Glenthompson

Glenthompson

Glenthompson is a small village located on the Glenelg Highway in the Western District, 1½ hours drive from Ballarat and about 40 minutes drive from Hamilton. It is only 15 minutes from Dunkeld, gateway to the Southern Grampians, and is located in the shire of the same name. When I was a child the populations was about 300 but over the years it has dwindled to about 150.

Glenthompson Primary School No: 947 was built in 1869. During the 50s and 60s its pupil population rose to nearly 150. For the time I was there (1966-1972) the maximum size was 110 in 1968 when there were a number of railway families living in the town whilst the men built some new tracks at the local railway station.  For the most part however, the population was closer to around 70 – 80 students. The population has slowly decreased to about 12 – 15 students from about 2000 onwards.

When I was a child Glenthompson had the school, a small supermarket, a butcher, post office, general/hardware store, 3 services stations – 1 with milk bar, a bank, brickworks, 4 churches, a hotel, railway station, Fire and Ambulance stations, a local hall, cemetery, council depot and a doctor’s surgery. In the middle of town, there is a cross-road. The Glenelg Highway, also known as Memorial Road, has a grassed area on one side running from the cross-road in front of the bank, butcher and general/hardware store to the post office. The grassed area has a war memorial and a flag pole. The other part of the cross-road is McLennan Street, which becomes the Glenthompson-Caramut Road, running south and Cameron Street, which becomes the Glenthompson-Maroona Road, running north. Nowadays, all that is left is the hotel, 1 service station with milk bar, local hall, cemetery, the school and 3 churches. All the rest have closed over time, with the locals having to drive to Ararat, Hamilton, Warrnambool or Ballarat to obtain services.

Life at the primary school was relatively uneventful for me. I started in prep, aged 5, in 1966. I was generally a smart kid and got good grades. I started piano lessons and every Wednesday afternoon Mum would come to get me early from school and drive to a house about halfway between Dunkeld and Hamilton where I would have lessons with a talented pianist called Beryl Nagorcka. Beryl soon discovered that I had Absolute Pitch or “Perfect” Pitch. Persons with Absolute Pitch are able to sing any given note on cue, without prior pitch references. Usually, people with Absolute Pitch are not only able to identify a note, but can recognise when that note is sharp or flat. Active Absolute Pitch possessors number about 1 in 10,000. Persons with Passive Absolute Pitch (often learnt by memorising a single pitch, such as repeatedly hitting a tuning fork over a long period of time) can recognise notes but may not be able to sing them and are subject to minor variances in tonality e.g. baroque pitch (A = 415 Hz) versus modern pitch (A = 440 Hz). We used to play a game where Beryl would sit at the piano and I would sit on the other side of the room, unable to see the keyboard. She would hit random notes all over the keyboard and I would tell her what note it was. I loved playing and never got it wrong. I also have an excellent musical memory, which is at the same time a bonus and a failing. I could learn and memorise a piece of music very quickly, but then I would throw the music away and always play from memory, meaning that I never became proficient at sight-reading. Furthermore, because I was such a good improviser, I would often read the top line of, say, a hymn and improvise the chords underneath. I was, and still am, extremely proficient at this and, so long as I was accompanying a unison choir, nobody would ever know that I wasn’t playing exactly what was written. I once played for a whole amateur musical show in Melbourne where I found the sight-reading so laborious that I just learnt the top line and put in my own chords. I am so good at it that even with a band playing as well, I could still make it fit. At the end of the show they gave out awards and I received an award for “Brilliantly playing everything but the score!”

The headmaster of the school detected not long after I started that I had an eyesight problem, but for some reason he failed to tell my parents. For the first year I was able to sit up the front of the class and didn’t have too many problems reading the blackboard. However, the second year I had to sit down the back of the class and it was during a test where we had to read questions from the blackboard and write down the answers that my poor eyesight came to light. I ran back and forth to the blackboard and when the test ended I had run out of time and only got a few answered. The teacher at the time, Miss Phillips, was scathing and chastised me severely for being so stupid and promptly failed me. I was traumatized. I went home that night and cried all night long. Mum was extremely distressed and promptly contacted the headmaster the next day to find out what was going on. It was only then that he advised her that he had detected my poor eyesight virtually from the moment I started at the school. Thus began many long years of going to an optometrist in Ararat every 6 months to get my eyes tested and my glasses strengthened. In 1971 in grade 5, the school experienced a bout of measles and many of the students had eye problems as a result. A number of students started wearing glasses, but outgrew them again within a couple of years. My eyesight deteriorated greatly during this time and it was apparent that I would wear glasses for the rest of my life.

I used to sleep-walk a lot when a child and my mother claimed that it was because I was made to play football and cricket. I would get up in the middle of the night, strip my bed completely and walk into to Mum and say “You asked me to strip my bed”. She would then take me back to my bed and make it up whilst I was standing leaning against the wall. She said that I went to sleep completely, leaning up against the wall. Another night I got up and went outside and starting walking down the road. When Mum came after me and asked what I was doing, I would reply that I was looking for a present for my sister, or I was doing some shopping. After a couple of years, I stopped doing it and have never done it since.

Glenthompson had a local lady called Grace Ross who was the town pianist. She could sight-read music well and in her heyday was probably a fine pianist. However, as she got older and her fingers started getting arthritic, she found playing more arduous and often “forgot” to bring her music to significant community occasions such as Anzac Day ceremonies, school graduation speech nights and Christmas carols nights. She couldn’t play a note without music. As I was becoming quite a competent pianist, I would often be called on to do the honours in her place. I had already memorized all the important anthems such as “God Save the Queen”, “Advance Australia Fair”, a myriad of Christmas carols and many other frequently used pieces, so could quite happily jump up and play whatever was required for the occasion.

Anzac Day was an event that I never got into. At 10:30 in the morning all the returned servicemen would gather at the War Memorial in the centre of town. They would hoist the flag, salute it, say a few words, then march in formation around the corner and down McLennan Street to the local hall. The sight of these crusty old men (there was nobody under 50, most were over 70) marching down the street towards the hall was, to me, and still is, a depressing sight. I have never appreciated the annual need to relive the memories of wars that occurred 80+ years ago. I know that people gave their lives to keep Australia a free country, but for me the glorification of war is not something to be proud of.  Once the men arrived at the hall, everybody would go inside for a service that consisted of some readings and more saluting of the flag. Then someone would put the needle on the same record that they’d been using for 40 years to play the Last Post  and the Reveillie. The record player was so old and the disk so worn that the bugle sound fluctuated and wavered like it was being played under water, accompanied by loud pops and clicks.  It was so tragic and forlorn and this just added to my despair at the totally unnecessary nature of the whole event. At the end everybody would stand and sing whilst I attempted to play the most rousing “God Save the Queen” I could manage, before we all went home for lunch. I couldn’t stand it, but every year I went back to torture myself some more.

My mother was a devout Christian and on Sundays we regularly went to the Presbyterian Church. For a few years Mum was the Sunday School superintendent. Dad didn’t always go to church, depending on the farm workload, but he mostly did. My sister and I were christened in that church. In 1972 when the minister, who was based in Wickliffe, moved to another church in Skipton, the Presbyterian and Methodist churches had decided to amalgamate to form the Uniting Church in Australia. Glenthompson, therefore, was one of the earlier churches in Australia to receive a new Uniting Church minister, who was based in Dunkeld. This process of amalgamation meant that many fine old church buildings were no longer required. It was quite a tumultuous time with some buildings being sold off, some became derelict, some congregations refused to become Uniting and continued their existing religion. or, as in the case of a local lady, joined a Charismatic church in Ararat, meaning an hour’s drive each way just to get to church! The Methodist Church in Glenthompson was one such building that was superfluous. Being a humble wooden construction, rather that the much finer and more sturdy brick Presbyterian church, it was agreed that the now joint congregations should move to the better building. The Methodist Church building was subsequently demolished to make way for the local swimming pool. It is ironic that a house of worship should be pushed aside for personal pleasures. Oddly enough, they ditched the Presbyterian hymnbooks in favour of the Methodist ones – a decision which I thought was a huge mistake. Having played virtually every hymn in both books I determined that the Presbyterian hymns were by far the better selection, but the parish council in its wisdom decided that they needed to “modernise” and so threw out all the Presbyterian hymnbooks, much to my annoyance.

Every year the Christmas carols were held at the church, being the biggest in the Glen. Mrs Ross played for many years until she handed over to me. She played for church on Sundays and also accompanied the Glenthompson-Dunkeld choir. It consisted of locals from both towns and was awful, to say the least. Stan used to say “Well, at least they’re having a go”. True enough, but I absolutely couldn’t stand them. In 1980 when I worked on the farm after Dad died, I joined the choir in the hope that by some miracle of osmosis they would get better by having me as a member. These were ridiculous, vain thoughts on my part and I lasted but a few weeks before deciding that I could put up with them no longer. The leading soprano was a woman called Dorothy Williams who, like so many singers past their prime, kept on when she should have retired long ago. Singing in tune wasn’t one of her better qualities. One carols night during the seventies when Mrs Ross had given up playing and I was accompanying, Dot said in a somewhat spiteful tone to everybody present, “Well, it’s okay to have David playing for the carols, but it’s so much nicer when Mrs Ross does”.  I was horrified. Not only had she insulted me but Mrs Ross was so arthritic that she couldn’t have played, even if she’d wanted to. That was the last time I played for the carols. The next year they had to get someone from Dunkeld to play.

There was a girl in my class called Lynette Tiley. She was a lovely girl and very clever. Her attention to detail was amazing and she did beautiful drawings. She took up learning the electronic organ and was quite competent. For some reason, the town took it upon itself to take sides as to who was the better musician – David Cundy or Lynette Tiley. The arguments raged for some weeks with local townsfolk snubbing me because they were voting for Lynette. I was even chastised at school by one of the teachers because he thought I was the one who started the argument. I certainly did not and was mortified to know that word was getting around that I was the one causing all the ruckus. It all died down by the end of the year and Lynette decided to stop learning the organ in favour of her other studies. In later years, there arose another argument about who was the better musician between me and David Gellert from Willaura. I didn’t even know he existed until I heard about the arguments. It was completely bizarre. I didn’t care a jot about whether I was better or worse than someone – I just wanted to play music. Many years later, David and I worked together for 6 months in the IT Dept at VicRoads. He’s a good guy and a funny man and we got on well.

School Speech nights, however, were my gig and nobody could take that away from me. I worked with all classes from prep to grade 6 and played the piano for everybody for the whole evening. Students performed for their parents, students graduated, the school council gave its report, the headmaster gave his report and it was usually a jolly good night out. My biggest year was 1972. I was the captain of my house – Mitchell House, I was the Dux of the school and also won the Donald Forbes Scholarship – a small scholarship of some $200 to buy books. I had also won a full boarding scholarship to Ballarat and Clarendon College which paid for virtually everything for six years of secondary school, much to my parents’ delight, because otherwise they would send me to the local High School because they said they couldn’t afford boarding school for me. Oddly enough, two years after me going to College, they paid for Sue to spend to go to at College. They could afford it for her, but not for me. They also paid several thousands of dollars for her to have braces on her teeth, even though my teeth were just as bad as hers. Today, Sue has nice teeth and I still have horrid teeth.

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