Tuesday, 11 November 2014

And the band played 'Waltzing Matilda'

I sat with glazed eyes through most of my Geography classes at school but on 11 November each year my teacher, Mr Civico, would bring a small casette player in and play Eric Bogle's song 'And the band played 'Waltzing Matilda'' which is all about an Australian veteran watching a parade and asking why so many friends died at Gallipoli in 1915. We would sometimes groan and ask questions ('Sir, why do you always do this every year?') but he encouraged us to listen, and when the song finished he would put away the casette player and the class would resume.

I thought about Mr Civico yesterday. I can't remember his classes much and his only other notable feature was that he looked like the TV character Alf Garnett, stocky and bald with a white moustache and round spectacles. But he was committed to playing this song and urging us to listen to Eric Bogle intoning his elegy for the tens of thousands of Australian and New Zealand soldiers who died on the Bosphorous shores. 

Mr Civico's commitment sticks in my mind, because it taught me that the song and the memory of the soldiers mattered to him in a way that I suspect his subject did not. The song was a folk-song written in 1971, so perhaps anti-war politics also mattered to him - I don't know. What's most important is that the song shows that we mattered to him because he shared his commitments with us, and the song gave him a chance to relate to us in a way he could never have done in Geography, or any other subject for that matter. In a small and courageous way he was inviting us to be committed too. I reckon it's one of the most important things a teacher can do.


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