Reflections, mostly about a chequered teaching career: Part Three

Emphasis on the bizarre or scandalous

I will mix these up chronologically and won’t identify which school was concerned. There were indeed some funny things happened during my Wollongong Decade. One I told you of recently.


Ah, Wollongong! Photo by Sirdan

The night visitors

It was the seventies, remember, and I must add that I have never been into illegal drugs, though I have tried marijuana – in Wollongong, naturally.

I think it was a Saturday night, or rather Sunday morning at around 1am when there was a knock on my door. Three Year 11 or 12 students, one clearly in an abnormal state. “Sir, Bill [not his real name] is on a bad trip and we don’t know what to do.”

What would you have done? These days I would have been obliged to call the police, but knowing that the students wouldn’t have come to see me. Then I simply invited them in, got them water and prepared coffee and waited, ready to call an ambulance if things went badly. Fortunately they didn’t and after a few hours they left. Yes, I did make a point or two about the folly of what they were doing.

Come Monday I had to say something about it to the boss. I was slightly torn on the matter of confidentiality and trust, but the boss said, “Don’t worry; I’ll tell you who they were.” He was right. Afterwards I had (with the boss’s permission) a very open class discussion on the subject of drug abuse, rather rife in Wollongong at the time, and it went so well the students actually overstayed the end of the period to continue it. “Don’t worry, Mr Whitfield. It’s only Chemistry…”


Odd things used to happen when Year 12 left. One year I was kidnapped by a group of them and taken to a rather swanky home where I was plied with food and drink. They released me eventually.

Dancing with the Regional Director’s daughter in the early hours of the morning

This happened when I was brave or foolish enough to go to a Year 12 “Informal” – I was invited. It was, if I remember correctly, at the North Wollongong Surf Club. Well, one rather let one’s hair down and I had a good time. It was a touch embarrassing though turning up for breakfast on the front lawn of one student’s Mangerton home. Mangerton is/was one of the more select suburbs. Mrs D took it in her stride.

The elopement

One day a member of the English staff disappeared. This was just one of several bizarre events that year, which led to questions in parliament.

We later heard she had eloped with a reporter from the local newspaper.

Skinny dipping

One staff member was around 22 and rode a World War II Harley Davidson, dressing to match. Otherwise he taught English and History. He was on good terms with “Animal” and other noted members of the Kings Cross biker scene. He had a wonderful place on the river at Minnamurra, a short swim (almost a walk at low tide) to the sandspit and beach. Many a good staff party happened there, and one warm night swimming was definitely the go. It wasn’t low tide, though, so he rowed across with his assortment of English teachers. I recall one Brian being counselled about guarding his Catholic manhood as in the then state of undress he stumbled getting into the boat almost bringing the gunwale into firm collision with his private parts.

Fortunately no-one drowned.

It’s not a good idea, kiddies, to go surfing in the dark, especially when intoxicated and there are sharks about.

The teacher who threw things out of windows

He was in fact rather popular, but when a child especially annoyed him he would, after several warnings, grab everything off the child’s desk and throw said belongings (but not the child) out the second floor window. He would then send the child to collect them. I got quite a shock when I first witnessed this.

I am sure conservatives would see this as evidence that schools today have declined in comparison with 30-40 years ago.

Breaking records

A large batch of 78rpm records destined for the school fete was stored in the staff room. One day our biker friend crept up behind someone and smashed a record over his or her head. We discovered this was painless but dramatically noisy and left very satisfying shards of black shellac everywhere. So we spent the lunch hour working through the records, not excluding any students who were foolish enough to knock on the door.

The cleaner complained.

The suit of armour

I was given the task of taking a suit of armour, a prop for the school play, to the school hall. I decided the best way was to wear it. This did get talked about for a while…

The head

I was so naive, really.

I had a class of Year 9s who were variously, well, retarded, or should I say differently abled. One of them had also been dealt a bad hand when it came to personal appearance, but was actually rather nice though occasionally given to rages. On graduation he found a job in a sheltered workshop.

The door of their classroom had a small window to enable passers-by to check on the inmates, but the glass had long gone. My young friend used to stick his head through this window and smile in a rather alarming way at people in the corridor. One day going past I asked him to pull his head in. I went further than that. Seeing he reminded me of nothing more than a moose head mounted on a wall I said, “Peter, pull your head in or I’ll mount you on the wall.”

Pleased with my wit, I recounted the story to my colleagues. “You’re so athletic, Neil,” a female teacher who later went on to considerable fame remarked.

My embarrassed blush lit the room beautifully. Honestly, governor, I meant no double-entendre!

more, possibly not scandalous, next post.