I drive past Do Space on the corner of 72nd and Dodge quite often, and every time I think of the outstanding learning opportunities that were presented to me during my studies at Footscray Technical College. Do Space was created by converting a Borders book store into a free to the public technology library and digital workshop. Do Space has been described in the Omaha World-Herald as a resource meant to provide access to educational and creative computer technology to people from all walks of life, but especially to people who don’t have access to it anywhere else.
In the last half of my final year at Williamstown Technical School, I had to choose whether, to continue taking fitting and turning classes on Wednesday afternoons, or take glass blowing at Footscray Tech. I don’t remember everyone that chose glass blowing, but there were at least six of us that included: Brian Jefferies, Phillip Daniels, Graham Brown, and Robert Ballard. Every Wednesday afternoon, we would catch the train from North Williamstown to Footscray and during each glass blowing class, we attempted to make different pieces of chemistry laboratory glass equipment. We laboured to bend, melt, and attach glass to create; test tubes, condensers, three-way adapters, pipettes, and unique funnels. At the end of fifth form at Williamstown Tech, I was a decision away from a different life; attend Caulfield Institute of Technology to study Art or attend Footscray Technical College to study Chemistry.
For the next two years, I caught a morning train, with Brian Jefferies, at Newport Station for the trek to Footscray Tech. It was the new freedom of being a college student. It was the way we were. And I had chosen to smoke Kent cigarettes. I think it was the attraction of an all-white cigarette with a micro-nite filter; the suggestion of suaveness, sophistication, worldly allure and cultivated magnetism also helped. At Footscray I walked with Brian along Irving Street, smoking a Kent, to the three-story Nicholson Street Footscray Tech building. The chemistry laboratory and classrooms were on the third floor at the far end of the building and overlooked the railway viaduct spanning Nicholson Street.
The first female day students entered Footscray Tech in 1960 and studied commerce and commercial practices and they were an outnumbered group. I think there were only about ten or fifteen female students at the college during the two years I contemplated the tangled theories of inorganic and organic chemistry. The chemistry students were also in the minority; we banded together though and were easily identified by the chemical stained white lab coats we all wore. There were probably about fifty of us. The commerce and commercial practices females and chemists were severely outnumbered by the engineering students.
Ron Lawton was from a farm in Sunbury. I never thought of Ron as the best looking fella available and he was incredibly thin. Regardless of what and how much he ate there was never a change in his weight and appearance. Ron decided he was going to host a chemists party in one of the field barns on his parent’s farm. Some of us chemistry students saw ourselves as wild and rebellious and with a youthful rage inside. We started to question the standards set for us. Music was our way to rebel not just against the music of a previous generation but against the confining social status quo. We would build a new system on love, trust and brotherhood. And it would begin at Lawton’s Farm; Only a handful of us showed up at Ron’s party. As we waited for the commerce and commercial practices students to turn up we started to consume our booze booty; mine was a bottle of sweet vermouth. The Rolling Stones had just released Satisfaction and it played, blaring from the barn and into the darkness, on an infinite loop.
And the commerce and commercial practices students never did arrive. I blacked out at the podium smoking Kent and only hearing the Stones. I left the barn the next day.
What did I learn? Drinking vermouth and listening to the Stones without female commerce and commercial practices students is remarkably good fun.
Footscray Tech had its collection of clubs and a student council that attempted to promote a student culture and advance the concept of music and avant-garde drama as a universal language and social change agent. I think it was the drama club that had an open casting call and auditions for actors for the George Bernard Shaw short play Passion, Poison, and Petrifaction, subtitled The Fatal Gazogene: A Brief Tragedy for Barns and Booths. I thought this would be a wonderful opportunity to better acquaint myself with some of the commerce and commercial practices students. I think I played the part of Adolphus Bastaple, or it may have been the landlord. We had a terrific run of two or three nights. Some of the commerce and commercial practices students and their girlfriends always attended the dances that were held at the College. I decorated the auditorium for Normie Rowe who along with others advanced the sounds of the Australian sixties music revolution. The auditorium throbbed to the brooding beat arrangement of Normie’s first single It Ain’t Necessarily So and Andrew Lambrainew seized the opportunities and presented himself to one of the commercial practices students.
What did I learn? That female commerce and commercial practices students preferred listening to Normie Rowe to talking with Adolphus Bastaple.
The sixties were an era when we believed we were special and trend-setting, and we wore our optimism and genuine faith of a better world on our sleeve. I don’t remember how the invite arrived but volunteers were needed to accompany the student float in the annual Moomba Parade. Some of the chemists honoured the opportunity to not only promote the perception of the student body as the guardian of humankind’s language and knowledge but relished the moment to be part of a parade that for the last fifteen years had inspired all Melbournians: And it still does to this day. We dressed in our white chemical stained lab coats, gathered a large supply of lab wash bottles and massed a generous reservoir of water, and stockpiled an inventory of flour bombs. I don’t remember the theme of the float or who designed and constructed the float, but undoubtedly the engineering students were responsible for the majestic masterpiece. Our fellow students riding on the float, between waving to the crowds lining Swanston Street, cheered us on as we water fought and flour bombed our way down the Moomba Parade route. I would maintain that the crowd lining Swanston Street was delighted by the float and the antics of the chemists. Two years later Footscray Tech was banned from entering a float in the 1968 Moomba Parade.
On the students’ float, high upon his dog kennel roof, Snoopy rested with his machine gun. Below him the Baron rested calmly on a red hearse. The ‘Footech Army’ supplied themselves with flour bombs. The Melbourne Herald reported that the students were dressed in bedraggled Australian army uniforms and pelted each other with flour bombs. They even threw a roll of mauve toilet paper to the reviewing panel at the Town Hall which landed at the feet of the Lady Mayoress.
They were readmitted in 1969.
What did I learn? We could flour bomb female commerce and commercial practices students in a Moomba Parade.
It was either a Ford Anglia, Austin or Morris convertible; it was Philip Daniel’s car. It was our carriage for our going away to Rosebud camping weekend. Brian Jefferies, two of the other chemists, and I all crammed into Philip’s car. We pitched the tent in the thick of the tea tree and when our camp was secure went in search of a beer supply: And we learnt that we had unknowingly pitched our tent close to a hall hosting a Saturday night dance. Because we were students of the sixties; idealists, stewards of change in personal relationships, and purveyors of the new feminism, we were anointed to attend the dance. I didn’t dance with her but we talked a lot; between conversation threads and Kent cigarettes, I would retreat back to our tent for a fortifying beer. She attended one of Melbourne’s elite ladies colleges.
I advanced that we meet next Sunday at the coffee shop opposite the State Library of Victoria; thinking that we could then both retire to the libraries main reading room. She agreed. Giddy with excitement and anticipation I retreated back to our tent for more fortifying beer. That Sunday I waited for several hours outside the coffee shop on the corner of Swanston and Little Lonsdale Streets. She never did punch the clock. I don’t think I even knew her name.
What did I learn? You won’t meet female commerce and commercial practices students when you are camping at Rosebud.
After my education was completed at Footscray Tech I entered the workforce and spent less than two years as an industrial chemist at two different companies: Then I taught Math and Science in the Victorian Education Department for a few years; moulding young minds and preparing the youth of yesterday for their journeys of tomorrow. But life had to be more than judging a fish by its ability to climb a tree so I returned to a journey of searching for inspiration, and idealism, in the ordinary: My walkabout took me to London in the early seventies, hitchhiking through England, Scotland and Europe, and travelling overland in buses and trucks through the Middle East to India: And several years later to South East Asia and the Middle East.
Education is what remains after one has forgotten what one has learned in school. Albert Einstein