Peter Nixon was a teacher at Woodmead School in the early 1970s and Headmaster from 1981-1986. He emigrated to Australia in 1987. In this short article, prepared for a magazine to commemorate Woodmead’ first twenty-five years, he discusses his memories of the school.
Sitting under a gum tree on the outskirts of the Royal National Park, 30 km south of Sydney, Australia, is a far cry from the banks of the Jukskei River and Woodmead. I am here because, in 1987, after the right wing had gained even more seats in parliament, I became a non-believer. I could see little chance of South Africa becoming the free country it is whole-heartedly aspiring to today. I wanted to live in a free country even if it was not mine. Even though I have obtained my wish and I have grown to love this country in so many ways, my fondest memories are of Woodmead.
My earliest memory of Woodmead goes back to a talk I gave at the school on one of those hot Wednesday afternoons in the dining hall, with half of the students sitting near the windows, both to get some air to breathe and to be on the ready for a quick getaway at the end of the session. I then taught at the school, particularly enjoying teaching five subjects to the matric class of 1975. When I left Woodmead, I was asked to join the Board, and remained on the Board until 1986. During all this time, Woodmead wrestled with conflicting goals:
a. to be a school with an innovative approach to curriculum and school democracy
b. to be a model of a non-racial school for a new South Africa
c. To be a school that often caters for the often rebellious children of liberal parents from Johannesburg, like myself
d. To be a boarding school for children who do not have access to good schooling elsewhere
If Woodmead was a difficult school to be Headmaster of, it was because of the decision, which was never articulated, of trying to achieve so much simultaneously. The fact that we so often succeeded is due to the calibre of students at Woodmead, some excellent teachers, many supportive and exciting parents and the very indecision that so characterised its operations.
I have visited Woodmead on the two occasions that I have returned to South Africa in recent years and it is clear that new decisions now face the Woodmead community. The need for these changes is driven by the new South Africa which presents new options, most of which had not been part of its past. What I do know is that it was founded on great ideals, nurtured with great courage and loved by all who lived its spirit. Is it not therefore a model for the new South Africa, which will flourish with those same characteristics?
Taken from the Web Archive of the site originally created by Denis Woodward.