Goldie's Blog

NEW PREMISES FOR THE AUTRALIAN BOOK REVIEW

7 August, 2012 | By Goldie Alexander

It seems that the new home for the ABR is to be the building that once held J.H. Boyd Domestic College for Girls. In late 1967, this school was my introduction to twenty five years as a high school teacher.

A single mum with two small daughters recently arrived from Perth, I was desperate for work… any kind of work. Back then the Victorian Education Department was equally desperate for staff. They were so desperate that any prospective employee had only to prove that she had four university subjects, even if no teacher training, and lo and behold, she had a job.

Desperation breeds fearlessness. Filling in the Education Department’s application form, I declared that I could teach everything, except maybe maths and science. I was even capable of teaching music. Someone’s eagle eye in the alighted on this, and sure enough I was sent to J.H.Boyd as their music teacher.

Back then J.H. Boyd was notorious for containing the most difficult girls in Melbourne. It was also known as a ‘punishment park’ for any teacher who broke departmental rules. The Year 7 to Year 10 students were the daughters of Port Melbourne dock side workers. Back then, Port Melbourne had a pub on every corner, and streets of factories, warehouses and decrepit wooden cottages with outside loos. J.H. Boyd’s students knew from an early age that whatever they learnt in school wasn’t going to serve them when they were old enough to leave. For these girls it was a splendid way of socialising until sooner or later they would find a job.

J.H. Boyd Girls High School was constructed in 1884-1885 as State School No 2686 and 1932, and renamed the JH Boyd Domestic College after its patron, a successful grazier, bequeathed a large sum of money for a school where ‘women should be taught to ‘manage a home correctly’. Domestic Arts schools developed in the years during and after WWI, a time when there was a concerted push for ‘mothering’ education. The truth was that by then it was hard to find good servants. To give these schools their due they expanded girls’ secondary education at a time when State Governments were reluctant to provide post-primary education.

At the time I knew nothing about the school’s history. All I had in my repertoire was the ability to read music and thump out a tune on a discordant piano. The music room was a portable with no heating or cooling. The girls were frankly terrifying. Think ‘St Trinians’ and the most ferocious fems in ‘Hunger Games’ and you’ve got it in one. So it was most unfortunate that the principal, let’s call her Ms Mitchell, had great aims for these children. She had visions of them learning notation, perhaps even discovering some latent female Mozart, and certainly trilling ‘Nymphs and Shepherds…’ Maybe even Scarlatti, Vivaldi, Johann Sebastian Bach….

Well. I tried. I really did try. Meanwhile the girls occupied themselves by chucking stuff around the room and continuing feuds that started out in the quadrangle. Their undisputed leader, a lass of thirteen called Pat who towered well above my five two, must have felt sorry for me, because at least she ensured that nothing actually hit me unless it was an accident. If I asked for help from other teachers, all I got was a sniff and a shrug. Anyway, given I was tucked away in the furthest portable no one cared.

One day I had the inspiration to ask the girls what they would like to do? ‘Sing,’ I was told. It turned out that what they wanted was early Karaoke. So I took myself into the city and bought multiple copies of ‘The Sound of Music’, ‘Fiddler on the Roof’, ‘Camelot’, ‘some of the early Beatles hits and other popular fifties and sixties songs.

It was a raging success. From a classroom of raging St Trinians I suddenly had groups of girls singing their little hearts out. And when we went to see ‘Sound of Music’ as a school excursion, there wasn’t a dry eye in the cinema.

I wish I could say that I turned the teaching of music upside down. Unfortunately, Ms Mitchell got wind of what I was doing and called me into her office. There, she coldly pointed out that I had not been employed to lead early karaoke sessions, but to teach the girls notation and what she called ‘more suitable songs’. She said, ‘I’m so disappointed in you, I’m afraid I cannot recommend that you continue your career as a teacher.’

Looking back, perhaps she was right. I should have used the opportunity to go into advertising, television, film… anything that would have given me more money, status, and led me earlier into my chosen career as a writer. But there were those two daughters to be housed and fed. So to cut a long story short, I persuaded the education department – using lots of tears and other feminine wiles- to send me to another school the following year where I would teach English and History. No music. Here, my first job was to check the roll for my first class of the day where every child had a six syllable hard to pronounce Greek surname.

So once this spanking new community hub in South Melbourne is opened, I sincerely hope that there might be some echo of the sixties… that someone might occasionally hear a dim rendition of ‘If I were a rich man’, Climb Every Mountain’ and even ‘Sixteen going on Seventeen’. If this should happen, please let me know as I would then feel that my short career as a music teacher was not entirely wasted.

14 Responses to “NEW PREMISES FOR THE AUTRALIAN BOOK REVIEW”

  1. You would have been a great history teacher. What a wonderfully funny and frank history about a part of Melbourne that has changed beyond recognition in the last thirty years.

    • Kaz says:

      Entertaining story about the Girls who attended J H Boyd. I did 1965-66. We were not all wharfies daughters or disruptive.
      Yes a lot of poor girls attended from the hostels and around Port Melbourne, but I can tell you the teachers were useless totally uninterested in our education or welfare. The school was so run down zero amenities, no wonder the girls weren’t interested. I had one teacher who arrived drunk and topped herself up from a flask.
      Yes interesting but highly embellished.

      • goldie says:

        I agree with everything you are saying Kaz. I was merely reporting on my own experiences. Who turned up drunk?

  2. Hi, I run on the site TheNewsDeck.com. We’re always looking for new contributors for the blog, and your writing might fit well with our other content. You should shoot me a message at [email protected] if you are interested in getting your writing out on our blog.

  3. Jonathon says:

    Time is neutral and does not change things. With courage and initiative, leaders change things.

  4. Eleonore Lee says:

    I attended JH Boyd from 1970 till 1974 and was one of the Migrant girls from England who eventually made their way to the school. You’ll be happy to know that the then Head Mistress Miss Donnelly was very much in favour of ‘Girls who sang’ the music room was moved to the old building (at the top of the stair case that lead to the office I expect so that Miss Donnelly could enjoy the singing) and sing we did. The Choir was a massive deal to be in, I am happy to say I was a member of that Choir at many a speech night and Choral competition. The teacher who drank was still there when I left, I’m guessing the Education department didn’t know what else to do with her. If you ever have the inclination to share more memories of JH Boyd please feel free to join us on the J.H.BOYD DOMESTIC COLLEGE Facebook page, you and anyone else who has a past association with the school are more than welcome. https://www.facebook.com/groups/20171764934/permalink/10152639028434935/

  5. Tracey Gibbs says:

    I attended J H Boyd for three years from 1974 – 1976.
    Yes, we had the odd bully groups but nothing like what you talk of.
    I think the high schools today are far worse than any St Trinians movie whereas the students assault each other and teachers quite aggressively.
    I am not aware of the teacher coming to school intoxicated. Kids of today go to school intoxicated and stoned on drugs and NOW the teachers do absolutely nothing about them.
    I think J H Boyd was a good school at the time and a lot of us went on to be productive members of our society.
    I feel you have misrepresented our school.

  6. Where did my contribution go? It was there……and now it isn’t!

  7. Many thanks for your email, Goldie…..I have only just arrived home and it’s bedtime for me….I’m in England! I will email you tomorrow.

  8. There are many of us former pupils on the J H Boyd Facebook page, (which you were cordially invited to join but chose not to), who object vehemently, to your one-sided recollections of our staff and our school! When you stand up in public and talk about us on October 18th, in the place that we loved and you did not, I hope you remember that we are not fictional characters, we are real people of good character, who went on in life, to achieve good things thanks to your fictional “Ms Mitchell” or should I say, our factual, Miss Donnelly …..and the rest of her staff, who you say, “ignored you with a shrug and a sniff”, but nonetheless, stayed on to see us girls all the way through school, for more than just……was it one term? I wish I could be there to hear your “talk”, but as I live in England, I can’t! However I am hoping that there might be other former pupils who are able to be there to defend our shattered reputations! As you pointed out in August 2014, I was indeed there before 1967, but interestingly, even the girls who were at our school at the same time as you, have no recollection of you ever having been there! For your information, I will copy and paste this entry to the J H Boyd Facebook page and to the Boyd hub page!

  9. goldie says:

    Dear Glenn
    First of all I must apologize for not joining your facebook page. I have too many other activities and many schools and institutions to keep up with. The truth is, I forgot.
    Also I’m really sorry you live in England as I will be talking at the JHBOYD cultural centre/library on the 25th October and we could have argued this memory out face to face.
    Meanwhile I hope you keep well,
    best regards

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