Tuesday, November 10, 2009
9. BATHURST TEACHERS' COLLEGE
I found my ‘self’, perhaps for the first time, at Bathurst Teachers' College (Student # 58000031), situated in a semi-rural area at the foot of Mount Panorama (famous for its Easter car rallies). For the first time I lived away from a city –and loved the solitude of the natural beauty of those Central Western plains – especially spectacular when filled with purple ‘Paterson’s curse’ weeds.
These were two of the happiest years of my life. Academically, I was beaten by five women, (partly because I submitted an assignment late to a lecturer who downed my grade from an 'A' to a 'C'), president of the Christian Fellowship, earned an athletics blue, and played in the first grade rugby union team.
(That's me in the photo above scoring a try in a 40-3 drubbing by the Sydney Teachers' College team, which included one or two internationals. Ken Stafford, our captain, was following me, and looking pretty pleased!).
A spiritual awakening occurred in our dormitory when many of the non-Catholic guys made some sort of commitment to Christ. One night I fell asleep 'witnessing' to one of these men, Don Gray, who became an outstanding convert. My room-mate, Barry Maxwell, committed his life to Christ, and later entered the Anglican ministry in Sydney. Another special friend, who was a Christian before he came to College, was Alan Watson. His humility and prayer-life were an inspiration to us all. The 'C.F.' boomed, and they were heady days. Especially memorable were the prayer meetings at the cowshed, when up to 50 people would sing songs and pray together. They were two wonderful years, and the 'clincher' was meeting my future wife, Janice Higgs, there. More of that later.
Update (October 2009): Last weekend Jan and I attended the 50th anniversary of our BTC days. As we drove up the hill out of town towards the College (now Sturt University) we relived the occasion when we first held hands, walking home from church (Bathurst Baptist). Jan reminded me she had gloves on (back then women wore hat and gloves to church) and it ‘felt strange’… We were so innocent!
On the Sunday morning of the Reunion we enjoyed a service of remembrance, organized by Bruce Morey, the CF president who followed me. We named those who’d passed away: vale Frank Goodwin, Don Gray, Fred Waqa (we heard he was killed in a motor-bike accident in his home-country Nauru), Beverly O’Connor (electrocuted in PNG while serving as a missionary), Anne Wescott – a beautiful Christian girl from a well-known Methodist family, who in her twenties suffered severe post-natal depression and committed suicide. [Who else, anyone?] Neville Hatton, an accomplished musician played the keyboard for our hymns. We reminisced as a few spoke of the importance of those two years in terms of their Christian faith. Then I led a short devotion: reminding us that just as, 50 years ago, those two years were a preparation-time for a vocation of teaching or other work, so our whole lives are a preparation for an eternal vocation.
It was interesting to hear the stories: one colleague was a Christian in college, but, he said, left the place an agnostic: but in mid-life experienced a mystical ‘epiphany’ which renewed his faith in God. Others unfortunately were strong Christians then, but fell by the wayside later. One outstanding man, who later earned a PhD and occupies several important positions in the church, was not a Christian at College, but came to faith later… Bruce Morey is still his authentic evangelical gentle self, and continues reading significant theological authors (like, these days, Bishop N T Wright). Sally Audet recently lost her husband, but I hear she is coping well. Mike Wood sent a memo to one of the Alumni newsletters telling us he’d had a serious brain injury of some sort and had to retire from teaching.
I think of many people from those two years: I wonder what’s happened to Peter Jones, Peter O’Connor, Ken McConville, Janet Roberts, Julia Browett (who was married for a time to Ken Stafford), Colin Bass? In Jan’s year (1956-57) I remember Grace Flint, Fred Cook, George Windsor, Jim Irvine, Meredith Johnson. Each November (on the Tuesday after Melbourne Cup-day) some from our cohort meet for lunch at the RSL club in Epping, Sydney. I’ve flown up twice, and enjoyed catching up with Scott Chadwick, Peter Foss, Frank Hiob (my room-mate with Barry for the first year until he left to study at the ASOPA college in Mosman for a career in Papua New Guinea), Margaret Adams (as I knew her – secretary of the CF and still a committed evangelical Christian, married to a Uniting Church minister), Peter and Elizabeth Smart (Peter was the CF president the year before ours, and set – for me - a wonderful example of godly thoroughness: he also became an Anglican clergyman)… and others who’ll come to mind. Can’t get there this year, but may try on future occasions…
I read through an inch-thick folder of memorabilia from those times, and before I consign most of it to the recycling bin, here’s a miscellany of memories (which may only interest anyone from that cohort who’s read this far):
* We were fundamentalists back then. Here’s a question from an October 1958 ‘roneoed’ sheet, prepared for private study: ‘Are YOU a Christian, and ABSOLUTELY SURE about it? Make a list of all the reasons for and against a decision for Christ.’ Wow! But this direct approach apparently worked: I heard a couple of stories recently of people who came to faith – especially at the Mt Victoria camps.
* Books I read and enjoyed at Bathurst: Richard Llewellyn's How Green Was My Valley, Roy Hession's The Calvary Road, John Stott's Basic Christianity, C S Lewis' Mere Christianity.
* I broke the inter-collegiate athletics record for the long jump early 1957 (22 feet something), but hadn’t remembered breaking BTC’s hop step and jump record the previous year (‘43ft 10 ½ in. Previous record 43ft 7 ½ in.) – but that has to be put into context: the College had only been in existence for half a dozen years before then! I also came second in the 440 yards sprint, long jump, and high jump. I forget what happened the following year athletics-wise, except for winning the 440 yards and earning the College’s athletics blue.
* L.J.Allen BA BEc was the principal – I think since the College’s commencement. I note he used to chair the AGM’s of the Christian Fellowship. (On a later visit to the College I chatted to him about the CF and he remembered it thriving in our time). Re academic qualifications: I note that only two or three of the lecturing staff had Masters’ degrees: none had a doctorate. However, several from our cohort went on to earn doctorates – Laurie LeClaire, Alan Watson, Peter O’Connor [anyone else?]. I have in front of me a letter L J Allen wrote to me (c/- 19 Louisa St. Oatley): ‘Dear Rowland, I wish to let you know that I have recommended to the Acting Director-General that, should you be posted to a school convenient to a University, you might be considered for the issue of a Warrant to undertake a University Course.’ Well, I did – I eventually completed an arts degree externally from the University of New England.
* Back to the College Staff: I don’t remember any meaningful conversations with any of them, except one with Archie Millar. Same with the lecturers at the Baptist Theological College 6-9 years later… Now I wonder why? I’ve not usually been someone who seeks out authority-figures to talk with them – a confidence thing perhaps. That changed later in life: I’ve been privileged to enjoy many meaningful conversations with high-profile people: you’ll read about some of them on other blogs – or in later chapters here.
* I’ve just re-read, probably for only the second time ever, four page-long ‘Practice Teaching’ reports. They had hardly any critical comments: one was positive but wondered if I relied too much on what we might now call ‘winging it’. I got an A+ for practice teaching – and words/phrases like ‘confidence’, ‘pupil response excellent’ etc. reoccur in them. Others of my colleagues probably didn’t find those experiences easy: and I’m thankful for the Brethren upbringing’s opportunities to speak in public since the age of 13!
* Arch Millar composed the ‘College Anthem’ while I was there: I used to think singing it was school-boy-ish (‘And when others gather here/ In our age and in their youth/ May we all with gratitude / find her youthful, honoured, strong’).
* I note that one of our lecturers, Theo Barker, has written a history of the ‘Mitchell College of Advanced Education’ (as BTC came to be known): I must get hold of a copy.
I gave a little homily at the 50th reunion, and have just come across the notes. I mentioned some of the 'notables' in the Christian Fellowship (Margaret Adams secretary, Alan Watson Vice-President. I recalled singing a solo part in Iolanthe (Lord Mountararat - first and last time I ever did that). I expressed my consternation that some Christians who were not Brethren I sensed were actually 'closer to God' than my childhood friends. We sang again a hymn which was a CF favourite: 'Thine Be the Glory'. I'd learned to pray aloud for the first time. Conclusion: 'They were two years of preparation for a lifetime's vocation of teaching and/or other pursuits. And our last 50 years is preparation for an eternal vocation - glorious, beyond words to describe. I for one am looking forward to that!'
Memories, memories… If anyone from my cohort is reading this and wants to comment or reminisce, feel free!