A little while ago I sat and listened to my mate grieve over the treatment of Australian boys returning from service in Vietnam in the early Seventies. In the late Sixties, his marble had dropped and he was drafted. Mine hadn’t. He trained for war at Kapooka to the raucous shouts of veteran sergeants. I went to university at Kensington, and heard the raucous shouts of student protestors on campus.
My friend was on the verge of transferring to Vietnam when Australia withdrew its troops. But as we talked fifty years later, he expressed deep offence on behalf of the vets who had animal blood thrown over them and were taunted as ‘baby killers’ as they marched home.
The activists could well have been students from my uni. The cancel culture was in full voice even then. What would they say now if they were confronted with the subsequent human cost in terms of PTSD and suicide among those vets?
If you’re like me, you’ve probably driven past dozens of solid-looking buildings in the suburbs or in remote country towns, proudly declaring themselves ‘Mechanics Institutes’, without having a clue what they were about. I was intrigued to discover they were an innovation that exploded out of Scotland in the early 19th century and spread like wildfire across the English-speaking world.
When John Birkbeck advertised a free lecture on technical subjects in Edinburgh on October 16th 1821, an astonishing crowd of 450 men turned up. It’s certain he had no idea what he’d launched and that by the end of the century, all across the globe, eager workmen would flock to one of 9000 Mechanics Institutes to improve their skills as artisans.
The roots for the phenomenon lay in a quiet Christian group known as the Quakers. They were driven by the idea that it was important to nurture God’s gifts in everyone and that learning should be available to all – rich and poor, girls as well as boys.
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