Lost Gay Sydney on Facebook threw up another set of memories yesterday, cuttings that in the peak years from 1989 through 1993 were only too familiar, but for me one name stood out.
Phil Ainsworth, English teacher at Sydney High School.
That’s him on the right in 1989 in his role as trainer of the 1st Grade Rugby team. The skinniness is starting to show there. As it became more obvious he was up front about what was happening with his students, and I remember Phil telling me how difficult this was, but also that he received messages of support and thanks for his honesty from the parents of many of those students.
I in fact worked with Phil rather briefly, as in 1988 to early 1989 I was teaching in St Ives, in 1989 dealing with a range of personal matters and sometimes not quite with it, and in 1990 to early 1991 at Wessex College of English. I did work at High in Term 4 1989, and again from 1991. I saw a fair amount of Phil nonetheless and was there in the final stages when, sadly, AIDS-related dementia also showed itself at times.
Phil was greatly respected, even loved, by staff and students alike, and greatly admired for his honesty and courage. The school officially attended his funeral at Christ Church St Laurence in 1991, students from Sydney High carrying his coffin. I was there. Later, both M and I attended the wake in Pitt Street, Redfern, not far from where M – whom I had met in 1990 – and I were then living.
A prize for a senior student showing courage in difficulties was endowed in Phil’s name at Sydney High and is awarded to this day.
Awful as the whole thing was – Phil after all never made 40 – I also remember it along with much else from the early 1990s as a shining time of acceptance and hope. The way the school totally embraced Phil in his last journey is the shining example – and kudos to all my colleagues then, from the then boss Bob Outterside to Tony H (also in that picture above), to Con, to Marcia, to Tess… The lot of them! And in late 1989 through 1990 I had occasion to experience that acceptance myself as they embraced me – especially my English/History colleagues and even a few senior students who knew what was happening – over Rob’s suicide, even accepting quite strange visits in working hours from Rob’s grieving boyfriend Mark.
I fear at times that the intervening Howard years have led us to fall away in some respects from where we were around, say, 1990-1991. Do you think we have? Is this a less kindly time?
Footnote from Justin on Lost Gay Sydney:
I went to school with Phil Ainsworth, he was in the year ahead a me. He was an amazing bloke and a legend at the school – captain of the footy team, dux of the school, school captain – he excelled at whatever he put his hand to.