Raewyn Connell

 


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I came to NSBHS about the end of second year, and then lost a year between third and fourth (overseas with my family), so I don't have the same early memories as most of the 1961 class. Like others I think NSBHS was a thoroughly bad school: conformist, repressive, educationally dull, segregated, antidemocratic and stunningly ugly. But kids can make something out of unpromising materials, and we did. I have some funny, some hurtful, and some very good memories.

I remember getting out for a duck - hit wicket - the one and only time I represented the school at cricket, which must be some kind of record. I came third in a back-stroke race at the swimming carnival underneath the Bridge, total entries three, about half a lap behind the rest of the field; with what seemed like the whole school cheering me on. In revenge, as Corporal in Intelligence I lost a whole platoon of that appalling cadet corps in the bush south of Singleton, in the course of a mock battle. We won the battle, eventually, by storming the right hill from the wrong side. Did we really charge through the Hunter Valley in slouch hats shooting blanks from Boer War rifles at each other? We must have been totally mad.

I also remember being bashed against the wall of the science block stairs, by an angry teacher (I had bumped into him while hurrying late to a chemistry class) who yelled abuse into my face while hitting me. I was so ashamed of this I told no-one at the time; if a teacher did that to a kid nowadays he would be out on his ear for assault. About the same time I fell ineffectually in love with a dark and handsome boy in the year below ours; I was so shy I don't think I spoke to him more than twice. I was once hauled up before the Deputy Headmaster for the dreadful offence of wearing a blue jumper underneath my uniform coat on a cold winter day. That seemed to sum up the NSBHS official ethos for me at the time.

In fifth year we had a terrific English teacher, Ian Boardman, who gave me a feel for what really good teaching could be. I'm eternally grateful to Ian for not laughing when I showed him some of my adolescent poetry. In fact he encouraged me to go on writing, so I suppose NSBHS does bear some of the blame after all. I was also part of a small happy mob who discovered the perfect excuse for skipping classes: inter-school debating - a curious ritualized combat which occurred on an irregular schedule, required preparation in rooms with closed doors, and days travelling unsupervised to other schools.

But my best experience in school, bar none, was the Fifth Year Revue. Am I right that ours was so good that the school cancelled the event for the following year? The Revue was, I suppose, an early expression of the anti-authoritarianism that bubbled on through the student movement of the sixties, as well as a great expression of teenage energy, smuttiness, and good fun. Also terrific frocks, for the can-can item; I haven't worn anything quite as colourful since. What I got from the Revue, above all, was confidence about working intensively with other people and creating something jointly. I'd not really done that before, and the confidence never left me afterwards. I'm grateful to all who shared in it! - and especially to Martin, the perfect co-producer.

The 50 years after.

Once out of NSBHS, I fled Sydney and did a degree in history at the University of Melbourne. Decided that was useless, came back to Sydney and did a PhD in political science, then went for a year to learn about sociology in the belly of the beast, at Chicago. Along the way I became involved in the student movement, went on antiwar demonstrations, helped set up Free University (a student-run enterprise about as different from NSBHS as education could be), joined the Labor Party, did a turn as secretary of Student Action for Aborigines, marched on Washington (by Volkswagen), published my first books, and definitely did not inhale.

At a Labor Party turn in Mosman I met Pam Morrison, a young woman from Melbourne who was passing through on her way to London. A forum like this doesn't talk deeply about relationships, but I can't pretend to describe my life and not include the relationship at the centre of it. Pam and I did not always have an easy time together, and there were times when we weren't together at all. But we did have enormous joy together, including making two gardens, a lot of travelling, from Uxmal to Anguillara Sabazia, some adventurous cooking and a lot of laughter. Pam, an active feminist, helped set up one of the first women's health centres, worked in policy research, wrote, and helped establish community-based education and action programs for older women. In 1984 we had a daughter, Kylie, who is a strong and beautiful person, and will tell her own story.

When we came back from Chicago I had an academic job at Sydney University, and I have had an academic career since. I went to Flinders in 1973 and worked with Ron Witton to build up a sociology program which I'm still proud of. It was ragged but it was imaginative and broke new ground. In 1976 I was appointed to the chair of sociology at Macquarie and set up a department there, trying to combine a democratic approach to teaching and departmental management with an active research program. To some degree we managed both, and we certainly became one of the most active centres of gender research in Australia. After 16 years at Macquarie I went to a job at the University of California and the family migrated to the gorgeous town of Santa Cruz. That came unstuck, and Pam and Kylie returned to Australia. I started a new job as professor of education at the University of Sydney in 1996.

During that "career" I have had some odd and some inspiring experiences. I served a year as Professor of Australian Studies at Harvard, which certainly counts among the odd. I am doubtless the first graduate of NSBHS to hold a chair of women's studies. (This was a visiting appointment in Germany in 1999, and counts among the inspiring, with terrific hospitality from German feminists and men's groups. Also, that German Oral class where we learnt to sing "die Moorsoldaten" finally got put to use.) I've addressed two thousand teachers in a darkened auditorium in Brazil, with sentence-by-sentence translation of my deathless thoughts into Portuguese. And I've addressed a seminar of seven in a back room in Riga, where I'm sure I learnt more than they did.

I've tried to make social science relevant to the real world, through research as well as teaching. I did a lot of work on class inequalities, including inequalities in education, and then on gender inequalities. I've worked with people in the disadvantaged schools program trying to make education more relevant to disadvantaged groups. I've worked with gay community activists and educators in a program of AIDS prevention research that also broke new ground. I've opened up issues about gender for men, and I am charmed to find that I am currently regarded as one of the international experts on masculinity.

In the course of this work I've written, solo or with colleagues, twenty-two books. Some of you may have come across Making the Difference, Ruling Class Ruling Culture, Gender and Power or Masculinities. The latest is called Confronting Equality and I remind everyone that Christmas is coming and the problem of what to put in your loved one's stockings is easily solved. What pleases me a lot is that parts of my work have been translated into sixteen languages other than English, including Russian, Japanese and Turkish.

Soon after coming back to Australia, Pam was diagnosed with breast cancer. She went through three operations, chemotherapy, and radiotherapy over the next three years. We kept on travelling, Pam kept on writing despite the pain, and I learnt about fear. The cancer broke through all the treatments, and Pam died on the last day of summer in 1997. Kylie and I were with her, together with a group of Pam's friends. There wasnít much laughter for me for a long time after that.

When I got back into circulation, I went on with academic work. Sydney U eventually appointed me University Professor, a senior appointment whose great virtue is that no-one knows what it means. Iíve developed a research agenda about what I call Southern Theory, exploring the social analysis that comes from the global South, and this has involved travel and connections in South America, Africa, and other parts of the world. Iíve remained politically engaged, where I could see ways of pursuing peace and social justice, ideas that have had a narrowing space in Australian life. And I finally undertook the gender transition, perhaps better put, gender recognition process, that had been postponed all those years before. This isnít the place to write about being a transsexual woman through a life course but I do want to acknowledge and thank all the people who have given support and acceptance. North Sydney Boys High School was a strange and sometimes alien place for me, for this reason above all.

2014 Update: I have now officially retired from Sydney University.