To Be Always the Best" - Remembering Gerard Windsor, Dux 1961 and 1962
Thursday, 6 April 2023
When Gerard Windsor finished school at the end of 1962 and when he was about to enter the Jesuit Novitiate at Watsonia, Melbourne, Father Charles Fraser SJ, who had taught Gerard at Riverview, gave him a copy of Thomas a Kempis' 'The Imitation of Christ'. The inscription which Father Fraser wrote was "GW - CF" and, in Homer's Greek, from Book VI of 'The Iliad':
"To be always the best and to shine above all others and never to bring shame on the race of your fathers."
This is the episode in 'The Iliad' where Glaucus and Diomedes meet on the battlefield and exchange their armour in a gesture of friendship. Glaucus recounts the advice he received from his father as he left for the Trojan War. In inscribing a Kempis' devotional book, this was Father Fraser's advice for a student whom he regarded highly, whom he had consistently encouraged and for whom he had a warm affection.
Early this year, Gerard and I shared a modest meal in a cafe near his Petersham home. He showed me a Kempis' book and its inscription, written in Father Fraser's hand sixty years ago.
It became clear during our wide-ranging conversation and during much reflection on his early life that Gerard had been a happy child, the eldest of six, at Ocean Street, Woollahra. His reading, encouraged particularly by his father, was voracious. The books he now most readily remembers include
AA Milne, The Arabian Nights, Grimms' and Andersen's Tales, Greek myths, Aboriginal Legends, Biggles, Enid Blyton, Dickens, volumes of Chums, Treasure Island.
Aged five, Gerard went to Campion Hall, a short-lived (1947-1954) Riverview preparatory school, where he was taught by the layman Ted 'Pop' O'Ryan, "one of my best teachers", and where he came under the influence of Father Michael Scott SJ, the founding Headmaster, whose fine sense of humour was combined with a "mature, grown-up, civilised attitude, even to primary school boys." There were musicals ('Happy Days in Old Holland') put on by the older boys, drama (a courtroom drama written by O'Ryan and a scene from 'Henry IV' in which Gerard played Falstaff).
Costumes came from the wardrobe of JC Williamson; the mother of a classmate, Ian Horsley, was the daughter of JC Williamson. There were Art classes where the Sydney artist, John Ogburn, taught Art with easels set up in a spacious art room. Campion Hall was an educationally and culturally rich primary school.
There was nothing like that at Riverview in 1955. In a combined Grade 5/Grade 6 class, Mr 'Bo' Curran struggled to maintain any discipline and spending two years in the same classroom was a "waste of time". At Riverview in the 1950s, there was no art, no music, no school library. Gerard reflects that the 'Ratio Studiorum' of 1599 was the codification for Jesuit schools of humanist education through classical subjects. It was not, however, much in evidence at Riverview where the Jesuit masters had received very little training in pedagogy. In the classroom, some lay masters had the most influence on him. Gerard remembers Frank Mobbs' English classes in Fourth Year with affection for the teacher who built on his feel for poetry which had been first encouraged by Ted O'Ryan at Campion Hall. Mobbs' enthusiasm was for Francis Thompson's 'The Hound of Heaven' and for Hopkins.
JESUITS' ENCOURAGEMENT AT RIVERVIEW
Jesuit influence on Gerard tended to be outside the classroom. He felt the influence and encouragement of the Scholastic, Patrick O'Sullivan SJ, only five years a Jesuit but with an Arts degree. There was a humanistic breadth to O'Sullivan. For dormitory reading, he introduced Gerard to the 'Sudden' Cowboy novels and the wackiness of PG Wodehouse. In the 3rd Division Debating Society he had Gerard recite Edmund Campion's 'Brag'. O'Sullivan was also a skilful and very tough football coach. (He was a Queenslander!) In senior years, Gerard was wonderfully encouraged by Father Charles Fraser SJ with whom he regularly had four periods a day, and at times was the only pupil. Father Fraser put extra reading into Gerard's hands, ranging from fiction to articles on 'The Greek Sophists' from the BBC magazine 'The Listener'. And he delighted in introducing Gerard, as he long did for other boys, to Bruce Marshall's spoof, 'George Brown's Schooldays'.
Father John W Doyle SJ, the superb Prefect of Studies, established an academic school library, the 'War Memorial Library' where the old Study Hall had been. In his final years, for more serious reading, Gerard read the New Penguin translations of Classical authors including Herodotus, Thucydides, Livy, Suetonius, Tacitus.
Gerard was "undeniably and extraordinarily happy" at Riverview. He enjoyed classes and studies, even though he admits that he was woeful at Maths (in spite of some evening coaching in Algebra in First Year, known as ‘Grammar A’, from Kevin Penry SJ, a generous and well-liked Scholastic). Gerard’s results dipped in quality in the middle years, a phase that he now speculates might have been a disruption caused by puberty.
His home environment and the sports he was involved with at school created a habit which continues to the present day with his daily swimming regimen. The sporting highlight of his Riverview years was his competing in the GPS winning 1957 Junior Athletics team. His under 13 Relay team with Chris Fisher, Paul Hughes and Peter Fitzgerald won by 50 yards and set a record time (51.3 seconds) that remained for two decades - until another Riverview team beat it. Then, in 1962, Gerard coached the team that won the Under 13 relay at the GPS Athletics.
Two years as a day boy meant that Gerard made friends with that (then) minority of the school population. But day boys seemed "largely irrelevant" to him until 1962 when three of the four top academic placegetters were day boys. He now realises that his own attitude to country boarders was initially condescending. Gerard admits that it was not until he entered the Jesuit Novitiate in 1963 that he made lasting close friends with those of similar intellectual ability.
Father Frank Wallace SJ was Rector until the end of 1961. Gerard has sharp memories of Father Wallace's assemblies in the Memorial Hall when he would begin with a traditional prayer from The Divine Office, said before study or work. The words have stuck with Gerard ever since:
"Direct we beseech thee, O Lord, all our actions by your holy inspiration..."
From the Pentecost liturgy came a second prayer favoured by Father Wallace and much remembered by Gerard:
"Come Holy Spirit. Fill the hearts of your faithful and kindle in them the fires of your love…"
Gerard didn’t know what he wanted to do after school, so he returned to repeat the Leaving Certificate in 1962 and was appointed Captain of the College. At the end of that year, he wrote a critique of the Prefect System and gave it to Father Fraser. He argued that signs of leadership should be essential in Prefects who were appointed by the Rector and that leadership did not necessarily equate with sporting ability. Boys willing to stand out against the common tide should be appointed as Prefects. His comments, given to Father Frank Gorman SJ, the Rector in 1962, were quietly shelved, ending up in the Archives and things went on as before although the appointment as Prefects of a number of day boys did cover a wider section of the community.
DEBATING, PUBLIC SPEAKING
Meanwhile, Gerard thrived in Debating where Father Gerald Jones SJ and Tony Gallagher were the senior coaches. Gerard won the prestigious Laurence Campbell Oratory Competition in 1962 and he won the Debating Gold Medal and the Gold Medal for Senior Oratory.
As a boarder, Gerard was fully involved in the liturgical and religious life of the school. He has a particularly fond memory of the custom of 1st Division boys, in their pyjamas, making a visit to the Chapel before bed. He has strong and grateful memories of the Religious Knowledge curriculum in his final year – John’s Gospel, TV Fleming SJ’s book ‘Faith and Morals’ and EEY Hales’ history ‘The Catholic Church in the Modern World.’ RK was the only subject that involved and encouraged thinking and argument.
Boarders attended Mass every morning at 7.15am. Gerard had been trained as an altar boy at St Joseph's Edgecliff and continued to serve on the altar at Riverview in the days when responses were given in Latin by altar boys only. Benediction was on Sunday night.
In 1961, Gerard sat the Leaving Certificate in Latin (Honours), Greek (Honours), General Maths, English, Ancient History and French, and again in 1962 when he dropped Maths. In 1961, got a “maximum pass” and was featured in the ‘Sydney Morning Herald’ as one of “the top students” with First Class Honours in Latin, Greek and French and As in English and Ancient History. He shared the Cooper Scholarship for Classics in 1961 and then won it outright in 1962. He never took up the Scholarship because to do so, one was obliged to study at the University of Sydney.
While he was twice Dux, he admits that it was almost a technicality in both years. In 1961, Paul Scully-Power gained the most marks but he was prevented from being crowned as Dux by a school rule which said that Duxes had to be at Riverview for more than a year to be eligible.
In 1962, Gerard overtook all other contenders on the basis of his marks in Religious Knowledge which was not a Leaving Certificate subject but which placed him first in the Year.
In February 1963, Gerard entered the Jesuit Novitiate in Melbourne. He took vows in February 1965, studying Philosophy from 1965 to 1967 and then Arts at ANU in 1968 and 1971. At the end of 1969, Gerard made the decision to leave the Jesuits, 20 consecutive years since he had first encountered them at Campion Hall. Subsequent studies took him from Canberra to Sydney (where he finished an MA with 1st class Honours on 'The Literature of the 1916 Rising') and to Ireland. At the end of 1973, on the strength of his marks in the 1962 Leaving, he began Medicine at Sydney University but decided not to continue, especially as he had no Science at all. His talents were in the humanities and he began his professional career of writing. His first book was the commissioned history of Riverview. The travails of his 'History' and its suppression are covered in Gerard's paper given to the Australian Catholic Historical Society in 2022 ('Writing Catholic History-Riverview: A Case Study', Journal of ACHS, 43 (2022), pp 115-129).
TO BE ALWAYS THE BEST
Gerard has published twelve books – short stories, novels, memoirs, military history, a collection of clerihews, and an account of being a Catholic and of his pilgrimage to Santiago de Compostela. For over 40 years, he has been a gifted story-teller and raconteur. He addressed the Speech Day audience at Sydney Grammar School in 2004:
"Good stories thrill us, move us, enlighten us, confuse us, especially the unsettling tougher ones." Stories "are one of the central nourishers, stimulants, glues of human life and human community."
Throughout the three hours at our lunch, Gerard told stories to nourish and cherish.
Despite Father Fraser’s inscription 60 years ago when he quoted from Homer, Gerard regards himself as being anything but the best. He considers himself as “no more than another slogger along the way to the Holy City.”