11.9.1927 – 11.3.2023
‘Human beings are storied beings, traipsing life paths paved with stories.’
The story Eric Clifton Iles tells of his time at the Hobart Junior Technical School might have been published in a boys’ own almanac, might have found its way to a cinema screen.
As the nonagenarian old scholar recounted in 2019 – ‘one day during World War 2, four of us fellows noticed from the top of our school, a great ocean liner in the Derwent River. You can imagine our excitement and curiosity. The next morning the four of us were called into the Principal’s office and were addressed by a Detective Police Sergeant who made it clear that we were not to tell anyone what we had seen, not even our parents. What we had seen was the ocean liner Queen Mary, converted from the outbreak of WW2 into a troop ship to carry Australian and New Zealand soldiers to the UK. Queen Mary was the largest and fastest troopship involved in the war, gaining a standing record in July 1943 for the most passengers ever transported on one vessel. And we had seen her, the Grey Ghost, steam up the Derwent!’
Did the four boys keep their lips sealed? Cliff did not confess.
Our oldest old scholar, a Bathurst Street Tech boy who wended his way to school in the shadows of war, the Cliff Iles story is one that goes beyond this gem of an anecdote. His is the story of a life lived in full, generous and committed service, of building for the future. Born in September 1927, Cliff Iles proceeded from primary schooling at Forcett, Sorell District and Mangalore to the Hobart Junior Technical School from 1941 to 1943.
When he started in 1941, boys were asking questions about the future of their school, feeling it was not really up to the standard of other schools in Hobart. ‘When shall we get a really modern Junior Technical School in keeping with the number of boys attending and the importance of tech education generally. Remember, we must build for the future!’
The students understood that the war position was such that the Education Department was unable to keep a promise to build a new school. Students faced the challenges of undertaking their learning in cramped spaces – the small room allocated to the library was deemed much better than anything to date; it was challenging to establish a satisfactory method of imparting physical education and assemblies were held in a driveway immediately above which University chemistry students would find fun in spraying the tech boys with water blown from wash bottles.
Future principal of New Town High School Des Mahoney was one of the chemistry students in 1942 who recalled that the boys were sitting ducks, too crowded to be able to move aside and fearful of incurring discipline for inattention.
Cliff went to a school where facing challenges was weighed up with acknowledging the wider struggles in the community and world. There was a daily awareness of Old Scholars serving in the forces, of casualties and those loved ones who would not return. Students subscribed to the War Savings Group, did their bit contributing to drives for scrap aluminium, rubber, books, magazines and papers for the troops and to the Food for Britain appeal.
Cliff Iles knew the Principal as ‘a kind but firm gentleman with snow white hair and a marvellous understanding of male youth’. He may have gone into that wartime interview in the Principal’s office with a sense of dread but he and his fellows would have responded with due responsibility and a sense of doing the right thing.
Cliff Iles’ formative years took him to a life fixed on unstinting service in the community. The citation for his place in the New Town High School Hall of Excellence notes an outstanding contribution to the Tasmanian community. The achievements have covered a breadth of spheres, advocating for community affairs in work, in sport and in local government. He served on the Sorell Council for thirty years, eighteen as mayor. He was a member of the Tasmanian House of Assembly from 1966 to 1969. He was appointed member of the Order of Australia in 1992. In 1977 Cliff was awarded the Queen’s 25th Jubilee Award for Service to Tasmanian Local Government and in 1999 he was honoured as a Rotary International Paul Harris Fellow ‘in appreciation of tangible and significant assistance given in furtherance of better understanding and friendly relations among people.’
This is the essence of Cliff Iles’ gift to us – ‘the incalculably diffusive effect of ensuring the growing good of the world’.
He enjoyed the company of the Bathurst boys get together in early February, the sense of being part of a fulfilling fellowship forged in their school.
Stories make for the passing along of the wisdom of elders, the treasuring of the values the tellers impart. We listen to Cliff’s Queen Mary story to recall the benevolence of the teller, the mellow, harmonious timbre of the voice and know again and again the treasure of a life lived long, lived well, lived faithfully in connection with all around him.