First published

The Geelong Road in 1939 was the epitome of dreariness. One proceeded out past Flemington race-track, through Footscray, through industrial Deer Park, then on to a treeless, rocky plain. The plain seemed waterless, burnt, grey. The only feature, over there to the right, was those humps, rather mysterious, all alone - the You Yangs. The road passed through Werribee, a small town, but I always had a feeling of passing through a wasteland. The young prisoner was going off to Siberia.

There were various ways of getting to and from the school at Corio, on the Melbourne side of Geelong. Students could go by train and get off at Corio station, only a kilometre or two from the school; they could go by car; or, if they were energetic, they could bicycle. The rich whose parents had houses at Frankston, Mt Martha or Sorrento were known to sail across the bay in their personal yachts. Always I went by car or train, and always it seemed like the trip of the doomed to the Russian wastes. The turn-off to Geelong Grammar came up about 12 kilometres before Geelong. From there visitors could see the, oh yes, quite lovely clock tower.

There were five houses in the senior school: Geelong, Manifold, Perry, Cuthbertson and Francis Brown. Geelong was the house for the day boys, who came in every day from Geelong. The other four were for boarders, and 1 was allotted to Francis Brown, named in honour of the previous headmaster, Dr Francis Brown.

Boarders had to report a day before school started. I was shepherded in with my parents to meet the housemaster, Mr Jaffray, to become acquainted with the matron, my new mother, and to be allotted a dormitory, a bed and two drawers. On that day in February 1939 it all seemed so stark - long passages, no carpets, no floor coverings, booming feet pounding on timber floors. Mr Jaffray explained that on week days we had to wear grey slacks, open-necked shirt and tweed sports coat. I discovered it was de rigueur and utterly Western District to have your sports coat look not new but thoroughly worn and lived in. Best of all was when the elbows wore out and parents were asked to cover the holes with leather patches. Many years later I was delighted to discover that the Queen's son-in-law, Captain Mark Phillips, always wore leather patches on his elbows, and Henry Bucks in Melbourne bad Daks sports coats, patches in the correct position, for 800 dollars each.

On all formal days and on Sundays boys had to wear suits with stiff collars and pale blue ties. Suits were combined with religion and had to be worn to chapel. Senior boys were relieved of the misery of the huge Eton collars; these were for junior school only. We had the tough, hard variety worn by Edwardian businessmen. They were separate from the shirt and required a plain stud at the back and a two-piece stud at the front. The stud at the front had a plunger that was pushed in when the collar appeared to be fixed in place and ready to enshrine the neck, before the tie was added.

On the first day, as the deadline of 10 o'clock chapel drew near, my new collar was like an elliptical spring. I would get it over the front stud but, before I could push home the plunger, it would fly out again, springing around my left ear. Finally, when I had the collar harnessed, I could manoeuvre the tie perfectly all the way round under it but nothing would make that tie go into place. What with all the fingering the pristine collar became blacker and blacker. Suddenly it was all too much, the whole disaster only too apparent. I think that was the only time I cried at Geelong Grammar.

Of course, I should have been delighted with the school. The establishment was similar to Greyfriars or St Jim's. The four boarding-houses were little autocracies, with the housemaster as dictator and the two assistant masters as adjutants. Those in a house lived as separate entities, like inmates of a severe guest house, only meeting boys from other houses in class or chapel or on the playing field.

Among the boarders of each house a strict hierarchy existed. At the top there were the senior prefect and his cabinet of seven or eight prefects. They were awesome figures of terrible authority, who lived in a private corridor next to the housemaster's study. The senior prefect was responsible for order and discipline. He even had authority to use the cane. In the Magnet prefects bawled 'Fag!' down the corridor, and the unfortunate, tortured young had to come running. Fag was not in the litany of Geelong Grammar but we were certainly the servant class for the prefects. I had to clean the study for prefect Nigel Pugh, make his toast, run his messages. In the Magnet fags were occasionally rewarded with a cream bun or other bounty. I never had rewards from Mr Pugh.

There were sixty-eight boys in Francis Brown. Every boy had a number: the senior prefect was number one, and the most miserable junior was number sixty-eight. And every boy's number was on his tuck locker, his clothes peg, everything. I was among the lowest of the serfs, number sixty-two. After the prefects there came the room heads. There were three large study rooms with a room head and deputy room head in charge of each. First form did all the menial tasks, such as sweeping the study rooms, cleaning the changing and locker rooms and weeding the tennis-court. Room beads and prefects inspected these areas daily.

'Dunstan, there is a smear on that window. Come on, come on! This is not good enough. And pick up that sweet paper in the corner.'

Matron was another authority figure, small, imperious, in her forties. Immediately on rising we had to make our own beds. Until now Mary or Violet had always made my bed. If we were careful and didn't engage in too much rocking and rolling, it was possible to sneak out of bed, pull up the bedclothes here and there and leave it practically made. But Matron had a ruthless, all-seeing eye. She would have made a wonderful senior buyer for Sotheby's, unerringly detecting fake von Guerards, Tom Robertses and Gills. She knew at once a bed that had not been through the full strip. Everything had to be torn off and the bed made again, with corners mitred and not a ripple left on the surface. A dormitory had to look better than the Royal Melbourne Hospital.

Bells rang all day. The first bell was at half past six. My most vivid memory of Corio is of the cold. There were wind-breaks of trees on the extremities of the school property, frail things that were supposed to check the gales that roared over the Werribee plains. There was nothing that could withstand the southerly from Corio Bay, which in full cry brought ready-frozen air direct from Mawson and the Antarctic. We were allowed a hot bath once a week, for which there was a roster. We might be allotted, say, Thursday night at 9 p.m. A cold shower every morning was compulsory. Bell at 6.30 a.m., then out for the shower. It always seemed that Corio water was maintained at a special temperature of 2 degrees Celsius. I developed what was called the stiff-armed technique. I sprinted into the shower, stiff arm outstretched, my hand hit the back wall of the shower and I was immediately propelled out again. Suffering time: one 250th of a second. The true agony came after sport. We could get away with a slight rinse after running or cricket, but football required mud to be removed. On bad days the cold wash could last a minute or more.

There were house assemblies every morn and night. The bell rang and all the boys sprinted in. Everyone had a position according to number. Dunstan in his lowly position of sixty-two was virtually at the end. Finally, when all of non-officer rank were in position, in filed the housemaster, house captain and prefects. Prayers and announcements for the day were then intoned.

For the new boy there were shocks aplenty at boarding-school. For example, prefects conducted body inspections. It was presumed that all small boys had tinea, or 'toe rot', from not drying between their toes. There was also the dhobi itch, a rash that spread around the genitals. At 9 p.m. there would be an announcement that all boys in junior dormitory had to report to senior dorm. We had to run there in our pyjamas, queue outside, then proceed inside, one by one. A prefect sat languidly on the end of a bed, torch in hand. When it was my turn, I had to walk forward and drop my pyjama pants, while he shone the torch on my genitals. My face went as red as a traffic light. The humiliation could not have been greater had I been asked to drop my pants in a Bourke Street window.

The ultimate shock, of course, was leaving my mother's beautiful cooking. At Geelong Grammar there was never quite enough. A glass of milk at meals was an extra. Parents had to pay a surcharge for milk; some boys received it, some did not. Porridge was the regular morning ration, plus toast and jam. There was an appalling dish, much feared, of dried bacon on a piece of fried bread. For dinner there was boiled mutton, called boiled baby, and, just occasionally, a chocolate dessert or blancmange with a smear of artificial cream on top. This we called Yarra mud, and we fought for second helpings. The food was a continuing horror, and not even during the war in North Borneo, when nothing was fresh, did I find the standard of cooking as appalling as it was at boarding-school.

Yet the kitchen staff were remarkably tolerant and helpful when we provided our own food. There were food lockers near the dining-room and we carted in boxes of cornflakes, Wheaties, our favourite jams, Vegemite and even that forerunner of instant coffee, a black poison known as Turban Coffee Essence. Mrs Dunstan could not bear the thought of her youngest going hungry, even faintly. So she prepared hampers that contained her famous chocolate cake, bottles of her best home-made marmalade, a Violet Crumble or two and, oh heaven upon heaven, crumpets. The kitchen staff very kindly toasted the crumpets at dinnertime. The delivery of the hamper was a brilliant operation. A Herald van travelled down the Geelong Road every day to deliver the afternoon paper to Geelong and districts. Dad would ask the driver to divert to Corio to deliver a hamper to young Dunstan. Just as in the chocolate cake days of Wallace Avenue, my popularity with my peers soared. At dinnertime I passed around chocolate cake and that very special bliss, crumpets saturated with melted butter and honey.

In Francis Brown it was the custom to keep track of any young man who was getting, so the term went, above himself. If the members of senior dorm thought the juniors were getting above themselves, they would call them up on Saturday mornings, when it was possible to sleep in. Sometimes they called up the entire dormitory, lectured them, made them do repeated push-ups and applied a little refined torture. Once I was called up and told to remove my trousers and read what were considered risque portions of the Bible. On another occasion - one terrible morning in winter - I and four or five others were hauled out of bed and advised: 'We are going for a little run. Put on your gear'. Out we went, across the frosty grass, beyond the wind-break plantations to a series of icy mud pools. We were told to get face down in the mud and paddle around. Once covered head to foot with icy mud, we ran back to the house to wash. Rocks in the mud left scratches all over my chest. Presumably some lessons are learned, because I didn't get above myself for quite some time.

Three years later, when we were seniors ourselves, it was our turn. A group of young fellows who had been getting above themselves were called to our dormitory. One of the seniors was E. S. Crawcour, who was later to become a brilliant scholar of the Japanese language and culture and a professor at the Australian National University. He had the bed just inside the senior dorm and, as the junior dormitory boys came in, he quietly told them it was a mistake and they were not wanted. The rest of us felt rather ashamed and the dressing down fizzled out. So there was no bullying after that, and I hope the tradition ended for all time on that Saturday morning.

If discipline was overbearing, there were some sides of school life that were inspired, no doubt due to the headmaster, Dr Darling. For example, there were Saturday parties. On Thursday we could give our names to the administration, saying that we wanted to go on a Saturday party and stating our destination. A party had to be composed of three boys. This was a safety valve. Heaven knows what two boys would get up to if they went off together. On Saturday morning a hessian bag would be waiting. This would contain chops, tea, sugar, bread, butter and a tin of jam.

We could bicycle anywhere within 30 kilometres of the school; only Geelong itself was out of bounds. In 1939-1940 there were I2 kilometres of open field between Corio and Geelong. Favourite places for excursions were Fyansford, the You Yangs and Anakie. When not forced into organised sport, I went on these trips almost every Saturday. It was the ultimate escape.

In 1972 Headmaster Tom Garnett brought girls to Geelong Grammar, a courageous and brilliant move. Until then, like all Australian public schools, we had sexual apartheid. Geelong Grammar was as celibate as a priory; boys lived with boys. We were allowed an exeat three times a term. This consisted of escape for a precious six hours, never overnight. The housemaster had to be advised of a boy's intentions and that a parent or appropriate relative would be taking him out. The relatives arrived after chapel on Sunday and the boy had to be back by 6 p.m. in time for dinner and the evening service.

My father and mother always came down in the Buick. In summer there was a huge packed picnic lunch. In winter we went to the Barwon Heads Golf Club where Dad was a member. The club was famed far afield for its sumptuous smorgasbord lunches and boys from Geelong Grammar would fall upon them like starved prisoners.

After four years of this females became strange, mysterious creatures, seen only during school holidays. However, it was an era when every young gentleman had to learn how to dance, so dancing instruction was an optional extra on the school bill. Miss Lascelles came from Melbourne to give lessons on Thursday afternoons. Miss Lascelles was famous. She taught several generations of young Melburnians how to dance. She had a large bosom, poised herself squarely on her two feet and called out, Slow, slow, quick, quick, slow'. Her authority was that of a regimental sergeant-major. She taught in the vast, timber Bracebridge Wilson Hall, where earlier in the day we suffered through gymnastics and once or twice a term had suitable adventure motion pictures.

The handicap was no females. Once a year girls were invited from Morongo or the Hermitage girls' schools for a school dance. Both masters and mistresses stood around the dance floor like prison warders, making sure no couples ventured outside. But for dancing lessons we saw no girls; boys had to dance with boys. I was little and blond, so invariably I had the female role.

'ONE-TWO-THREE . . . ONE-TWO-THREE', bawled Miss Lascelles. I would obediently dance backwards. Even now I dance backwards rather better than I do forwards.

There was a fear among all housemasters of that deadly sin, masturbation, and, even worse, the gravest of all disasters, sexual couplings between boys. These were sins too awful even to be mentioned. In 1893 Henry Varley, a Baptist minister, published in Melbourne a pamphlet titled A Private Address to Boys and Youths - on a Very Important Subject. He never actually explained what the important subject was. The reader had to guess. Although written half a century earlier, Mr Varley's promises of a terrible fate for all those who indulged exactly capture the spirit of Geelong Grammar's thoughts on the subject. Varley wrote:

A short time since, a youth wrote me saying that in a large school numbering nearly 1000 scholars, to which he was sent, he was at once taught this hideous sin; another writing of a superior school in a principal city added, 'I do not believe a single boy who entered that school escaped'

Indigestion, bad temper, moroseness, drowsiness and idleness are results distinctly traceable to this deadly practice. Large numbers of young fellows who have committed this sin in boyhood, and who are now more than from 18 to 20 years old, constantly lose their strength during the night by what are known as Involuntary emissions'. For this condition cure is exceedingly difficult. The memory becomes permanently impaired, mental indolence becomes chronic, often accompanied by a marked want of moral integrity in the character.

It is only true to remark that more youths and young men have become insane through self pollution than from any other cause.

Well, what was the cure? Mr Varley suggested:

Let every father and mother banish intoxicating drinks from their houses, and one of the chief incentives to lust and uncleanness will cease to curse our home life.

Cold-water bathing, water as a beverage, simple and wholesome food, regularity of sleep, plenty of exercise, sports such as cricket, tennis, boating, football and bicycling are amongst the best preventatives against these youthful lusts.

Geelong Grammar provided a complete range of Varley cures: cold water, plenty of exercise, cricket, football and bicycling. The dictum of Dr Arnold, headmaster of Rugby, was never let a boy be idle. 'Get out and run boy.' Geelong Grammar boys were always running, and at the Combined Sports the pale blues never won the athletics title but always did well in the long distance events. If normal sports, such as cricket, were not possible in stormy Corio weather, there were always cross-country runs in their place. So we had to pant along in the rain and cold, senior boys making sure there was no flagging, no lagging behind. How curious it was, thirty years later, to take up running for fun.

Sex was a mystery, something never to be discussed in public. In my last year at Wadhurst the school chaplain had called the class together. He had explained carefully about the seed in a mother's stomach and how it grew and that that was why pregnant women looked the way they did. He had not explained how the seed was placed in the mother. After this extraordinary lecture I had discussed the subject with a school friend, Alan Champ.

'Do you know what he was talking about?'
'No idea.''I think he was talking about how women get a disease and have a baby.'
'Don't men have something to do with it?'
'Of course they do.'

I was fairly convinced men were involved somehow. Wilson, whose father was a big deal in the city, managed to get hold of a sex education book by Marie Stopes. It was a triumph. Twenty of us fought to get a look behind the scoreboard one morning during recess. The book had some fantastic pictures, particularly of women with no clothes on. But competition for a look was too fierce, so I did not have a chance to read the printed matter to find out how sex really worked.

My true education in sex came at Geelong Grammar in my fifteenth year. I was an amazingly slow developer who was really more concerned with model aeroplanes and photography than the human body. Actually my seduction was entirely due to photography. My first camera was a Voigtlander Brilliant reflex that took 120-millimetre film. Then I inherited from my family a Kodak Retina 35-millimetre, a marvellous camera, so small it could fit in the pocket. It had a German-made lens, focal length 3.5. It is still one of the finest cameras, I think, ever produced by Kodak. Geelong Grammar had its own dark-room, with cubicles for developing film. We did not have such niceties as developing tanks: film was developed by hand in the cubicles. In the large dark-room itself we used several fine enlargers for making our prints.

A fellow camera enthusiast whom I shall call McPherson came from Sydney. His family was very rich. One day in a developing cubicle he showed no interest in 35-millimetre film. He was interested in developing something else. It was the first time I had seen or felt an erection, an experience full of amazement, wonder and, of course, deadly sin. A game of mutual masturbation followed.

This went on for several terms. McPherson and Dunstan became inseparable friends; as I saw it, almost like Harry Wharton and Bob Cherry in the Magnet. But a sexual relationship of any kind was a sin beyond measure. There was no question of sodomising. Nobody had given us a book of instruction for things like that. Everything was hand-play. Even so I was laden with guilt and in terror of being discovered in flagrante delicto. Our favourite place was a little cubicle under the stairs in Francis Brown. But we always needed a film to develop in the dark, so that there was a perfect excuse not to allow a third party inside.

A mixture of guilt and fear, and the certain knowledge that masturbation caused impotence, blindness, loss of memory and insanity, made me call a stop to our intimate dark-room developing. McPherson was deeply offended, and our friendship came to an instant end. No more Saturday parties together, no outings with parents when they came to visit and a decline of interest in photography. The collapse of the friendship was hard to bear. It took more than a year to find new close friends of a different kind.

Sex and everything associated with it remained the awful, fearful taboo. Soon after the break with McPherson there was an explosion at Geelong Grammar akin to 1963 when Britain's minister of war, John Profumo, was discovered sharing the sexual favours of a gorgeous call-girl, Christine Keeler, with a Soviet spy, Eugene Ivanov. Also involved was the 18-year-old Mandy Rice Davies, who allegedly bedded such people as Lord Astor and Douglas Fairbanks, junior. There was a blond boy in our year who was the boarding-house equivalent of Mandy Rice Davies. He was discovered in the most awful of crimes and turned King's evidence. Mandy named a dozen boys with whom he had enjoyed a liaison. Here was a crisis beyond belief. Not only did it involve sons from some of the most prestigious Western District families but also three house prefects and a room head.

The housemaster called a special assembly. We all walked in, heads bowed: we knew there was to be a fearful announcement in which the housemaster would virtually put on the black cap and announce the death sentence. It was very difficult for him since sex was so sinful it was impossible to use any word associated with it. How could any gentleman, let alone a Christian housemaster, use words such as copulation, coitus, sodomising, homosexual, masturbation or, or - let's not shatter glass - fuck? He did manage to get out the word self-abuse. A number of boys had been involved in self-abuse with a certain boy in the house (the unnamed Mandy) who had turned them in.

There were too many involved for a mass expulsion, and, apart from that, what would happen if the scandal reached the outside world? The three prefects and the room head he demoted to other ranks, and he appointed new prefects with clean, unmasturbatory records in their place. This meant that when those demoted marched into assembly they had to endure the humiliation of being dropped twenty numbers. Furthermore their names would never go up in gold on the honour boards.

For a time Francis Brown House was purified, with no more hint of the unmentionable. But a year later there was another scandal. This time the crime was too awful for the house even to have an assembly. It was not strictly true to say there were no women at Geelong Grammar. There were. There were maids who waited on the table in the dining-room. One healthy young man, again son of a famous and wealthy family, athletic and good at football, was found in bed, not with a boy but, far worse, with one of the maids. The young man was smart. He did not wait for his trial or to be expelled. He caught the first train home and there was no mention of him again. It was as if he had been sunk down a well or buried in concrete. Next year all the maids disappeared and the boys waited on the tables. A wartime measure, of course.

Despite these incidents, sex remained for us a matter of mystery and wonder. Even talking to women was not easy because they were creatures so different, so far apart. Sexual education of any kind was not a subject. My best friend now was Bob Dalziel, a very unusual young man. His father, a retired sea captain, was a pilot in the Port Phillip Pilot Service. Bob's mother had died when he was young and he had been brought up by two maiden aunts at Queenscliff. Dalziel was an independent spirit. His father had made big sacrifices to send him to Geelong Grammar. 'Absurd really', Dalziel would say. 'Had he booked me into the Australia Hotel I would have learned much more that was useful to me, and it would have cost him less. I would have met a lot of women.'

That was true, but there was always the hope of finding something good on sex in the house library. I was the house librarian. Every book was vetted carefully by Mr Jaffray and then by Mr Newman, when Mr Jaffray went off to the war. There were several books that had what we thought were a seduction or a sex act. There was A. J. Cronin's Hatter's Castle, thumbed by every boy in the house. It fell open perfectly at page thirty-nine.

It was the spring of 1879. Mary Brodie, a beautiful girl with warm, soft, brown eyes dallied with Denis Foyle, son of an Irish publican. Potato-eating trash Mary's father called him. Yet Mary, disbelieving her father and devoted to this young man, walked home by moonlight with him after the Levenford fair. It was the first time she had kissed a man. Ahh, her lips were soft, warm and dry. The effect of the kiss was sensational, overwhelming. Denis pulled her down beside him. There was no mention of clothes coming off, but it was obvious things were happening very quickly. The contact of their bodies gave them a delicious warmth . . . Her breath was like new milk .. . Her teeth shone in the moonlight like small, white seeds . . . How firm and round her breasts were, each like a smooth and perfect unplucked fruit enclosed within his palm for him to fondle . . . Her spirit rushed to meet his . . . Swifter than a swallow's flight, together, united, leaving their bodies upon the earth, they soared into the rarer air. Together they floated upwards as lightly as two moths and as soundlessly as the river. No dimension contained them, no tie of earth restrained the ecstasy of their flight.

I tell you, all young visitors to the Francis Brown library were deeply moved by this sort of thing.

We also avidly read Victoria Four Thirty by Cecil Roberts. Books in the early 1940s were so different. None went into close detail about sexual liaisons; there was hardly a suggestion even that there had been a sexual coupling, but just the knowledge that somewhere it could happen between lovers who were not married caused excitement and set the imagination into high gear.

We had, of course, not seen a female unclad. Apart from the information provided by Mr Cronin and Mr Roberts, we had to rely on the illicit copies of Men Only that were smuggled into the school. Men Only was a small, dull English magazine. It sprinkled its pages with prim nudes in forced, ugly poses. The subjects always looked odd between the legs where the pubic hair had been brushed out.

There were two chances for a young man to see naked flesh or what seemed to be naked female flesh. There was the painting of the saintly looking nude Chloe, in the public bar at Young and Jackson's Hotel in Swanston Street. Seeing her was tricky. Being under 18, we had to nick in and out of the hotel without being caught. The other opportunity, and again we needed to look 18, was to visit the Tivoli. The Tiv still flourished in the 1940s. It was the last remnant of a long Bourke Street vaudeville tradition. Roy Rene - 'Mo' - was the star, and his earthy humour packed the theatre every matinee. But many did not go there for Mo. Three or four times during the show naked women would be on display.

Victorian law was strict. Nudity was only half legal. The nudes were required to adopt poses and remain as still as Fitzroy Garden statues. Politicians in their wisdom believed anything that wobbled was obscene. Furthermore it was a sin to look straight at the nudes. There had to be a light gauze screen between them and the audience. So they would be there behind the gauze, suddenly, at the grand climax just before the interval. They would be there no longer than twenty or thirty seconds. All we would see was a hazy, Renoir-like impression of nudity. We would gaze fixedly, not wasting a second of the precious twenty seconds, trying to fasten forever that wonderful impression in the mind.

Sport was the antidote to all these unhealthy thoughts. Dr Darling approved of clever, brilliant boys, but unquestionably athleticism was the road to glory. If a boy could run, kick, row or hit a ball with brilliance, then the climb to room head, house prefect, school prefect was swift. If a boy was in a house team he earned the right to wear a house blazer, or, in a school team, the glory of school colours, which meant a pale blue blazer with a badge on the pocket and a fetching white pullover with a single, pale blue band at the neck.

Sport for me was trying, indeed. just by the process of seniority and the passing of years I should have been in house cricket or football teams. However, for two years I was captain of the house seconds both in football and cricket. The house captain told me tactfully that I was just too valuable where I was, to be moved to the senior team.

The greatest suffering came in athletics. Dr Darling believed athletics should not be elitist, everybody should take part. So the teachers devised a piece of cruelty called qualifications. If a boy qualified in any division of athletics he earned a point for Francis Brown in the inter-house competition. The qualifications were 5 feet for the high jump, eleven seconds for the 100 yards sprint, five minutes for the mile. There were other qualifying tests for the long jump, the shot put and the 440 and 120 yards hurdles.

I trained and trained but could not master any of them. All sixty-eight of us had our names placed on the notice-board, with details revealing how we had fared in each of the qualifications. Against Dunstan's name there was zero. The humiliation was hard to bear.

It was compulsory to be interested, compulsory to watch the school row in the boat race, compulsory to watch school cricket and, above all, compulsory to be there to cheer on Geelong Grammar in school football. Bob Dalziel was a passable rower but as inept as I was at running and football. The most serious fixture for the entire year was the football match against Melbourne Grammar. All boys were ordered to watch and cheer. Dalziel and I had other thoughts.

On the Thursday before the big match Dalziel expounded the theory that there was something Hitlerian in all this. Why should we be forced to watch a game we did not enjoy? If we did not watch we would receive the charge that we were lacking in school spirit. But school spirit was just another form of nationalism, the sort of thing that caused world wars. We should be above this. Why not prove the theory? I thought. Instead of wasting our time we could be doing something constructive, perhaps something allied to the war effort. Could we not apply to look over the Ford factory, which was between Corio and Geelong? I contacted the management and arranged for Dalziel and me to see over the factory at the exact time of the football match.

There was no point in asking for leave, that would have been an impossible request. For a Roman Catholic it is a mortal sin not to go to church on Easter Day. For a Geelong Grammarian it was a mortal sin not to be present at the battle of the Anglicans: Melbourne Grammar versus Geelong Grammar. The Ford factory was a pleasant, easy bicycle ride, and we had a constructive afternoon looking at vehicles being manufactured for the Australian Army.

We had made no secret of our expedition. When you are trying to make an intellectual point it is absurd to do so without some publicity. Melbourne Grammar at this time was all-triumphant as a football school. It had the famous football coach 'Bully' Taylor and winning the football crown was just a matter of course. Predictably Geelong Grammar had been suitably thrashed that afternoon, so the disappointed pale blues were looking for scapegoats. It was people like Dunstan and Dalziel, lacking in school spirit, who were the cause of everything.

As we made our turn from the Geelong Road and pedalled towards the school gates we could see a crowd gathered. It was the lynching mob. Just near Francis Brown House was the rowing pond. This pond had a little island in the centre, a mock-up of a rowing seat, rowlock and oar. Here it was possible to practise rowing. The lynch mob grabbed the two despicable non-football lovers, marched them to the pond and threw them in, fully clothed. We were then made to swim round and round the concrete perimeter. We had been swimming for maybe five minutes when the fracas was stopped by Brian S. Inglis, house captain of Francis Brown and splendid all-round sportsman. He called a halt to the proceedings and told us to get out of the freezing water and go away and change. The lynching was over. I always thought there was a sweet irony to the tale. Brian Inglis, later Sir Brian, went on to become chief executive of Ford Australia.

The incident left me with many bitter feelings. I contemplated walking out, disappearing for several days. All life at Geelong Grammar seemed hopeless. Dalziel was the saviour. He adopted a position of intellectual superiority and laughed at his assailants. So we continued to wait, biding our time, for the eventual release.

Geelong Grammar was indeed an Anglican school and, like Melbourne Grammar, had been launched by Bishop Perry. So we were meant to be religious. I was, but Bob Dalziel was different. His intellectual courage was enormous. We had to go through the long preparation for confirmation, which included learning the catechism by heart and faultlessly repeating the Creed and the Lord's Prayer. Bishop Riley, Bishop of Bendigo, had been asked to make the formal laying on of hands. The bishop was a large man, with a face full of lines. I thought he had a face like Spencer Tracy. He was one of the few men who came to the school who could give a sermon and have every boy listening from start to finish. When his son arrived in our dormitory we treated him with cool respect and said little. After lights had been turned off he sat up in his bed and cried out: 'What's wrong with all you bastards? Are you worried because my father's a bishop?'. He had no trouble after that.

Confirmation day arrived and we lined up to meet the bishop. Dalziel announced he was not going on with the confirmation. The bishop asked why not. 'I am not a Christian, said Dalziel coolly. `I don't believe in it any more.' We thought Dalziel would be taken out and burned at the stake as a heretic, but the bishop merely took him aside and tried to turn him back to the faith. However, Dalziel never turned, not even when he was dying of cancer many years later. Bishop Riley said Dalziel was to be allowed to continue in his own way.

But I loved religion, the church, the whole ceremonial process and, particularly, the choir. As a boy soprano I enjoyed the oratorios of Handel and Haydn. Singing in The Messiah and The Creation was the most exciting experience I had known. When a boy's voice broke it was normal for him to proceed from soprano to tenor or bass. I became a bass. One afternoon I was in the house, by the notice-board, and I heard the music teacher, Mr Brazier, talking to the assistant housemaster.

'Dunstan really has a frightful voice. How do you think we can get rid of him?'

I determined they would not get rid of me. I did everything possible to make myself indispensable. I became a server at the altar and never missed a choir practice.

It was music that made school life possible. In the early 1940s musical heaven was Bing Crosby either singing 'Star Dust' or putting his full groan into 'Deep Purple'. We had a 78-r.p.m. record with 'Star Dust' on one side and 'Deep Purple' on the other. Then, on an even higher plane of heaven, there was the big band of Glenn Miller. 'In the Mood' was the revelation of the year. There was a radio in our Room Two study that would go all afternoon through to study time. Suddenly we would hear the first drum note and trumpet blast of Glenn Miller. There would be a scream, 'It's "In the Mood"'. Boys would come running from every corner of the building to crowd around the wireless, feet tapping, until it was over.

Just over the road from Francis Brown there was the music school, a large, beautifully designed building. I don't think many of us at the time realised what a priceless asset it was. There were sound-proof rooms where students could learn to play the piano, the violin or the complete range of wind instruments. I asked my father if I could learn the violin. He said 'No'. Other members of the family had tried their hand at the piano and shown no permanent interest. Unquestionably I would be exactly the same.

However, whether a boy played an instrument or not, it was still possible to listen to music. There was a special room with a record-player and a library of 78-r.p.m. records. Apart from choral music, I had never heard any great orchestral music. I have often wondered since who would be the composer, what great piece of music would be the ideal one, to lure a child away from rock and pop. For me it was Beethoven. It happened when I was 16, on a grey, dull, Sunday afternoon. Sunday afternoons at Corio always seemed duller than anywhere else on earth. I wandered into the music school alone, went into the record library and by chance put on the first of six records that made up Beethoven's Seventh Symphony. The first movement I found exciting, full of drama, but it was the second movement that brought me to the edge of my chair, haunted me then, and haunts me still. It began with a slow, majestic progression of sound - darm, dump-dump, darm dum - then went on and on, building and building, with a rhythm so relentless it seemed Beethoven had created an engine he could not stop. I sat spellbound, overcome. It was almost like the revelation of God to a pilgrim. I played through the whole symphony and was so excited I ran back to the house to tell others of my incredible discovery. No one was interested. The ratbag was out of his mind.

I went back again and again and listened to all the Beethoven that was available: the Fifth and Sixth symphonies, the 'Emperor Concerto' and, ah yes, the beautiful Fourth Piano Concerto. The school had Schubert's 'Unfinished Symphony', the Chopin preludes and mazurkas, Brahms, Rachmaninov and the voluptuous Scheherazade by Rimsky-Korsakov, which in 1940 was all the craze. I had been spending my spare money on model aeroplanes. From then on every penny went on gramophone records.

Australia was deep in its cultural cringe towards Britain and almost everything overseas. If it was done in Australia it couldn't be any good. Broadcasters on the Australian Broadcasting Commission spoke with an English accent. Governors and governors-general all came from Britain. The colonies provided excellent retirement posts for the British military. Sir Isaac Isaacs, appointed by a Labor government, was an exception, but what an outrage his governor-generalship was to the conservatives. The Anglican Church in Australia found only the English-born suitable material for its bishops and archbishops. It was a firm tradition at Geelong Grammar to appoint English-born headmasters, and a candidate's chances of becoming a teacher at Geelong were improved if he had a degree from Oxford or Cambridge.

James Ralph Darling was only 31 when he became headmaster at Geelong Grammar and replaced the conservative Dr Francis Brown. Darling had been assistant master at such famous schools as Charterhouse and Merchant Taylors'. He was to be one of the great headmasters in the history of Australian education. As a Christian he had enormous faith and from the pulpit he unceasingly thundered out the old-fashioned virtues. Above all he liked to see his boys pursue the professions: medicine, the church, the law, the permanent armed services. By the time I arrived he was already acknowledged as a great headmaster. He walked slightly bent, with his arms behind his back. With his billowing gown and mortarboard, he seemed a towering figure.

It wasn't that Dr Darling was a harsh authoritarian - in fact, he was very human - but he had an aura about him. Whenever we were called to a special assembly to he castigated for our behaviour at the boat race or our declining morals, it was impossible to escape a sick feeling in the stomach. To be summoned to the head's study for some frightful offence was like walking death's row. Dr Darling's memory for names and people, even when he was 90, was remarkable. Behind his back we called him The Boss' or, more simply, `Ralphie'.

Dr Darling's political views were more left than right, and he seemed tortured by his social conscience. He would tell us about our privileged positions as sons of the affluent middle class or the rich. What right had we to be there? We all had a duty to repay society for our privileges. He liked to see Geelong Grammar triumph on the sporting field, and his battery of school prefects included sporting heroes, but, even so, he believed sporting heroes should remain modest and secondary to the clever boys.

The greatest sporting event in the social calendar was the boat race. It took place two times out of three on the Yarra and the rest of the time on the Barwon at Geelong. The Geelong schools came down to Melbourne on special trains decorated for the event and with the school crests on the engine fronts. In the 1930s the boat race was a huge social event, something to look forward to, second only to the Melbourne Cup. For many weeks beforehand the Herald, the Age, the Argus and the Sun commented on the progress of the crews, and to have a son in a school first eight was a social victory.

Training was so serious schoolwork was difficult, but then rowing was important. If there was the faintest possibility of a son making the first eight his parents kept him at school for another year. Everything had to be done to make sure crew-members reached maximum fitness. At Geelong Grammar and other boarding-schools first eight men, those who wore crossed oars on their blazers, were fed on steak. The rest of the school, like starving Asians, might remain on subsistence fare. But, as Henry Varley had pointed out long before, there was another factor involved in virility. Francis Brown House had a rower in the first eight and as boat race day approached the awesome thought occurred, what if he had a wet dream on boat race eve? His strength would surely be impaired. So he took necessary precautions a week before the race.

Both boys and girls went in school uniform to the boat race. If a boy had a girlfriend at Morongo, St Catherine's, the Hermitage or wherever, she wore his school badge with a metre of ribbon attached. There was a ritual. The young man might take his lady to lunch at the Wattle. Failing that it might be Sinport's, the old basement café on the Block. There she received a Schoolgirl's Dream, which was a sickly affair with a milk and ice-cream base. If she was starving she had a banana parfait, which contained banana, chocolate, ice-cream, nuts and whipped cream.

It was important to wear military boots to the boat race because much jumping had to be done. As soon as the race started there was a roar from about 90 000 people, which did not stop until the crews passed the judge's box. Rowers didn't hear any individual exhortations to pull for their school, just the roar. If your crew won, which it never did in my day, it was correct to rush to the boatshed to exult in its triumph. 'We want crewl We want crew!', its supporters cried. Then, as the crew came in, everyone chanted, 'Well rowed bow, well rowed two, well rowed three, well rowed four. On special theatre nights, which the whole school attended, the crew, those men of almost unapproachable distinction, sat together in the place of honour in the dress circle.

There were always fights after the boat race. Flour bombs and water bombs were thrown constantly. Specially refined flour bombs were mixed with cocoa. When your team lost there was the miserable chant 'Who's going to win next year?', after which it was the tradition to drown your sorrows at Hillier's in Collins Street, next door to the Regent Theatre. Hillier's made the best malted milks, so thick they had to be eaten with a spoon.

Dr Darling never approved of the boat race in Melbourne. Nor did some of the other headmasters. It was glorification of the schoolboy and needed toning down. In 1948, because the Swan Street Bridge was going up across the Yarra, the race took place on the Barwon. The headmasters were pleased, for they felt it was quieter there. So, with one exception, from then on the boat race was always on the Barwon and as a social event it died.

At the time, James R. Darling seemed prim, but he surrounded himself with an unusual selection of teachers whose views ranged from Marxism to the irreverence of James Joyce to ideas suitable for Czar Nicholas or the Archbishop of Canterbury. Unquestionably Darling was aware of all this and saw it as part of our education.

Manning Clark, later professor of history at the Australian National University, was the senior history teacher. He taught with great verve and style and sprinkled discussions with brilliant asides. Chapel before the start of class was a daily affair and, if there were any special religious messages, boys would be late to Manning's class. 'Where have you been?', he would ask. 'We have been in chapel, Sir.' 'The Jesus racket.' 'We were praying, Sir.' 'I suppose it doesn't do you any harm', Manning would sigh. 'All that standing up, all that getting down on your knees. Very good exercise for young boys.' Manning Clark told us, too, of the wonders of the music of Rimsky-Korsakov and the voluptuous strains of Scheherazade. He said that he liked to make love to his wife while he played Scheherazade on his record-player.

The only trouble is', he added, 'I have to get out of bed to turn over the records'. Scheherazade at that time came on 78- r.p.m. acetate discs. Our teacher of the classics was Mr P. Chauncy Masterman, later a professor at the Australian National University. Chauncy, as he was known to everyone, was ex-Charterhouse and ex-Brasenose College, Oxford, and sounded rather more splendidly English than King George himself. He had a mannerism of ending each sentence with 'phew'. His technique for teaching Latin was to play a game of musical chairs. The class was seated in order from one to thirty-two. Chauncy asked questions and, if there was one boy who succeeded over all the others, he moved straight into number one spot and everyone else went down one. There was a constant shuffling of seats. One of our favourite pranks was to fill a handkerchief with coins then pull it out of our pockets so that coins sprayed all over the room.

Dunstan, flaunting your wealth, pheww', Chauncy would say to the delight of everyone. My education in my final year was all science and mathematics. I was under the illusion that I should become a writer. My skills seemed to be limited entirely to English. At 16 I even wrote a full-length novel titled 'The She-devil'. I was heavily under the influence of Captain W. E. Johns, a First World War aviator who wrote adventure stories in Chums and Boys' Own Paper. The hero of my story was a fighter pilot in a Hawker Hurricane who, with dauntless courage, shot German after German out of the skies. He became involved with a raven-haired female of startling beauty who was not only wicked but also a spy: the she-devil, no less. She caused my hero's downfall. Laboriously in left-handed scrawl I filled half a dozen school exercise books with this novel, and my father was impressed. So much so that his suffering secretary had to type it and bind it.

Yet Dad was experienced. He had noted that people who wrote novels starved. The future of the world belonged to the engineers. The early 1940s might belong to the accountants, but, come the war's end, the world would need to be rebuilt and the engineers would control all. So with overwhelming determination he insisted I prepare myself for an engineering course at Melbourne University. My subjects in 1942 were four mathematics, physics and chemistry. I could score reasonably at all the humanities subjects, but trigonometry, logarithms, differential calculus, algebra and geometry were chain-gang stuff. A brave and brilliant maths teacher, H. R. McWilliam, managed to get me a pass for all those terrible subjects, and Charles Cameron, an equally brilliant science teacher, managed to push me through chemistry.

Chemistry was suffering of a special kind. The behaviour of molecules was all too strange and mysterious for me. I rose at 5 a.m., slipped down to the study room in the dark and worked for two hours before anyone else appeared. Cameron, who was lame and walked with a stick and was close to retirement, took pity on me when he discovered this.

'Bov', he said, 'come to my house at 8 o'clock tomorrow morning and we'll work at it together'. For several weeks before the Matriculation examinations he gave me private tuition. Just before the Matric exam he looked at me with what I thought was almost affection. 'Dunstan, you are stupid. You have no brains at all. But you do have guts.' Dr Darling had an innovative, hugely inventive brain, always dreaming up new ideas. I am sure his staff was terrified about what he would dream up next. One of his ideas was 'national service'. Wednesday afternoons, for example, were devoted not to sport but to this new, uplifting activity that was supposed to improve our skills and make us of service to Australia. Some of the activities on behalf of our nation, such as weeding greens on the golf-course and gardening, were a little strange, but we also did fire drill and learned first aid.

Wednesday was national service, Thursday was school cadets. Military training was compulsory. Our uniforms were antique, First World War. We wore heavy, khaki serge jackets with pale blue tabs and brass buttons. The buttons had to be polished with Brasso at dawn on Thursday mornings. We wore the heavy riding breeches used by motor-cycle police, boots that had to shine like the sun, and puttees just like those the Diggers wore at the Somme.

Puttees were an even bigger misery than hard collars. They came in long rolls and were wound around the calves. Maybe puttees were useful in the mud of the trenches, but to us their purpose was unclear. They had to start at the ankle and finish absolutely at a perfect spot under the knee, on the right-hand side of the leg. Everything had to look smooth, with no steps or stairs. The agony was in getting the puttees to finish at the right spot. Wind and rewind as I might, they always finished in the wrong position, at the front or the back. I then started my puttees, say, 5 centimetres further back at the ankle, but it made no difference; by some perverse magic the puttees still finished at the back. The greatest sin, almost worth a court martial, was to put a tuck in puttees. That was spotted at once when we were inspected by the searching eye of our cadet commander, Major Cartwright.

At first we carried rifles - single-shot affairs that had been used in the Boer War back at the turn of the century - then we graduated to First World War .303 Lee Enfields. We paraded. We marched. We formed fours. Once a year we went to cadet camp, which I thought a penance. It was bad enough being at boarding-school without losing good home time at cadet camp. One year there was a mass gathering of cadet corps at Puckapunyal, which involved many schools. We had mini-wars and manoeuvres that went night and day. The grand toughening-up climax was a 25-kilometre route march. We were instructed to wear two pairs of socks and rub the insides with raw soap. I am sure that helped, but it was a hot summer's day and by the end of 20 kilometres I had endured enough. There was a cadet sergeant who could have played Lejaune in Beau Geste.

'Come on Dunstan, pick up your feet. Left, right, left. March! This is a route march. You are not taking your dog for a walk in the park.'

There was a tall, lean character marching in the row just in front of me. He had an eloquent nose that would have fitted him for the role of Shylock in The Merchant of Venice. Suddenly he left his ranks, stood in front of the sergeant and said 'Leave that little bloke alone or Ill drop you'.

The sergeant was completely taken aback. He was not aware that this was akin to mutiny. Immediately he became meek and sweet mannered. He troubled me no more. As for the man with the splendid nose, that was Adrian Benns from Camberwell Grammar School, and the incident was the start of a friendship that was to last for more than fifty years.

From army cadets I moved to the Air Training Corps. The Second World War was becoming steadily more serious. On 17 February 1942, just after the fall of Singapore, Mr Curtin announced on the radio: He would be a very dull person who does not accept the fall of Singapore as involving a completely new situation . . . Our honeymoon has finished. It is now work or fight as we have never worked or fought before and there must not be a man or a woman in this Commonwealth who goes to bed at night without having related his or her period of wakefulness to the purposes of war.

Black-out crepe went on all the school's windows, and Dr Darling had the idea that we should all build air raid shelters. Every afternoon instead of sport we dug trenches 2.5 metres deep outside Francis Brown House, supporting them with timber. Next we put in stairs and covered these graves with earth. Then we had air raid drill. Kittyhawks and Aircobras were being assembled at the International Harvester factory nearby and fighter aircraft flew daily over our heads. The war did not seem far away. In this heady atmosphere it was not easy to concentrate on education. The importance of war and getting to war over-shadowed everything.

Continue to chapter four: Following a VC

In this third chapter of his first book of memoirs, 'No Brains At All', Keith reflects on growing up in Melbourne in the 1930's and at school. Being a boarder at school he likens to the the hard, cold winters of Russia's extremities.

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Australian Broadcasting CommissionBoarding schoolBob DalzielCecil RobertsDr. James DarlingGeelong GrammarHenry VarleyManning ClarkMarie StopesMelbourne Grammar

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