Rebel Without A Clue – The Life of Geoff Mooney

Geoff & Santa

I have experienced an extremely interesting existence. A lot of it has been shamefully embarrassing – to myself. Much of it has been sad, painful and hurtful to others. But here, in this tome, I will simply reflect upon the interesting and amusing times. To access the much darker side of my life, please find and read “The Hand and the Fist” elsewhere. For now, it’s simply an honest recount of the mostly good and interesting times.

The Early Years

My life began on August 25th, 1950, the year of the ‘big flood’ in Sydney. My first memory is vague – but that’s not surprising as I was only about four years old at the time. Incredibly, it was the SECOND time I had been thrown from Dad’s car and ended up beneath the vehicle. Of course, there were no restraints such as seat belts in those days. And the baby capsule hadn’t yet been invented. The first time it happened was when Mum was nursing me in the front seat when I was just weeks old and we were traveling up the Blue Mountains. Dad had said to Mum that her door wasn’t correctly shut and when she opened it to slam it shut the wind got it and flung it open (doors opened front-out in those days). I was propelled out and under the vehicle but Dad managed to stop the car before the back wheels ran over me. Fortunately, it was winter and I was all rugged up, so I managed to escape unscathed.

The second time Dad was driving Mum and I and my sister to church at Campsie on a Sunday. I was with my baby sister is the back seat. Not far from the church Dad swerved for some reason and the back driver’s-side door suddenly swung open. I was flung out of the car and rolled under the wheels. By the time Dad was able to stop, the car had run over me – but I had managed to slip between the back wheels. I think Mum suffered a bigger fright than me. She managed to evade any criminal charges although I have my suspicions. The second occurrence was obviously the devious work of my little sister, Dianne, who even at that very tender age was obviously out to  rid the family of her brother.

The next memory was of losing my first pet, a black Scottish terrier named Butch. I remember he ran away a lot, and having to go with Dad to find him. When we couldn’t, my parents would put an ad in the local paper. We got a response every time – except the last that is. One day I was patting the dog next door through the fence and Butch got jealous. I can’t remember what he did but I got angry with him and pinched him – hard. This time he ran away and we failed to locate him. He never came back. My parents reckon I used to hug him way too tight, squeeze the life out of him in my desperate search for affection, and often it was then that he ran away. It was the beginning of a trend that became a regular occurrence – with women that I hugged running away – screaming in terror.

There were significantly good times. Every year in the May holidays we would trek north to Coolangatta (just over the Queensland border). It was my favourite time of the year and to this day when I need to escape I dream of Coolangatta. The occasion I dream about quite often is when we stayed at one of the famous Cooloogatta boarding houses for a week. It was called St. Leonards and was right opposite the beach. All meals were provided and they had a games room where we would play the jukebox and table tennis for hours on end. The year was 1960 because I remember Nat King Cole’s ‘Rambling Rose’ was number one at the time and we played it over and over. One afternoon my father took me (just me) around the corner with a pocket full of sixpences and we played pinball machines all afternoon. He was so relaxed; we laughed and joked and had a great time. It was special mainly because I don’t remember our relationship ever being like that again.

Growing Up In the 50’s and 60’s

For the first 17 years of my life we lived at 43 Robertson Street in Campsie (a south-west suburb of Sydney). And the world was a very different place. The trips up north were often punctuated by flat tyres and boiling radiators. It was the way with vehicles in those days, especially the early Holdens that my father so loved. Not that a Holden was the first family car. I remember breaking down on the way to Grandma’s at Earlwood (my father’s mother) in our 1940’s Austin A40 that was complete with cellophane and canvas windows and a sideboard. I remember Dad getting cranky (as he did) when trying to crank start this thing after spending quite a time fiddling with something under the bonnet. Cars have changed so much since, along with so many other things we take for granted today.

It was the days of “the milkman”. They were wonderfully innocent days of community, trust and honesty. People would leave money on their front veranda (or porch) with a note saying what combination of milk, cream and other dairy products were required. In the middle of the night (early hours of the morning) the local milkman would take the money and leave the product order. In my early years the milkman drove a horse-drawn cart, but these were replaced by “trucks” in the early 1960’s. The money left by all our neighbours was always deemed safe. People didn’t steal from their neighbours in those days. There was a respect for other people’s property, and integrity was important. Neighbours looked after one another and that bond was paramount. And nobody locked up their houses, there was no need. People of today’s generation would simply find that notion fictional.

I remember when we got our first fridge. We were one of the first in our street to get one. Prior to that, we, like everyone else, had an “ice box”. The ice man used to come around twice a week to deliver the blocks of ice that went at the bottom to keep the food cool. I remember him first carting the ice with a horse-drawn cart, but it wasn’t too long before he had a truck. There was no freezer so fresh food was purchased locally almost daily.

Ah yes, that was the day of the local shops, when Woolworths and Coles didn’t sell food at all. Our regular shops were the butcher in Northcote Street (which only closed down in recent years), Coorey’s fruit and veg’ shop on Canterbury Road, the produce store next door to that, the fish shop nearby in Beamish Street, and the pet shop also located in that group of stores. The butcher had sawdust on the floor and “fly paper” hanging from the ceiling. We used to sell old newspapers to the pet shop and the fish shop for wrapping. The baker delivered bread every day. It took him much longer to progress to a truck and his horse became our friend. Then there was the egg and butter man, the ice-cream man, and the clothes line man. Yes, in the days before the Hills Hoist, people strung rope from tree to tree. The rope was susceptible to the weather, so it needed to be replaced often. The delivery guy would even string it up for you.

I remember we had a phone on a shared “party line”. We shared it with someone in Scahill Street and when you picked up the receiver you could sometimes listen to her conversation if you held your hand over the mouthpiece.

We had a big old radio (called a wireless) that served as our entertainment of an evening. We listened to the serials (radio soapies), with our favourite being the children’s show “Search for the Golden Boomerang”. It was while we were huddled around listening to this one night in 1959 that Dad asked us to come into the lounge room where he had a surprise.  That was the end of the radio. We were the first in our neighborhood to get a TV. Of course it was B&W and it only went from 5:00pm till 9:00pm, but we loved it.

I remember hearing on the radio when I was just 10 years old about the assassination of John F. Kennedy. We sat and listened to the reports all day before they finally announced his death. It was such a solemn moment.

I remember my very special toys and my very special friends from those early years. I had a black “golliwog” named Golly that I talked to all the time. I had an “invisible friend” named Peter that was my special confidante. He was so-named after the dog that belonged to my elder cousin Ian. After Butch ran away Dad refused to replace him and I yearned for a companion so badly. I fell in love with Peter the dog and thought about him constantly. It was the beginning of my love affair with dogs, one that led my mother to observe that I “liked dogs more than people”. To this day that’s probably true.

And I remember my tin car that I peddled up and down the side path. When I got too big for that Santa brought me a scooter. I would play endlessly on that thing and progressed to riding it up and down the cobblestone path to the clothesline out the back beyond the hedge. One evening Mum had called me for tea (before it was called dinner) and I pretended not to hear her, deciding instead to have a few more ride up and down the path. Then Dad called and I knew I had to hurry. Unfortunately I lost control and fell heavily onto the path. I banged my arm and it really hurt.

I cried as I carried myself inside and Dad lost it with me, telling me to stop crying and that there was nothing wrong with me. I sat at the nearest chair and placed my elbow on the table. Dad slapped me across the back of the head and told me to stop crying, and it was enough to jolt my arm so that my fingers were touching the inside of my elbow and a bone was protruding through the skin. I had broken both bones completely. For many weeks afterwards I remember the itch of the plaster, and the much softer way in which Dad treated me. The latter was a pleasant change. The former could only be addressed with knitting needles.

We didn’t have too many kids around our own age in the street (or even surrounding streets). There was Patricia Power up the road who was born just six days after me. But she was a girl (obviously). There were the Evans boys, but they were a bit strange. And, fortunately, across the road were the Smiths.  George and Emmy had become friendly with my parents before I was born. They ended up with six kids. Paul was the eldest, followed by Kent who was about 18 months older than me, then Grant who was about the same age. While Grant and I did lots of things together, including going to Luna Park in Sydney every January to mark his birthday, it was Kent who became my closest friend. We hung out all the way through high school and got together again when I was in my early twenties. He turned out to be someone who would both influence and haunt me to a certain extent, and so I have devoted a separate section to his part in my life.

Other memories from Robertson Street are simply things that happened that in some way impacted on me. There was the time Dad chopped the head off a chook that the Davies from next door had given us for Christmas. It was enough to watch it run around the yard headless, but when it actually jumped the hedge I was awestruck.

There was the time that I was playing between the back cubby house and the Davies fence when I discovered a gold alarm clock. The ‘Cracker Nights’ we spent with the Colyer cousins throwing two-penny bungers at each other in a mindless war game. The time I raided the crackers before the big night and lit a “Catherine Wheel” under my bed with the help of Grant and Kent only to see the bed go up in flames. The night I overheard Dad showing off my Christmas present to his friend Alan Zimmera. It was the Lone Ranger set of guns, holster and mask that I had asked Santa for in Grace Bros the week before.

Back then, men used to work on their own cars and mechanical workshops were rare. Dad was a real car enthusiast and changed the oil and tuned his cars regularly. But one Saturday when I was nine years old he had a very serious accident in our garage. His youngest brother, and my favourite uncle, Phillip, was helping him work on his car that they had raised off the floor onto blocks of bricks. Unfortunately the bricks collapsed when my father was under the car and it crushed his face. If Phillip hadn’t been so big and strong (he lifted the car while I helped Dad out) my father may have been killed right then and there. The blood that covered his face and ran down his clothes I will never forget.

Rebellion

Between the ages of eight and fourteen I became increasingly confused and skeptical. My first excursion into the ‘real’ world (my first job) coincided with my burgeoning testosterone levels and opened my eyes to a very different reality. My attitude to everything, particularly authority, changed dramatically.

“Reality leaves a lot to the imagination”. – John Lennon

That job was working the entire Christmas school holidays serving behind the counter in the stationary section of Woolworths at Campsie. A redhead girl a few years my senior was a big influence. She was a free spirit and rebellious to the core. Apart from trying to steal my virginity, she encouraged me to question the authoritative figures in my life. I challenged teachers, their rules and the rules of the school. I took up smoking, ran around the girl’s playground next to our school – almost naked, broke into the Catholic Brother’s house while they were away and emptied their fridge, made a copy of the teachers’ office key and totally rearranged the furniture, broke into the tuck shop (several times) on a weekend, and mad prank phone calls to the school.

It was at age 14 that I changed from “angel to rebel without a clue”. Of course, it is not uncommon for adolescents of this age start to assert their independence by rebelling against authority, particularly that of their parents. But I am told the change in me was profound. I often wonder if it had anything to do with a serious accident I suffered at school around that time. Each afternoon after classes a group of us would play touch football on the playground. In my earlier years at the school the ground was a grass field, later to be paved and line marked. Then one day they had basketball hoops installed. The hoops were supported by steel poles cemented into the playground. On this particular afternoon, I ran “full pelt” onto a beautiful pass from Frank Luca …. and ran straight into one of the poles. Apparently I was unconscious for over three minutes. The lump on my forehead was huge and remnants of it remain with me today. Recent research reveals that such accidents can have life-changing effects.

The rebelliousness probably reached its pinnacle when I was 21 years old and employed by the Army at Singleton Army Base. I was only there for eighteen months but left quite an impression on the place. When I returned years after having been escorted off the base at gunpoint (details later), my deeds had been exaggerated to the point of folklore. I was a hero to the non-voluntary conscripts, and the worst possible threat to civilization to the ranked hierarchy.

SCHOOL DAYS - St. Mels Campsie

I often say that my days in the Catholic school system were where I learned the art of guilt. Mind you, it was a subject, and one at which I excelled. But the conscience I carry today, which not only gives me a very strong set of morals but also causes me great angst at times, was something with which I seem to have been born. My mother recalls that I told the truth from the very beginning and that often she wouldn’t find out that I had done something wrong or disobeyed her orders until I actually fessed up.

But my time with the St. Joseph nuns at St. Mels in Campsie certainly helped. If you didn’t do the right thing there you were either humiliated or beaten. I can remember in 2nd class getting into trouble for talking to the girls in class. The girls and boys were seated separately then and I was normally stuck in the middle of a whole bunch of boys. But this day, for some reason, I was seated near the girls and I discovered right then and there that I liked the opposite sex. So I undertook my first exercise in “chatting up”. Of course the nun teaching the class was horrified and my punishment was to be dressed up in a girl’s school uniform and placed amongst the girls – in kindergarten. The worst part was that I was seated next to my sister Dianne. I remember when the punishment was finished the teacher said, “I hope that teaches you a lesson”. It did. Kindy chicks were even cuter.

The first nun I had was a Sister Mary. Everyone loved her, kids and parents alike. She was kind, sweet and gentle. At the other end of the spectrum was the principal, Sister Pancratius. She was a large, angry, cruel woman who ruled the school with a leather strap. I learned from her that a large celibate woman holding a leather strap is an even scarier woman than your mother. I remember one day Richard Ziade punched me in the stomach and I cried. I wasn’t at all violent then. In fact I was very afraid of violence. Sister Pancratius was on playground duty and saw what happened. She dragged me into her office and strapped me the maximum six times for crying and not fighting back. She told me to “act like a man”. Richard followed me to Ashfield De La Salle and is part of our regular 68’ reunions. But he hasn’t really grown significantly, whereas I have. He apologises every time we meet.

A very similar thing occurred at the first State Government Department of Recreation camps that I went to in my Christmas school holidays. I was nine years old at the time. We copped a very cruel “instructor” who took his own anger and frustrations out on the kids. Many years later police officially investigated him for abuse against children in his care. Anyway, this kid on the camp took a dislike to me and gave me a hard time almost every day. One day he challenged me to a fight and I refused saying I didn’t like fighting. The instructor took the same attitude as the nun and made me fight this kid. All I did was defend myself (fortunately I was very strong) and the instructor eventually stopped the fracas in disgust telling me again that I needed to “learn how to be a man”.

There was another kid at St. Mels who was a real bully. His name was Mick Stanton. He used to bash me at school, after school and on weekends if he could. I remember many days where he and his cousin threw rocks at my sister and I as we walked home. He was a bit bigger than me and I was scared of him. Funny thing was that I ran into him when I was in the latter years of high school and he hadn’t grown at all. I, on the other hand, had a real growth spurt after I left St. Mels, and I was much bigger than Mick. By then I had also learned to defend myself. I saw him at Canterbury railway station one day and approached him. Naturally, Mick went to water. I didn’t have to do a thing as he spluttered apology after apology. Years later again when I had really filled out I ran into him in Canterbury Leagues Club. He was all over me again and actually shouted me beers for the entire night. I felt satisfied with the end result.

My parents didn’t like Sister Pancratius either. My father even managed to physically threaten her at one stage (he did that sort of stuff). I was serving as an altar boy at the church next door to the school, assisting Father “Whispering” Smith with various duties including conducting mass several times per week. The ceremony was in Latin in those days and I had to learn all the appropriate prayers. One of the more distinguished duties was to ring hand bells at various stages of the Mass. Another was to walk up the marble stairs and deliver the glass goblets containing water and wine to the officiating priest. One day I tripped and smashed the containers all over the floor. After mass Father Smith sent me to Sister Pancratius to be punished. She decided that I should pay for the broken goblets and wrote a note to my parents informing them of the decision. My father rang her that afternoon to tell her they wouldn’t be paying and that he thought the letter was arrogant. She didn’t back down at first but when my father told her he would come to the school the next day and deal with her she relented. It must have been when I was in 3rd class, because I left at the end of that year and I remember she didn’t cause me any grief for the remainder of the time I spent at the school.

My other vivid memory of my last year with the nuns was when I started taking a fancy to girls (in 3rd class). I was madly in love with a girl who was two years my senior. Her name was Gail Holt. She had a younger sister named Carmel, but it was Gail that attracted me. I used to follow her around and tell her of my love in front of her friends which really irritated her for some reason. One day I even wrote a note to her that she refused to accept it. So, of course, I stuffed it down her tunic so she’d definitely get the message. Gail’s parents owned the shack next to my father’s parents at “The Spit”  on Sydney Harbour and I also spent many a weekend and school holiday driving her crazy at Clontarf. I remember once almost falling off a cliff and her grabbing me. I couldn’t resist the opportunity to tell her that meant I owed her my life and would devote myself to her for eternity. Later that day, I tackled her to the ground and kissed her on the mouth. She was clearly unimpressed, which surprised me. I was sure that would bring her around to loving me

Ashfield de La Salle - Primary (4th class – 6th class)

My first year at Ashfield was memorable in more ways than one, particularly the very first day. Mum and Dad had chosen Ashfield over the closer Catholic school, Lakemba, because of its superior academic record. That was fine, but it meant a daily trip of almost an hour each way. I generally walked from Robertson Street Campsie to Canterbury Railway Station to catch the number 472 bus to Ashfield even though there was a bus (the 415) that went from the corner of Robertson Street and Canterbury Road to the station. On my first day (4th class) my mother accompanied me all the way, constantly making sure I understood the logistics. Upon arrival at Ashfield Station (from where it was a five minute walk to the school) we alighted and Mum said to me “Now this afternoon just get the 472 again to go back to Canterbury Station, then wait for the 415 and tell the driver to put you off at Robertson Street”. All seemed pretty straight forward I guess, except that she didn’t add that the 472 I needed to catch to go home left from the other side of the station.

So I did what I thought was the right thing – hopped on where I got off earlier that day. People kept getting off and none of the scenery looked familiar. When the bus arrived at its final destination, Rodd Point near Drummoyne (the bus depot), the driver realised that he had a problem. Dad was so pissed off having to drive all the way to Drummoyne to pick me up. In the following months and years he was even more annoyed when he’d have to drive to Kingsrove Depot to pick up my school bag that I’d left on the bus when I got off. It was the first indication of my extreme lack of concentration and attention to detail.

That first year at Ashfield was the biggest class I was ever in by a mile with some 80 kids crammed into the one classroom at one stage. But the teacher of all those kids, Mrs. Whitelaw, was by far the best teacher I encountered. She certainly brought out the best in me. Until then I had been a very average student at best. But under her guidance and with her encouragement, I started being placed in the top five in the class overall and in the top three in a few subjects (mainly English). It was under Mrs. Whitelaw’s tutorage that I first learned that I had a natural gift for writing.

The only bad memory from that year was of another kid who took a dislike to me. He had red hair and I think his name was Phillip. He got great delight in the fact that he could punch me either in the stomach or face and I wouldn’t punch him back. But Mrs. Whitelaw actually encouraged me to stick up for myself and so I discovered that I was naturally strong and able to out-wrestle him. I would get him in a headlock and keep him under restraint until he gave up. He eventually resorted to king hitting me and running away before getting bored of the whole thing and selecting someone else to pick on.

The following year I was taught by easily the worst teacher I ever encountered, Mr O'Donohoe. Everyone hated him. Most days his lessons consisted of giving us something to read quietly while he caught up with the news by reading the Sydney Morning Herald. My parents actually ended up making a complaint about his teaching – or lack of it. He taught us nothing but disrespect for authority and fear of his cane, which he used liberally on a daily basis, sometimes lining up the entire class for undue punishment. I seemed to be of particular annoyance to him; although I can’t recall why it was that I so often ended up in the Principal’s office for another “six of the best”. It really wasn’t Brother Peter’s thing (violence) and his six hits of the strap weren’t anything to be really feared. I turned up yet again on one particular occasion and he just sighed, “not you again”. I put my hands out and he placed the strap in them and moved away. Then he came back and took it back off me saying quietly “now go back and tell him I gave you the strap”.

The best thing about this year was that I started my growth spurt and became one of the biggest kids in the class. My father encouraged me to have a go at rugby league and, despite being a year younger than the other players I represented the primary school as a forward. I loved the game right from the start and found an immediate natural talent for tackling. Attack, unfortunately, wasn’t my forte at all, although in those days forwards weren’t really expected to possess those skills. You just needed to be able to cart the ball up and hold onto it. The other thing I quickly developed was an ability to read a game, which often put me in the right position at the right time in defence. One of the coaches assumed I was naturally athletic, but everyone, including me, soon realised that I was deceptively slow.

That year the school sent its rugby league rep side down to the Snowy Mountains area to participate in a carnival. We were all billeted out to local families in pairs. I got stuck with our coach, Brother John. He was a wonderful man but it was very restricting. The two things I remember are my first encounter with snow and Brother John making me eat eggs that were served. I was allergic to eggs and they made me sick. I know he was very embarrassed.

High School – (1st Form – 4th Form)

Funny, I don’t remember all that much about the next few years. I remember Rod Burke losing his father and then having his life made hell by a set of triplets that were a year ahead of us. His father was a cop and their family didn’t like cops. I suspect they all ended up in jail. I also copped a fair bit of stick from a group of bullies from that same class. One in particular took great delight in baiting me and having me back down. One day I’d had enough and agreed to meet him after school for a fight. I went through the most excruciating angst the whole afternoon only to have the prick not turn up. It was worth it though; he didn’t bother me again.

His gang got taken over when I was in 2nd year by a new arrival named Mario Zammit who had been a member of a local gang that ran amuck from Ashfield to Burwood. Tensions between they and the group of guys I hung out with simmered for some time before Zammit and a couple of his cronies got expelled. By this time I had built a reputation for being a very tough league player and it seemed there was always someone who wanted to have a go at me. By 3rd year I had made friends with a guy named Steve Dujmovic, and he and I practiced boxing and the like together. Steve stuck with me one afternoon when we heard a couple of local toughs associated with Zammit were coming to get me. We waited till late and they didn’t turn up – or so we thought. Next day, the police were at the school because some kid in a class below us who looked like me (at least fitted the description) had the crap beaten out of him.

My academic record over these years continued to improve and for a while it was only Mark Finnane who finished ahead of me. Mark is now a well-respected university professor. The style of the football in those days obviously suited me too and I was in rare form on the field. In 3rd year I even won the school best-and-fairest award. And that wasn’t a bad feat, as our side took out premierships in the inter-schools competition as well as the local junior competition on a regular basis. A journalist in the local Ashfield newspaper actually described me as “the toughest schoolboy player he’d seen in his 20 years of covering the sport”.

Unfortunately I didn’t take to other sports quite as readily. In athletics I could run the 100 yards in five minutes flat. I failed to make the rep cricket team at my first two attempts. And my first attempt at competitive swimming saw me rescued from the pool by panicked onlookers. I can’t remember how old I was at the time, but it was at Enfield swimming pool before the Ashfield Pool was built. Every year there would be a swimming carnival and every kid had to compete. My first “championships” were at Enfield Baths and I swam in the 33 metres freestyle. I didn’t have a clue how I was going but I could hear this woman screaming from the seating area. It was my mother who had come to watch and, while most of the other swimmers in the race had finished and left the pool, I was still bobbing my way towards the finish line. Mum was sure I would drown and after several pleas, some adults dove in and rescued me.

I think much the same thing happened the next year, so my parents packed me off to proper lessons and made me join the Canterbury Swimming Club, which I attended every Saturday morning outside the footie season. My early efforts were abysmal, but my times quickly improved fairly dramatically and I won some awards. The following year I fronted up for the school swimming carnival again and now we were at Ashfield pool and the event was over 50 metres. I lined up against the age champion (Claudio Serafini) and finished second, well ahead of the third placegetter. I took it all in my stride until the next day when I was summoned to the sports room the vice-principal, Brother Julius. He was a feared man who we later found out was an alcoholic. The only time you got invited to the sports room was to get the strap from Julius. The strap had pennies sown into the ends of it so it hurt as much as possible. I had experienced the “occasion” quite a few times, including once where he tried to hit me so hard that he smashed the light globe above his head when he raised the strap and the entire room went black. I ran for my life.

Anyway, this day he simply wanted to ask how I could go from absolutely hopeless to second best at my age in the swimming. That week I attended training for the school swimming team and went on to compete against other Catholic schools for the next few years. Breaststroke turned out to be my best style, but we had a kid there named Chris Hickey that made the State championships in that event and so I was always destined to finish second yet again. I did manage one year to swim against the brother of world champion Kevin Berry at North Sydney Pool.

I only represented at athletics once we got old enough to run over 800 metres and beyond. At that I was fairly good and wish I had pursued cross-country running at a higher level. In cricket, I finally made the school team as a bowler after many attempts. Trouble was I couldn’t bat and they tended to dismiss me very quickly (both on the field and off).

Academically, my best achievement right throughout my schooling was a first in music in 1st Form. You didn’t have to play an instrument – it was all theory and I could actually read music in those days. We had a piano at home that my mother and sister played, so I picked up a lot there. I started piano lessons myself but got bored and gave it away. I regret that to this day.

It was around the end of 2nd form and into 3rd that I started my rebellious stage. And it had quite an effect. The first day back in 3rd form, I got sent to the principal because a new teacher told me to stop talking twice. The second time he told me he was “deadly earnest”. I stood up and said, “Nice to meet you deadly, I’m Geoff Mooney”. He was Mr. Swan, our economics teacher (my parents insisted I take economics) and I battled him until I left and then again at our 20-year reunion (will cover that later). It was also the time I decided that girls and sport were much more attractive than anything else in the world – with the girls coming first by a long way. Not only did my schoolwork decline in standard, but so did my dedication to my sports. I gave up the swimming, got dropped altogether from the cricket team, and played a lot of second-grade in the footie. Mind you, I won a lot of awards at that level, but I really didn’t care that most of my mates were killing them in the top grade while I was just having fun.

By the time I hit 4th Form I was a real handful. I had started to smoke regularly, I was wagging school, I was chasing every girl that I could, and giving as much cheek as possible. In that year we had as our main teacher Brother Benilde, who we affectionately called “Benny”. He was much cooler than the other brothers and in class we talked about music, movies, life and the like. His real passion though, was science. In the very early days of the class when he was trying to assert his authority and I was trying to assert my newfound manhood, I responded to an order by telling him to “get fucked”. He responded with “I dare you to come out here and say that”.  I walked right up to him and repeated what I had said only to find the next thing I remember was someone slapping my face, as I lay prone on the floor. Benny had knocked me cold.

SCHOOL FRIENDS

My best friends over the first four years of high school were Leigh Tobin, Brian Neligan, Steve Lynch and Tony Newbury. Leigh and Brian caught the bus (472) from Canterbury to Ashfield and back each day and Leigh and I would walk from Canterbury Station to his place in Cook Street every afternoon. Leigh was the other person to knock me out cold during that time – twice. His father had been a good boxer according to my own father and Leigh inherited his pugilistic ability. On the first occasion Leigh and Brian and I were playing cricket in Leigh’s backyard. I was batting and Leigh was bowling. He claimed to have got me out but I refused to walk. The next thing I knew, Brian was standing over me asking me if I was OK. Obviously I had a glass jaw, and this would be confirmed in latter years. The second time Leigh decked me was at school. It was a very similar situation only this time we were playing handball. I refused to leave the court and after several kids had tried to forcibly remove me (without success) Leigh stepped in. You’d think I’d have learned.

Leigh was a rather sad kid as his biological father (the fighter) left when he was really young and his mother (Betty) took up with a taxi driver. She passed him off to Leigh as his real father and it was devastating when he discovered the truth when we were about 13 years old. He actually confided in me and only me at the time, showing me the evidence he had discovered. I don’t know if he ever told anyone else, or even confronted his mother. He was a fabulous footballer during our school days and did go on to play representative rugby union in the Central West of NSW. But I remember when I beat him for best and fairest at the age of 13 he got really dirty and wouldn’t talk to me for some time. He even threatened me. He was a back (five-eighth) and they considered themselves the stars of the team. We “pigs” were only there to protect them.

We often had minor skirmishes and major disagreements. But they never amounted to much because he knew he had the upper hand. But one day, after we had walked home together, while on his front verandah, he punched me. For some reason (I vaguely remember thinking that I had to stand up for myself) I retaliated. By the time we finished we were both covered in blood and sporting torn clothing. My parents drove me back around to his place that night when his mother was home so that we could apologise to each other. It was very embarrassing and probably the only real fight I ever had with anyone. I got to know him again recently and he referred to his stepfather as his real dad, so I assume he carried on the pretension to everyone else long after we left school. Leigh never married, despite having been engaged four times. He’s no longer angry, but he is sad.

In 1971 Brian Nelligan had the misfortune of being in an inner-city pool hall when a brawl broke out and he copped a ball in the head that nearly killed him. After he had a plate inserted into his skull he wasn’t the same person. He became violent, had trouble with the law, and lost most of his friends. Interestingly he and I had visited that same pool hall a year earlier on a night I will always remember. We met two Swiss girls outside and chatted to them for some time before driving them back to their flat in Marrickville in my car. Things were just getting interesting when two sailors turned up in uniform. Apparently they had ‘picked up’ the girls earlier in the night and been invited to their flat later. The six of us played cards and talked politely (but uncomfortably) for an hour before one of the sailors asked us to leave. Brian refused and the sailor punched him in the mouth. I responded to protect my friend and the sailor produced a knife. At first I refused to back down but his friend assured me that he would use it if we didn’t leave, so we immediately obliged. We may have lost the battle but the girls kicked them out and we were invited back the next night. We saw them again another half-a-dozen times, including a picnic trip to the Blue Mountains to show them the Three Sisters. I remember my poor old car really struggled up to Katoomba. And the girls seemed to have lost interest in us. When we ended up on the end of a pileup on Parramatta Road on the way home it became a day to forget, but one I will also always remember.

When I caught up with Brian at our school reunion in 1988, he hunted me all night trying to square up for a fight he had picked with me 20 years earlier at school. I didn’t do anything but keep him away with left jabs, but one brought blood to his nose and he just never got over it. The next time I saw him was at our 40th reunion. I was living on the Far South Coast at the time and Brian offered to put me up for the night. While the reunion was fantastic, the stay at Brian’s was horrific. I won’t go into detail, but he it was one of the most unpleasant experiences of my life.

Steve Lynch became a partner in Skydome with another schoolmate, Mick Bonello, and now runs their division on the Central Coast. Tony Newbury made it to number three in State Treasury before moving on to CEO of State Treasury. Poor Tony had an alcoholic mother and an indifferent father. Mind you, Tony had some very unusual abilities that made him special. For a start he could do complex mathematical calculations in his head faster than an electronic calculator. I clearly remember a couple of bus trips where we entertained ourselves by giving him tasks such as 187 x 4 / 12. He would spit out the exact answer before the guy with the whiz-bang machine could blurt out anything. His other ability was one he didn’t share with too many people. He could communicate with people who had passed away (they came to him). In the one and only séance we did together some really freaky things happened. My grandfather spoke to me through him of things Tony couldn’t have known. And when we shared the glass and asked what we would end up doing for a living, the glass clearly spelt out “accountant” for him (correct) and “VW garage owner” for me. To this day I haven’t been able to fathom that one, but it was fully spelt out and surely referred to something. Tony is a close friend and a good man. He and Linda have been married for over forty years and remain very much in love. They have a wonderful family and seem very happy.

A guy I wasn’t too close to at school has become a close friend in recent years. Mick Bonello is the CEO of Skydome and I caught up with him a few years ago when Kate and I sat next to him at a game of footy. He is a complex character, besieged by mental illness and alcoholism, but an extremely good man with a big heart. He is going through some very severe business and psychological issues at the moment, and I am trying to be supportive. In updated news, Mick has basically sold a majority share in the business and is semi-retired. He is proud of the fact that Skydome survived under his command for 38 years, something most uncommon these days.

High School – (5th Form – 6th Form)

We were the second ever year of the Wyndham System. Prior to 1967 high school only went to 5th year where students sat for the Leaving Certificate. Those who didn’t want to go on to this stage usually left in 3rd year (at the age of 15) to take up apprenticeships or trades. By the time I got to 4th Form, it was really only kids that wanted to go to university who proceeded, while the rest left to enter the real world. That year we had classes broken up into academic colour grading, with ”blue” being the top one (mine), followed by “white”, “green” and “red”. All of the latter left, while most of green and some from white did the same. By 5th form we had only blue and white left. These were the colours of the school.

Some of the kids that stayed on did so not because they wanted to go on to university, but because they loved the sport we played. This particularly applied to rugby league, a game at which the school excelled. The team to which I belonged won every premiership available from 1st Form to 6th Form. On a Thursday we played in an inter-Catholic school competition, and on Saturday we played in the Western Suburbs junior competition that at that time took in Parramatta. We swept all before us. The best kid I played against on a regular basis represented Granville, who were the dirtiest side we played back then. He was Dennis Fitzgerald, who went on to play first grade for Parramatta, represent Australia, and head the Parramatta Eels organisation for many years. He was big, quick, and mean. One day he punched my fellow front-rower Rod Burke and I gave him a warning “poke” in the head. He knocked me to the ground and started kicking me while I was down. When the referee finally gained control he sent Dennis off and I smiled. But that didn’t last long. He then looked at me and said, “You can go too”. It was the first of two times I was dismissed from the field.

The other was in 6th form when I had lost interest and form, and was playing “2nd’s”. It was a shorter comp than the main one and we were playing our last game. Some guys in the team dared me to play the tough guy and I stupidly obliged. I was first cautioned for swearing, then for punching a guy in the nose who had already broken it, and then for dropping my forearm into the face of a guy on the ground. It was pathetic and remains on my “cringe” list of the things I sometimes think about and of which I feel ashamed.

The best players I played with were Terry Connolly and Adrian Lane-Mullins. Terry was a centre and Adrian a lock. Many who watched Adrian over the years rated him better than Johnny Raper at the same age. Those two were largely responsible for our 1st team’s remarkable record. After the embarrassment of being sent off in the seconds I got a late call up to the 1sts when someone got injured. I played OK and when the State Schoolboy Championships came around at the end of the season I was added to the squad as a reserve. I didn’t play in the first two games that we won, but got a call up for the 3rd game against Waverly High when one of our forwards was again injured. We played them on the Sydney Sports Ground and they were tough. But I followed the coach’s instructions to the letter and was voted best forward. Unfortunately they had a second rower (who went on to play first grade) that was outstanding and in the first half he tore us to pieces. At half time the coach told me to “get him” with whatever it takes. “Hit him if you have to”, he said. So in the first few minutes of the second half I tackled him. It was a ball and all tackle I remember and I had to wrestle him to the ground. No one had managed to do that so far and the coach and all our supporters gave me a huge cheer. I was pumped. After he’d played the ball and the ref had turned his back I hit him with everything I had. He simply shook his head, looked into my eyes and asked, “Why did you do that?” I spent the next few minutes running away from him.

Despite that we just got away with the game thanks to a late try to Terry Connolly. That was a semi-final and it meant that we had made it all the way into the big one. Our opponents were Forbes High, a team that had a winning record even better than us. They boasted a number of name players, including a young fullback named Chris Anderson. The game was played before a few thousand people at the Sydney Cricket Ground and I was selected to start, despite the injured forward making himself available. We eventually won 6 - 3 – a try a piece (ours to Terry Connolly again) and a penalty goal to our captain Greg Purcell (who went on to play 1st grade as a hooker with Canterbury). I had a game I was proud of. I had never tackled so hard and so consistently, and I took the ball up as much as I could even if Greg kept telling me not to pass it (I didn’t have the best of hands). At one stage I chased through a kick with too much enthusiasm and was caught offside. I didn’t even hear the whistle and threw young Anderson to the ground when he retrieved the ball. The little brat got up and punched me before throwing the ball in my face. I didn’t retaliate.

Even though we were a team from the Western Suburbs, that club refused to sponsor us for the tournament and so Canterbury stepped in. Club boss at the time (just before Peter Moore), Ken McCaffery, presented us with blue and white jackets, medallions, stick pins and a trophy that to this day remains on display at the school. It also gave the Bulldogs first option on our players. The only ones that got a call were Greg, Terry, Adrian, Mick McCarthy and myself. Greg and I were asked to trial. Terry told them he wasn’t interested because he was off to Canberra to join the air force. Mick signed up with an A-grade club in the Canterbury-Bankstown league. And Adrian was offered a contract as a full-time player. It was an enormous thing because it was unheard of until that time. As I found out recently, Adrian came from a very poor family and said he needed to get a job to help out. And he had absolutely no way of getting to and from training sessions and games. Such a waste really. Our captain from the year ahead of us, Dennis Scahill, was given a “scholarship” with the club and played plenty of first grade at five-eighth under that scheme. He was the first scholarship player in the league and they were scarce. But to offer a schoolboy a paid contract was unheard of. That’s how good Adrian was. He stayed in touch with me on and off for the next eight years and he was a very happy man with no regrets. He married early, had kids, and embarked on a very successful management career. He’s also the coolest dude I have ever met. He lived without fear. He was quietly spoken, but proved on one occasion when a gang of thugs on the Sydney Harbour Bridge confronted a group of us that he also carried a big stick. He was a superb athlete, tough as nails, but with a heart as soft as any I’ve known. It’s why his friends called him ‘Ace’, and still do.

Academically, 5th Form and the first half of 6th Form were a bit of a disaster as I lost any desire to succeed and became more and more troubled. It was only toward the end that I put in a concerted effort to study for the Higher School Certificate. In the end I did all right considering the nerves I suffered. I got a TER ranking of 88.8, enough to win a Teacher’s College Scholarship to University. I had applied for this reluctantly at my parents’ bequest some months earlier.

Muck-up day prior to the big exam brought out the real rebel in me. On the weekend before this Brian Neligan and I had broken into the school tuck-shop and helped ourselves to a smorgasbord of sweets and ice creams (we had done this before). The back of the shop had a dicky window that only a select few knew about. We also took an unguided tour of the Brothers’ quarters when they were all out and helped ourselves to food and drink (we found lots of beer). On the day itself, I stole a copy of Brother Benilde’s office key, went down to the shopping centre and had a copy made, and kept creeping in there and leaving cryptic notes. It was supposed to go all day but by mid-morning he had approached me and asked for the key; he just knew it was me.

The other thing I did that was deemed by the Brothers to be the worst act of the day, was to jump the fence between De La Salle and Bethlehem (the girl’s school) and run around the yard at lunch time kissing as many girls as would co-operate. If they’d sprung me, or I’d owned up when we were addressed at assembly, I would have been barred from sitting the HSC altogether.

Of course, the other defiant indulgence at that time was smoking. For the last three years of school many of us had indulged both on and off the school grounds. On that final day we smoked in almost every classroom, making sure we left the appropriate odour behind. It was all so un-clever, but that was me back then.

MY FIRST CAR

Much of my rebellious behaviour was facilitated by the fact that I owned a motor vehicle in my last year at school. And there were only two of us in my year that even had access to a car then. Mick McCarthy was the other. He was the oldest of all the guys I hung with – he was born in May 1950. His mother was a lovely little woman and she loaned him her car whenever he wanted it. Unfortunately Mick’s father was a large and very hard man and made Mick’s life very difficult. It all culminated in Mick’s unfortunate suicide some years later when his marriage was in trouble. Poor Steve Lynch was the one to get the final phone call, something that still haunts Steve today.

During my 5th Form year I learned to drive my mother’s car, a 1957 Simca Aronde. The following year she upgraded to a Hillman and, as I was working part-time every weekend, Mum offered me the car if I could pay it off over the year. So I was actually the first guy at school to own a car. I ferried full carloads of guys all over Sydney, sometimes getting up to mischief, but mainly just hanging out and looking to pick up chicks. The worst thing we got up to was to drive by a group of council workers on their break and yell at them to get back to work. Of course we also used the car to get away for an hour each Friday when we supposed to be at Mass across the road in the magnificent Catholic church in Ashfield. The deal was that we had a choice of either attending mass or staying in class. So some of us would march through the front door with the rest of the religious lot and sit next to the side door that opened onto a courtyard and the church hall. When the supervising brothers weren’t looking we would slip out and go for an hour’s drive. When we returned we would slip in through the side door again and follow the crowd out the front door.

The two most memorable experiences in that car were quite scary at the time, but very funny now. The first was when I had a full load of mates packed in and we were coming down Parramatta Road from Leichardt. Just past the old brewery on Taverner’s Hill, which was very steep, we were descending at a rate when the lights ahead turned amber. By the time we got to them they were well and truly red and cars were crossing the intersection. The trouble was my brakes failed. I vaguely remember Chris Roberts going for the hand brake in a panic, which stopped me from trying to change down the gears and distracted me from at least blowing the horn. We sailed through the intersection at a fair rate with all our eyes firmly shut. Somehow we missed everything and survived.

The other occasion was when I was driving through Croydon Park when again I encountered a yellow light. The car in front of me duly came to a halt, but I was wearing brand new shoes and they were somewhat uncomfortable. When I went for the brake somehow I hit the accelerator and sped toward the car in front. It became too late to stop, so I swerved onto the wrong side of the road and roared through the red light at speed. Again I was blessed and managed to avoid harm.

One of my ‘cringe’ times also involves my driving in that year. I started wearing sunglasses when driving at all times, even at night. I told the guys they protected me from the bright lights. Of course I simply wanted to look cool. One night when we were on the northern beaches, very much unfamiliar territory, one of them asked me why I had nearly run into a parked car. I made up some silly excuse, but was forced to admit to myself that the glasses were a problem so I gave them the flick. I think all my mates were happy.

GIRLS – School year flirtations.

I have liked females for as long as I can remember. And I have been highly sexed since I was around 12 years old. I’m not sure how old I was when Leigh Tobin and I caught a train to the city with money in our pockets. We were maybe 14. I remember clearly walking down Canterbury Road from Canterbury railways station and having Leigh berate me for my choice of product on which to spend my money. I can’t remember exactly what Leigh bought. I may have been a record (music) or a sporting item. I bought a copy of Man, the 1960’s equivalent of Penthouse. It featured very poor quality photographs of naked women. I was aroused. Leigh was disgusted, which is interesting because just a few years ago and told me he’s was in need of a drinking partner to go out and “hunt for c__t”. Leigh was never married, though he was engaged four times. He is total denial about his problems and his life.

In 3rd Form, my obsession with the female form got me into real trouble. I left some crude drawings and written fantasies inside may Latin homework that I handed into my teacher, a Brother who was a lovely man and who went to school with my father. This is what saved me in the end. He told me I had two choices – to show and read the stuff to the class or he would give it to my father. I made my presentation in absolute shame.

My first physical encounter of a sexual nature involved a girl from the Catholic school next door, Bethlehem. Her name was Monica and she was a year older than me (I think I was 14 at the time). In the subway underneath Ashfield railway station she allowed a small group of us to feel her boobs. They were very full and very firm. I relived that moment in my daydreams often.

My first “date” was with a redhead named Robyn Neate. Our parents knew each other because Robyn and I had gone to school together at Campsie. The two sets of parents decided that allowing us to go to the movies in the city would be OK as long as it was during the daylight hours. I can’t remember what film we saw, but it was a pleasant day and I liked her very much. I kissed her gently when it was all over. I don’t think we “dated” again, but she attended my 16th birthday party as my special friend. I don’t know what happened to Robyn, but I hope she is happy.

The girlfriends that followed included girls named Faye Dorma, Norma (something Greek), Lynn Sharples and Glenda O’Donoghue. Faye was the daughter of a well-to-do doctor. They lived in a huge house on the Boulevard in Strathfield. I can’t remember the attraction, but we had three goes at being a couple and none of them worked. Norma lived in Homebush and her parents were really strict Catholics. Her father ran a fruit and veg shop on Paramatta Road. I don’t remember specifics except that she was a bit of a rebel like me and we got along really well. We were both smoking at the time. I would ride over to Homebush on my bike and we’d meet up at our favourite milk bar. There we’d buy whichever cigarettes were cheapest in the packs of five. I remember brands like Peter Styvesent, Rothmans, Three 3’s, Kent and Alpine (menthol). Why we broke up I can’t remember, but I think it had something to do with the disapproval of her parents who wanted her to date only Greek lads.

Faye Dorma was fairly prudish. Her mother drove us to a party in the western suburbs one night after being assured that the party would have parents there to supervise. We were about 16 or 17 at the time. Well, not only were there no parents, but there was plenty of alcohol and the whole thing turned into a bit of an orgy. All these girls were good Catholic students from Santa Sabina at Strathfield. One of the girls there was Jan Arnold (JA to us), a gorgeous blonde who used to catch our bus most days. She was well built and alluring. When things started to get a bit sexual, Faye rang her mother and said she wasn’t feeling well, and asked her to collect us. Before we left Faye and I went into one of the bedrooms to retrieve her handbag. Three couples were naked and fornicating on the bed. Faye rushed from the room in horror, returning about three second later to drag me away. Bugger. One of the naked girls was JA.

In my last and earning good money mowing lawns and working At Woolworths in Lakemba,  Mum was charging me “board” on a weekly basis. But I was lucky really as I became the first in my class to have their own car. It corresponded with the formation of our singing group, The Third Reform, which comprised myself, Steve Lynch and Mark Kennedy. One of our first performances was at a school “social” at the Ashfield Town Hall. And in the audience was Lyn Sharples, younger sister of a previous school sporting champion, Chris Sharples. Lynn was an extremely large girl. Although I liked her very much, I was ridiculously embarrassed to be seen with her in public. I took her to the drive-in on a couple of occasions, the first of which almost resulted in me losing my virginity but not quite. Lynn and I met up many years later and the spark was still there. This time we did have sex and Lynn confided that she had always loved me. I arranged to meet her again, and somehow by the end of the night I had agreed to marry her. Unofficially, we were engaged. Lynn was going to visit her sister in Canada and we “made arrangements” for a big engagement party and official announcement immediately upon her return. The problem with all that was that I was already engaged, to my first wife Elaine. I never saw Lynn again but was told years later that her brother Chris, the big ex-footballer, had been looking for me all that time.

My most significant relationship during the high school years was with Glenda O’Donoghue. I met Glenda at dancing classes – yes, ballroom dancing classes. My parents were both taught to dance by the famed Arthur Murray and met through the dancing classes. My father was actually a very good dancer, so they sent me to something similar, which was conducted every second Sunday evening at the church hall next to the magnificent Ashfield Catholic church. It was fantastic. What a way to meet girls.

Glenda was two years younger than me, but well ahead of her classmates in her physical development. We went out for something like three years and, in the end, she was known almost exclusively for her enormous boobs. She was a fun, sexy girl, and I thought I was in love. I did lose my virginity to Glenda – in the back seat of the Simca in the grounds of the Ashfield church one Sunday evening. It all happened so quickly I couldn’t ever recall whether I enjoyed it or not. But it was not lost forever. Anne (my second wife) gave it back to me in the final 2½ years of our relationship.

Glenda and I continued to “go out” right through the final year of my schooling and for 18 months after that. I spent so much of my time at her place that my parents began to resent it. Her mother was a chain-smoking redhead with some odd idiosyncrasies. And her father, Denny, was a real man’s man who really liked a drink. He could never understand why I kept knocking back his offer of a beer, even though I was old enough to partake. In fact I didn’t start drinking until I was 21, well past when the majority of my friends were right into it. Of course, I’ve since made up for that lost time and some.

Glenda was not a virgin when I met her. She had been out with a guy from my school who were older than me (Michael Douglas). She had only just finished a relationship with a guy who was five years older than me when we started to get serious. None of that worried me at the time. What I didn’t know was that Glenda couldn’t be a one-man gal. Despite us committing ourselves to one another in the deepest love and fidelity, she continued to see this guy. It all culminated in one of my darkest moments.

During my final year at school and the year after when I was at university, I worked some nights and weekends collecting golf balls at Glenda’s older bother’s golf driving range at Concord. Terry O’Donoghue was a professional golfer who just couldn’t handle the pro circuit, and so became a golf teacher and range manager. At the range he used to do a lot of golf “tricks” for the adoring public, ranging from standing on a chair and hitting the ball 200 metres off a white post to winning bets by driving the ball further than anyone who dared challenge – with a putter.

Terry married a lady named Jan and, after securing the position as professional at Red Hill in Canberra, moved to the ACT. This was in 1970. Glenda’s parents took Glenda and I down for a visit one weekend not long after he took up the position. On the Saturday night we all went out to dinner and that’s when things started to go wrong. Something came up and I reacted. Glenda admitted to me that she was still seeing this older guy. I snapped and did something that was to become a pattern in my life. I hit her, twice. It left her with a swollen lip and bruise to her eye.

We left early the next morning and not a word was spoken all the way home. Her father dropped me off at my parents and finally said, “I don’t ever want to see you again”. Unfortunately I failed to realise the significance of what I’d done. And it wasn’t the last time I had to deal with Denny either. I stalked Glenda on and off for some time after that, with Denny inevitably spotting me one day. I took off in my car and he jumped into his and chased me. I tried so hard to shake him, but ever corner I turned, ever light I ran, there he was, right behind me. I eventually pulled over and received the kind of warning that made me decide to just let Glenda go.

I did run into her a few years later. We made love, but then went our own ways. I found out a few years later that she had married soon after our encounter. I often wondered what she’s and how life had turned out for her. I tried to find her a few times, even once calling her parents house when Elaine and I were having difficulties. Her father told me she was happily married with a child. I went with Glenda for six months again in 1997, after the breakdown of my second marriage. I will devote time to that abhorrent experience later.

Apart from Glenda, the ballroom dancing classes yielded some other interesting stories. Kent Smith starting coming along and, as he was a little older, the girls loved him. We took out girls together that we met there, including two with the same name (Margaret). We also got up to a bit of mischief. From scuffling with the local “hoods” who hung around the dance looking to pick fights, to finding a back way into the stairs behind the girls change room, things were never dull. Some nights we didn’t attend the dance classes at all, but spent the entire evening spying on the change room - an absolute non-event that was.

ALMOST A PRIEST 

Interestingly, my father almost became a priest. Thank God he didn’t (although there were times I wished he had). I didn’t actually consider myself to be religious, rather someone who wanted to do something that made a difference. One of our teachers in 5th Form was a lay brother named Brian Cross. We were all fascinated with his dual role as a Catholic brother and a married man. He would answer any and all of our questions regarding the crossover and I ended up becoming close to him. He had my utmost respect because the things about which he was passionate were not just religious in tone a la the De La sale brothers, but sectarian and humanist. We spoke about issues ranging from poverty to homelessness to nuclear bombs. One of his charters, apart from teaching us English, was to serve the poor and homeless of Sydney through the Brotherhood of St. Lawrence.

I told Brian that I wanted to do something like him. He encouraged me to become a Catholic priest. I’m not sure if that was part of his contract with the school, but instead of pointing me in the direction of his vocation, he arranged for me to meet the Archbishop of Sydney, Cardinal Gilroy. One Saturday morning I went to the Archbishop’s residence at St. Mary’s Cathedral where I spent the day talking to the hierarchy of the church here in Australia. I stayed in a room for the night and went home after lunch the next day. The experience was enough to convince me that the priesthood wasn’t for me. It was too narrow, insular and dogmatic for me to have to give up women for life.

UNIVERSITY of NEW SOUTH WALES  

Despite my academic record declining fairly significantly from my heady days of early high school, I always had the ability to pick it up again. Most of my teachers from 4th form onwards didn’t expect me to achieve a very good result in the 1968 Higher School Certificate. My trial results certainly weren’t impressive. I was far too busy playing football, chasing girls and defying my parents to study.

But that all changed in the month leading up to the main exam. I spent as many hours as I could studying the year’s notes, reading the books I should have completed months earlier, and trying to anticipate the exam questions. As it turned out I did particularly well at that, especially in English and History, where I scored in the top 10% of the state. I also did very well in mathematics. I recall going up to the school after the results came out and running into Brother Mark, our maths teacher. He told me that he couldn’t believe the mark I’d achieved, and wondered what I had been doing all year. Part of the final mark back then was made up of teacher assessment, and Brother Mark told me the assessment he submitted for me as very low. So I really did well in the final exam.

Anyway, my score of 88.8% wasn’t enough to grab me a Commonwealth Scholarship, but I did enough to receive a Teacher’s College Scholarship to university. I had only applied for such at the last minute because my parents insisted that if I didn’t win a scholarship they certainly couldn’t afford to support me while I undertook tertiary education. The only decision that remained was exactly what course I would choose at what university. That’s basically where the trouble in which I find myself today all started.

My parents, of course, were providing food and accommodation, and therefore concluded that the choice should really be theirs instead of mine. So off we went to the State Government’s Vocational Guidance office in the city. I had been there before, in 6th class when a school IQ test indicated that I might be a lot smarter than anyone thought. I scored a 147, and only needed a few more points to be classified a genius or something similar. I went with my father if I remember correctly and he waited outside while one of the psychologists re-tested me. I scored well again, but fell just short of what he was looking for. And it was just one question I couldn’t answer – it was to do with direction and compass. He called my father in to support me while he asked me one more time, but I still didn’t get it. Everyone was so disappointed. To this day I am very weak on direction. And I thought it was just years of women telling me to “get lost”.

Just as a matter of interest, there were two types of IQ tests in those days. One based upon oral and written skills, and one based upon cognitive and mechanic skills. I continued to score well above average in the former, but was merely average in the latter. So, in 1968 we were in those offices again, talking to counselors and doing IQ and aptitude tests. The results, the counselor told us, indicated that I should do Law at university. The other alternatives I don’t remember specifically, but my parents asked him how I would go at economics and he said I’d handle that with no problems. They were convinced that this area offered the best opportunity for future security and advancement, specifically in the fields of finance and business management.

That’s how I ended up doing a degree in economics at university. The teacher’s scholarship paid me $24 per fortnight as a living allowance and all seemed rosy in the first weeks of study. But I soon found that I was bored to tears and started to skip classes and tutorials with great regularity. I would either be upstairs at “The Roundhouse” (the university recreational and café location) playing table tennis or down the pub on the corner playing snooker. Mind you, I became fairly good at both these sports. But I failed two of my four subjects that year. My parents weren’t happy, and the Education Department let me know that I had but one more chance to apply myself before my scholarship was withdrawn.

My parents decided that I might be better off getting a job and repeating the two subjects I failed on a part-time basis. And they had a contact in the Personnel Department of the Department of Army based at Victoria Barracks in Sydney, not that far from the university. So I joined the public service in 1970 as a Clerk Grade 1. They gave me time off to attend university, which was good, but the job was something else. My parents had built up this image of full-time work as life’s saviour and ultimate goal. I expected to find an environment of excellence, challenge and motivation. But, like university, the reality was much different. The best part of each workday was riding my motorbike (a Bridgestone 100cc) to and from work, ducking in and out of the traffic lines along General Holmes Drive.

The work was menial, the people barely alive, the level of personal competition disturbing, and the commitment to whatever it was we were supposed to be all about, redundant. I started taking “sickies” and hanging out at Glenda’s place. Eventually I was called into my boss’s office to explain these absences. He challenged my excuses and I threatened to prove them and report him for harassment. I have devoted a section below to my remaining tenure of employment at the Department Of Army.

My commitment to my studies also wasn’t great. In June of that year I left work at lunchtime to attend university. I only stayed for one class because Glenda’s brother, Terry, was to be married that evening (3rd of June, 1970).  Unfortunately my bike wouldn’t start, as it badly needed a tune up, which I simply couldn’t afford. I wheeled it to a garage (service station) where an attendant got it going for me. All the way home the bike spluttered and threatened to stall. Just a few minutes from home I went to turn into Coolangatta Road near the Beverly Hills railway station. As I was about to turn, I saw a car coming toward me on the opposite side of the street. I accelerated to beat him to the point of collision, but again the bike spluttered and almost stalled. The car coming towards me managed to avoid me, but the car behind me ran up the back of my bike. I have devoted a section of this book to the accident and the aftermath below.

The upshot was that I was laid up for the remainder of the academic year, and therefore unable to physically attend lectures and tutorials. In the end, I passed one of the subjects (Economics) but failed Psychology. The Education Department withdrew my scholarship and invoked the small print clause that compelled me to repay all the money I had received. Typically, I ignored them. But that was the end of my time at the University of New South Wales. And years later the Department of Education caught up with me and forced me to repay the money I owed.

THE BIKE ACCIDENT AND ITS REPERCUSIONS

In 1970 I owned a motor bike, my major means of transport. It was a beast, all 100cc of it. I used it to travel daily to my first full-time job, a clerk in the Deparatment of Army at Victoria Barracks, Sydney. And I used it to attend part-time university studies at the University Of New South Wales. On the 20th of June, 1970, I worked the morning at Victoria Barracks before then attending university lectures in the afternoon. I skipped the final lecture in order to attend the wedding of Glenda’s brother Terry. The bike badly needed a tune-up, but I didn’t have the money and my parents wouldn’t advance me the money. The bike spluttered from Kensington to Beverly Hills. I needed to make a right-hand turn into Coolangatta Road and make my way home back to 26 Enid Avenue, Roselands, my parents’ house. But the bike stalled as I attempted to make the turn and the following car hit me. I flew into the air and landed on my head, which fortunately was protected by a helmet. I rolled several times without any damage, but my final fling landed my ankle on a gutter. It smashed both major bones.

The next thing I remember is looking up and seeing a policeman. Beside him was a man crying his eyes out. I realised straight away that he was the driver of the car that hit me. I looked him in the eye and said “Don’t worry, it was all my fault”. Then the ambulance arrived. I told the ambulance man that I was fine and that I needed to get to a wedding. He asked me if it was mine. Then I lifted my right leg and the part from the ankle down just hung down vertically to the ground. One of the bones was perturbing from the skin and I tried to put it all back into place. I didn’t feel the pain until we got close to St. George Hospital, and it became excruciating.

The orthopedic surgeon on call was a Doctor Shaw. As I found out from a nurse (someone I knew, Chanelle) he was drunk when he arrived. He didn’t do a very good job, and unfortunately in those days they didn’t use steel rods to secure the joint. I awoke in incredible pain around 3:00am and was given strong painkillers. Sometime the next morning another orthopedic surgeon re-set the ankle. But, again, it wasn’t done properly. Three months later I found myself in Canterbury Hospital having the ankle re-broken and re-set. But it was too late. The ankle was buggered. I travelled with crutches for quite a while, before upgrading to a walking stick. It was when I was on the walking stick that I got the job at Singleton army base.

I managed to discard the stick soon after and things seemed almost back to normal. But my right leg was shorter than my left and I had protruding lumps of bone. In short, arthritis slowly set in, and bone war away. I’ve had five operations to clean it up, after which I was able to walk without pain for some years. The second last operation was in 2005. In n 2014 I had the final operation - the fusion of the ankle. I no longer have a joint, but I the pain is diminished. Thank God for the support I have received in my recuperative months, especially from Kate and Bob Neilson. The ankle will never be right. I can’t walk too far, and it becomes swollen after a shopping trip. I will remain restricted for the rest of my life. But at least I can walk short distances, something that evaded me prior to the fusion.

Singleton

Having failed two of my four subjects in the first year of university, I changed to part-time in my second year and obtained a full-time job with the Department of Army as a clerk. As a rebel without a bloody clue, I attended very few lectures in that first year, and hardly any tutorials. I spent most of my time playing table tennis. Interestingly, I only ever witnessed one fight at the University of New South Wales, and that was me physically objecting to another student’s reluctance to hand over the table tennis court. Years later, when I attended the University of Wollongong, I again witnessed just one fight. And I was in it, again. Anyway, my first excursion into the full-time workforce I found disappointing.  It was mundane, boring, and so very few people I worked with liked their job. I remember one day when a young recruit, who was obviously aspirational, tried to impress one of the bosses by expressing loudly “God, it’s good to be at work”. An older chap up the back retorted “Yeah, I know exactly how you feel. I had a day like that – it was in June 1963. I’ll never forget it”.

My boss was a very unhappy man who ruled with cruelty. I actually ran into him at a football match many years later and he apologized for who he had been. He said that he just hated his job. I started taking many, many “sickies”. I was eventually called into the office of the employment manager and threatened with the sack. Of course, you couldn’t get sacked in the public service, so I knew he was bluffing. I threatened to take him to the industrial court. Management came to hate me, and made it clear to me that my chances of promotion were nil. But then came to vacancy at Singleton. It was advertised in the Public Service Gazette and posted on the notice board at work. But nobody applied. I was very keen to leave my parents’ home, so I put my hand up. They didn’t get back to me for a while as they awaited a more preferred alternative. But by January 1971 I had secured the position. I arrived in Singleton by train, on a walking stick, and with no idea what lay in store.

I was assigned to live in the sargeant’s mess, while my boss, Phil, lived in the officer’s mess. But I didn’t last long there. The full-time army guys basically resented a young civilian sharing their lives. One sergeant was particularly hostile. I had been there but three weeks when he challenged me to a fight. I declined, but he took a swing at me anyway. I hit back, but was quickly restrained by other soldiers. I was about to hit him in the stomach as hard as I could. But he had been to Vietnam where he lost half his stomach as well as his good disposition. One of the soldiers that stopped me said that I could easily have killed him. It frightened me. The subsequent reaction of the colonel, boss of the base, was to move me to the officer’s mess, which was largely populated by conscripts who really didn’t want to be there, and were about my age. It was such a more welcoming environment, and having my boss Phil to help me integrate was a great advantage. I was 20-years old, and it was at that point that I began drinking alcohol.

The circumstances of my departure from the Singleton Army Base are an incredible story in themselves. To read the details of how and why I was marched out at gunpoint go the "Singleton" story.

Alcohol

Yes, it was at Singleton that I started drinking. I was an extremely agitated person and I found that it calmed me – or so I thought. And being someone who was both physiologically and emotionally susceptible to addiction, it soon took hold and remains a problem to this day (though not to the extent of the past), just as it does for so many people who suffer from anxiety and depression.

From there it was a typical journey of a lost soul, vacillating between social ordinance and defiance, torn between the two voices in my head, my own and that of my parents. I had no goals, no direction and no aspirations. I just had needs, and they were so strong that they dominated my being. One of them was not to be alone, and so I married the first woman who meant anything to me and to whom I appealed. Not that it was a mistake on my part, but it was on hers. Together we produced two wonderful children, but made each other unhappy. Twenty-five years later I found myself living on my own, with no career, no income and little or no possessions. Not too far into this single-again experience I was filling in yet another job application when I realised my life hadn’t amounted to very much. It asked me to list the things I really enjoyed doing, how I relaxed, and what I did for fun. I simply couldn’t answer the questions. It seemed obvious to my reasonably intelligent mind that life was surely about being happy. And I wasn’t. It was at that time that I started to question my life and my being. I began examining myself like never before.

I finally began to understand the lessons I had learned, the depression and anxiety that controlled me, the damage I had caused to myself and those I loved, the love of which I was capable but hadn’t yet achieved, and the things in life I had missed. It made me wish I could do it all over again and wipe away the past, the wasted opportunities. But I soon realised that there is only one way to go – forward. So I formed objectives and made promises to myself that actually meant something. The first objective was to forge a career. The trouble was that I had left it too late. I was too old to start again and I had precious little in the way of qualifications and experience to work with. I finally recognised that I had been severely depressed and suffered acute anxiety for most of my life. It was officially diagnosed and I sought professional help. But I was distracted by the fact that financially I had painted myself into a corner and I couldn’t find a way out. The money I had received from my divorce settlement had run out and I was desperate. My depression hit new heights, and my life new lows. I wanted to start again but it wasn’t working out.

My drinking became worse. It was clear that I was headed for a lonely, penniless existence where I would simply exist rather than live. I decided that the only way out was to take my own life, and I subsequently made such plans. I kept putting off the organization of the logistics, but I knew that I would soon reach a point where I was unable to pay the rent and that would be the final catalyst. I would have nowhere to go. My credit cards kept me going until I reached the limits on those and was finally forced to declare myself bankrupt. It bought me some time but I knew it was running out and I would have to do the deed soon enough. I couldn’t see any alternative. I had all but given up on life.

But my needs remained, so I kept pursuing women, albeit I had also given up on relationships. Having given up on myself I certainly didn’t expect anyone else to see me any differently once they got acquainted. I was simply looking for short-term sex and companionship. And I had been quite successfully finding that through an Internet dating site (RSVP). What I didn’t expect was Anne Maree Hately. Anne gave me an opportunity to start again, and for a while it worked perfectly. What I didn’t realise at the time was that Anne had a desperate, imbalanced need to be needed. While she was my ‘rescuer’ she was happy, and while it was me that totally embraced her world, she was content. But in the end it wasn’t enough for either of us.  We fell out of love and slowly drifted toward separation. In 2009 we divorced. The major benefit of our years together was Anne’s simple suggestion that I talk to a doctor about anxiety and that unlocked the door to the rest of my life. For all the medical consultations, psychoanalysis and counseling I had sought and been given over almost 50 years, no one had ever diagnosed what turned out to be GAD – Generalised Anxiety Disorder. I and I had it in spades.

Today, as I write this, I am still becoming the person I always wanted to be. Each day I learn a little more, each day the process of growth continues, albeit with the profound assistance of anti-anxiety medication. And the lessons I have learned, and continue to learn, carry me well. Mostly I am proud of who I am now, mostly I am very happy, and mostly I understand the world better than most. For the journey has been long, the scenery vast and varied. To many people, particularly my good mother, I have largely failed in life. And having being financially dependant upon Anne somewhat justifies that perception I suppose. But I have found my journey tremendously challenging and, despite the lack of career and material possessions, see it as quite successful, much more successful than I could have ever dreamt. And, as I think you will find, it has been fairly interesting.

Some of you may be at variance with my recount of history and the conclusions that I draw. And some of you may find my theories on the world illogical. But that’s OK. I am an idealist and always have been. I learned early on to challenge what was generally accepted, and I have made few choices in life that could be deemed pragmatic. So I am at odds with popular perception in the main. But that’s quite OK. I am not only comfortable with my own view of life but I accept that I cannot and should not expect others to see the world through my eyes. The validation of myself by myself has given me the inner peace to accept that everyone’s reality is different.

For so long I was self-absorbed, emotionally infantile, hectoring, unfeeling, and generally immature. I was emotionally absent when Elaine needed me most. In hindsight, I was obviously suffering from deep untreated depression. To all those I so very much disappointed, especially Elaine, I simply say I am sorry.

Geoff Mooney