John Nicholls was casting a careful eye to the pavilion now bearing his name when the fellow perched on the ladder and charged with the responsibility of positioning the lettering looked down and yelled: “Mr Nicholls!”.
“He climbed down the ladder and made his way across,” John said. “Turns out it was Chris O’Halloran, whom I’d taught at Parade in 1983.”
Save for the Old Paradian Peter Bedford at Bundoora, few can lay claim to seeing their name up in lights as John can now do, courtesy the W. John Nicholls Pavilion, which casts its shadow over the Preston Campus’s Ambrose Treacy Field.
Despite Tony McKay’s theory to the contrary, the “W” preceding John's name actually stands for William – and ‘Nicho’, who completes his 43-year association with the College at year’s end, couldn’t be more proud of the honour recently bestowed upon him by the Principal.
“I was having a chat to Andy (Kuppe) over some other matters when out of the blue he said ‘We’d like to name the pavilion at Preston after you’ . . . my initial response was ‘bull….’,” John revealed.
“I was totally taken aback and a little reluctant, but Andy told me to go home, think about it ‘and tell me yes in the morning’. So I went home, spoke with Kim and Shaun (John’s wife and son) who thought it a wonderful gesture and the following morning I graciously accepted.”
The rare honour has since prompted John to reflect on a journey that has continued unbroken through six decades no less.
“Those 43 years have taken in Bundoora and Preston - the latter as part of the pioneering group from 2009 when I was able to bring the Pathways and VCAL programs to the campus from Bundoora. Br. Denis had a vision for the campus which I embraced,” John said.
“Parade’s been a central part of my working life. I reckon I’ve had a number of careers within the same organization, you could say that Parade for me has allowed me to experience a number of roles and leadership positions. It allowed me to reinvent myself and move from HSC/VCE teaching and move into a growing and important part of education these days, applied learning, vocational education and VCAL.”
In combining his teaching commitments to the College with minute-taking in his role as Secretary of the Old Paradians’ Association, John’s status as an Honorary Old Paradian sits well – despite the fact that the former St Pat’s Ballarat boy found his way to the Bundoora Campus in a rather roundabout way.
“How I ended up at Parade is entirely accidental,” John said.
“I was completing an Arts degree in politics and legal studies at La Trobe, and doing a Dip Ed mid-year when Parade reached out to the commerce faculty . . . it happened midway through 1978, and the College must have been desperate for a Commercial and Legal Studies teacher to take Form Six for third term in the lead-up to the exams.
“I was recommended to head out for an interview, so I borrowed a suit and met with Br. Laurie Swaney, the then Acting Headmaster in Br. Wright’s absence. Br. Swaney said to me - “Did you go to St Pat’s Ballarat?” and I said “Yeah I did, I boarded there for three years” - to which Br. Swaney then said ‘Come down, I’ll show you the classrooms’ – and that was when it started. Clearly they were in desperate need!”
John took three Sixth Form afternoon classes through the latter part of the ’78 school year, and by his own admission “basically winged it”. As he recalled: “There was plenty on, but I managed to get the students ready for their exams. I was relieved about that”.
At year’s end, John was unsure whether his teaching tenure at the College was over before it had begun.
“By the time 1979 rolled around I didn’t have a job and I hadn’t heard anything from Parade, so my Dad suggested ‘Why don’t you take a drive out there?’,” John said.
“I went out there and I happened to bump into Br. John O’Neill in the corridor just outside what is now the Old Paradians’ Association office. Br O’Neill said to me: ‘Oh John, we’re so glad you’re here, we lost your telephone number and address and we’ve got a Form 5 and 6 Commercial and Legal Studies allotment for you, starting next Monday’. So I rocked up on the Monday and walked straight into Lew Derrico (the 1974 College Captain and former Old Paradians’ Association President) with his arms full of books. I said to Lew ‘What are you doing here?’ and he replied ‘They called me this morning’, so we started as full-time teachers at Parade on the same day.”
When asked if he could recall those first tentative classroom forays, John was reminded of the presence of one of the students, Dale McCann.
“I was trying to grapple with this concept of teaching, and can still see McCann seated at the back with his hair all over the place and giving me this mad stare,” John said.
“I really loved teaching HSC Politics and Legal Studies, I loved being involved in the coaching of the 2nd and 1st XV111 football teams through the 80’s and early 90’s. Certainly, education requires so many more checks and balances and accountability,” he said.
“If you want to get into the teaching profession you’ve got to be mindful of privacy, child safety, course writing and so on . . . there are so many more demands than there ever were.”
Come December, John will complete one of the longest teaching stints of a lay person in College history, for the time is right according to the man himself.
In looking back on his 43 years at Parade, John asks himself where the years have gone. At the time of writing he’s taught former students now in their 60s and current students as young as 15.
That said, he’s in no doubt that the timing’s right to take his final bow.
Main image courtesy Vanessa Macaulay, www.redbookphotography.com.au