Being brought to book


The bloke in the right of the photo at top is, or was, Neil William Briton, principal and then director of the Queensland Agricultural College, Lawes, in my time there in the 1960s and early 70s.

A nice lady took this picture of me and Briton last Saturday when I went up to the Lockyer Valley for the 125th anniversary of “Gatton College” which is now part of the University of Queensland and home to its Vet Science department.

Some 180 students and lecturers, past and present, enjoyed a very nice lunch at long tables set all over the verandahs of what’s now know as the Foundation Building. It was the administration building and Briton’s office in my day.

Here’s my problem. Whenever I’ve returned to college for such celebrations – last weekend, the centenary 25 years ago; various reunions of the 1968 diploma graduates over time, the last being in 2018 for our 50th reunion, I get a bit churned up thinking about the trials and tribulations I encountered there. It’s akin to returning to the scene of a fatal car crash.

Worse still, I’ve encounter former college mates who stayed on campus to become junior officers or to join the teaching staff who have spoken affectionately of Briton.

To a man – and I’m not being sexist because no woman has said this yet – they all found Briton to be a rather shy bloke yet one who cared for his staff and would bend over backwards to help them in times of need.

But some added one major stipulation that I find very illuminating: Briton much preferred people who agreed with him. It was unwise to cross him. I made that mistake more than a few times.

This old-boy praise for Briton is rather off-putting because, while it may have taken a full five years on campus, I found Briton to be anything but shy and nice. He was an absolute cunt to me.

It didn’t start out that way, although the evidence was always there that we had a rather odd father-son type relationship in which he tried to discipline his son and I foolishly rebelled against dad.

Doubt the father-son comparison? Here’s just one example. Briton once summoned me over to where he stood on that aforementioned verandah and simply asked me if I wandered around college in bare feet just to annoy him. Naturally enough, I assured him that was not the case. I’m sure I didn’t say this but maybe I should have pointed out I walked around in bare feet to annoy everybody and not just him. Another answer could have been I enjoyed walking around in bare feet; it was as simple as that.

Our father-son relationship deteriorated in our final years together to the point where he treated me abysmally, cooking up a kangaroo court that found me guilty of bullying or bastardising other students and repeatedly denying me natural justice before and after that finding and during the events that followed.

As to that memoir, I’m probably half way there but here’s the crunch.

Remembering the events at Gatton does churn me up a bit but far more importantly: What if Briton was right all along and I, not he, were the cunt?

And if that’s the case, what good would come from finishing that book of my college strife? Is that why Don Brown’s School Daze (tentative title and draft cover as shown) has not been completed?

What if I did my research properly and my version of events over a half-decade a half-century ago was indeed viewed through rose-coloured and terribly flawed glasses? What if I really have been a cunt much of my life and not the decent, kind, thoughtful person I’ve always foolishly thought of myself to be?

After all, the odds aren’t good. Briton might have been the only educational head who wanted me gone for good but he wasn’t alone.

Both military officers I served under – at the college’s officer training unit and the famous Bush Rifles 49th Battalion – demanded I march off into the distance at double time and never return. I was clearly a shit soldier; what can I say?

Ditto for two of the not-too-many newspaper editors I’ve served under.

Have I always been that big a cunt in my student and working life? Is it time to cunt up and admit that?

Was Neil William Briton just the first of many to detect my many faults, in his case to see me for the wretched, anti-social, totally nasty and self-centred bullying, student bastardiser I obviously was at Gatton?

He had no doubts back in mid-1970. Barely metres from where I took that photo last weekend was Briton’s office to which I was called in that final year of college.

Briton, a former veterinary scientist whose nickname was Nev after the nutrition term Net Energy Value, told me certain wrongdoings on the Riddell dormitory where I lived had been brought to his attention and he had decided to call an investigation into what happened.

Briton didn’t explain my apparent role in such wrongdoings but he advised me that my CMF unit commander and college pig lecturer Nev Hodges had been appointed to investigate these goings-on. And did I have any objections to that, seeing my CO had solid understandings of law, albeit military law.

I wish I could say I relied with a cheeky “hope he gives it his best shot!” but I simply said that was fine.

After all, I had absolutely nothing to fear from the outcome of any such investigation, given my deluded state of positive self-awareness.

It turned out that I was not just a cunt, but a stupid cunt as well to believe any of that.

Hence my dilemma. What if continuing with these memoirs triggers disgusting, until-now- suppressed memories of the times I spent up to my nuts in the guts of some unwilling and frightened, bum-fluff-faced certificate students crying out for their mummies and begging me to stop?

Sadly, I suspect that’s what my own long-departed mother thought happened up there at college.

Don Gordon-Brown