Tuesday, November 10, 2009


I wandered - psychologically - through two somewhat wasted years at The University of Sydney. Nothing had prepared me for the anonymity of University life. These days young people often take a 'gap year' to mature a bit before tertiary study. I had two 'gap years' - passing only one subject (geography) in first year before giving up, and applying half-way through second year to go to Bathurst Teachers' College.

Interestingly, my wife Jan was at Sydney Uni studying (and failing) science at the same time (1955) but we never met then. She went to Bathurst TC a year ahead of me... and the rest is history.

In the second year I worked at several day-time jobs, including manual labour with the Sydney Water Board digging sewer trenches (in the Narwee area - later to be my parish!), driving the lift at the Sydney harbour bridge pylon lookout, tram conductor, after-school English coaching, selling subscriptions to Hammondville - an old people's establishment - and to Time Magazine, door-to-door salesman (of books - that job fizzled), teaching at St. Andrew's Cathedral Choir School, running a local council-sponsored vacation club for kids, and a few factory jobs. All good educational experiences especially the teaching job: of course I had no idea how to control a class of teenagers, and the Principal - Canon Neuth, something of a legend in the school - sometimes used to line up the whole class at the end of my lessons and give every boy 'the cane' (on their fingers). Very humiliating!

Perhaps the most profound 'work experience' was the three months' National Service in an Infantry Corps. I spent two periods of six weeks being trained to shoot, throw grenades, carry a pack in the bush in Mt Royal, somewhere near Newcastle (and, once, sleeping exhausted in a mud-puddle) - a month and a half between Uni and Bathurst TC, and a similar period between first and second year at Bathurst. The base-location - mostly Ingleburn Army Camp in Sydney's south-west. During that time I developed some skill playing snooker, and an admiration for the army chaplains. I came across a couple of Christian guys, and sometimes we'd go into the bush to pray together. Speaking of praying: for the only time in my life I knelt beside my bed in an army barracks to pray: that puts iron in your soul (and reminders of pray-ers who have shoes thrown at them in situations like that!). Nothing untoward happened to me, and none of my army mates mentioned anything. I got into trouble only once: because we spent a lot of time sitting around, I used to carry a paperback book in my pocket. The seargent saw it and asked me to show it to him - The Dam Busters. 'So private, seeing you like water stories, you can water the gardens around your barracks for the next week! For some reason I was 'promoted' to lance-corporal for the second six-week stint: and had the privilege of carrying a lightweight weapon (forgotten its name) instead of a rifle or machine-gun.

I fell into philately before and during our Narwee years (when decimal currency was introduced to Australia, and some rare pounds/shillings/pence stamps could be bought from Post Offices for a brief time). I'd been collecting used envelopes/stamps from several city stores/offices, soaked them and put them into 'Surprise packs' for resale. I was gratified by the number of local shops who'd take a piece of cardboard with packs of stamps attached to it. And for a short time we made some nice pocket-money from this little industry!

Later part-time jobs included two stints of taxi-driving, buying and selling real estate (with no money to start with - I'll tell that story sometime), and collecting and selling (latterly on eBay) books, booklets and memorabilia by/about the only Australian religious collectible author, F W Boreham. I eventually sold my lifetime collection of Borehams to a Canadian collector for $20,000+ when we needed the money to buy a ministry-car. I'm back to collecting Borehams again if anyone has some lying around!

But then I found my ‘self’, perhaps for the first time in my life, at Bathurst Teachers' College.

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