xmlns:og='http://ogp.me/ns#' The Font of Noelage

Friday, 22 September 2017

Royal Show Memories.

My earliest memories of the Royal Show were a mixture of merry-go-round rides, Chairaplane rides, dodgem cars, the Octopus, log chops, Professor Wilkinson doing tricks on a motorcycle, displays by mounted police on charging white horses, exhibitions of food and farm produce in the Centenary Pavilion, bustling crowds, strong animal smells, sample bags, hot dogs and fairy floss.

In those days  there were only three terms in the school year and the October Royal show fell outside the school holidays. The two big days of the Show were People’s Day on Wednesday and Children’s Day on Thursday. Wednesday was a public holiday and city schools were closed for both days. My parents used to take the family on People’s Day. I fondly remember the 1948 Show. It was about 10 months  after my family had moved from 164, Seventh Avenue Inglewood, to  number 8, Aberdeen Street. I was ten years old. My sisters, Valerie and Kathleen were aged 7 and 5 respectively.

My parents loaded the family into our blue Essex Tourer. Dad had folded back the canvas hood and the family set off from Aberdeen Street and into Beaufort Street towards the city, just like royalty riding down The Mall in an open carriage.

At that time, my older cousins, Maurie and Raymond Carr, who lived with us at Aberdeen Street, had two dogs, G.K. and Danny. G.K. was Maurie’s dog, a Scottish terrier he had named after G.K. Chesterton. Raymond’s dog, Danny, was a beautiful collie dog just like Lassie. Unfortunately, when Dad drove out of the side lane he did not close the gate. The family’s high-spirited departure had excited both dogs and G.K. and Danny soon set off after the Bourke family making their royal progress along Beaufort Street. 

Despite the dogs’ barking and yapping, my dad decided to keep on driving towards the Barrack Street Bridge. As he drove passed the Swan Barracks he waved his right hand and yelled at the barking dogs to go back. They took Dad's gestures as a sign of encouragement and continued bounding noisily alongside the open vehicle.

What had started out as a royal procession quickly degenerated into a scene out of Dad and Dave Come to Town.Dad drove his family in the open car and over the Barrack Street Bridge, escorted by the two barking dogs. Startled onlookers in the street looked at the passing parade, convinced that some rich squatter had arrived in town for the Royal Show with his family and farm dogs in tow. By the time the car reached Murray Street, the dogs had found other city distractions to occupy their attention and the Bourke family continued on to the Show without their canine escorts.


Every year, as soon as the family had entered the gates, Dad would pick out a landmark, such as the Ferris wheel or the main door of the Centenary Pavilion and say, “If you get lost go straight to the Ferris wheel and wait for your mother or me to come and get you. Do not go anywhere with anyone else.”

My mother was well aware of “Stranger Danger” long before the term became fashionable. She warned my two sisters and me to be particularly wary of ladies offering them lollies or any other inducements. She told us that quite often, evil men dressed up as women, just to trap little boys and girls. Filled with such foreboding we never wandered far from Mum and Dad. The other reason being of course that Mum and Dad had all the money that is so necessary to obtain the full enjoyment of Sideshow Alley.

When I was about twelve years old I started going to the Show on my own or with friends. I would save for several weeks, keeping my Show money under the carpet in my bedroom. Naturally, Dad would give me some extra spending money and my Aunty May was very good and always gave me a bonus in Show Week. Aunty May ran The Lucky Bunny lottery kiosk at 119 Barrack Street. She used to pay me five shillings a week to run the lottery ticket butts and the cash to the Lotteries Commission office in St Georges Terrace each day, after school.

My Uncle Ray would also give me a few shillings to spend at the show. I would take great delight in counting out my money, working out how many rides, sideshows, cool drinks, hot dogs and serves of fairy floss I could afford. 

On Show Day I used to arrive with what always seemed like plenty of money However, by late afternoon I would have only enough for my bus fare home, while still strongly desiring more rides, sideshows and food. In those days all cool drink bottles carried a deposit of tuppence. I would collect up as many empty bottles as I needed and cash them in to finance my next big showtime splurge. At least in those days the showbags, or sample bags as they were then called, were free.

Naturally, the main attraction for me at the Show was Sideshow Alley with its rides, dodgem cars, House of Horrors, Ghost Train, the Wheel of Death, Blum’s Boxing Troupe and various other sideshow tents. Two sideshows remained etched in my memory forever; one featuring Big Chief Little Wolf and another featuring the alluring fan dancer, Paulette.

Big Chief, Little Wolf was a Red Indian who became very popular in Australia after the war. He was a sensation at the big wrestling matches in Sydney and each year would tour the various Shows putting on exhibitions, demonstrating wrestling holds and talking about his colourful life. He always wore a huge Indian feather headdress and attracted big crowds wherever he went. On one earlier occasion, Dad took me to Reilly’s Hall in Inglewood to see Big Chief Little Wolf stage a boxing and wrestling exhibition against Paddy Boxall a well-known state champion boxer of the 1940s. Big Chief Little Wolf was a great entertainer and attracted huge crowds all over Australia.

Paulette was an exotic French lady who was, quite possibly, just an ordinary Australian girl from Bayswater named Beryl, making pin money at the Show. However, as Paulette, with her sexy French accent and exotic dancing, she had a lot of fans. Of course, her two biggest fans were the huge feathery blue ones she used so cleverly to keep her naked body covered as she danced around on the small stage inside the tent. She certainly aroused my interest in the female form and I spent a great deal of my hard earned pocket money visiting the creamy skinned Paulette, always in the hope that once – just once – she would drop one of those blasted fans. 

She never did.

Monday, 18 September 2017

Millions of Federal dollars for formal testing in Year One. Did anyone ask the teachers what they REALLY need?

Federal Education Minister, Simon Birmingham will spend millions of dollars inflicting a universal literacy and numeracy testing regime on all Year One students. By doing this he is demonstrating the penchant for politicians to look as if they are interested in education and busily doing something about it.

There is not a Year One teacher in Australia who could not have told Minister Birmingham at the end of February this year which children in their class would thrive in language and numeracy, which children would achieve satisfactory outcomes and which children would struggle. They would struggle because of a variety of intellectual, physical, psychological, social, emotional and cultural factors.

What these Year One teachers want is not another testing regime imposed from above. What they want is more well trained Teacher Assistants, more school nurses, more speech therapists, more school psychologists. They especially want more social workers to visit families that are not coping, that are dysfunctional, that are affected by drugs, physical and sexual abuse. Many of the problems children experience at school originate well outside the classroom.

By inflicting this new universal testing scheme on Year One Teachers, Minister Birmingham is indulging in Teacher Bashing, because he is in effect saying that up till now Year One teachers have been derelict in their duty in detecting children at risk.

He also putting increased downward pressures on schools and teachers to introduce formal literacy and numeracy skills to the early years of childhood. Since NAPLAN was introduced in 2009, the pressure on teachers to introduce the formal teaching of language and numeracy skills into Kindergarten and Pre Primary classes has resulted in Kindergarten becoming the new Year One and Pre Primary the new Year Two.

The dangers of inflicting formal education on very young children was highlighted by highly respected Professor David Elkind, of Rochester University, in 1989, when he published his bestselling book, “The Hurried Child, The Power of Play and Miseducation.”

Elkind spent many years studying “The Hurried Child” and the many problems that arise from getting young children involved in formal education too soon. He stressed that “Education is not a race.” He believed that children’s education activities should be “developmentally appropriate.” Unlike our politicians, Elkind spent a lifetime researching the subject.

In 2001, Elkind published a paper entitled, “Much Too Early”. He again warned of the dangers of forcing formal education on minds not yet ready.  He warned of the “Growing call for early-childhood educators to engage in the academic training of young children.”  Elkind went on to point out that “Those calling for academic instruction of the young don't seem to appreciate that maths and reading are complex skills acquired in stages related to age. Children will acquire these skills more easily and more soundly if their lessons accord with the developmental sequence that parallels their cognitive development.”

“The short answer” said Elkind, “is that the movement toward academic training of the young is not about education. It is about parents anxious to give their children an edge in what they regard as an increasingly competitive and global economy. It is about the simplistic notion that giving disadvantaged young children academic training will provide them with the skills and motivation to continue their education and break the cycle of poverty. It is about politicians who push accountability, standards, and testing in order to win votes,  more than to improve the schools.”

Elkind wrote these words in 2001. They are even truer today than they were then. Elkind clearly identified the problem sixteen years ago yet politicians have continued to push for policies that win votes but do not necessarily improve schooling.

Unfortunately, some parents and most politicians, do see education as a race. Despite the research evidence of educators like Professor  Elkind, who have spent years studying the effects of “Too much Too Soon”, they believe that they can give children a head start in “The Race” by starting them earlier and earlier.

Elkind concludes by saying, “If we want all of our children to be the best that they can be, we must recognize that education is about them, not us. If we do what is best for children, we will give them and their parents the developmentally appropriate, high-quality, affordable, and accessible early-childhood education they both need and deserve.’’

He warned, "It is during the early years, ages four to seven, when children's basic attitudes toward themselves as students and toward learning and school are established. Children who come through this period feeling good about themselves, who enjoy learning and who like school, will have a lasting appetite for the acquisition of skills and knowledge. Children whose academic self-esteem is all but destroyed during these formative years, who develop an antipathy toward learning, and a dislike of school, will never fully realize their latent abilities and talents.”

These chilling words, warning of large numbers of youth disaffected by schooling, should be written in bronze on the walls of every politicians’ office. The problem would be getting them to read them and understand them.

Tuesday, 29 August 2017

Herb Elliott: Outstanding Australian middle distance runner.

Herb Elliott was an outstanding Australian middle-distance runner. But an accident at school nearly ended his great career. Nearly ended it before it began. I know, because I was there when it happened.

In August, 1958, Herb Elliott flashed in to world prominence when he smashed the mile record by an incredible 2.7 seconds, running the distance in 3.54.7 minutes.

The following September he smashed the 1500 metre record by 2.1 seconds, when he ran the race in 3.36 minutes. The world was astounded by the young Australian’s incredible achievements. Mile and 1500 metre records are usually broken by tenths of a second. Breaking them by over two seconds was remarkable. However, even greater feats lay ahead.

Running in the 1500 metres at the Rome Olympics, Herb broke his own world record and spreadeagled an elite field of runners to win in 3.35.6 minutes. He finished  a whopping 2.6 seconds in front of the second placed runner, Michael Jazy, of France. In fact, in a photo taken of Herb as he crossed the finish line in that remarkable race, no other runner can be seen. Herb had left the world’s best runners trailing far behind in his wake.

We can get an idea of how wonderful Herb’s performance in that race was, by the fact that in the fourteen Olympic games held since 1960, his time would have won him the 1500 metre gold medal in ten of them. Between 1957 and 1961, Herb Elliott was never beaten in a mile or 1500 metre race.

And yet his outstanding international athletic career nearly did not happen.

In 1955, Herb and I were in the Leaving Class at Aquinas College. Herb was the Head Prefect and I was one of the footsloggers. In November of that year it was decided to hold a Prefect’s Dance in the school hall.

In preparation for this event, on a Saturday afternoon, Herb and I were asked to move the piano to the end of the hall. On the way, the top heavy piano overturned and fell on Herb’s foot. It broke his big toe. 

It ended any thoughts Herb had of participating in the Australian athletics championships in January, 1956.  Indeed, it more or less ended any thoughts he had of running competitively again.

In 1955, Herb was the Australian boys’ junior mile champion. At the 1955 Aquinas Faction Sports, Herb won the mile race, as everyone knew he would. He also won the 100 yards, 220 yards, 440 yards and 880 yards races, as well as the high jump and the long jump. The only major event he did not win was the shot putt, which he did not enter. At the Greater Public Schools Interschool Athletics Carnival at the WACA ground in September that same year, Herb surprised no one by winning the mile in grand style and in record time.

At Aquinas of course, we all knew Herb was destined for greatness. In fact, I made a point of ensuring that the last time I kicked a football at Aquinas College at the end of Second Term, it was a drop kick to Herb. It was my way of having some connection to the certain fame that was to come.

In the early and mid-1950s, there was great interest in attempts by various runners to crack the four-minute mile barrier. Englishman, Roger Bannister, became the first person to run the mile under four minutes, when on May 6, 1954, he ran a time or 3.59.4.  46 days later, the great Australian miler, John Landy, smashed Bannister’s mile record at Turku, Finland, when he recorded a mile time of 3.58 seconds.

So, when young Herb Elliott started showing some promise as a mile runner, the Australian public and the media started paying attention. One person who was very interested was the flamboyant and eccentric sports trainer, Percy Cerruty.

I was there when Herb Elliott first met Percy Cerruty. Like Herb, I was a boarder at Aquinas. It was a Sunday morning and my parents had made their regular week-end visit to see their favourite, and only, son. On this balmy Spring Sunday in October of 1955, The Headmaster, Brother Murphy, had invited the famous Percy Cerruty to have a look at Herb and talk to the boys and their parents about running. That was what Brother Murphy had thought, but Percy did much more than just talk. After seeing Herb run two laps of the Memorial Oval, Percy made some comments on his style and stride length and then slipped into a dissertation that ranged from athletics to philosophies of life, eating habits and the evolution of man. All the while he talked and gesticulated in a most animated fashion and gradually took off all his clothes.

First, he removed his cravat, then his jacket, then his shirt. Next, he removed his shoes and socks. When he started to take down his trousers the boys all wondered what would happen next. There were many mothers present, including Herb Elliott’s mother. Well, none of the Brothers made a move, but they must have been relieved to see that under his trousers Percy was wearing a fancy pair of silk racing shorts. Everyone breathed a sigh of relief.

At that time, Percy would have been in his early sixties, but he had a finely muscled physique and proceeded to demonstrate how Man could run like a horse, a dog, a cheetah or a gazelle. He demonstrated different stride styles and different arm actions as he sprinted or jogged in front of the enthralled throng. He seemed to glide over the ground. He spoke non-stop and with such intensity that everyone present was spellbound by his delivery. At length, he finished and began putting his clothes back on. As my family and I walked away, my father commented that he felt like running up the grassy bank of the oval and back to the car. Percy Cerruty had that effect on people.

So, it was obvious that even Percy Cerruty thought that Herb was destined for big things. Then came the Prefects’ Dance and the broken big toe. Herb could not compete and even when his toe had healed he did not participate in the 1956 Western Australian amateur athletics events or the State Championships in September. It seemed that his running days were over.

Just by chance, Herb attended the Melbourne Olympics in November 1956. He was impressed by Olympic 1500 metre winner, Irishman, Ron Delany, and even spoke with him during the games. However, what really impressed Herb were the outstanding running achievements of Emil Zatopec and especially, Franz Stampfl, who won gold medals in the 5000 and 10 000 metres.

So inspired was Herb by these runners, that it rekindled his own interest in running. He contacted Percy Cerruty and began following the eccentric trainers Spartan regime at his
training camp at Portsea, on Port Philip Bay. Running for Coburg  in Melbourne on Saturday afternoons at Olympic Park, Herb's close to 4 minute mile times attracted a lot of attention.

At that time, Australia’s successor to the great John Landy was another up and coming runner, Mervyn Lincoln. I once Herb heard talking at an Old Aquinian gathering at the college. He spoke of a very hot afternoon in Melbourne. A strong, burning, searing northerly wind was blowing and the temperature was well over the old century Fahrenheit mark. Probably, well in excess of 40 degrees Celsius.

Herb said, “I was tossing up whether to go to training at Olympic Park or not. But, I decided that if I was going to be successful, I needed to go to training, so off I went. When I jogged onto the track at Olympic Park, that northerly wind was like a blast from an open furnace.

“In those days, the training regime was to sprint one hundred meters and then jog one hundred meters and so on. Just after I started off, I noticed that Merv Lincoln had also come on to the track. He was running on the opposite side of Olympic Park to me. We ran around the track like pursuit bike riders. Sprinting 100 meters and then jogging one hundred meters. Then I noticed that while I was sprinting into the fierce northerly wind, Merv was jogging into it.

“Why would you do that?” asked Herb. “You come down on a stinking hot day to do your training, so that you can be the best that you can be. But then you take the easy way out. You jog into the wind and sprint with the wind.

“If you are trying to make yourself better, wouldn’t you do the hardest things. Sprinting into the wind makes you better than sprinting with the wind. I knew then,” Herb said, “that Merv Lincoln would never beat me in a race.” And he never did. Neither did anyone else.

I did see one famous race between Herb and Merv Lincoln on the grass track at Leederville Oval, probably in the summer of 1957/58, before Herb headed overseas to fame and glory. Lincoln was leading as they came into the final straight. Then Herb moved in front of him.  Lincoln came again and regained the lead. The crowd was in a frenzy. The lead changed about four times as they sprinted the final one hundred yards towards the finish tape before Herb claimed the front and ran over the line a winner.

On Thursday, September 7, my wife, Lesley and I will be venturing back to Aquinas College for the Senior Old Boys Day. One of the features of Seniors’ day is a whole school assembly, where the college’s Interschool Athletic Team is introduced. The Inters are held the day after Seniors’ Day.

Last year, the Sports master addressed the assembly and said how very privileged the boys were, earlier in the year, to hear an inspiring address given by Herb Elliott. He said that when training began for The Inters, he had wanted to impress  the boys with the magnificence of Herb’s 1500 metre win at the Rome Olympics.

He selected the school’s six fastest sprinters to each run 250 meters around the 1500-metre track and compared their time with Herb’s Olympic run. The six sprinters did extremely well and finished the 1500 metres in 3minutes and 39 seconds. It was a great effort, but Herb Elliott’s Olympic time was 3.35.6 seconds. More than three seconds faster. Truly a magnificent achievement. 

What a tragedy it would have been if that fast and furious, First Piano Movement, by Herb and me on that November Saturday in 1955, had stopped his illustrious career in its tracks?