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Scotch Stories: Andrew Saies


27 March 2019

Scotch Stories: Andrew Saies

Scotch Stories: Andrew Saies

I attended Scotch starting in the Junior School in 1969, finishing in Year 12 (or matriculation), in 1974. Scotch was an all-boys school until 1972 when it became co-educational. Those students and teachers of my era were part of a significant transition in culture and attitudes, from a traditional hierarchical autocratic ‘public school’ approach of teaching and disciplining students, to a much more liberal environment where students addressed staff by their first names, questioned ethical and political assumptions and negotiated a “casual uniform” of camel corduroy jeans for boys and green “cords” for girls, complete with desert boots for shoes for both! Both were a far cry from the grey suit and tie I was compelled to wear to weekly Chapel only two years prior.

The girls gradually transformed the ingrained all-boys culture of ‘riding’, which varied from good natured rivalry between day-bugsand boardersthrough to behaviour that would be described as bullying today. With the arrival of the girls, we all turned our hearts and minds to winning the attention and friendship of our new school yard colleagues. There was a palpable difference in the tone and beat of the school. A very young Phillip Roff had been appointed Headmaster in 1970 and steered the ship through this time of rapid change.

And like Bob Dylan said the times really were “a changing”.

We went to a seven-day time table and school finished at 5.00pm. We sang Monty Pythonsongs in Chapel instead of hymns and the school Chaplain wasn't sure that he believed in God. Evan Hiscock and Col Butler were our Goose Island heroes. Ken Webb was our soccer crazy Chemistry teacher and Wendy Johnson the best theatre director we had ever worked with.

As School Captain in ’74, I convinced the Headmaster to include a Government lesson in the timetable; forty minutes dedicated to discussing and debating student issues and passing any motions that would then be taken to be tested at the Student Representative Council. If passed, they would be implemented into school policy. Living, breathing democracy - and it was supported by those in authority!

Of course, there is always one who pushed freedom of speech too far, and for us that was Stan, a declared student ‘communist’ who had copies of the banned Chinese manifesto, “Little Red Book” with which he subversively tried to convert students to the cause under the cover of the house locker room. Stan and his beliefs were felt by many senior students to be anti-Scotch and unpatriotic. Consequently, he became the subject of the infamous public hanging incident, in which he was found guilty after a brief trial conducted by the prefects of the day. He was strung up by the waist from a rafter in the Year 12 common room during lunch time, witnessed by a large crowd of bemused students. The proceedings were rapidly halted by a furious Headmaster!

Perhaps enough has been said on this incident, other than to say that I am told Stan, who came to no physical harm in the incident, subsequently suffered a serious hand injury when a smoke bomb that he was making for use at an anti-Vietnam rally exploded prematurely.

Revolution was certainly in the air in the 70s, and at Scotch it all came to a head over hair!

Boys’ hair was getting progressively longer, some down to the mid-back (the rules allowed only collar length). Conservative teachers and parents dug in and tried to enforce the rules, but the sound of rebellion was growing louder, and by mid 1972, the call to arms went out. There was to be a ‘hair strike’. All students were to assemble on the lawns outside the Headmaster’s office at the designated lunch time and not go back to class until the demand for unrestricted long hair was met. Sixty or more joined the protest chanting:

“What do we want? … Long hair … When do we want it? … NOW!”

As the end of lunch bell rang, the Headmaster tried to negotiate a quiet return to lessons but without conceding a centimetre of hair length, the picket line held firm. 

The chanting continued. 

History teacher Peter Read, now without an afternoon class because they were all at the strike, barricaded himself in the staff common room and came up with the now-immortal quote, “Don't shoot until you see the whites of their pimples.”

By 3.00pm, resolve was weakening, and students slowly drifted back to lessons. Some were not allowed into class by teachers shocked at such rebellious conduct. By the end of the school day there was another appearance from the Head. If those remaining dispersed, he pledged to discuss the matter with student leaders, but couldn't promise any change.

A few more drifted off claiming victory, but the true believers knew this was an ambit position without substance and regrouped to the lawns of the Headmasters house, where a small tent city was set up ready for an all-night vigil until demands were met. As I recall, Nick Gribble was the last to abandon his tent and go home in the early evening, deflated but not defeated.

The protest was not in vain. Within days a staff and student Hair Committee was formed, and a set of rules and regulations agreed upon which would allow long hair provided it was clean, neat and tidy. The committee was given powers to send offending students to the Mitcham barber, a power it used on several occasions.

This was just one of the many examples of student activism being tolerated, if not necessarily encouraged, by the Scotch of the 70s. It gave some of us a voice to our ideas and our views as we emerged to take our place in the world beyond school, but it also taught us lessons in mutual respect for difference and importantly that freedom, rights and causes come with responsibility.

Andrew Saies (’74)