John Inverarity interview, 9 June 2014

Dublin Core


John Inverarity interview, 9 June 2014


St George's College


Robert John Inverarity was born in Claremont in 1944. His father, Mervyn, was a talented cricketer and instilled a love of the game in his son who played both cricket and football throughout his school years at North Cottesloe Primary School and Scotch College and later at the University of Western Australia where he completed an Arts degree majoring in mathematics followed by a teaching diploma. During his university and early teaching years John juggled exams, teaching and the demands of playing Sheffield Shield and Test cricket. He continued to combine teaching and cricket in a career that saw him play in six Test matches beginning in 1968 as the opening batsman for Australia. He captained both the WA and South Australian Sheffield Shield teams and later coached county cricket in England.

His teaching career took him to the Headmastership of Hale School, a position he held between 1989 and 2003. After 14 years at the helm of Hale School, John accepted the position of Warden of St George’s College at UWA, a role he held for six years. Always ready for the next challenge, in 2012, John left St George’s College to become Chairman of Selectors for Cricket Australia. This interview takes place in June 2014 as he steps down from this position and contemplates his next challenge. Retirement is not yet on the horizon for John Inverarity.


Inverarity, John


University of Western Australian Historical Society


Copyright holder University of Western Australia


MP3 files


Oral History

Oral History Item Type Metadata


Anne Yardley


John Inverarity


Claremont, W.A.


1 hour, 53 minutes, 15 seconds

Bit Rate/Frequency

128 kbs

Time Summary

00:00 Introduction by Anne Yardley.
00:37 Robert John Inverarity born 31 January 1944, Claremont. Mother Helen born 1908, Father Mervyn, born 1907 was a chartered accountant and talented cricketer. John enjoyed a happy childhood with many friends exploring the neighbourhood and playing sport, especially football and cricket . Schools: North Cottesloe Primary School followed by Scotch College. John loved the sport, the team spirit and the sense of community at Scotch.
5:55 He captained the school cricket and football [Australian Rules] teams. On a visit to WACA [Western Australian Cricket Association] aged six John envisaged he would one day play for Western Australia; he was selected to play for WA before starting university.
07:20 John’s ambition on leaving school was to teach. His father encouraged university studies and so he became the first in his family to go to university. He has always considered himself a teacher who played cricket, rather than a cricketer who taught. He had an idealistic streak and wanted to make a difference through teaching. Being part of a school community appealed to him.
09:50 Although very keen on cricket, teaching was John’s prime interest. As Chairman of Selectors for Cricket Australia, he has urged young cricketers to have a life—career and friendships— away from cricket to develop as people and sportsmen. When John retired after playing first class cricket he had a career to sustain him through the transition, unlike many other sportspeople.
13.20 Teaching fitted well with a cricket career. John chose UWA to avoid becoming a bonded teacher. Rod Marsh, Tony Mann and John ran cricket camps to help support their university studies. He completed an Arts degree majoring in maths and a Diploma of Education. He easily found a job teaching maths at Guildford Grammar and loved his two years there.
16:10 He loved his years at UWA; his major engagement with university was through cricket and football where he formed friendships. All day, from 8am, was spent on campus—at lectures, tutorials, in the library and with friends.
17:25 Cricket at UWA was pivotal: he was given responsibilities, opportunities and there were expectations made of him. Within two years, he was captain of the first grade side and won premierships. The combination of responsibility, opportunity, expectation and carefree times matured him.
18:25 He recalls Alan Robson, former Vice-Chancellor of UWA, telling students: “if you leave this university only with a degree, then we will have failed you.”
19:30 John found university academic life impersonal and remote, with some exceptions. He didn’t engage with learning as he had at school. He believes the university is better at engaging students now. Teaching styles have changed since the 1960s.
21:00 John enjoyed playing A grade football at university with Tony McCartney and Tim Kiernan, now well respected doctors, winning two premierships. University football was amateur whereas the cricket fed into the State team.
23:00 He was very disciplined at juggling the different demands on his time at university. In 1963 John sat his first three university exams in Sydney on the mornings of Sheffield Shield matches. While teaching and during home games, he would teach the first two lessons before hurrying to the WACA, play cricket, collect the school work, mark and get it back to students the next day. It was important to him that his students were supported, they were his priority.
25: 35 Arthur Williams was UWA’s registrar and patron of the cricket club during John’s student days and was very supportive. It “nearly broke my heart” to miss a Sheffield Shield tour because of exams. The then Chairman of Selectors was also a teacher and sympathetic.
27:15 John taught at Guildford Grammar for two years, 1967-8, and was away for nearly six months of 1968. He then moved to the government sector and taught at Applecross Senior High School, believing it would be easier to get teaching cover than in the independent sector.
28:25 He met his future wife, Jane McPherson, through his local church, St Aiden’s. They married in 1969 on a Monday night as it was his only night away from cricket commitments. Rod and Ros Marsh married six days earlier on a Tuesday night. Daughter Alison was born in 1970 and Kate in 1972.
30.45 John played six Test matches: two in the England tour 1968, one test 1968-9 and again in 1972 where he played three tests. Wives and families didn’t usually travel with teams then, but Jane and others did that year.
32:00 Playing Test cricket is, he says, a roller coaster ride; it builds resilience. Jane would provide the balance between high and lows. He remembers walking out to bat for Australia for the first time and was very excited but he was also excited walking out to bat for his school team at age 13– gradual incremental steps. Both the praise and criticism is excessive: “if you can’t survive that, you won’t last very long”.
34:25 Friendships have been important throughout his career. As Headmaster at Hale School, he believed in holistic education. Pastoral care was at the forefront and was best done through activities—working and playing together. In cricket the same: “I think friendships form best when you do things together. That’s the medium through which you get to know each other.”
36:40 When John became Headmaster at Hale in 1989, he was given the advice that he should stay aloof, but that style didn’t suit him. Whether captain, coach or headmaster, it is the position that sets people apart, he says, but he personally operates better on a more egalitarian, less formal, basis.
38:10 When coaching Warwickshire (from 2003), a South African player who found it difficult to address him informally, as John insisted, settled on “Opa” meaning grandfather. Now John is Opa to his grandchildren.
40:30 At Hale School John tried to teach students to have different forms of behaviour according to what was appropriate for different situations. At St George’s College he encouraged students to have respect for the position as well as the person and mentions occasions when visited by former Prime Ministers and the Vice Chancellor. As a teacher and headmaster he ensured he knew each student’s name. He considered it a mark of respect to the student.
43:35 As a teacher at Scotch College in 1969, during David Priest’s tenure as Head, he learnt the importance of appointing the right staff; the importance of creating an environment where staff flourish.
45:20 John has enjoyed all his teaching positions: “I love it, love it”. In 1976-7 he taught at Tunbridge School, Kent and became friends with England captain, Colin Cowdrey whose sons were at the school. He has maintained friendships with people there.
47:00 John became deputy head at Pembroke School, Adelaide while still playing cricket. Daughters, Alison and Kate went to Pembroke—a co-educational school and a different teaching experience: “a slightly chaotic but wonderful school.” During this time, he took a year’s exchange to King’s College School, Wimbledon.
48:10 He has debated whether co-ed or same sex schools are better. What matters more, he believes, is the whole tone of the school: the learning and teaching environment and the quality of the relationships. He liked the co-ed experience at Pembroke and at Hale the aims and objectives were changed to allow co-ed as a possibility. The idea was met favourably by some but with fierce opposition from others. It created an interesting debate.
50:00 John came to headmastership at Hale with clear ideas on education: “I have always been of the view that there is nothing more important in our society than the raising of our young.” His vision was for educated, competent, decent people to contribute to society. He abolished caning at the school and insisted students were called by their first names. He wanted all subjects to flourish and fostered music and drama. He encouraged kindness and respect.
53:30 Caning was still in use in many schools—less at Scotch in the 1970s than at Hale in the late 1980s and common at Guildford Grammar. At Hale, John made the rule that only the Headmaster could use the cane, and he didn’t use it. John was expected to cane at Guildford and did so: “never again, ever, ever.” He found it abhorrent. By the time he abolished caning at Hale it was becoming less common.
55:34 While Headmaster, John continued to teach at Hale considering it important to be in the classroom and involved in all activities. Leadership is about service, about being involved, he believes. There are different approaches to the role of the principal. John’s style was to know each student, many good principals operate differently.
59:00 John’s mentors: Bill Dickinson, Headmaster at Scotch during John’s teaching years. There were colleagues at Hale who were confidants and very wise men with a sense of expectation and of trust.
1:00:20 Accountability and trust: while there needs to be a level of accountability in recent years there’s been an increase in an emphasis on accountability. Checking up on people comes at the erosion of trust. He believes people respond better when trusted. He describes how he responded positively to his colleagues at Hale who gave him their trust. It brought out the best in him.
1:02:00 When John came to St George’s College he was told that he needed to stay on top of the students. For John, the relationship is a partnership with him as a moderating force who shows trust. Alan Robson, UWA, was a wonderful leader with astute judgment who showed respect. He empowered others. John tried to empower staff at Hale.
1:04:55 At the end of 2002, John finished 14 years at Hale. He felt he’d given what he could and that the school would benefit from fresh input. After a coaching and teaching stint in England and at Notre Dame University, Fremantle, he wanted to get back into education and was offered the position of Warden of St George’s College.
1:07:00 When at Hale, John told students it was expected that they would do their best and the school community depended on their contribution. The way to contribute was through each person’s personal qualities: kindness, consideration, helpfulness. Students at good schools find it easier to be engaged than students at university who are only on campus for tutorials and some lectures as these are now online.
1:09:40 University offers a fantastic life for students who involve themselves in the university community: “I think it’s a great pity that so many students go to university without getting engaged.” A residential college offers full immersion and John is a huge supporter of college life. John was Warden of St George’s College for six years and on recent visits sees the college continue to develop. He recalls a visit by John Howard, former Prime Minister, and believes the students lives were enhanced by the experience of dinner and a question and answer session with Mr Howard. The college offers scholarships and prizes, doing well is valued. Third and fourth year students take tutorials for younger students.
1:11:50 A key to college life is communal dining and St George’s has a rule that students can’t save seats but must sit where there are places, thereby getting to know each other: “Everybody was expected to know everybody else”. Dinner conversations were lively, well informed discussions. A music program was developed that included tuition, a Winthrop Singers Choir sang Evensong at the Chapel. Very interesting visitors were invited to speak at fireside chats . There was a scholarly atmosphere. John recalls Alex Wood, a medical student, and others, giving carefully prepared tutorials.
1:14:40 “The learning and teaching environment was just of the highest quality.” Dynamic, purposeful, focused but relaxed. That builds a learning community with wide ranging interests and cross fertilisation amongst students. Sport was played on Sunday, again, to build community. Strong relationships were developed. John has maintained contact and former students visit his home for networking and mentoring evenings.
1:17:10 John explains the difference between halls of residence where “a bit went on, but not much more”. What should set colleges apart is the quality of offerings outside the mere dining and living experience. He places Oxford and Cambridge at the top, mentions Trinity College, University of Melbourne next, and ranks St George’s College as being several rungs lower but striving. With new accommodation the numbers of students in residence is increasing; John is very supportive. The difficulty will be offering the full college experience with many more students. Proximity to campus means students are more likely to become involved with university life.
1:20:00 Students in the UK tend to leave home to go away for university which has not been the experience in Australia. This is a pity. There is a “brain drain” from Perth with students going to Sydney, Melbourne, and the ANU. Colleges are especially useful for country students to immerse themselves in the college environment. The Warden’s role is to create the leadership, the enthusiasm and environment in which students “take the bit by the teeth”.
1:22:50 In a college, as in a school, teachers could start to cruise when peer group pressure reached the point teachers wanted it to be when: “it was cool to work hard; it was cool to acknowledge excellence; it was cool to be kind and considerate; it was cool to be respectful and tolerant; it was cool to appreciate the music and drama if you were a sportsman; it was cool to watch the footy team if your thing was music and drama.” Teachers lead by the signals, subtle reminders they give. For instance, at Hale sports reports were traditionally mentioned first, John put arts first, it needed the encouragement.
1:25:15 David Newby, who had been at school with John, became a Rhodes Scholar and was at St George’s. That was an important time for David which he acknowledged by giving the college $50,000 a year for five years which allowed for art classes, music classes and others.
1:26:40 Student base at St George’s: about 70% from rural Western Australia; 20% from overseas; 10% interstate and metropolitan students. John ensured there was a needs based approach to accepting students, for instance, the “mythical student from Kalbarri High School” and wanted to give these students an opportunity. Most settled in well with the welcoming environment. John would interview 150 applicants for the 70 or 80 places. He was conscious to allow the less confident students the chance to attend the college and to flourish.
1:30:20 For Young Australian of the Year [2013], Akram Azimi attending St George’s College was a life changing experience. John recounts his first meeting with Akram suggesting he apply to the College but he lacked the funds. John managed to obtain a scholarship for Akram who went on to spend four or five years at the College. He studied science, law and arts. He conducted tutorials in anthropology, anatomy, biology: “He was extraordinary.”
1:35:00 John doesn’t believe it is possible to solve the problem of inequity in offering places to worthy students. “Each one is a gold nugget and his [Akram’s] was a very shiny gold nugget.” More scholarships are needed. Andrew Forrest is putting 15 million [dollars] into a post graduate college to be affiliated with St George’s College which will include scholarships. “Scholarships are very, very important.” Present Warden, Ian Harding, taught at Christ Church, has a background in banking and is a good financier. John mentions the American model where enrolments are made on merit and those who can pay contribute extra to a coffer, those who can’t receive help from that coffer, plus endowments. A way can be found for students without the means: “we’re babes in the wood in that regard in Australia but St George’s collect has gone a bit in that direction and is getting better.”
1:37:20 John would like to see all UWA students spend one or two years in a College, meaning more places must be made available. Costs would be considerable. St George’s College has been going since 1931 and has received significant endowments, initially from Hackett who built the college with support. Providing college life for all is a long way off.
1:39:20 John would like to see more money coming from the public purse but doesn’t see this as a priority for public money. Primary and secondary education, support for the disadvantage are higher priorities. He believes it would be rewarding for people with financial means to support students at college and enjoy that relationship.
1:41:30 After six years John felt he had given what he could to St George’s College. He was approached by Cricket Australia and believed he would enjoy that experience [as Chairman of Selectors] but that in time he would like to be involved with a college again. He’s now spent two and a half years with the cricket selectors. He and wife, Jane, have travelled and became involved with that community. It has been a demanding job which he has enjoyed but not as satisfying or demanding as running a school such as Hale.
1:43:45 There have been two very strong strands in John’s life: education and cricket. In cricket he most enjoyed captaincy, having responsibility for the team, being in charge and attempting to create an environment where the whole was greater than the sum of the parts. The most important element in coaching is creating an environment in which players do their best—where they thrive and are a cohesive unit. That comes from trust, confidence, mentoring. Having that role fascinated John and is common to cricket captaincy, coaching, headmastership, teaching in the classroom and St George’s College, and with the family: “That’s who I think I am”. Someone who likes challenges.
1:46:50 John is now going to England [June 2014] to contribute to a leadership and mentoring workshop: “I’m not ready to stop looking for challenges.” While still not ready for retirement, he is ready to work less hard. John maintains a connection with St George’s College, recently giving a successful fireside chat and enjoying Evensong and concerts. He is a member of the UWA Senate: the Board of Governors of the University. He loves the involvement and the environment of young people gaining confidence and qualifications to make a difference in the world.
1:49:30 Family is a very important part of John’s life. He and Jane have been married 45 years. Daughters Alison and Kate are both married, in Melbourne, and each has two children. The Cricket Australia position has allowed John and Jane to spend time in Melbourne and to take their grandchildren to the MCG. He would like to see his grandchildren benefit from spending time in a university college in the future.



Inverarity, John, “John Inverarity interview, 9 June 2014,” UWA Historical Society: UWA Histories, accessed July 13, 2024,