Peter Nixon

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.

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3 Responses to Peter Nixon

  1. Beth says:

    Article with photograph:
    Georgie Jacklin’s passing

  2. Linda Lisa Sebothoma (Nee Mfusi) says:

    Words fail me, whenever I read articles such as these, I realise that my very being and soul were partly moulded by the school. I Love this article, and thank you for this website, I will share it on facebook for all to access. We need to revisit the ideals and ethos that the school was built on. I believe as high school children, we did not fully realise what it meant to be scholars at Woodmead at a time when some of our siblings were left behind in the main education system of locations like Soweto. I owe a lot of my successes to how I was taught to be, and that is to strive and struggle for a free society, where we are all free to pursue whatever dreams that we have. I matriculated in 1992, and sho I will never forget the emotions that overcame me when I had to say my good byes to fellow students. I still hold Woodmead in high regard till today.

    • Dieter says:

      Linda, your comments certainly resonate with me. I suspect most people feel that way about the schools they attended – call me a hopeless romantic but I think the Staff and Students at Woodmead were somehow “different” – positively so. Somehow I sense that this made the interactions and experiences more poignant.

      Perhaps it had to do with the relaxed atmosphere – or the desire to exhibit tolerance and understanding in a country where that was lacking. Perhaps it was all of the above?

      Thanks for sharing your thoughts and comments here! Awesome to read, even if this reply is belated.

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