Thursday, February 28, 2013

Reflections on the death of Peter Brownie

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. 1962-Rugby-1 

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.  


debbiejk said...

At North Sydney Girls High I had as an English and French teacher, Mrs Levick. Not that many years ago, I discovered she was author Amy Witting, who wrote too little because of the pressure to earn a living. From Wikipedia " Amy Witting (26 January 1918 — 18 September 2001) was the pen name of an Australian novelist and poet born Joan Austral Fraser[1] She was widely acknowledged as one of Australia's "finest fiction writers, whose work was full of the atmosphere and colour or times past".[2] Mrs Levick had an Ozzie French accent, a strange little hand puppet called Jules and was a fabulous and memorable teacher.

Jim Belshaw said...

That's fascinating, Debbie. I hadn't heard of her. I read the Wikipedia link; she was an interesting writer and obviously a very good teacher.

Jim Belshaw said...

A brief follow up comment. I should do a post on her at some point. My commenters give me lots of lovely story leads!

Rummuser said...

It is a nice tribute Jim.

Great teachers affect students in ways that are indescribable. I too had written about a great teacher ( and recently when I had gone to Chennai for a family reunion I met another great teacher couple who too had been receiving many accolades from their strudents. I wish that modern teachers could generate that kind of veneration. I am told that they do not. At least not in India.

Ian Harris said...

A great post Jim!

Legal Eagle said...

Agree - lovely post. And I can still think of all the teachers who were inspirational to me when I was a kid and a teenager. A good teacher is a good thing.

Anonymous said...

This is a wonderful tribute Jim, and thank you for sharing it with your readers.

Like all of the above I also had some inspirational teachers in my life; long gone now, but remembered with fondness and greatly honoured by myself and my group of friends even as we played out the usual 'learning is boring' game that every kid pretends to their peers.

I sometimes wonder what my life might have been without those teachers who somehow managed to instil a love of learning, and I feel sad for any who may have gone through life without meeting one for themselves.

As a small aside - why am I unsurprised that your preferred position was breakaway?


Jim Belshaw said...

Ramana, I had actually missed that post! It's a great story.

Thank you Ian, LE and kvd. Peter has been much in my mind. I really wanted to pay a personal tribute and also force the point once again about our teachers.

Mmmm, kvd. You are right, of course. Breakaway is the most active position on the field. As compared too we grunts in the forwards, they had the glamour. Because I was reasonably fast, i did play wing a few times. But I found that position dead boring. The scrum breaks, and you head out to break the opposing back line. Fun.