Tuesday, November 10, 2009


Three people who had a significant influence on my life as a young teenager were my grandmother (Croucher), Heather Goss (my mother's bridesmaid, who always seemed to be smiling, despite having a cranky husband), and my Sunday School teacher George Clark.

My occasional visits to Hilltop (Grandma's home was in Stanley Street) were memorable: I can still hear the sounds of the currawongs; I caught a wounded redhead finch one time there and took it home, built a cage for it, bought some others at Paddy's Market, and thus began an interest in pets (small ones - birds and fish). 

My father's younger brother, Les, lived with his mother: he was a simple man, but godly - and I spied him a few times kneeling in prayer (something I never saw my father do). 

I remember a question Grandma asked me (me!) - 'How can I understand the Book of Revelation?' I'd been reading books about 'Last Things' and probably had a bit of encouragement for her. 

George Clark was the man who more than any other, initiated me into manhood. We worked in his garden, he taught me to drive, we had serious conversations, and to men's groups I tell the story of George telling me one afternoon: 'Rowland, I believe God has a great future for you. I reckon you'll do well at whatever you choose... and you'll be successful.' No one had ever said anything like that to me, and those words changed my life. But they were a blessing and a curse. A blessing: you have significance. Curse: your significance will be associated with what you do well in terms of out-performing your peers!' I've lived with that blessing/curse ever since.  


I spent five of my teenage years at Sydney Boys’ High School, a selective school to which I traveled half an hour by train, then 15 minutes by tram each way each day. 

What did I learn there? 

* To wonder at the first Jewish boys I’d ever come across – many of them went around like little old men. They were different (and bright). 

* 'Globite' school-bags, made of brown pressed-cardboard, with plenty of room for vegemite sandwiches, fruit, pencil/biro cases, textbooks and notebooks... they were almost indestructible (I still have mine).  

* During recess and lunch-time we played soccer with a tennis-ball, or draughts (checkers) or 'sticks' (where you begin with six or eight a foot apart, then step between them without touching, moving a stick where you jump at the end for your opponent to take his turn... 

* At the beginning of ‘fifth year’ when teachers were recapping last year’s Leaving Certificate, I learned that you say acquiesce in!

* English teachers cruelled literature - especially Shakespeare - mostly. Pity that. But some poems reverberate in my memory. Like the evocative 'Break, break, break,/ On they cold grey stones, O Sea!/ And I wish that my tongue could utter/ The thoughts that arise in me' (and you know the rest of Tennyson's masterpiece)...

One of the best experiences at SBHS was during my Leaving Certificate when my favourite subject - Geography - was taught by someone who didn't know much about the subject. So I determined to do it on my own - and got 15 marks above an 'A' in the final exam (a grade which pushed up my average, allowing me to earn a Commonwealth Scholarship, and go to University).

I was a self-conscious young teenager. I spent quite a sizeable lump of my pocket-money on Charles' Atlas's mail-order isotonic/isometric exercises, so that I wouldn't be a 70 pound weakling and have sand kicked in my face. Quite a waste of money, as the exercises were boring, and he could have told me in one sentence what to do: 'Just push every part of your body against any other part, or the floor or wall, and by exercising all your muscles you'll grow big and strong and have high self-esteem!'

I was fairly lonely as a teenager, and felt out of it often. In another post I've talked about the Outsider Syndrome.

I was a voracious reader: mostly a book a day when I was 12-15 (later years saw me doing more serious study-reading). I'd go to the Sydney City Library in the Queen Victoria Building, and borrow all the Biggles, William, and Deerfoot books they had. I'd go to secondhand bookshops and Paddy's Markets in Haymarket and buy self-help books (like Dale Carnegie's or Norman Vincent Peale's or Arnold Bennett's) and books about End-times.

(Arnold Bennett came back to the memory of this 70-year-old this morning when I read this in a 30-year-old Expository Times sermon: "A young woman, captivated by the idea of Arnold Bennett's How to Live on Twenty-four Hours a Day met the author at a reception. 'Oh, Mr Bennett,' she said eagerly, 'I'm going to concentrate.' 'That's good', replied Mr. Bennett. 'On what?' 'Oh,' was the answer, 'on lots of things!'").

Friends? A few. There was David Clines - the only other boy in our Assembly roughly my age and with my reading interests. At SBHS I was 'friends in the train' with Mal Butters, ? Indelkofer, ? Hargreaves

Girls? Of course. There was Margaret Goss (who died recently, and phoned me from her Sydney death-bed for a chat, after many long years of being out of touch), and Yvonne, Janette, and Janice Moar, and a few others I glanced at briefly. Fortunately, I was saved from any complicated romantic arrangements until I met my wife, Janice Higgs, at Bathurst Teachers' College in 1957.

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