This year is the centenary of the great Don Bradman’s birth. In a very small way I have a connection to the Don.
In the Sixties I spent six weeks doing my practice teaching at Sydney Boys’ High School. Practice teaching is what students doing a Diploma of Education have to suffer before being let loose on unsuspecting school pupils. If they can get through the prac then they can become teachers.
It was a long six weeks, for my victims as well as for me. Nothing that I had studied at Teachers’ College had prepared me for the angst of teaching tall gangly homonal boys of 17. After all, I was only three years older than they were. It was quite an ordeal.
But I got through it somehow thanks to the kind mentoring by the supervising English/History Master. He was such a help to me and when I would have thrown in the towel he encouraged me to go on. When I told the other teachers about how helpful he was, they asked if I knew who he was.
“Of course I know who he is,” I replied. He’s the English/History Master, Mr O’Reilly.
“Lili, you have no idea who he is,” they insisted.
“O’Reilly is very famous. He’s Bill O’Reilly, the cricketer.
Well, I was still unfazed, cause what did a Jewish girl from the Eastern suburbs of Sydney, know from cricket. Or care, for that matter. What I did know was that Mr O’Reilly was one of of the gentlest people I had ever met.
I later discovered that Bill (Tiger) O’Reilly had played with Don Bradnam in Australia’s heyday of cricket; that Bradman said O’Reilly was one of the best bowlers ever; that O’Reilly had a feisty Catholic temper and that Bradman and O’Reilly had had some sort of falling out.
I have often thought about Mr O’Reilly and wondered what happened to him. He helped me through a trying period in my life when I doubted my career choice as many prac teachers do. The boys at school thought he was terrific and I never heard him raise his voice in class. So much for that Irish temper that got him into trouble with the Don.
He might have been a cricketing legend to others but to a young and green teacher he was the best mentor she could have had.