The principal interviewed in 1978
Mr. Hoskin, could you tell me how the school came to be called "James Ruse Agricultural High"?
When I was appointed as Headmaster here, it was called "Carlingford Agricultural High School" - a brand new school. Now when I was at University I was fortunate enough to do a course in Agricultural History. One man who caught my attention for several reasons was James Ruse. Not only his farming activity attracted me but because both Ruse and I are of Cornish extraction - my Grandmother was Mary Ann Tresize (a good Cornish name that one!).
I realized that "Carlingford Agricultural High School" was a most unsuitable name because the school was not to serve only Carlingford. Indeed, we had practically no students from Carlingford. We would have had twenty times more students from say Burwood, than Carlingford during those first few years. Well, I suggested in the April of 1959, two names - "Sydney Agricultural' High School", and "Ruse Agricultural High School". The Department did not know too much about Ruse, but I made certain suggestions as to people to consult, and they agreed (I think NOT knowing that he was a convict) that the place should be known as "James Ruse Agricultural High School". At about that time Arthur Philip School was also named. Adding the first names to the surname does make it better, I think.
Prior to my arrival, the school had been run as an annexe to Carlingford Central School and was called the Carlingford Junior Agricultural High School. It was administered by Mr. Frater, Headmaster of the Carlingford Central School, and the Master-in-charge here was Mr. Charles Mullavey, who became the first Deputy Principal of James Ruse.
Have you seen any changes in the type of students who have come to James Ruse over the years?
The type of student who has come here over the years is markedly different from those in local area schools. This would have been the least selective of any secondary school in Sydney. There has been a transition to the point where this is the most selective school either public or private, in the history of Education in this State, and indeed more selective than any tertiary institution.
There is also a marked difference. because the student who comes here must have enough individuality to break away from his peer group in the suburb or street in which he lives, and come to a different school. Very often he is the only student in the street, or even the suburb, that attends this school. In one particular case I estimated that a student had to come past 90 High Schools, to come to this school. This is the same now as it was in the beginning. It has not changed. This certain individuality is seen by some teachers as an asset and some as a liability; I think it should be seen as an asset. Individuality in students should be treasured.
Have there been any particularly outstanding students that you can remember, and what they have gone on to become?
It is remarkable how well a lot of them have done. One, Murray Badger, who was Dux of the school in his year (I think it was the first H.S.C. Year) went from here to the Faculty of Agriculture and graduated with 1st Class Honours and the University Medal. He then went to the Australian National University to graduate Ph.D., and then he proceeded to the Carnegie Institute for post-Doctoral studies. Last year, he was awarded a Queen's Fellowship at the James Cook University to do studies on photosynthesis of marine algae. His is a particularly outstanding career. Another student, Peter Warr, graduated in the Faculty of Agriculture with Honours, and then went to Stanford University to graduate Ph.D. and is now at Monash University, lecturing in Economics.
All round, there is a record of academic excellence, but a lot of ex-students work in very practical areas - this school produces both types. One of the first old boys, Adrian Lynch came second in the State in H.S.C. in Agriculture, and after graduation went into Journalism, writing agricultural material for the "Australian". For a time he was on the "Herald" and at present he is Private Secretary to Mr. Sinclair, the Deputy Leader of the Country Party. Adrian has made Public Relations a rewarding career. Some years ago, I could have said that 3 out of 4 of our students who finished at James Ruse were in a vocation that was connected with Agriculture.
Has there been a trend away from interest in Agriculture?
Any trend away has come more because of the lack of opportunity for careers in the Agricultural field. James Ruse has had a large number of students become veterinary surgeons, quite a number are practising medicine and in fact there is no profession where James Ruse is not represented. At least three of our ex-students have come back to Ruse as teachers of Agriculture, and of course Ross McGregor graduated in Agriculture and is on the staff at present. In the teaching service, quite a number of ex-James Ruse students have become Agriculture and Science teachers. I remember at one time also, the "Land" newspaper had three James Ruse students on the staff.
Geoff Lawrence, an ex-school Captain, had a job as a Projects Officer with the Riverina Local Government bodies. I went in to buy something the other day, and met an ex-student who was a music salesman, and of course, on the walls of my office here hang several paintings by Carl Stringfellow, an excellent and increasingly well- regarded artist in the Sydney area. At one time, the Music Master at the Kings' School was an ex-James Ruse student. So you can see, we are widely represented in careers well away from the original intention of the school.
What do you consider to be the most important experience that every James Ruse student should leave with?
Basically, of course, the Agriculture experience. We live in a community that, despite marked efforts to get away from it, is still bound very closely to the land. There would be very few children here, other than migrant children, who have not got some association with the land, through parents or uncles. Even the developing urban type of person is increasingly aware of the environment and ecology, and these are things closely bound up with Agriculture. Hence to all, the Agriculture experience can be an important one. If a student becomes a doctor, or a lawyer, or an architect, his school Agricultural experience is still significant. The subject can be made readily justified as a worthwhile part of a liberal education.
Has your own understanding of Agriculture changed over the time you have been Principal of this school, or has your interest changed?
Well, over the forty or so years that I have been a teacher, I have either taught Agriculture or been Principal here. I have devoted a lifetime to propagating the study of Agriculture in schools.
Is there any aspect of Agriculture that you could say was your favourite area?
Personally yes, I like horticulture whether it is flower gardening, orcharding or whatever. This aspect has been least popular with students, however, more students turn towards raising and care of animals rather than growing things.
This perhaps relates to your choice of school name "Ruse" rather than "Macarthur" . . .
Yes, and of course this area was the garden of Sydney. The railway line was put in to take apricots and citrus fruits to the markets; it was not built expressly for passengers.
Is there anything that you would have really liked to do in the school, that has not been possible?
There are hundreds of things that are not completed. The school is a developing institution and will not be finished at any stage. I will say, however, that climbing the hill in establishing a good school is much more interesting, to a Principal, than keeping the school on a plateau of high achievement. For example, if a James Ruse boy or girl misbehaves on Public Transport, I hear complaints from perhaps four or five sources. If it is a boy or girl from another school, it may be overlooked. Parents have a certain level of expectation. If a lad comes to this school and does not do well, I hear about it. The best our school can promise is to keep "good" boys and girls achieving well. We cannot make "naughty" children into good ones.
What achievement made by the school would you be most proud of?
There are many - however, about three years ago we were very pleased when one of our students, Marcus Croft, won first place in the State in H.S.C. Modern History, and last year we gained first place in the State in H.S.C. Agriculture. One of our student's special works in Art gained a superior result and his piece was exhibited. It is these things that the school can be proud of.
Are there any school incidents that you found specially amusing?
Incidents that particularly spring to mind are more personal ones. One especially desperate moment that is amusing when I look back on it, concerns a man who came here to make arrangements to show his performing cockatoos and rabbits. When he arrived the second time to actually give the show, I had forgotten who he was. The double talk that went on at that moment must have sounded absurdly funny. He was talking about his "little darlings" and their performances, while I kept on trying to discover from the conversation who he was, and what students he was talking about. I had forgotten all about cockatoos and rabbits!
I guess there are many "faux pas" in public life . . .
Yes, there is another amusing incident concerning a "faux pas". I had, at one time, three important Africans visit the school, one was a Headmaster from Sierra Leone, one from Nigeria, and the other from Ghana. These three very big black men were looking over the school with me. We were walking along the top of the oval to view the stock - one, a big, red Shorthorn cow with a black calf on her. One of the visitors looked down the bank at the black calf suckling its red mother and enquired how it was possible. I began to explain that black was the dominant gene in cattle, and that it was obvious that there had been a black father, but this should not have been possible for it was supposed to have been fertilized with Shorthorn semen, so I was about to say "there must have been a nigger in the woodpile". I checked it midstream. I went red in the face choking it back. They looked at me rather oddly. This was amusing to me, though embarrassing.
Have there been any setbacks or policy changes that have had a direct effect upon the school?
The most important thing relevant here is the coming of girls to this school. It is the most marked change in the history of the school. This school is now a boys' school with some girls in it. The numbers are at present 620 boys and about 100 girls.
My background was in Fort St. Boys' School, and in teaching I taught at two coeducational schools, Grafton and Muswellbrook, though as Agriculture teacher I taught mainly boys. As a Deputy Headmaster I came to depend upon a lot of senior girls to establish the school's tone. The situation is rather different in the city however, because in a country town you come to know the boys and girls outside the school situation.
The coming of girls to this school, I really welcomed in my own heart (I felt I had to make some appearance that I did not) because in the long run, they will benefit the school. I expect the number of girls applying might drop from where it is at present.
Apart from that, I can say that I have had a fairly free hand from the Department. I must pay a tribute to the system that gives a Headmaster as much freedom as I have had. I hope the Headmasters of the so-called Independent Schools have as much freedom of action.
Selective schools have been attacked on all sides of the community. How do you see James Ruse in the midst of all this discussion?
When the attacks were made on selective schools, for example, Fort Street, Sydney High, North Sydney Boys' High, the Committee findings were not favourable to their continued existence, but I quote Mr. Wran verbatum when the matter was discussed in Parliament: "We do not propose to interfere with the Conservatorium of Music and the Agricultural High Schools because although selective, they serve a useful purpose."
The implication is that this school's strength is its special purpose, the Agricultural experience.
From the 1978 School Magazine