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Saturday, November 5, 2011

The Melbourne Cup and Mr Gudekunst 2

home | WHAT'S NEW! | stories from my past
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  OK, maybe you worked that out. It's not something that would baffle Stephen Hawking. What I meant was, he wasn't just Mr Gudekunst. He was the Mr Gudekunst. The Regional Director of Education, Central Queensland, Australia.

  Now do you get the picture? Mrs Dart wasn't just an upstart Assistant Teacher; she was the daughter of the man who held in his hands the future of every teacher in the region. He could have you transferred to Barmundoo or Springsure practically on the next mail train.

  And this, needless to say but I will anyway, included the future of Mr Reddy, whose decision it was to teach us Social Studies via a horse race instead of our singing class - against the curtly indicated opinion of Mrs Dart.

  I remember being surprised, probably because the Headmaster's decisions or word for the period of our entire schooling were not to be challenged, or even queried.  This wasn't exactly a throwing down of the gauntlet, but for me it was a bit of a shock that anyone should express even minor dissent towards one who was to be obeyed without question, by everyone, including a much younger teacher.

  I hasten to add that Mrs Dart was a much-loved teacher and a very good one, with the highest educational standards, and I'm not suggesting for one moment that she might run off to her daddy with tales of unsound teaching practices at Calliope State School. But she did have a somewhat derisory look on her face, whereas Mr Reddy's was rather crestfallen.

  It was a bit like bringing home hard-centred chocolates and then remembering that the preferred model was the soft ones. But, he couldn't go back on his word, not without losing face on all counts, so the little kids filed in, sat on the floor, and listened in like the rest of us.

  Mrs Dart stood at the back of the room, arms folded, until the race was over. After it finished, Mr Reddy switched over quickly to the Music for Schools broadcast. We caught up with the song we were learning in next to no time. Mrs Dart was mollified and good humour was restored. 

*    *    *

  I don't really know what a two-mile horse race meant to the First Graders, as the first Melbourne Cup I remember clearly was won by Rising Fast, in 1954, when I was seven. I recall, with astounding clarity, the winners every year up to 1979, Astounding to me now, that is. Thereafter they're a jumble and some winners I've forgotten pretty much altogether, especially the most recent ones. I'm struggling to drag back to memory the winner just four days ago, except the last three letters are 'den,' like my name.

  So, I find it interesting that this race meant something special to just about everyone in the country in those days, and just as much to us rural folks as to townies. Maybe it meant even more to us, as there weren't that many national events we could all share in simultaneously all around the country for precisely three minutes. The fact that we do it frequently now makes us appreciate less what that meant to us then.

  It's like Halloween to the Americans - you have to be part of the tradition to really get it. The race might still 'stop the nation', but I reckon it's just not the same. 

  Oh, I meant to say - Mr Reddy won with his bet on Macdougal that year, and his teaching career was in no way affected by his choice of programmes on that first Tuesday in November 1959. We learned to sing "Kalinka" in any case, so really we had our cake and ate it too.

Footnote on Mr Gudekunst:

Mr Gudekunst was a regular visitor to schools and we saw him quite often, especially on High School Speech nights. He had silvery-grey hair, a pleasant tanned face and good sense of humour. He had a stock of 'safe' jokes for high school speech nights - ones that wouldn't offend anyone, which puts them in the same category as those riddles in Christmas bon-bon crackers.

  One I remember, because he accidentally told it on two separate occasions, was this:
  A young mother took her baby to the doctor.
  'I don't know what's wrong with him,' she said, 'He's got grey hair.'
  'Madame,' said the doctor after a quick examination of the baby, 'I can tell you what's wrong. You've been powdering the wrong end!'
  Oh, how we laughed. For some reason we firmly believed it always paid to laugh at the Regional Director's jokes, though for the life of me I have no idea why we thought it mattered.

home | WHAT'S NEW! | stories from my past
pt 1 | pt 2 <<you are here


  1. As I'm sure Colvinius would tell you, he had a housemaster who had one joke, which he told regularly. Sadly, it wasn't a good joke. This is how it went: What's the Pope's telephone number? VAT 69.
    Of course, it doesn't even make sense any more, now that telephone numbers don't include letters, but, even when they did, it was not a joke that prompted whatever was the contemporary equivalent of 'lol'

  2. The oldies may appreciate it as a groaner. Oddly enough, they use words like that on phones these days for people to remember some more complicated number - if they register the right word/number combo in time.

    Trouble is, phone numbers are so long now you'd need half the alphabet - or else if its important enough, it's stored on the phone of the interested party!

    Either way, it would be a bit of an uphill battle for the housemaster, who, I suspect, has long ceased to be in a position to tell it.

  3. He lives on in my mind - and, probably less fondly (or maybe more) - in Colvinius's


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