Anyone who was at James Ruse from 1963-1967 or 1970-1972 will remember Colin Anderson. While he was always recognised as a highly unique individual, it was only many years after leaving James Ruse that I began to realise just how remarkable this man’s story truly is.
In his Ruse days Col was a flamboyant teacher of English. He was deeply involved in extra curricular activities such as the sketches and speeches that enlivened formals and farewells. These were sometimes hilarious, sometimes touching, but always appropriate – always, just right. In the classroom he had the knack of putting things in a way that students of the era could “dig” and he often used his acting skills to bring set texts to life. But above all he was synonymous with the annual Musicals.
Thirty years later, when Col was awarded an honorary Doctorate of Arts from Charles Sturt University, the citation for the Doctorate referred rather unkindly to James Ruse Agricultural High School as an “unlikely arena” for such a flowering of the arts. But in his early days, Col’s entire life story would have seemed improbable.
Colin Anderson was born in 1937. He grew up in the hard industrial city of Newcastle and attended Newcastle Boys’ High School. Like James Ruse, it was a selective school, but in the 1940’s and 1950’s it was an uncongenial environment for little guys who wore thick glasses and liked Shakespeare. Col’s memories of it are not happy ones.
On leaving school he worked for 5 years as a clerk at the Newcastle Abattoirs. He may have remained there except that one day he announced to his shocked father that he wanted to study English at the University of New South Wales on the Newcastle University College campus. Working class boys weren’t supposed to go to University in those days. It just wasn’t done – but he did!
In 1963 a nervous young man turned up at James Ruse to commence a teaching career. Like all young men at the beginning of their careers he struggles to make it work. He had difficulty in controlling classes and it was in response to this that Jim Hoskin suggested that it would help to raise Col’s standing and confidence if something could be found that he could do that nobody else could. Col’s reply: “I like doing plays”. The Boss approved the idea and the first Gilbert and Sullivan musical was put on later that year.
Col found his feet and began to find personal fulfilment in his Ruse life. Half a lifetime later in a speech at a 1992 reunion of the JR class of 1967, Col said “if Ruse helped to make you what you are, let me tell you that you made me what I am. I treasure very deeply my time with you. You taught me to revalue myself, to find a self-respect I had never known before, to find an identity that I have clasped to my heart. And when I say you, I include my colleagues – Elaine Peterson, Leslie Lino, John Dixon, John Pearman, Graham White and, of course, this wonderful, grand, extraordinary man, Jim Hoskin. He – and James Ruse Agricultural High School in general – turned my life around and I will always be aware of and thankful for that.”
In the mid 1960’s Col was involved in the highly successful satirical television series The Mavis Brampston Show. For an ex-abattoirs clerk life must have begun to seem very sweet. I rather suspect that the period of effortless happiness that comes to most of us in adolescence, came to Col not amongst his scornful classmates in Newcastle, but a decade later while he was still a young man in the far more sympathetic and liberal environment of metropolitan Sydney and Jim Hoskin’s James Ruse.
In 1968 Col resigned from the Department of Education and set sail (as was the fashion of the time) for England. He sailed from Darling Harbour where a large contingent of his students sung and chanted some of his own material as they waved him off. In London he taught, acted, directed and travelled the length and breadth of Europe seeing the sights – and, of course the plays – of all countries. In 1970 he returned to Oz; where the Boss moved quickly to re-engage him. So there he was – a bit older now, a bit more worldly, a bit more hardedged. But still full of volcanic energy and very, very determined to make his mark on the world.
It was at this time that I first became properly acquainted with Colin Anderson. I will confess that I was an impressionable 15 year old but I WAS highly impressed. I liked Col and looked forward to his periods immensely. At first he entertained us to catch our attention. But then, more and more, he challenged us.
He resumed his interest in the JR musicals and in other extra curricular activities. During this period he also spread his wings in the educational establishment as his talents were sought by the Education Department for in-service workshops and demonstrations. He took my class right through 4th, 5th and 6th Form and the exam results were good.
In August 1972, Col was offered a lectureship in Drama Studies at the Riverina College of Advanced Education in Wagga (later to become Charles Sturt University). He should have taken up the appointment straight away but he stayed with his 6th Form English class right through to the HSC. He gave a brilliant and very funny address at our farewell luncheon and left James Ruse on the day that we did.
Col reached Associate Professor status at Wagga. On leaving the University in 1992 he has worked as an actor and as a dramatic and musical director and producer in Australia, Great Britain, the United States, Denmark, New Zealand and Malta. In 2000 Charles Sturt recognised his contribution to the Arts by awarding him an honorary Doctorate of Arts. Still lively and well, Col in “more or less retired now” and lives in the inner Eastern Suburbs of Sydney.
More information on Colin Anderson can be obtained from:
The Charles Sturt University citation for his honorary Doctorate of Arts at: http://wwwdb.csu.edu.au/division/marketing/ne/newsm187.htm
The interview with Col published in the JR book on the 40 Years of Musicals
The speech given by Col in 1992 which is published on the 1967 Year Page of the JR Union Website.
Ron Lovitt (1972)
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