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News > General > Tony Hannon - An Interview

Tony Hannon - An Interview

In 2006, Mr Hannon provided an interview to Year 10 student Nathan McDonnell for his study of journalism Whilst not published anywhere, Ms Julie Eggleton found a copy which is provided below.
17 Jul 2022
1989 1st XV
1989 1st XV

1. We know that you have been a history teacher at Sydney Boys for a long time. How long?

Answer: Since 1974. I started teaching at Randwick Boys High in 1962. In 1968 I migrated to Canada by ship, 5 weeks across the Pacific Ocean. I lived in Toronto for 6 years, teaching at Northern Secondary School for 5 years. (

2. What has kept you here at High?

Answer: The secret of life, to me, is to find something you like doing and do it as long as you can. After 12 years of teaching I came to a school which combined all of the things I like about teaching: bright students, competitive sport (especially Rugby), and friendly staff. I have always wanted to be in the classroom, have never had to chase promotion, and I find that every day, even in the same school, is different. I'm still learning how to do the job.

3. What are a teacher's worst nightmares?

Answer: Before I became a teacher my biggest worry was, would I be able to control the classes. As a trainee teacher, on scholarship at university, every year I had to report to a local school, present myself to the headmaster (teaching was a male stronghold in those days - have a look at staff photos from those times) to be taken on as staff for 2 weeks of unsupervised teaching. I remember being so nervous at Wellington Street Boys Intermediate High that I couldn't eat lunch...I was 17 years old and was tossed into the classroom at a pretty tough local school. I took over the classes of a young teacher named, Peter Crittle. He later left teaching to take up the law, played Rugby for Australia, became the President of the Australian Rugby Union for the recent golden years, and is an old boy of Sydney High.

Back in 1958 he was just the young teacher who couldn't wait to toss his classes at me. I found that the nightmare of an unruly classroom, out of control, was just an imaginary worry. Schools were pretty tough on badly behaved kids back then: they caned them. The fear kept the peace. I wasn't allowed to cane, but one teacher roamed the corridors picking up any student who was kicked out of class, took him to "Room 9" where the cane was swishing all day. I'm glad these days are over. The cane was still swishing here at High in 1974. I'm glad to say that the English-History Department

(There was no separate History Department back then) refused the cane. In 1977, when Bob Outterside became Headmaster, he immediately banned the cane in this school - excellent!

4. Why do you teach?

Answer: I've always been a reader of stories. What other subject could be so self indulgent for a lover of stories?

5. I'm sure you have noticed the dramatic technological changes in many history classrooms including the permanent installment of projectors and the purchase of the exciting, top-of-the-art interactive smart board. Tell us, in your time at Sydney Boys, how has the school adapted with the times?

Answer: In the last decade the biggest changes have come with computers. With computers came other tools: video camcorders, digital still cameras, printers, databases, the internet, classes linked by email, individual and group websites, sophisticated timetables. But the most powerful tool in the classroom for History has been for a long time and still remains: the VCR and TV screen. As yet, the magic board is confined to one room. Computer outlets are available in a lot of rooms, but most teachers do not yet have laptops nor screens to hook into the power of the internet. The big changes are mostly potential as yet. In our school, Mr Dowdell has changed all of our daily lives for the better. It has been done so cleverly, so quietly, that his revolution may not be fully appreciated. The list of his innovations is very long. He writes the software which has tamed the bureaucratic tasks which tax complex institutions like this school. He is always thinking about how to make conditions better for staff and students: think of his innovation of students checking in by card as just one example.

6. Will the school, in your opinion, need to change in order to adapt to the future? How?

Answer: I'm not much good at these Big Picture answers. The man who does have many answers about this is the Principal, Dr Jaggar. You might want to go here to see what good hands we are in, for the future of the school:

However, the biggest change that we need is for the opening of a big, well stocked, future-proof, library. This will happen under the stewardship of Dr Jaggar et al. I will add that in my (almost) 33 years at this school I have never seen it so impressive, so interesting, so energised, as it is now. That's why I have stayed on and still want to contribute, if possible. It's such a fun place to be at.

7. On the subject of change in the school, how have you seen the school evolve in the context of the racial makeup of the school?

Answer: When I started teaching here in 1974 the largest minority were the Jews. They are sadly missed here these days since most are so well catered for in the Eastern Suburbs with their own schools. As a rule they worked very hard, many coming from first generation migrants trying to establish a future for their kids. They usually presented strong family ties too. There was always a mixture of races at High but its culture was European, and there were many old Aussie Anglos. We were, as a nation, just starting to push beyond the barren existence of the White Australia Policy. As a year adviser twice at this school, for 10 years, I found, to my astonishment, that over 50% of High students, mostly old Aussie middle class stock, were from divorced households! Now that the school is about 90% Asian I sense that the normal state of affairs is a return to strong families, despite hardships. Perhaps a father has had to work overseas for long periods. The students are more interesting than ever but they are still the same old Sydney High Boys whom I have known 33 years: the same sense of fun and smarty pants humour that always makes me laugh - that doesn't change. That incredible memory, that special ability to remember details of who was sitting where and when and what was said, and so on: all of that has not changed. I love the make up of the school as it is. These are all Aussie kids. These are Sydney High students, same as ever, and that's what it becomes when you turn up to work, just the school. But, as a long time teacher of Chinese history, as an HSC marker of Asian History for 17 years, I have to have a special fascination, a curiosity, about what stories these families must have. Many of our students also come from first generation migrants fighting hard for a future for their children.

8. What does this suggest about the shift to multiculturalism and racial diversity and tolerance in society as a whole?

Answer: I don't know if our experience at High can be applied to other communities in Sydney and in Australia. The wider community will always have its problems, I suspect. I am appalled at how carelessly some of our politicians use racial slurs, especially towards Moslems. We have marched into foreign countries where killings and murder are now rife. Prejudice applies to daytime radio, TV. newspapers which still seem to think in terms of paranoia and stereotypes. I would hope that none of our students has been subjected to racial slurs but I know that it sometimes may have happened on the rugby field, in GPS games. I suggest you take a look at the Blog of our last ESL teacher here at High, Mr Neil Whitfield. He is highly intelligent and he has built a fine reputation with his site which gets hits from all over the world.

Go to: (old site has changed so this links to latest blog – editor)

9. What is the future of rugby at High?

Answer: We won't win the GPS in 1sts anytime soon. In my experience at High, while we had the big bodies which Rugby demands we were a middle power rugby school in the 1stXV. We always won 3 games minimum, in good years we won 4 games, one year we won 5 games. In those very few seasons when we were blessed with a collection of particularly big, very fast, very fit athletes who happened to be rugby players, we won 6 out of 7 games 3 times. So, after the golden years of winning the GPS in 1971-1972- 1973, before my time, even with top athletes, we could not crack to GPS. So, we won't win the GPS just yet. But, as always, those who play and coach rugby will have great satisfaction and great fun. The numbers are increasing, Mr Stein, and Serdar Bolen are inching their way towards a cultural change in players' attitude towards training for the game, and Jason Tassell in the weight room is an amazing man! And there are some pretty tough characters coming through. However, to talk about the future of rugby at High you must talk about the majority of the players who are not in the First XV and who have no ambition to be there. They are the future of High rugby - the true believers who try game after game to get that elusive win, who turn up week after week at training, who are excited to play as many games as they can on a Saturday. The future is bright.

10. As a teacher and a rugby coach in the school, what is the importance of the students needing to find balance, especially in areas like sport and study, school and home?

Answer: It's entirely up to each person. Each has his needs and desires and mission. I remember one mother who had 2 sons in the school. Both were very bright but did no school work, played every game they could, were excellent players in my First XV teams, got (both of them) one of the lowest HSC results ever, and she approved it all. They had a great time at High and now these ex-students are highly paid, very successful CEO's, one at least in the USA. This would not work for everyone. We as a school will try to get the best HSC possible for our students, but some will move to a different drum. Who's to say what balance is? A champion athlete or a champion scholar certainly does not have balance as we would define it.

11. High Spirit - a term widely talked about yet very elusive. What is High Spirit and how can students reach/achieve it?

Answer: It's there already, in every person. What I think is the most common manifestation of the High Spirit is the friendly, positive, natural, relationship most students have with each other and with the staff. It's a normal, noisy, active, interesting, place. It's full of nice, smart people interacting very positively. That pleasant, outgoing friendly spirit may not be an asset in a tough game which has become an arm wrestle, but the High Spirit helps to keep such games firmly in their place - there is no loss of proportion: the game does not become life itself.

12. What is one thing you would like to be remembered for?

Answer: For being a listener.

13. What do you see as the main benefit for students who attend High?

Answer: Lots of bright minds networking.

14. What is the most important thing, in your opinion, that the students need to take away from their time in high school and what do they need to leave behind?

Answer: Take away - Maybe friends for life, if that interests them. For those who prefer their solitude, a sense that they were left alone to enjoy their lives. Leave behind - Leave out any fears about their self worth. If you mean what gift they should leave behind, perhaps, the memory that they were a good chap.

15. Any last advice to the students?

Answer: No, but Rudyard Kipling was smart when he wrote this:


If you can keep your head when all about you

Are losing theirs and blaming it on you,

If you can trust yourself when all men doubt you

But make allowance for their doubting too,

If you can wait and not be tired by waiting,

Or being lied about, don't deal in lies,

Or being hated, don't give way to hating,

And yet don't look too good, nor talk too wise:

If you can dream--and not make dreams your master,

If you can think--and not make thoughts your aim;

If you can meet with Triumph and Disaster

And treat those two impostors just the same;

If you can bear to hear the truth you've spoken

Twisted by knaves to make a trap for fools,

Or watch the things you gave your life to, broken,

And stoop and build 'em up with worn-out tools:

If you can make one heap of all your winnings

And risk it all on one turn of pitch-and-toss,

And lose, and start again at your beginnings

And never breath a word about your loss;

If you can force your heart and nerve and sinew

To serve your turn long after they are gone,

And so hold on when there is nothing in you

Except the Will which says to them: "Hold on!"

If you can talk with crowds and keep your virtue,

Or walk with kings--nor lose the common touch,

If neither foes nor loving friends can hurt you;

If all men count with you, but none too much,

If you can fill the unforgiving minute

With sixty seconds' worth of distance run,

Yours is the Earth and everything that's in it,

And--which is more--you'll be a Man, my son!

-Rudyard Kipling

Best Regards,

Tony Hannon

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