Illiterate by choice or laziness?

Growing up smack bang in the middle of the baby boomer era places you in a defined demographic. You are brand new and the beat generation moves through to the sixties counter-culture; the beatnik, bodgie and widgie make way for the hippie.

Growing up in Australia, post World War II, places you in the most amazing Country with inexpressible opportunities at a time when our parents needed to teach us some serious discipline because we just didn’t understand. Will it ever change?

Dad’s been through the tail of WW I, been in WW II, a member of the British Commonwealth Occupation Forces in Japan and experienced the Korean War. He has lived through the great depression, left school at thirteen, eldest of three and has known nothing but survival and hard work. Dad’s a social oddity – unable to relax and socialise – he knows no better.

Mum’s travelled to Japan as a 19-year-old, youngest of two, her Dad also in the British Commonwealth Occupation Forces and she stays in Japan for six years experiencing the euphoria of war’s end, being part of the conquering power, fully conscious of the insanity of war. Mum, Dad’s thirteen year junior marries him in Japan. Mum works in Japan as a short hand typist with the War Crimes Commission, here she hears of atrocities unheard by many. Mum’s a social normality, may even have been a party girl, great sense of humour able to relax and socialise.

Not a parental university degree to be seen for some generations.

The sixties take me from six to sixteen arguably the most influential period of your life. An Army brat, eighteen months living in Leura, born in Katoomba and move to Melbourne at the time of the Olympics. All primary school is conducted formally in Canberra and all high school, that which is finished, is experienced in Brisbane. Moving isn’t a problem it just brings more wonderful experiences – meeting new mates and getting into different trouble!

Seven years in Canberra as a big country town before Lake Burly Griffin is full, conjures up memories of wide open spaces, riding miles on our bikes and regularly coming home well after dark to receive the mandatory flogging for disobeying the curfew. Too much fun to slow down, playing every sport available and street smart enough to know when to make Mum melt with a cheeky smile and a hug. Dad doesn’t have the capacity to understand his son’s exhilaration with life – he has never had the opportunity and he does not know how to love.

The Brisbane move is punctuated by Father’s retirement from a twenty-three year Army career and the first job in Civy Street for many years; I can only imagine now, what that transition must have been like for my Parents. I, of course, was on another adventure, year seven at Stafford State School, on to Everton Park High School, strategically moving to Kedron High for year eleven to avoid expulsion from Evo.

It is here in 1969 that the Queensland Junior exam reveals my literacy progress – Maths one and two, Physics, Chemistry, Woodwork, Metalwork either a pass or a credit – French and English an abysmal failure – hardly cool to be reading and writing when you can make stuff and do stuff.

Now in year eleven, failing everything at school but having an amazingly vibrant life with a myriad of friends, doing more fabulous stuff! Mum, reading the play beautifully, surreptitiously sidles up to me with a cutting out of the paper – “Peter, would you be interested in joining the Navy and doing an apprenticeship”?

Well! Next minute I am a young Naval Apprentice at the ripe old age of sixteen and a half, away from home in Sydney and on the next adventure of a nomadic life that is not to change for the next forty years. But more importantly, I have been elegantly cut out of the recalcitrant flock, with whom I was in danger of degrading into a far more sinister future, by an astute but effective manoeuvre about which I hadn’t a clue! Mothers are an astonishing resource.

As a dutiful son away from Mother for the first significant time in a long time I wrote to her diligently, almost daily at the beginning but not missing a week for the first six months. Dear Mother, self taught in the art of communication with the written word, very little in schooling, but through the stenographer trade and having to type a myriad of prose, chose to send my letters back to me with the ‘proper’ English marked in red for my edification.

Well! “Mother, should you choose to continue to send my letters back marked in red improving my spelling and grammar there is very little chance of you receiving any more letters.” That sorted that, letters continued out and none were returned marked in red, Mothers reciprocal letters did not mention a correction; however, all my letters were dutifully placed in a shoe box for that ultimate insult at the ceremonious handing over of the crop of correspondence some years later.

My life at this stage just didn’t need written communication. I could spiel with the best of them, more importantly the young ladies I met wanted to dance and surf. Sport dominated life and the skill of hand in a trade required some calculation but no words, maths was never a problem. So this was the environment within which a child of the sixties commenced life.


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