Once We Were Worriers (or cause for worry!)

Too Right – it’s a “cause for worry”.

28 December 2004

Let me take you back to the beginning: to a time when JRAHS first began. It was 1959 and I was one of the first ‘Fivers’ – part of the first group of students to complete their full five years of high school at James Ruse. Other years were in residence in 1959 but these were students who had transferred from other schools and had not served their “Fresher’ year at the school.

To these older boys (for it was exclusively an all male domain in those days) we were the ‘fags’ – placed at the school to respond to their bidding, to bear the brunt of their schoolboy pranks and to provide amusement to their otherwise mundane existence. They taught us obedience and humility; they taught us about servitude and loyalty and, most of all, they taught us how to survive in a world of gangling awkwardness wrought on us by those strange hormones that, in varying degrees, possessed our bodies.

We outnumbered them but we were a disorganised lot – drawn from primary schools and suburbs near and far – with no prior capacity to form allegiances that might withstand their attention. Some Freshers were particularly targeted – nothing life threatening, mind you, but far beyond the bounds of today’s legal tolerance.  I was one of the fortunate ones. I had made friends with a boy in my class who lived in the village next to mine and whose brother was among the upper echelon of the older students. Their brotherly association was fairly strong and my friendship with the younger afforded me with some degree of immunity from the ruling groups’ attention. Not that my school mate sheltered behind his brother’s higher status:- He was full of spunk and mischief; one of those likeable lads who was into everything and a ring-leader for any action that might be going, even if it meant standing in defiance against his older brother’s renegade band.

Uniforms were particularly targeted. Blazer, tie, socks with garters and a straw boater were foreign garb to most of us. In varying degrees we resisted the strict school rules that demanded we be suitably attired at all times. I made a moderate stance with socks rolled down and hat kept safely in my locker. The teaching staff had far worse offenders than me with whom to deal – cut off ties, sneakers, untidy hair and nicotine stained fingers particularly displeased them. The occasional detention was the severest penalty I ever suffered and that was often countermanded by my required presence at football training. Some lads in my year, however, remained loyal disciples to the uniform code and became martyrs to the cause. They bore the brunt of the senior boys’ attention. Hats would mysteriously launch themselves out of bus windows; ties would become so tightly knotted in multiple granny knots that they were impossible to undo; and socks would scale flag post and plunge recklessly into toilet bowls intent on self destruction.

Initiations were mild by reported standards and only a handful of Freshers were subjected to any serious humiliation. The school playground – grass and dirt in those days except for the assembly area – featured a number of heavy bench-like seats that, I think, were once tram or railway platform seats. The solid arms of these benches swept down in an ‘S-like’ curve, such that when two benches were pushed together face to face it left a roundish hole the size of a boys neck and ideal as a set of stocks in which an initiate’s head could be securely held while butter, lard, flour or water was applied to selected parts of the body. In response, the teaching staff punished the perpetrators accordingly with permitted disciplinary measures of the time – cane, time detentions and lines.

More by good fortune than design, I managed to avoid ‘the stocks’ until my very last day at the school. Never backward in pranks on other students and staff, I was, however, somewhat elusive to detection and retribution. … So I thought until the December of ’63! Then, on our final day of school, in recognition of my contribution to the lesser side of school folk-lore, my classmates unceremoniously stripped me to my jocks, secured me in a set of stocks and left me in the hot sun to contemplate my five years of mischievous behaviour. At one stage I thought the arrival of my Maths teacher heralded my release – but it was not to be – instead, a wry smile came over his face and he strolled on by muttering “Ah! Stephens – they’ve got you at last. Enjoy the sunshine!”

These early days at JRAHS were not without their positive contribution. Many years have passed since I’ve been back to the school so I do not know how much of the original infrastructure remains. However, we helped grass the first school oval and plant trees around its perimeter. We established much of the original orchard – an extension of an existing planting on the property. A somewhat robust orchard that withstood our clumsy and sometimes brutal attempts at pruning and survived those out of control rampages from the old rotary hoe that could often be seen pig-rooting through the rows of stone and citrus trees with a small schoolboy clinging desperately to the handles. We helped build animal enclosures – a tangle of wire and post the like, perhaps, will never be seen again. Our parents set up the school canteen and we did our best, through patronage, to ensure its success. We stood proud on the sporting arena and, although few of the outcomes were worthy of mention, began a tradition of fierce pride that hopefully still exists. For a young school, too, we performed admirably academically – not to the level of modern day Rusians – but certainly a solid foundation upon which to build the school’s unequalled scholastic reputation.

This is just the start of my James Ruse story. A wealth of anecdotal memories remain to be told of those fledgling years, should readers of Gesta non Verba be interested. No doubt, others of that era have their own tales or variations to disclose. What say you?

Alan Stephens (1959-63)

25 June 2008

As recent arrivals to the James Ruse Union’s web site we were somewhat surprised, even taken aback, to find the contributionby Alan Stephens, Once we were Worriers (or cause forworry!), within ‘Your Pages /1963’. There are errors in his contribution and much is not as we remember those early years.

We arrived at Felton Road in 1957. It was then, and for the following year, an annex of the Carlingford District Rural School which was located on Rickard Street, Mobbs Hill. Due to the Rickard Street school’s elevated location, overlookingmuch of west and southwest Sydney, to us it was always known as ‘The Top School’.

In 1959, with the arrival of its first principal James C Hoskin, the Felton Road annex became autonomous as Carlingford Agricultural High School. During that same year the name was changed to James Ruse Agricultural High School. We arrived at the school as first year students in 1957. Also there were other 2 years, of course, both senior to us. These 2nd and 3rd year students transferred to Felton Road from ‘The Top School’ when the annex first took students in September 1956. Following completion of the Intermediate Certificate, at the end of 1957 for one and 1958 the other, these students left the school.

Alan Stephens is correct when he says that on his arrival in1959 there were “other years in residence”. Like us in 1957, it was another 2 years both of which where senior to his. However, he is wrong when he says these were students transferred from other schools and had not served their “Fresher” year at the school. At the start of 1959, we had already been at the school for 2 years and were to remain for nother three. Our 1957 intake year was the first year to complete 5 years of schooling, and so the Leaving Certificate, at Felton Road.

However, to us the most disturbing aspect of Alan Stephens’ contribution was the treatment he describes that he and his fellow “Freshers” received from the senior students. As part of 3rd year, which was the senior year when Alan arrived in 1959, we cannot let his version of events go unchallenged. Not onlywere we the senior year in 1959, we remained so for 1960 and 1961.

Alan would have the reader believe the 1959 intake were subjected to systematic forms of bastardization. He talks of “initiations”, of how to these older boy students we were the ‘fags’ – placed at the school to respond to their bidding, to bear the brunt of their school pranks and to provide amusement to their otherwise mundane existence”, as well as “some Freshers were particularly targeted – nothing life threatening, mind you, but far beyond the bounds of today’s legal tolerances” and describing ‘a set of stocks in which an initiate’s head could be securely held while butter, lard, flour or water was applied to selected parts of the body”.

We reject completely the suggestion junior students being initiated, or treated as ‘fags’ (what ever this might be), during our tenure at the school. We are not suggesting individual cases of junior students being bullied did not occur but we don’t believe this was common. Equally, we believe such behavior was as likely to occur between students within the junior year itself as it did between years.

When the 1959 intake arrived we, although the senior year, were mostly 14 year olds to turn 15 during the year. We were just 2 years older than these first years and hardly the age, particularly in those times, which would perpetrate the type of behavior described by Alan Stephens. Also, as first years, we had had a good relationship with our senior years never having experienced significant bullying, any form of bastardization or initiation. In our time at the school there had never been a culture of this type of behavior.

Has time dulled our memory of the events described by Alan Stephens? We don’t think so. If we had perpetrated these acts, on his 1959 year, it was likely we would have continued through 1960 and 1961 as we were still the senior year. If we had been involved in initiations, potentially for three years, you would think one of us would remember their involvement. We can’t. Yet some of us can remember being initiated the year after leaving JRAHS at tertiary institutions we elected to attend.

On reading Alan Stephens’ contribution our general reactionhas been “this was not the school we attended”. Instead, we remember those early years as exciting. Growth and development mushroomed around us. New buildings were built. We were the first to use many of these including the manual arts block, the library, the science block and canteen.

We were there when Barrengarry House and the old stables were renovated and occupied by the school for the first time. We were there when the first Howard rotary hoe and Massy Ferguson tractor arrived. We participated in this change. All students assisted in creating the school assembly area, we helped to raise the flag pole, to plant the oval, to develop and plant lawns and gardens around the school buildings, establish tennis courts, a cricket practice wicket and the farm. Teachers and students worked together to get things done. It was hardly a “mundane existence”.

Our involvement in the early development of the school contributed to, what we now consider, a well balanced education. For a young school we excelled on the sportingfields, participated in debates, cadets and the Junior Farmer organization. Academically, at the school’s first tilt at the “big time” 72% of those gaining the Leaving Certificate received honors in agriculture, one coming second in the State. We set the academic foundations on which the school grew. We are proud of our involvement with the early development of the school. We are proud of the fact we were there when the school became James Ruse Agricultural High School. We are proud to have worn the school uniform for the first time.

Finally, speaking of the school uniform, there is one other issue we wish to address from Alan Stephens’ contribution. Felt hats were certainly part of the school uniform but not a compulsory part. However, during our time at JRAHS, the “straw boater” was not. In those days, and it’s probably still the case, only GPS and CAS schools wore straw boaters.

Maybe it happened after we left but it’s difficult for us to imagine James C Hoskin linking JRAHS in any way to these groups of schools. Also, it would be fair to say that should anyone, during our tenure, had worn a straw boater they undoubtedly would have attracted ridicule.

Alan Bell, Barry Dennis, Ian Fowler, Richard Henry, Dennis Loughhead, Ross Patane, David Sandoe, Kevin Swann, 1957-1961.