Letter From Glen Bechly
30th March 2007
Dear 1967 Timbertop students,
One of the things I missed most when I retired in 1996 was the contact, which adds a dimension to one's life. And for that reason I am especially sorry that I cannot be with this group of young men this evening. You must all be around the 55-year-old mark, and believe me, when you get to the mid 70's, 55 is indeed young. When I look at the list of those attending this reunion, I picture a group of 15-year-olds in 1967 and I feel certain that if I were with you now, I would not be seeing the well-dressed, clean young 55-year-olds, as you would be judged by most, but the scruffy and grubby 15-year-olds I remember returning from a hot and hard three day hike.
Mind you, not all hikes were hard; I never subscribed to the idea that the only worthwhile hike was one which covered many miles; there was much to be said for the short, relaxed hike across the road to enjoy a weekend beside the Delatite just soaking up the bush atmosphere. I know David McCowan for one would agree with me. I recall his love of a weekend trout fishing on the Howqua - and productive it was! My wife and I from time to time enjoyed the bounty of his weekend trout fishing and the company of David and his hiking group after Chapel on Sunday evening. I wonder if the Hiking Book has been preserved in Timbertop Archives. That would tell a tale or two as Hiking Master, Chris Roberts-Wray, pulled no punches when it came to reporting hiking performances. He was a keen hiker himself, and of the long distance school.
Probably the single most impressive event for me at Timbertop in 1967 was the magnificent production of "Toad of Toad Hall". It was not only the finished product that was impressive, but the number of people engaged in its preparation - actors, of course, (and the cast was large) but also costume makers, scenery and stage constructors and painters, and those concerned with music, props, make-up and special effects. I must mention Chris McKeown's cobweb, however he spent weeks making it and used hundreds of feet of white string. When the lights went up on the tunnel scene, the cobweb rose across the entire stage, being wound up by a fishing-reel device operated by Chris. The audience reaction was a prolonged gasp of amazement and pleasure. The performance was dominated by a magnificent Toad - Chris Koren. His School dramatic career was cemented and he was in great demand for subsequent productions at Corio. The cast list of "Toad" always amused me: Back legs of Alfred the Horse - R.G. Woodhams. We were never certain that the production would go ahead as Mr Arthur Mitchell would every now and then during rehearsals "call the whole thing off", angered by lateness of cast members or lines not learnt. We were all dismissed and then called back fifteen minutes later with threats of dire punishment if things didn't improve. Thank God, however, that it did go ahead as it was a triumph of many people working together, and that's what Timbertop is all about.
The Second Term Activities Programme was always interesting; it was surprising what 130 boys could produce on the hobbies front. I'll mention one in particular; David Henry's project was knitting - a true choice from the beginning. At the end of ten weeks when judging by Mr Mitchell and Mr Hanley took place, David had produced a small knitted rectangle about 8 inches by 2 with a long string at each end. Two perplexed judges asked what it was and David's reply explained all: You could tie it over a knee to keep it (i.e. the knee) warm on a cold day or even on the side of the head to warm one ear - a very useful article for winter. You can imagine the Mitchell-Harley reaction. I heard a wonderful story some years later concerning David and a second-hand wheelchair that he bought. I'll let him tell you about getting the machine home. I do hope my information is reliable.
I frequently meet past G.G.S. students in Melbourne. In fact it's a rare trip to Melbourne when I don't meet someone from School - not surprising, I suppose, after 32 years of close G.G.S. contact. I am ashamed that most remember my shouting around the Perry Quad; for that I apologize. However, some months ago I was in the Alfred Hospital Cafeteria and met an ex-Corio student, now an anaesthetist at the Alfred. What he remembered in particular was the singing of the folk songs or beer-hall songs in German lessons. He even sang "muss I donn" in the cafeteria to prove his point - but quietly. When I came to Timbertop Mr Hanley had to move my classroom from near the library to Room 3, that isolated room tacked onto the woodwork room as so many teachers had complained about the noise (i.e German song-singing) that was disturbing their classes. In Room 3 we could sing to our heart's content. Had I been able to be with you tonight, we might well have sung a verse of "Muss I donn" - when we were in our cups! Perhaps you will do it without me.
Another aspect of life at Timbertop that impressed me was the Chapel life - the daily service before classes and the Sunday evening service after the weekend hike. The view across mountains and bushland from the east window behind the altar was quite spectacular and complemented the spiritual life being contemplated within the Chapel. I think this combination touched many at that time. I remember the preparations of the brass players before the service to accompany the hymns. We kept the brass instruments in the disused chook-house on the hill above the laundry and staff houses and anybody who could play one of those instruments was conscripted for the Chapel band. Bill Winter-Irving was a pretty good trumpeter and his contribution to the band was most welcome. If I remember correctly Bill even sat for an A.M.E.B. Trumpet examination while at Timbertop and was, I think, accompanied by my wife, Jill. Do you still play, Bill?
You may be interested in the life of Father Norman Smith after he left Timbertop: he eventually returned to England and in 1988 when I had a year's long-service leave, we went to live in Germany to brush up on language skills, but did some travelling as well. On a visit to England we called on Norman, he was the Vicar of St Mary's Church, Chidham in West Sussex. He had not changed, but had become an avid potter and his two-storeyed house was full of his creations; pieces had to be moved from chairs to find somewhere for us to sit and his pottery library was huge. He talked about leaving it all to G.G.S., but as far as I know he is still alive. He also ran a thriving business in dried flowers, using the flowers that had been left in the Church after funerals.
I see on the Reunion list Louis Sheather's name. I always envied Louis; he got to drive John Fison's red (I think) sports car, a pleasure I never enjoyed. I see also on the list Peter Christensen. His image from the back is preserved for posterity in that book published by the School: Corio 1969. Peter is standing before a notice-board in the Perry Quad, hands in pockets in characteristic pose. Do you have a copy of Corio 1969, Peter? If not, I'll send you one as I have two copies. Drop me a line or tell Andy Beauchamp.
As I look through the list memories flood back: Gordon Harten, a wicked boy in class, but always cheerful; and Richard de Crespigny and his stories from "up at Ararat". I met Athol Economou from to time when I was Housemaster of Jennings and his sister Kathryn was in the House. His visits always created a stir.
I suppose I shouldn't mention particular people. Please forgive me; I have done it arbitrarily and randomly. I'm sorry I can't be with you to renew other memories, which I know will flow freely during the evening. I wish you the most successful and enjoyable Reunion. Judging by the time-table of events you will leave on Sunday afternoon completely exhausted, but, I hope, exhilarated. I'd be a cot-case after the walk to the summit of Buller on Saturday morning.
My very best wishes to you all for the next 40 years and may you be fit and well for the 2047 reunion. Will there be a walk to the summit of Buller then? I hope so.