June 2013 Letters

Opinions expressed in the pages of the magazine are those of the signed contributors or the editor and do not necessarily represent the official position of the University of Sydney.

Quarantine Station rekindles pride in lecturers

I always look forward to seeing my SAM in the letterbox, and especially so with the March 2013 edition – two of my favourite lecturers’ smiling faces on the cover.

I completed my BA over seven and a half years, whilst working, parenting (including an HSC student), and battling an injury and chronic pain the entire time. I often feel a little inadequate when reading SAM – the illustrious alumni with glamorous and important careers, while I continue working in admin with the same building company I’ve been with for over 20 years.

Seeing Annie and Alison reminded me of what I had accomplished, and the sheer joy of learning and studying I experienced during my years at Sydney Uni. I feel proud to be counted as a member of the Sydney University alumni family.

Corinne Johnston (BA ’07)
Gymea Bay NSW

Descendants of Frederick Meredith

I read with interest the cover story article Stories from the Sandstone, and that the highlighted research is designed to “…answer the question of why internees felt the need to stamp themselves onto the landscape”. My immediate reaction was that they needed to affirm they were in a new and exciting place which was both promising and anxiety generating. Each and every one of them wanted to record “I was here” by some means or other.

There is a long line of records from the rock carving and painting of our Indigenous inhabitants through to reminders of the visits of explorers such as Hartog, Dampier and Cook. The earliest European settlement examples of a story from the sandstone asserting that “I am here” are found on Garden Island in Sydney Harbour, where carvings of initials and the date are found in the sandstone.

The plainest of these carvings reads “F. M. 1788”. It is believed that this was the work of Frederick Meredith who was a member of the crew of one of the First Fleet ships. He returned to England because of his terms of engagement but arrived as a free settler on the Second Fleet. Frederick made a success of his life in the colony, scattered his seed widely and became the patriarch of a large family.

Descendants of Frederick Meredith have latterly married descendants of another First Fleeter, the convict Henry Kable, who initiated the first civil proceedings in the colony, took part in the first theatrical performance and was among the group of convicts who were married in the first wedding ceremony in the colony. I am pleased to claim Frederick and Henry as forefathers.

Peter Kable (BA ’56)
East Kew Vic

Standing room only in Sweden

Adrian Baumann talks about the health benefits of standing up in Don’t just sit there (Second Look, SAM March 2013).

A colleague attending a meeting in Sweden was somewhat surprised when 10 minutes into the meeting, the entire board table rose to standing height. The locals all just stood up and continued the meeting as though nothing had happened, and, when it went back down again in 10 minutes, they sat down.

This went on throughout the entire meeting, with the table obviously hooked up to some sort of timed automatic lifting device. A standing desk was one of the few things US Defence Secretary Donald Rumsfeld got right.

Margaret Winn (BA ’74 DipEd ’75)
Newtown NSW

Being on time is not everything

The First Rule of Lectures offered by Malcolm Cameron (Letters, SAM March 2013) is engaging, but wrong in its “don’t be late for lectures” lesson for new students. And, apparently, SAM fell for it.

The letter describes a student who was late and consequently did great work because he missed the fact that the problems on the blackboard were famous unsolved problems, not assigned homework. Had he been on time, he would have realised that the problems were not homework and he may not have tackled them.

So the correct moral from that story is: great work comes from being late for lectures … or at best being on time doesn’t matter. Being on time adds nothing. Not the message an academically-oriented publication wants to promote.

Robert Talbot-Stern
Annandale NSW

Meetings with remarkable reverends

Thanks for the March issue of SAM which I enjoyed reading. I was particularly interested to read what Rob Oakeshott had to say about his time at St Andrew’s College and his comments about the Reverend Peter Cameron (Camperdown to Canberra).

Recent adverse publicity about events at St John’s College have led me to recall the time when the Rev Peter Cameron was the principal of St Andrew’s College. He arrived in Sydney in 1991 after a distinguished career in Scotland as a lawyer and academic, having been ordained as a Presbyterian minister.

The Presbyterian Church in Australia decided in 1974, following the Scottish example, to admit women to the ministry, but when the Uniting Church of Australia was formed in 1977 most of the more conservative congregations decided not to join it and in 1991 the General Assembly of Australia revoked their 1974 decision. This resulted in Cameron stating his view that there was no theologically sound reason why women and homosexuals should not be ordained to the ministry and his eventually being tried for and found guilty of heresy.

During his stay in Sydney he had published several books relating to theological issues and finally, before his resignation and return to Scotland, an exposé of the macho male ethos of the college in a very funny book, Finishing School for Blokes. As he had advocated, with the support of the college council, St Andrew’s has since become coeducational.

But in general, the attitudes of the predominantly male residents of the University colleges towards women are not what they could be. I find this very puzzling and can only hope that reforms in the education of schoolchildren will eventually solve the problem.

PS: I was disappointed at being unable to find the crossword and being a technophobe it took me some time to remember that I could find it on my computer. Perhaps a note about this would save some time for my fellow technophobes.

Ian Edwards (BA ’55)
Glebe NSW

Former Law Dean opens judicial curtain

Many were surprised to hear that the High Court and other courts of appeal may contain overbearing personalities and weaker spirits with a herd mentality which threatens judicial independence. It seemed as if retired High Court judge Dyson Heydon, who was dean of Sydney Law School 1978–79, was lifting the curtain and exposing the truth about the Wizard of Oz.

There are always going to be judicial differences, sometimes revealed after retirement or occasionally detectable in judgements. No-one reads legal judgements for enjoyment and the law students of my day were delighted to find evidence of judges getting personal.

The most famous example is Lord Denning contrasting timorous judges holding back the development of the law with bold spirits ready to innovate if justice so required. Legal humour is never of the side-splitting variety and we really had to search for amusement in the law reports, such as a judge saying that he could not usefully add anything to a colleague’s judgment and another judge saying “I agree”.

As Professor Julius Stone often said, not even the strictest legalist can decide cases without making choices left open by the law, and tensions can arise from the different choices made by individual judges. Bismarck was referring to parliaments when he said that laws are like sausages, it’s better not to see them being made. The same advice could be applied to decision-making in appeal courts.

James Moore (LLB ’55 MA ’72)
Kingsgrove NSW