told me that I should use diagrams to explain relationships, to write to the diagram. Those are my words now, I am sure that he put them more simply.
The Trial Leaving Certificate came some eight months into this process. My B in the School Certificate was replaced by a high level A. I have been waiting for this moment, he wrote in my report. A few months later I scored first Class Honours. I can't remember where I came, whether it was ninth or eleventh in NSW.
My parents felt that at sixteen I was too young to go to University even though I had a Commonwealth Scholarship. I was to repeat the Leaving. Peter, knowing me rather well, said you are going to be bored. Why don't you pick up economics and economics honours? You should be able to complete the two year course in twelve months. I did, and again gained first Class honours. I didn't do quite as well, coming in somewhere around thirty second in the state.
I lost contact with with him after that. I had gone to Canberra, while he left TAS in 1969. We finally met again in 2006 at Alex Buzo's funeral. We talked. Peter said that when he first came to TAS the salary was low, but the head (Gordon Fisher) told him that his sons would be able to attend the school for free. Several daughters later, Peter appeared in a review wearing a tap, explaining that despite all his efforts he still had no-one to put him put it it on!I also learned for the first time that when Peter began teaching economics he knew nothing about the subject and in fact relied on Dad who was Professor of Economics at New England for subject knowledge to keep him just in front of his students.
We did exchange a few emails after the funeral, but I was tied up with family matters and things drifted. Now, of course, it's too late. I regret that. But I can at least record my admiration and affection for a man who did so much for me.