Teacher sought to expand horizons, foster talents




4-7-1925 - 17-10-2012

DON Lugg was born in Coburg in 1925 into the loving family of Stan, Millie and brother Allan. Stan and Millie ran a drapers shop in Moreland Road and brought the boys up in a happy, hard-working environment. He painted an innocent and fascinating picture of his childhood with images of footy in the back lane with a ball made of newspaper and sticky tape, adventures with his mates down at Merri Creek and selling newspapers with his brother, then spending the tips eating fish and chips from the shop next door.

The young Don was a keen learner and had a sharp intellect. From an early age he wanted to be a teacher and strove towards this - being twice honoured as dux of Moreland Primary and Moreland Central schools in 1935 and 1938. He enjoyed most subjects at school, but particularly science, and went on to complete his matriculation at Melbourne High School. From there he pursued his goal of becoming a science teacher through a teaching scholarship at the University of Melbourne where he completed bachelor of science, graduate diploma of education and bachelor of education degrees.

Don had a talent for teaching, with his persuasive and determined disposition, an optimistic outlook and a desire to share his interests and knowledge. He also had strong views that education could change people's lives as it had his, and that all children, regardless of socio-economic circumstances, had a right to a high-quality education.

At his first teacher posting in St Arnaud he boarded with a local family and it was there that he met a teenage Shirley Pope, later to become his wife. After St Arnaud, he took a teacher exchange job in England's Lake District, then returned to positions at Yallourn and in the Melbourne metropolitan area. It was back in Melbourne that Don became reacquainted with Shirley. They were married in 1958 and settled in a new housing estate in Pascoe Vale South where their four children were born.

Don was, by all accounts, an excellent science teacher and a dedicated educator. In 1964 he won the Australian Science Education Award for outstanding contributions to science education in schools and in pre-service teacher training at Melbourne University. The award acknowledged his work as a chemistry examiner and science-curriculum adviser in schools, his contributions to ABC science broadcasts and the Australian College of Nursing science education program, and for editing the Australian Science Teachers' Journal.

Don also wrote two books. One, co-authored with Geoff Rowney, titled Pursuit of Science, was used as a science text book for almost two decades. The other, Getting Science Across, provided advice for science teachers. The following excerpt from this book shows his understanding of science as an important aesthetic as well as a rational process in education:

To appreciate the ordered beauty of the structure of solids is no less an experience than to appreciate the beauty of a symphony, a poem or a painting. Understanding the complex changes in an organism from egg to embryo to adult, adds to rather than lessens, one's appreciation of the wonder of life. To be able to write lucidly and accurately about one's observations and interpretations on viewing rock layers in a road cutting is no less important than to be able to discuss in an essay, whether or not Hamlet was mad. By a sensitive teacher, science can be made as worthy of a place among the humanities as any of those subjects now classified as such.

From 1966 to 1968 Don held a UNESCO position in Lesotho. His job was to develop science education there - no mean feat when he and his colleagues would fly off to the mountains in small planes only to find that the school was a small mud hut with no desks or equipment, sometimes a teacher and no kids, and sometimes kids but no teacher! He took on this challenge with the gusto and sensitivity that was characteristic of everything he did. It's hard to appreciate how brave and adventurous it was in 1965 to uproot a young family of four children, including a newly born baby, and head off to a poor African country for two years. This was a place where you could still see practising witch doctors walk past your house, where kids' bloated bellies were a sign of malnourishment and where the entire country had only one bitumen road. Civil unrest at the time was such that Don had the family practise evacuations across the border with South Africa, near their home.

On return to Australia, Don was appointed principal of Broadford High School and the following year, principal of Seymour High School. He spent the next 14 years at Seymour where he wanted to create a school culture where kids could lift their aspirations and pursue their interests, whether academic, technical, sporting or artistic. As a school leader, he had high expectations of students and staff alike, often exhorting students to do their best. In a speech to Seymour students in 1969, he said:

Be appreciative of your forebears. Value your Australian heritage. Don't fritter away opportunities because they come so easily. Make up your mind to improve your own skills, attitudes, health and appreciations so that you will improve your school, your local community, this nation and this world. It is possible for each individual to contribute something of value in each of these spheres.

Don instigated and supported many changes to what became Seymour Technical High School. He took great pride in some of the strategies he used to convince the Education Department to provide funding for buildings such as a gymnasium, squash courts and library. Years later when his eldest daughter was doing her teacher training, she met then education minister Lindsay Thompson, who told her he knew Don well from his many forays to Spring Street as president of the Victorian Principals Association. He said Don drove a hard bargain when arguing for funding for government schools and often got his way.

From Seymour, Don finished his working life as principal of the Correspondence School in Elizabeth Street, Melbourne. This move enabled him to live in Royal Parade, near his mother and brother in the locale of his Coburg childhood.

Don's youthful curiosity stayed with him through to old age. He had a zeal for knowing what was going on in the world. He loved nothing better than to read The Age, listen to the ABC news and discuss issues that arose. With his failing hearing, ABC broadcasts blasted around the house all day at high volume - keeping the neighbours informed as well. Don loved a debate on any issue, whether he knew much about it or not! His favourite topics were: politics, religion, feminism (all the things you're not supposed to talk about) and - the one that really got him going - the umpire's decisions at Carlton games. When his eyesight deteriorated he mastered the iPad sufficiently to read The Age online, not bad for an 87-year-old.

Don had a great sense of adventure and a curiosity about other cultures. As with so many other things, he had this in common with Shirley and together they visited most parts of the world. They tended to avoid organised, package tours, preferring to travel independently and see what eventuated. Sometimes their travel stories seemed more like those of a backpacker, such as an occasion in Thailand at 65 years of age, when they accepted an offer from some local lads to hop on behind them on scooters and zoom around Bangkok.

Family holidays for Don and Shirley were all about connecting with the family and typically meant camping trips to remote national parks and visits to his mother-in-law in the tiny Victorian village of Stuart Mill. His children could never convince their father to buy a holiday house by the beach where they could see their friends each year. The camping trips always included mandatory bush walks and instructional tours. Sometimes he even attempted bird watching and seemed exasperated when the kids didn't maintain their concentration long enough not to frighten off all the wildlife.

Don also had a deep interest in Australian history and a passion for all things Victorian, particularly the Carlton Football Club. His broad-minded attitude didn't seem to apply when it came to the Blues. When his son moved to New South Wales, Don enjoyed needling him over NSW-Victorian rivalries. For a smart man he never understood (or chose not to understand) that there are actually two types of rugby. Even the night before he died he was championing the virtues of the Victorian wicketkeeper over the New South Welshmen for selection in the upcoming Test team.

Don believed you should put back and contribute to the broader community. With a family and busy career, he still managed to immerse himself in numerous organisations, and continued this involvement right through his adult life. Rotary, Probus, Uniting Church, Victoria Bowling Club and the Masonic Lodge were all groups where he occupied high office and had long associations.

An innings of 87 - an Australian cricket superstition Don would have appreciated - and an innings he would have been proud of. An innings of application, purpose and commitment made up of technically correct ones and twos with a sprinkle of flashing fours - no sixes of course because "The Don" never hit one in the air!

Don will be remembered for his enrichment of the community, the lives of many generations of students and the legacy of love and nurturing he has left his family. He lived by the adage that you are not remembered by what you do for yourself but what you do for others. His presence will be felt in the family discussions we will have around the dinner table, in our backyard cricket games and in all our adventures yet to come.

Don Lugg is survived by his wife Shirley, his children Alison, Helen, Andrew and Brian, their partners Ray, Sally and Debra, grandchildren Trudy, Melanie, James, Lachlan, Matilda and Jemma and a great-grandson, Brodie.

Want access to our latest research and new buy ideas?

Start a free 15 day trial and gain access to our research, recommendations and market-beating model portfolios.

Sign up for free

Related Articles