A Eulogy for Jeff Shaw

By Cavalier, Rodney | Labour History - A Journal of Labour and Social History, November 2010 | Go to article overview

A Eulogy for Jeff Shaw


Cavalier, Rodney, Labour History - A Journal of Labour and Social History


Jeffrey William Shaw was born 10 October 1949. He was the son of William Shaw and Gladys May Shaw, nee Boyle. His sister, Christine, arrived two years later. Jeff and Christine grew up in the home that their parents had made in Thompson Street, Gladesville--more accurately Boronia Park, a suburb distinctive in character with a strong sense of place. In the 1950s, Boronia Park and Gladesville benefited from open space; in addition to public parks, paddocks abounded and the more than usual number of vacant blocks. Nearby was what we called the Lane Cove National Park, a vast acreage of virgin bush that dominated the ridge to the north; forbidding, too, a hideout for Darcy Dugan for several weeks.

To be growing up in Boronia Park in the 1950s was an abiding good fortune for Jeff by any reckoning. His greatest bounty, beyond a loving family, was an excellent education in public schools. A short stroll down Thompson Street was Boronia Park Public. The attentive Jeffrey, clearly a scholar out of the ordinary, was cased for a finishing at Chatswood Opportunity. His high school was another of life's wonderful breaks. In 1962, Jeff enrolled at his local high school at Hunters Hill, the first cohort of the Wyndham Scheme, the first generation of students at a comprehensive co-educational secondary school. Jeff came into contact with boys and girls from the wider suburb of Gladesville, plus Hunters Hill, parts of Ryde, Lane Cove and Longueville. The friends he made then remained his friends for life. So many are here today.

Hunters Hill High had opened in 1958. It occupied a prime location on the Lane Cove River waterfront on land that had been a movie studio and storage sheds for newsreels. A huge timber building served as a gym and assembly hall. Aluminium prefabricated buildings built during the War were the classrooms.

Wet weather was miserable--long distances between rooms and rudimentary covered ways over the stairs only, not the other walkways. None of this mattered to the students. It never has. Jeff took every opportunity.

Jeff loved music. Music surrounded him every moment of his life when he was in control of his environment. Hunters Hill honed his talent in the School Orchestra. So good was Jeff on the timpani that he was recognised in 1965 with a Sydney Conservatorium of Music scholarship. The school's teacher had herself been a violinist with the Sydney and BBC Orchestras, a pupil of Eugene Goossens and Sir Bernard Heinze. Rehearsals were a constant. So Jeff became familiar with Tchaikovsky's Fifth Symphony, Lohengrin, Oscar Strauss's A Waltz Dream, Schubert's Marche Militaire, Handel's Largo. Hunters Hill won an orchestra competition and performed in this Town Hall.

Jeff was in the School Cadets. A sergeant. I would have given much to have seen Jeff in uniform.

Prizes in English and History were an annual event. Jeff's result in the first Higher School Certificate of 1967 gained him a Commonwealth Scholarship and entrance to Arts/Law at the University of Sydney. He was a drummer in a band to meet living expenses. Teaching the drums took him into the home of Geoff and Sheila Swain in Hunters Hill. He found himself in an intellectual household, the rooms lined with books, tables strewn with magazines on current affairs and politics, Mahler and Berlioz, what Jeff called the 'hard, serious stuff' playing on the turntable.

Everything about his education and the example at home from a father who was a printer and a unionist gave Jeff a sense of what was right. Bill Shaw had risen through the ranks at Consolidated Press, became a foreman. When the printers went out on strike, management insisted the foremen would remain at work. Bill joined the blokes in solidarity. Bill was sacked. He was not reinstated. You can imagine the impact on the young Jeff. He had come to believe in collective action and the redistribution of wealth and opportunity. He was going to be active politically inside a party that had a meaningful sense of capturing power.

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