Brian Stagoll Memories:
When I came to Balwyn High School (BHS) in 1958 the school was four years old. It was one of several suburban high schools hastily built in 1954 as the baby boom emerged. The school never had an official opening, and there were always building works going on. In 1960 Dick Hamer came to open the new Menzies Science block at the back of the school. There was more mud than a First World War battlefield, and the dignitaries never made it across.
Conditions were, if not primitive, then rough. The prefabs were cold and leaky in winter, sweltering in summer. There had been an old garbage dump down the hill and some days the wind would fan a rotten stench. There was no Assembly Hall, nowhere to go when it rained, no sports fields, no fence.
Post- War North Balwyn was a rising suburb and many of the immediate locals went to private schools. BHS students often came from outlying areas, including rural Doncaster. There were Legacy boys from the Burke Rd. hostel, Colombo Plan boys from S.E.Asia (the first Chinese I ever met ), Jewish students from East Kew whose mothers had tattoos on their arms. The strongest networks were centred around the youth groups connected to local protestant churches. They always seemed to have the best social life.
The teachers were a mixed lot (as you would expect). Some, coming into teaching after the war, were wise, experienced and dedicated. But there was a general shortage of teachers and often not enough people who were really qualified had positions. There were also a few thugs, gropers and incompetents. There didn’t seem to be any kind of appraisal process or complaints mechanisms. You mustn’t complain, just be satisfied with what you got.
The House system generated loyalties and contacts across the school, but mainly the years and sexes were segregated. No going into the girls areas! There was little room for deviance. One senior teacher would rail at the Boy’s Assembly about the “3 percent”and their bad influence. When one creative student produced an underground broadsheet “The Voice of the 3 Percent” it was seen as seditious and an Inquisition followed. It was an innocent time: no drugs, banal pop music and no sex.
Phillip Larkin wrote in a poem
“Sexual intercourse began in 1963
Which was rather late for me
Between the end of the ‘Chatterley’ ban
And the Beatles first LP”
That was still to come
The curriculum was basic, with limited subject choices, I was streamed into Science after fourth form never to formally study History or Literature again. I studied French for 5 years but could never find a word when I eventually got to Paris. There was no music education, and only the girls had the chance to acquire keyboard skills. Sporting prowess was held in the highest regard, but organised programs were sparse.
I still feel regrets about all of this and can’t say I had a first class education
But neither was I deprived of the skills necessary to go further. The school had not yet developed a sense of identity or a tradition of excellence. It was neither elite nor disadvantaged, neither particularly tough nor repressive. It was a middle range school in middle Australia, embodying bland Eastern Suburbs conformism, genteel philistinism and White Australia.
But as we have contacted classmates about the reunion I have discovered that many of us contributed to the changes in Australia in the post Vietnam era. So something must have been there.
My mother worked as Secretary to the Principal for many years until the late 1970’s and I’ve always been pleased to follow the progress of the school.. Nowadays when I mention I went to Balwyn High School approving eyebrows are raised. I can’t say I’m not happy to grab onto the coat tails of what Balwyn High School has become.
Brian Stagoll (click on this link to see what Brian then did after he left Balwyn High School)