Principal Matters Journals

Principal Matters tells a story

Chris Bonnor

Perhaps the bright side of COVID is that it gave us time to tidy up our lives and pre-loved keepsakes. I recently waded into a mountain of old journals and reports, determined to jettison evidence of the many stages that characterise my working lives. In the process I came across fifteen years of Principal Matters journals.

Principal Matters used to be (still is?) the official journal of the Secondary Principals Associations of Australia. Four issues were produced each year, and my own collection of over 60 issues span the years 1993 to 2008. In those years it was coordinated by Debra Brydon as executive editor, in liaison with an editorial board comprising principals from each jurisdiction and the Catholic and Independent sectors. This board met four times each year at the VASSP offices in North Melbourne. For most on the editorial board it was a day-long FIFO (fly in, fly out) experience, with the long day ending with a drink at the nearby Redback brewery, prior to the long trip home.

I was about to consign Principal Matters to the paper recycling bin, but flicked through a couple of issues to remind myself of the meaning of life in that era. It soon became very apparent that the 60 or so issues collectively tell a story about Australian schools and their leaders through often very eventful years.

Part of the story is told through four state-by-state reports each year, combined with the many articles which present the experiences, hopes and dreams of school leaders, combined with amazing contributions from both principals and academics from other countries. It is a rich source for anyone with the interest and skills needed to research how we ended up where we are today.

The immediate implication for NSW is that the 60 reports and various articles represent invaluable information about the history of the NSWSPC and how NSW secondary and central school principals interacted with the bureaucracy, government, and colleagues in NSW. Yes, they are stories mainly told about ourselves, by ourselves … but they had to meet the standard expected by the editorial board and by school leaders across the nation.

The content of each issue was organised by Debra Brydon who routinely harassed the board, academics and anyone else to gather relevant and cutting-edge content.  Debra is surely one of the supporting giants in the world of our professional associations. She linked principals and writers across Australia and around the world. Her capacity to constantly juggle deadlines, herd cats, extract quality and stroke egos is the stuff of legends. The meetings of the board themselves were formative experiences, and lasting links were established between very different people and systems.

NSW public secondary/central school principals who wrote for Principal Matters over those years have included Ron Hurley, Jim Harkin, Bernie Shepherd, Judy King, Peter Gillam, Ray Dart, Robin Amm, Ros Moxham, Bill Kennedy, Brian Ralph, Peter Funnell, George Kennedy, Graham Mosely, Garry Briggs, David Walshe, Gus Plater, June Richards, Mal Leaver, Olivia Nicholls, Richard Stratford, Judith O’Brien, Bruce Stavert, Lyn Wendtman, Terry Wylie, Terry O’Brien, Christine Cawsey, Chris Bonnor, Jim McAlpine, Owen Kenny, Ron Miles, David Jaffe, Grahame Wagener, Janelle Eldridge, Sue Anderson, Ros Mayberry, Chris Presland, Barry Bartley, John Frew, Marcia Vallance, Steve Esler, Andrew Newman, Lila Mularczyk.

Some of these names recur more than others. These frequent contributors included the NSWSPC presidents (e.g. Ron Hurley, Jim Harkin), those who represented NSW on the editorial board and often wrote the state report (e.g. Grahame Wagener), or those who wrote articles in a series (e.g. Bruce Stavert).

In effect, the Principal Matters articles represent a contemporary account, a ‘warts and all’ story from the perspective of various actors at the time. As a resource, this contemporary resource complements the wonderful research and accounts completed to date on the history of the NSWSPC by Brian Ralph, Col Cooksey, Bill Kennedy and others.

Principals past and present will be intrigued by the Principal Matters contributions. They raise so many questions. Have principals, and their priorities and problems, changed over time? What have been the dominant themes in the period illustrated? How have these changed? How do the controversies and big issues of the past compare with those today? What were the ‘black hole’ issues in the previous eras, and which are still waiting to be resolved? What does all this tell us about continuity, as well as change?

Reading the contributions will evoke many wry smiles, some raised eyebrows, perhaps brief bouts of depression – but also an admiration of the enduring contribution, resilience and relevance of colleagues over decades.

Recent NSWSPC leaders have been very generous in their acknowledgment of those who have gone before. The pages of Principal Matters tell so much about who they were and what they gave.

Chris Bonnor, June 2022

The files below contain extracts written by NSWSPC members.

Principal Matters 1993
Principal Matters 1994
Principal Matters 1995
Principal Matters 1996
Principal Matters 1997
Principal Matters 1998
Principal Matters 1999
Principal Matters 2000
Principal Matters 2001
Principal Matters 2002
Principal Matters 2003
Principal Matters 2004
Principal Matters 2005
Principal Matters 2006
Principal Matters 2007
Principal Matters 2008