Very Model Of Of A Dedicated Educationist

Sydney Morning Herald

Thursday August 30, 2001

Bob Nolan and Julia Baird.

Geoffrey Wardrop, Teacher, high school principal, 1923-2001.

The 1950s in rural NSW could have been a far duller place were it not for Geoffrey Wardrop, who introduced Gilbert and Sullivan to a number of local high schools.

Wardrop, who has died aged 78, was a geography and economics teacher whose infectious love of music endeared him to generations of students and left rural NSW a legacy not just of pirates, bobbies and little maids, but also of community choirs.

From Casino to Ballina, Wardrop directed hundreds of students who danced and sang their way through The Mikado, Pirates of Penzance, HMS Pinafore and Trial by Jury throughout the 1950s and 1960s.

Perhaps his most enduring legacy was his vision of a city school where creative young people could dance, act and sing as well as study their books. His interest in the movie Fame prompted him to lobby the State government for a performing arts school in inner Sydney, helping to pave the way for the Newtown High School of the Performing Arts.

Wardrop's love of song began in childhood and he won prizes for singing as a boy soprano in Northern Rivers eisteddfods. He also sang and played the pipe organ at his local church, reflecting a commitment to parish life which continued for several decades.

Born on the family homestead, Werona, in Murwillumbah, Wardrop was the son of a cane farmer. He was an active and energetic student at his local school, where he starred on the athletics field as well as in tennis and rugby. He also became a prefect.

Wardrop first went to work as a banking clerk until he responded to the call for service during World War II. He enlisted in the Australian Imperial Force in February 1942 and was stationed at Newcastle, involved in protecting the BHP steelworks as sergeant in charge of gunnery control of the 18th Australia Heavy Anti-Aircraft Battery. Even then, he sang and played the organ at Christ Church Anglican Cathedral, Newcastle. Later he served in the RAAF 112 Liberator squadron.

Wardrop enrolled at Sydney University after the war and graduated in 1950 with a bachelor of arts and diploma of education. He joined the NSW Department of Education and was posted to schools at Kandos near Bathurst, at Macksville, Casino and Ballina where he produced musicals and conducted community and church choirs with flair.

Wardrop was transferred to Sydney in March 1961, and worked as a special master at Bass Hill High and Birrong Boys' High before taking up a permanent position at Forest High School in Frenchs Forest in 1963.

He also spent 12 years singing in the choir of Christ Church St Laurence and continued to spread the ``G and S fever", furnishing the theatre at Forest High and buying a grand piano to add panache to his theatrical productions.

His concern for disadvantaged students, and those from a non-English-speaking background, was sparked after he was appointed deputy headmaster at Enmore Boys' High School in 1970. As a delegate to the Australian High School Principals Association, he was involved in presenting proposals urging the government to allocate more funds to disadvantaged schools in the late 1970s. In the meantime, Wardrop was promoted to headmaster of Newtown Boys' High and there he used the extra money from Federal government funding to poorer schools to install hot showers at the school for those students who did not have hot water systems at home, to expand the library, and to run cooking classes for the ``latch key" boys. He also took the boys to lectures and performances at the Opera House.

However, it was while he was headmaster at Newtown that he was able to see his dream of a performing arts school come closer to being realised, after the school was threatened with closure because of a drop in enrolments in the early 1980s.

Wardrop had his eye on a large Heritage-listed building near his school, St Georges Hall, which had been a dance hall and performance space 50 years earlier, and he lobbied the government to buy it as a space for his school. Finally he succeeded although it then stood derelict for many years.

Wardrop was made president of the Australian High Schools Principals Association in 1981, and served proudly until 1982. He retired in June 1983. At the end of November 1989 Newtown Boys' High School was merged with Petersham Girls' and the Newtown High School of the Performing Arts opened the next year, bringing St Georges Hall, and Wardrop's dream, to life. The legacy of his vision is the students of Newtown High School of the Performing Arts who have gone on to be graduates of NIDA and WAPA and to perform across Australia and around the world.

In retirement he travelled widely through Africa and the Americas as well as Turkey and Greece. After suffering a stroke in New York in 1987 he returned to Australia and settled on the Gold Coast with his partner.

Wardrop, affectionately known as ``Schollie" to his friends, was always modest about his accomplishments, but his zest and love of education and music enriched the schools he served and the lives of those who knew and loved him. He was a sensitive, generous and humane man with a sense of dedication, clarity of vision and a true vocation for teaching, and for life.. He was also a great cook who loved a good chardonnay, and his coffin was fittingly ``blessed" with his favourite bin.

Geoff Wardrop is survived by his partner of 25 years Bob Nolan and by his sister, Wilma Riley, and her family.

© 2001 Sydney Morning Herald

Back to News Index | Back to Home

News Archive