Well, here we are - 50 years down the track. It's hard to credit that half a century has disappeared so quickly.

 

And who would have imagined that a bunch of irresponsible, ratbag SMB students could have turned into the group of distinguished ladies and gentlemen gathered here tonight?

 

I have to admit that I for one found it quite disconcerting earlier today to be an invitee at a formal reception in the Ballarat city hall.

 

50 years ago we would have been thrown out of the place.

 

The only time I can recall having much contact with the town hall was when we organised a roster system to shadow John Sorrell wherever he went around the town.

 

I'm sure that we all remember that great friend and admirer of SMB students.

 

After a couple of days we had him so rattled that he wouldn't come out of the town hall so long as we maintained our pickets outside the doors.

 

Looking back to around 1962, I imagine that most of you were quite apprehensive, as I was, when you first arrived at the SMB.

 

I probably had an advantage over some of you because I'd been to the Ballarat Junior Tech next door, so I was familiar with the physical layout and accustomed to seeing bunches of scruffy looking SMB students roaming about. But I didn't really have a good appreciation of what I was in for.

 

And the initiations didn't help much.

 

Mostly good humoured, but at times humiliating, these days they would probably be frowned on.

 

But regardless of whether you think they were character building or just plain bastardisation, they certainly put us firmly in our new place at the bottom of the SMB pecking order.

 

As first year students, putting a foot wrong would lead at the very least to the traditional ‘dacking’, or perhaps having to spend an hour or two sitting on a cushion outside Myers trying to hatch a porcelain egg, or having to declaim Shakespeare from the top of a step ladder somewhere in Sturt St.

 

But before too long we were allowed to get involved in student pranks. Most of them were fairly harmless (at least we thought they were) and we found them highly amusing.

 

So did at least some of the general public (at least some of the time) although of course the more upright citizens of the town were generally not amused and neither were the authorities.

 

Although I later found out that many of the SMB teaching staff found them entertaining, but of course they couldn’t admit to it at the time.

 

A few recollections bubble randomly to the surface of my increasingly cloudy memory.

 

I recall a midday tennis match played with invisible tennis balls on the Lydiard and Sturt St intersection. It attracted quite a crowd during the short time that it took for the local constabulary to arrive

 

There was one occasion when free Ballarat Bitter flowed momentarily in the stud room after some enterprising students ran a hose across the road from one of the vats in the brewery.

 

That brings to mind a very old observation that the SMB was perfectly positioned to provide a future path for its students, with a jail on one side, a church on the other and a brewery across the street.

 

Of course H.M. Prison Ballarat was shut down during our time, leading to a bold but fruitless attempt to take it by storm.

 

 

Not all our pranks were pointless exercises in student exuberance.

 

Wouldn't the annual begonia festival procession have been a dull affair without our contributions? And the SMB review run by "Eccie" McGrath was always popular with the public, although I suspect that most of us only got involved so we could go to the legendary review party.

 

Sometimes we also raised money for worthy causes.

 

The traditional annual bath or bed push between Ballarat and Geelong was one example, although the worthiness of the event soon faded in the obligatory ambush with flour, eggs and other suitably offensive projectiles that was always sprung somewhere near the end of the route and the booze-up that invariably followed.

 

I think that we managed to raise quite a substantial sum from a "mile of pennies" event in Sturt St, although I did feel sorry for the staff of the old Commonwealth Bank that used to stand on the corner across the road from here when they were confronted by stained old dunny cans full of pennies to be counted.

 

Does anyone remember how much we managed to raise on that occasion or even what it was for? I don't.

 

And looking back I think that there were other positive aspects to our student pranks.

 

They fostered imagination, originality, and a healthy streak of disrespect for authority and conventional thinking: all things that would help to make people more successful in their later careers.

 

There was no shortage of extra-curricular activities for us to get involved in, including many strenuous sports afternoons that were spent right here, downstairs in Craigs back bar under the avuncular gaze of Maurie the barman.

 

Who else remembers Maurie?

 

If he recognised you as an SMB student the rule was that you'd pay for 2 pots and get the 3rd one free. He was a genuine benefactor to impoverished students.

 

But somehow, in between all those things, we managed to scrape together some sort of an education.

 

For those of us who went out into the mining industry in particular, the name of the Ballarat School of Mines really meant something.

 

 

By 1965 the place had been turning out mining engineers, metallurgists, geologists and a range of other professions for very close to a century, so it had a nationwide, indeed a worldwide, reputation for producing capable professionals with a very practical attitude.

 

I have to say that I was very disappointed, in fact I was annoyed, when in the 1970's the tertiary division of the SMB was transformed into the "BIAE", a name that meant nothing to anyone. 

 

The great reputation that had been built up by generations of professionals from the SMB was effectively obliterated.

 

I can only imagine the blank looks that would have greeted younger graduates who had to say that they had studied at the "Ballarat Institute of Advanced Education".

 

In my opinion those of us who are lucky enough to be able to say that we were students at the Ballarat School of Mines have every reason to be proud of the fact.

 

And didn’t we have some fun!

 

 

 

 

 

Thanks to organisers.