06 June 2011

Armidale Demonstration School 150th anniversary

Armidale City Public School, known when I attended it (1949-55) as the Armidale Demonstration School, is this year celebrating its 150th anniversary. Three days of events to celebrate the sesquicentenary will be held in Armidale over the Queen’s Birthday weekend, from Friday 10 – Sunday 12 June 2010.  The program for the celebrations may be accessed here, and the arrangements for present and former pupils to assemble at the post office and proceed together to the school on Saturday morning may be accessed here.

Over the course of its 150 years the school has been known by several names:

-  Armidale National School
-  Armidale District School
-  Armidale Superior Public School
-  Armidale Demonstration School (because of its association with the Armidale Teachers’ College)
-  Armidale Public School
-  Armidale City Public School

Because of the school’s close association with Armidale Teachers’ College in my time we always had excellent classroom teachers, as trainee teachers would be marched down the hill from time to time to stand at the back of the class and see how it was done, and we would always have a couple of “prac teachers” when all of the trainees were sent on a three-week stint of practice teaching under supervision.  The fact that the university offered external degrees also made Armidale a desirable destination for teachers wishing to complete a degree.

Unfortunately I have no photographic memorabilia from those long ago days, but my friend James Belshaw, who was one year behind me, has on his blog a photo provided by his classmate Bruce Hoy, which may be accessed here – click the photo to enlarge it.

The faces are all familiar still, and I can remember most of the names.  Cliff Johnson, the classroom teacher, also taught me in Fifth Class, as we called it.  He had served in the Army in World War II; perhaps he is the Clifford Charles Johnson who, according to the war service record here, was born in Armidale on 16 May 1921, and enlisted in Armidale, shortly after his twenty-first birthday, on 1 August 1942, and served as a trooper in 15 Australian Motor Regiment (motorised infantry supporting armour – an update to the mounted infantry of the Light Horse tradition). I have no way of knowing; there are service records for a couple of other Clifford Johnsons from Northern New South Wales (one from Urunga, one from Glenn Innes and one from Grafton).

He was a firm but kindly man whom I remember for his capacity to deliver four levels of spelling and arithmetic to his large classes which widely dispersed abilities, containing as they did children of academics and children of agricultural smallholders, who journeyed in from the countryside by bus each day, and he managed to do that in a way that was not disrespectful of the kids who were struggling. His aim was to teach everyone something, and as you can see from the photo, there were 44 kids in that 1995 class (only about 35 in mine – the baby boom had not quite taken off in my cohort, but was getting under way.

I remember that Cliff also played the saxophone and had a particular fondness for the old Italian songs, which he taught us to sing – to this day I cannot hear “Santa Lucia” or “Back to Sorrento” without thinking of Cliff.

A couple of other people in the photo that I could mention:

-  The future Senator Bob Brown (fifth from the right in the front row)

-  The Somerville twins, Paul and Malcolm (sixth from the right in the front row and the far right in the second row), sons Professor Jack Somerville, Professor of Physics at UNE, and one of the original staff members at the New England University College.  Paul and Malcolm were two of the five students in my Physics Honours year at the University of New England, and became notable geophysicists. Malcolm was on the staff of the Australian Geological Survey Organisation (AGSO) when I was Secretary, Department of Primary Industries and Energy, and tragically died in a house fire in Adelaide a few years later. Paul is Deputy Director of Risk Frontiers, the Natural Hazards Research Centre at Macquarie University (see here).  The twins’ older sister Susan was one of my father’s students in Psychology, gaining First Class Honours and the University Medal, and is now Professor Emeritus in Psychology at Arizona State University (see here).

-  Peter Kemp (sixth from the right in the second row) was the son of the Deputy Principal of Armidale Teachers’ College.

-  Roger Lamb (third from the left in the back row) was the son of Paul Lamb, another staff member at Armidale Teachers’ College.

- Peter Ash (tall boy immediately in front of Cliff Johnson’s right shoulder – eighth standing boy from the left), who died recently, served in Vietnam and I recall seeing a photo of him on the front page of one of the Sydney Morning Herald or The Australian when he and his fellow “Tunnel Rats” discovered a large tunnel complex in the early years of the war. He is listed on page 23 of the April 2007 edition of Holdfast, the newsletter of the Vietnam Tunnel Rats Association (see here), as having served in 3 Field Troop (1965-66).

-  Jim Belshaw, son of Professor “Jimmy” Belshaw, Professor of Economics at UNE and a foundation staff member of the New England University College.  The Jim’s father appears as coach in the photo that is the centrepiece of my post New England University Rugby Team 1939. His grandfather, D.H Drummond, is one of the stars of my post Booloominbah, about the background to the establishment of the New England University College.

Regrettably I do not have such a photo of my own class, which included Peter Woolnough (known to the world as Peter Allen) and Jack Knight, the first Liberal Senator for the ACT, who died of a heart attack at the extraordinarily young age of 39.  I have lost contact with the majority of my classmates, but I do have regular contact with my old classmate Harry Pidgeon, who has featured in a couple of my posts – see Harry Pidgeon at Cooks Hill and Harry Pidgeon's opening at Cooks Hill.

When I mentioned the forthcoming event at our old primary school Harry sent me a scan of an unfinished watercolour of the old Girls’ Department building which he painted in the early 1960s, and kindly gave me permission to upload it in this post.

© Harry Pidgeon