Martyn Smith, writing about Wesley College

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IMPRESSIONS AFTER THIRTY-FIVE YEARS
(25 September, 2009, for 1964-80 Boarders' Reunion After Dinner Speech)

It’s good to be back in the Dining Hall again.  For most of us, it is probably only the first or second time that we have eaten here together as boarders, exclusively, since we left the House. 

Someone’s gone to the trouble of providing rectangular tables instead of the usual circular ones, just so we can feel that we are in familiar surroundings. 

Nice touch. 

I guess all those old chairs are well gone now, though. 

And a wise move not using plastic sheets. 

You’ll remember how many an inventive rural mind directed channels of water the length of one of those old tables, into the lap of some unsuspecting target further down. This, of course, was the time-honored practice of ‘irrigation’. 

I don’t know if anyone was ever game to do that to a teacher!

Of course, many a teacher --- during the days when selected day staff sat, back to the wall, as head of the table at lunchtime --- found himself, by the end of the meal, somehow jammed tightly between the edge of the table, and the wall, struggling to breathe … none the wiser that the boarders at the table, ever so slightly and ever so surreptitiously, had eased the table further and further into his midriff.

This brings to mind another specific mischief related to this place that taught me one of my lessons derived in the House … never underestimate the ingenuity of the boarders.

For the final school assembly in, I think, 1975, it was arranged by the senior students that, overnight before the assembly, the boarders would rearrange Adamson Hall so that all the chairs faced the back of the hall and the stage furniture was elevated to the top of the trophy cabinet. 

If I’m right about the year, this was probably the brainchild of School Captain Richard Stubbs and House Captain Rob Pocknee.  Although George Warne would have been in there somewhere, too.

Anyway, I found out what was happening, as it was being done, at some early morning hour. 

Thinking I was smart, I waited till the post-breakfast grace the next morning and --- with all the heads bowed --- instead of saying grace I quietly directed that the senior boarders go straight to Adamson Hall and put the Hall back in its proper order.  As you can imagine there was much muttering, many churlish snarls and enormous disdain as the miscreants filed through the door … that was just there. 

Off they went, reparation was made, and I walked back to the House, smiling smugly.  A victory! 

How foolish I was! 

The boarders, of course, were determined to have the last say. 

Although they were required to return to the House before school started, they had got the message to the day boys … probably another Pocknee-Stubbs collaboration … and by assembly time at 9 o’clock the day boys had turned the Hall around again!

Of course, mischief is a genetic inheritance for boarders. 

This became clear to me when I was showing Geoff Rush and his father Don around the school in late-1975. 

Don had been a boarder in the ‘fifties, under Jack Kroger, and was a member of the famous Methodist Rush family.  As we walked past the Physics Theatre, Don stopped Geoff and me in our tracks and said, with great glee, “Martyn, that’s where me and my mates used to show blue movies on a Sunday … straight after chapel!  We’d pull the blinds down and charge a shilling!”

And, of course, we remember with sadness the destruction, by the 1989 fire, of the various family ‘honour rolls’ that existed in the towers. 

How many Bowring generations were up there, Kim?  Anybody beat that?

There were times, though, when mischief became misbehavior, and seriously so, and this has been alluded to elsewhere.  Again, these occurrences cross the generations.

Nonetheless, all this taught me another great lesson that stands me in great stead, even now, and certainly did during my ensuing career working closely with adolescent students, particularly when they were reliant on their own decision-making:-

 --- there is nothing that teenagers cannot do, or in which they will not get involved.  Nothing.  Never be surprised.

But of course that lesson has another side --- a side that makes possible the realization of superb ideals.

Nothing was impossible for Geoff Lowe and his mates as they pulled off the Boarders’ Dance of the century in 1974.  Geoff has written about this and I will leave you to read the details in the booklet.

The internal transformation of Adamson Hall was total.  When we walked in from the quad we had instantly walked into a barn somewhere on the plains or hills of rural Victoria.  Virtual reality ahead of its time. 

This was equal to the best of any student achievement that I witnessed at Wesley in my thirty years here.  Perhaps it was the best.

Finally, another wonderful achievement was the care of Gary Roth. 

Gary was a Third Form day boy who was severely disabled, both physically and mentally, and who was being bullied in the day school.  He walked around the school stooped half to the ground, by choice, never lifting his eyes. 

David Prest asked if we would have him in the House where he might find some protective mates and be able to socialize better.

Gary came into the House and found his minder-mates, Kenny Raper and his friends chief amongst them.

I left them to manage matters in the day school and simply supported them in the House.  Gary’s coterie extended well beyond his peer group and how well I remember the delight that Gary showed when the big boys joshed him and gave him their attention.

Gary couldn’t swim, so Ken and the others determined that they would teach him to swim the length of the pool.  A deadline was set and lessons commenced. 

Gary’s big swim duly occurred one Friday night and, with Prep cancelled, most of the House assembled by the pool. 

Those who were there will never forget the cheering as Gary thrashed his way through the water and slammed his hand on the pool edge at the end of his twenty-five metre triumph.  The echoing roar was deafening.

It was a great night. 

I shall never forget that episode.

Gary stopped stooping, looked at people and eventually left Wesley to take up a job in the BHP printing department, courtesy of BHP company secretary and Wesley council member, Geoff Stephenson.

I cherish my time as Boarding Housemaster in Adamson, holding it and my time as Head of the City Curriculum Project as my dearest periods as a teacher at Wesley.

Thank you for being part of this with me.

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