H for History #3 – past Principals

George Huitker with (L) Dr David Mulford and (R) Mr Phillip Heath

George Huitker with (L) Dr David Mulford and (R) Mr Phillip Heath

By George Huitker, Director of Service Learning

[George Huiker is preparing an updated history of Radford, as it is fifteen years since the first Radford history, A Matter of Choice by Jenny Murphy, was written.]


Fancy being sent to the principal’s office twice in one week, and in both cases, leaving with a smile.

While researching for the school history, I was fortunate to spend time recently with two former principals - David Mulford and Phillip Heath - and find out what they are up to, as well as hear their recollections of time spent at the steering wheel of the good ship Radford. While I will keep most of these recollections for the book, I thought I’d share some reflections as a teaser for what is to come.

Since leaving Radford in 2008, Dr David Mulford has been the Headmaster of Newington College, an all-boys K-12 independent school in Sydney. At Newington, Dr Mulford has been characteristically building: leading organisational and developmental reform, overseeing new construction works, and furthering the implementation of new technology into boys’ education. Dr Mulford took me for a guided tour of his stately school, founded in 1863, specifically the impressive drama facilities; some of the more historic buildings, meeting rooms and galleries; and an eye-opening archive room. (I was fascinated by a door from a 1960s classroom from the, adorned with etchings and graffiti from nearly half a century ago.)

Dr David Mulford with Newington archives

Of his time at Radford, Dr Mulford acknowledged educator David Loader’s analogy of the principal as the “ringmaster”, his job being to “...promote the stars – the students and staff; organise so that things run smoothly; get out of the way of the main acts and orchestrate the applause. Appointment of great staff was a crucial role for me.” He was effusive about the pioneering spirit of the school, acknowledging many past staff and board members; he admired the careful balance between academic, pastoral, co-curricular and spiritual; and felt strongly that a "sense of community" has never left the college and remains one of its biggest assets. “The pastoral arm would wrap around anyone who was struggling.” When I pushed him for a lasting memory, he mentioned how students often would dance through the aisles at assembly. (I assured him this was a practice that had not been extinguished.) “Everyone was known. There was a genuine interest. You could be quirky. You could be different. You could still be part of a Radford feel. It was just a lovely school to be at."

Phillip Heath, still with a seemingly endless and generous supply of chocolate amphibians, has been the Head at Barker College since leaving Radford in 2013. Like Newington, Barker College was founded in the 19th century and was similarly a joy to visit and perambulate through its venerable environs. It would not be a surprise to hear that while overseeing a vast and thriving campus in Hornsby, Mr Heath has been  concurrently building relationships with Aboriginal communities “in a respectful spirit of mutual support and reconciliation”, both close to home (with the Darkinjung people at Yarramalong: http://darkinjungbarker.nsw.edu.au), and extending into the Northern Territory (through the formation of the Jedda Academy for the Education of Young Girls on the Utopia Homelands: http://www.abc.net.au/news/2017-06-27/barker-college-plans-for-aboriginal-girls-academy-in-utopia/8610654).

Like Dr Mulford, Mr Heath also celebrated the pioneering spirit of the college, particularly the enviable learning culture which he traces “all the way back to Molly Brownbill”, the college’s first Director of Studies (a role now known as Director of Teaching and Learning), and former Deputy Principal and Head of Senior School, John Leyshon. “Those pioneering people set that culture in place, notably in the Senior School. It was unbelievably resilient and robust.” He also had positive memories of the staff and student body: “the kids... have lashings of grit - they didn’t mind getting their hands dirty and didn’t object to the school expecting that they would contribute like that.” Some of his many and warm memories revolve around the performing arts.  Phillip directed West Side Story and The Pirates of Penzance in the Senior School, and Joseph and his Amazing Technicoloured Dreamcoat for the Junior School during his time at Radford, and his memory extends beyond the floorboards and the greasepaint: “Kids who had performed, and sometimes performed all night long, would get the costume off and would strike the set, stack the chairs away, and put themselves on the end of a broom, often with no adults shouting at them to make them do that. Where does that come from?” He warmly mentions Dirrum Dirrum’s emerging voice, the creative risks taken in the Year 12 Revue, wacky whole-school relays at The Big Splash, the continuing story of the Junior School and its expansion, and the growth of service learning as among many reasons why Radford College is “in such a strong place in the ACT”. 

A lot more was shared in these two interviews and will be detailed in the school history. Should you wish to bring my attention to events, memories, contributions and people salient to our college’s 35-year existence, please do not hesitate to contact me at George.Huitker@Radford.act.edu.au

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