A passionate state school advocate




11-1-1939 16-5-2011

NEVILLE Garner always described himself as the original could'a been. A motor scooter accident at age 18 resulted in a badly damaged leg and ended his potential league football career. But football's loss was a win for many other organisations into which he threw his considerable energies, passions and skills working to improve and promote government schools and social justice.

Born in Collingwood, Neville was educated at Northcote High School and trained as a primary teacher-librarian. He taught at primary schools at Brighton, Caulfield North and Windsor, and completed a degree at Swinburne Institute before teaching years 11 and 12 at the Police Cadet Academy from 1970 to 1975.

Making a difference was one of Neville's guiding principles, and he did during his five years at the Education Department's curriculum and research unit. He initiated important literacy and drama projects, co-ordinated conferences for teachers across the state, and mentored and worked with many talented people.

In 1983, he returned to his roots as deputy principal of Collingwood Education Centre, a multicultural school very different from the Cromwell Street Primary School on the same site that he attended as a boy.

A committed teacher unionist, Neville was a member of the state council of the Victorian Teachers Union from 1985 to 1988 and relished strategy planning as well as supporting teachers' rights.

Labor politics were always important to him. From 1977 to '79, he ran as the ALP candidate for Sandringham, tirelessly supported by his wife Margie. He then threw himself into getting Graham Ihlein elected as MLA.

In 1986, he became one of the first locally selected principals when he was appointed at Spensley Street Primary School, and despite the hard work he loved involvement in the school community but not the exhausting school fete organised each year for essential fund-raising. (His favourite tea-towel read: "It will be a great day when schools get all the money they need and the army has to run a cake stall to buy a tank."

In 1986, a D. R. Brown scholarship took him to the United States to study the "Effective Schools Movement", and he returned inspired by what he learnt in New York and Chicago. He promoted these ideas through his next position as co-ordinator of education programs at the department's inner-city school support centre and by working as the Victorian representative on the national English language committee.

Neville was passionate about promoting state government schools in the public arena and in private discussions, and in 1989 he was appointed manager for special projects in the education ministry later he became a principal officer until 1991. Working under then premier Joan Kirner, he galvanised the promotion of "State Schools are Great Schools" campaign through major concerts and numerous events involving hundreds of students, teachers and parents.

Neville retired from the department in 1991, but maintained his crusade for state schools through letters frequently published in The Age until his last months.

Inner-city real estate also interested him for years, and he became a sales consultant the intended "couple of years" stretched to 10 busy and fulfilling ones with the team at Nelson Alexander in Brunswick. He featured in their ads as "The Professor" in mortar board and suitably serious face.

Earlier, in the 1970s, he was co-founder and builder at the Chorki Ski Lodge at Falls Creek his cheerfully admitted terrible practical skills were the source of many funny stories.

In 1986, he adapted to a new life with his obituarist and a feisty 4-year-old stepdaughter, Jessica, and then retirement in Bright. Friends took bets that he'd last 6 months away from the city, but he and I stayed for more than six happy years. Perhaps it was a lifetime as a Magpies supporter that gave him this resilience.

In Bright he found another project to stimulate him and extend his talents. As president of the outstanding Bright Art Gallery for five years, he loved working with the wonderful volunteers to raise the profile of the gallery, often nearly exhausting them with his new initiatives.

A sea-change to Blairgowrie gave him time to devote to the often frustrating game of golf "a good walk spoiled" to keeping fit and to lovingly caring for his older sister, Audrey, who was suffering from Alzheimer's disease.

After returning from a trip to India in November last year, Neville was diagnosed with a rare leukaemia and, despite being accepted for a trial of a new drug treatment and the best care from The Alfred's dedicated haematology team, he could not beat it. But he had seen his beloved Pies win another grand final.

He is survived by Joy, stepdaughter Jessica, and his sister Audrey.

Join the Conversation...

There are comments posted so far.

If you'd like to join this conversation, please login or sign up here

Related Articles