28 January 2014

Vale Bill Pritchett 1921-2014

I was very sorry to learn of the death overnight of one of my predecessors, W.D. (Bill) Pritchett, who was Secretary to the Department of Defence from August 1979 until his retirement in February 1984.

I barely knew him at the time he was Secretary as I was working in the Department of Trade and Resources/Trade during those years but I suspect I met him a couple of times in the early 1970s when he would have been a Deputy Secretary and I was working in the National Assessments Staff (forerunner of the Office of National Assessments) under Garry Woodard.

After I left the public service, however, Garry arranged for us to meet. I enjoyed a couple of very pleasant and interesting lunches with him during some of my visits to Canberra, and we corresponded from time to time.

He also had a special place in my heart as a direct link with my mother, who died in 1973, a few weeks before her 51st birthday. As Bill and I were getting to know one another on the first occasion, it emerged that he had done an Arts Degree at Sydney University just before the war, and I commented that my mother had done the same. On ascertaining who she was, he exclaimed, “I remember Shirley Egan! I used to sit behind her in Psychology class!”

Fortunately for posterity Garry Woodard interviewed Bill in 2002 and 2003, for the National Library’s audio archives, an audio file of which there is a 308 page typescript.

The short bio for Bill on the webpage for the item reads:

William Pritchett, retired diplomat & career public servant was born in Sydney, N.S.W. and graduated from University of Sydney with an Arts Degree specialising in history and anthropology. After service in WWII he was appointed as a diplomatic cadet in the then Dept. of External Affairs in 1945. As well as service from time to time at the Dept.'s head office in Canberra, Pritchett served at posts in Jakarta, Berlin, Boon, New Delhi, Singapore and London. He joined the Dept. of Defence, located in Canberra, A.C.T. in March 1973. Pritchett was appointed a Deputy Secretary in 1978 and in Aug.1979 Head of the Dept. on the retirement of Sir Arthur Tange. William Pritchett retired from the position in Jan. 1984 at age 63.

Rest in peace, Bill, it was an honour to have known you.

26 January 2014

On final for Armidale

On one of my last trips to Armidale (October 2013) the plane took a track to the east of the city, over the edge of the Oxley Wild Rivers National Park in the Dangarsleigh area, then, once it was north of the airport, swung west over the city for a north-south landing. This track gave me, seated on by a window on the left hand side of the aircraft, a wonderful opportunity to capture some of Armidale’s landmarks.

 Starting the descent.

A glimpse of Oxley Wild Rivers National Park.

View of the city from East Armidale, looking towards the Golf Course (right of centre, towards the top).

South-East and Southern parts of the city. Former Teachers College at right of frame.

Former Teachers College, now the Conservatorium of Music and University of New England Heritage Centre, more or less at the centre of the image. Armidale City Public School (built on the site of the former Armidale Demonstration School, where I did my primary schooling) a couple of blocks down the street on the edge of the frame at right. Armidale cemetery in the top left hand corner. Sadly, these days I think I know more people in the cemetery than I do in the town.
The Armidale School, where I did my secondary schooling (1956-60) and my father completed his (1933-36)

The road south to Sydney (formerly part of the New England Highway) swings past the New England Girls’ School (NEGS) to link up with the Highway near the airport, which is visible in the upper right quadrant.
A view of Dangar Street, showing (bottom) St Peter’s Anglican Cathedral; Central Park; opposite Central Park on the other side of it, St Mary’s Catholic Cathedral; behind St Mary’s the former St Ursula’s College, founded by Ursuline nuns from Germany in 1882 (closed 1977); across Rusden Street from Central Park, Smith House, formerly the residence for female students at the Teachers College; and further up the hill, Armidale City Public School. Several of the houses on the opposite side of Dangar Street from the public school were in my day “town houses” university students while the university colleges were being built. In the very bottom corner, the former Methodist Church (now a video shop or something) and around the corner from it in Faulkner Street, St Paul’s Presbyterian Church.
Another view of the former Teachers College, with Armidale City Public School down the hill from it. The railway line runs behind the Teachers College and swings south to Kellys Plains and Uralla, and on (eventually) to Sydney. The Dangarsleigh area is in the upper left quadrant, and just off screen from there you would find the spectacular Dangar Falls in the Oxley Wild Rivers National Park – only about 10 miles from Armidale Post Office.

 View towards the South-East, taking in the Dangarsleigh area.

Armidale Railway Station (now the terminus of a line which used to run through to Brisbane).

The New England Girls School (NEGS).

About to land.

Those were the days

A few days ago someone I follow tweeted a link to a YouTube file of Peter Sarstedt’s 1969 classic Where Do You Go to My Lovely? I really like that song in its day, and hadn’t heard it for years, so I clicked on the link.

In a sidebar there was a link to another great song of the late 1960s – Mary Hopkin’s Those Were the Days.

Apart from being great songs, they transport me back to a time (1968-70) when I was working with good people in the newly established Department of Education and Science, and really enjoying doing a second degree part-time at the ANU (1969-72). If you walked into the bar at the old ANU Union these were songs you were likely to hear – often.

Those Were the Days has an interesting provenance. According to the sleeve notes on the Nonesuch vinyl The Odessa Balalaikas: The Art of the Balalaika:

The romance Dorogoi dlinnonu – Down the Long Road (composed by Boris Fomin in the 1920s) became enormously popular in the United States when it was released in an English version, “Those Were the Days”, sung by Mary Hopkin. After travelling incognito to the Soviet Union in the mid-60s, the Beatles, who soon thereafter recorded “Back in the USSR”, wanted to produce a song in the Russian style. Presumably Mary Hopkin received the music from Paul McCartney, but it was actually Gene Raskin who wrote the English text after hearing a rare recording of the piece made by Aleksandr Vertinski in the 1920s.

Those were the days, indeed.

25 January 2014

A day trip to Dangar Falls

I guess January is a time when most of us remember summers past and what we did in the holidays of our youth.

The first few days of January always remind me of a particular day in very early January of one particular year, 1962, the start of my second year at the University of New England.

One fine morning in the first few days of January 1962 the late Helen Beh (1), Susan Somerville (2) and I packed a picnic and headed off in Helen’s Volkswagen in the direction of Dangars Falls, a spectacular 120m waterfall about 25km southeast of Armidale, at the head of Dangar Gorge in Oxley Wild Rivers National Park.  It was Armidale’s quietest time – the boarding schools were closed and the university and teachers college students had all gone home, so there were relatively few people about except people like Sue and me, both children of academics, or Helen, preparing herself for her honours year.

Both Sue and Helen were taking up appointments that year as Demonstrators in Psychology.  Sue, who was a year ahead of Helen, had just completed her honours year, becoming the first female student to be awarded a University Medal in Psychology.

The sole purpose of the last stretch of the road is to convey people to the gorge; after the last farm gate was left behind it goes nowhere else.  That last stretch of a kilometre or so was in dreadful condition, with ruts so deep that Helen’s VW began bottoming out, and although it was protected by the metal shield underneath there was some danger of running aground in such a way that the driving wheels were no longer in contact with Mother Earth.

A lesser spirit might have abandoned our quest at this stage, or alternatively locked up the car and made the last leg of the journey on foot, but no, that wasn’t what one did when Helen had set her mind to something.  Sue and I got out of the car and began filling the ruts ahead of the wheels with fallen timber, stones or whatever we could lay our hands to, and metre by metre we made our way to where the road comes to an end above the creek near the top of the falls.

Of course when you on an outing like this with Helen you don’t just admire the breathtaking view down the gorge:

or even just content yourself with walking around the edge of the gorge a bit to where you can get a view of the falls:

Not at all. We have to climb down here:

In order to get to here and see how it all looks from below:

Which of course we did. We spent a wonderful hour or so exploring the bottom of the gorge:

and enjoying the sun, before making our way back up the steep slope (no trivial matter) and manhandling the Volkswagen back over the rough patches until we were on our way and returned to the Somerville’s place for a well-earned cuppa, at the end of a memorable day, one which came back to me vividly when I revisited the Falls a few weeks after Helen’s death in 2012 and took the above photos.
(1) For more about Helen see the obituary written by her husband Cyril Latimer at Vale Helen Beh, 1941-2012.

(2) Susan Somerville was the daughter of Professor Jack Somerville, the Professor of Physics, who was one of the foundation members of the University staff, having taken up an appointment as Lecturer in Mathematics and Physics in 1938. As far as I know, Sue was the first graduate of the university who was the offspring of a student or member of staff, and I was the first offspring of one of the students at NEUC/UNE. She studied under my father, I studied under hers. It was all very “family” in those days. Sue is now a Professor Emeritus at Arizona State University.