The Shire! The Shire!

Fourteen posts – well fifteen now – on this blog come up when you check the tag “The Shire” in the categories list. The Shire and I go way back.

Oh, further than that

royalltrainI would like to name Mister O’Neil, my Year 6 teacher at Sutherland Public School (or Sutherland Boys Primary as it was then, now a “special” school) in 1954, the year of the Royal Visit. I still vividly remember (among other things) going with my maternal grandfather — another inspiring teacher — through the fence and beside the track to wait for the (then) sheer magic of seeing the Royal Train go through, and Mister O’Neil rehearsed us over and over to perform appropriate songs, including a late Vera Lynn called “She’s the Queen of Everyone’s Hearts”, at the Sutherland School of Arts, where my mother won an electric jug in a raffle…

World War II was after all less than ten years before; indeed I was enrolled at Sutherland in 1949. My father had been in the RAAF.

The thing about Mister O’Neil is that he had a class of fifty or so students, all in a portable class room that baked in summer. Hardly any of the boys had shoes. Cast-off bits of military uniform were fashionable; no such thing as a school uniform, or (I may add indelicately) underpants. There were a few quite talented kids in 6A; I was a bit up myself, I’m afraid, because even though I took every August off to have bronchitis, and also that year had mumps followed by orchitis (nasty) and pancreatitis, I still managed to top the class, despite my rather alarming (and continuing) innumeracy. He let us have our heads, really. We produced school newspapers, in which I wrote and illustrated serials that were rather like Biggles, and also devised crossword puzzles. Every Friday we “broadcast” our plays over the school’s PA system.

When I was selected to go to Sydney Boys High my parents were against it, mainly because of the travelling which, combined with my absent-mindedness that led to my once almost being run over at a pedestrian crossing, they felt would not suit me. I guess they were also worried about my health. My mother at that time, I might add, was invalided with a clot in the leg, so I was also cooking dinner every night, following instructions emanating from my mother’s bedroom. She used to say what I cooked for the dogs smelt more appetising than what I made for the family — chops and three veg usually. Can’t go too wrong with that. Well, Mister O’Neil I found one afternoon when I came in from playing with the Dawson boys down the road sitting by my Mum’s bed in earnest conversation. Result: I went to Sydney Boys High. Apparently I had the highest IQ ever recorded at Sutherland Primary to that point… That may not be saying too much, of course, and I certainly found myself a small fish in a big pond at SBHS the following year…

And even further than that!


That’s my childhood home. Mr R took me there just on ten years ago now! His account:

Then we went for lunch. There is coffee in Sutherland, but I didn’t have any.

Then, to work off our sandwiches, we went for the longest walk of the day. We passed my father’s old school, which has a great view (“The Catholics know how to buy land”), and the place of N’s early religion, which looked, I thought, not unlike a scout hall. And then an unexpected surprise: N’s childhood home, which he hadn’t been inside since 1952, was completely empty (on account of being ready for auction), and its front door was wide open. We ventured in and had a good look around. N pointed out the many structural changes, including the removal of fireplaces; thankfully, the house itself can’t be knocked down: built in c. 1913, it is heritage. It is, however, being encroached upon by medium density housing, of which there is much in Sutherland these days. But if I had a spare $400,000 in the bank, I’d buy the house tomorrow. N was glowing afterwards, and I was very happy too.

See also The Shire series on Ninglun’s Specials. This one is relevant right now: Revolutionary new experiences in The Shire 1967 to 1968.

Such a time it was of social change when I was 24, even in The Shire — where one Beth Kimball, an American teaching at Cronulla High School, introduced me to the following hitherto unknown exotica. Well, maybe not to the rose wine or the cappuccino, but they were new to me around that time.

cappucino1 rosewine



bananacake carrotcake

Banana cake and carrot cake: both seemed quite odd things to do at the time…

This weekend Cronulla High turns fifty. I hope to be there.



For many the Alan Jones sponsored disturbances of 2005 have become the emblem of Cronulla and of The Shire. Not really fair. I wrote all that out of my system at the time. Nonetheless there are those for whom this may be true:


Compare my map:



2 thoughts on “The Shire! The Shire!

  1. For the record see Comment: Cronulla Five Years On by Malcolm Knox.

    … Cronulla, in the Sutherland Shire, the land of Puberty Blues, is geographically and culturally unique in the city’s imagination. Paradoxically, while it is Sydney’s only beach connected to the rail network, Cronulla is cordoned off as a peculiar sui generis place. When the events of December 2005 died down, they were easily quarantined as a ‘Shire thing’.

    John Howard’s response also quarantined Cronulla, and showed his artful occupation of the space between condemning the acts and forgiving the sentiments. Howard criticised the “extreme elements” who rioted, and he funded some ameliorative efforts (though this funding was short-lived). Simultaneously, he stopped short of linking the riots to any underlying racism in middle Australia, much less upbraiding his radio announcer friend Alan Jones for egging them on. Howard’s tactic then, as ever, was to disown the aggressors but not the attitudes that produced them…

    Hythem Damouny’s story is a useful yardstick. Out of the Cronulla riots – albeit indirectly – a Palestinian-born retailer has been encouraged to come to the heart of the battleground and set up a business. He has done so without any victimisation and is happy in the area. “Look, where I come from, that’s a war, that’s a bad area. When people say there was a war in Cronulla, they don’t know what they’re talking about.”

    The truth is that nobody knows quite what triggered Cronulla, how deeply racial tensions are running, or how close we are to a reprise. But Hythem Damouny knows not to push things too far too fast. “I tell my staff, when you’re in the shop, don’t talk religion, don’t talk politics. You might say something that is taken the wrong way. We don’t want things to get nasty.”

  2. Pingback: Meanwhile in Sutherland in 1954… | Neil's final decade

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