Nescire autem quid antequam sis acciderit, id est semper esse puerum (To be ignorant of what occurred before you were born is to remain always a child). Cicero
My joy in learning is partly that it enables me to teach. Seneca
My association with the Classics Department goes back a very long time—to 1955, when I entered the University of Queensland as a Fresher. I was eighteen years old and very excited. My great loves were Ancient and Modern History and English, but I was disappointed to find that only one year of Ancient History was offered at the time. I decided, therefore, to major in English and Modern History with Latin, as a two-year course. I had loved Latin at school, though I was not a natural linguist and had to work very hard.
My most vivid memories of the Department were of the staff—all extraordinarily knowledgeable, enthusiastic, “unique” individuals. Professor Cooper was an almost god-like figure with a rich Scottish accent and a gimlet eye, which he could fix with unnerving effect on those who had not done their homework. While I was nervous of his disapproval, I virtuously did my English into Latin translations, so never ran foul of him. I was gratified when he phoned me after the first year to invite me to study Honours. I did not do so, as an extra year would have been a financial burden on my parents.
Professor Casttlehow was a much-loved character in the Department and throughout the university. He had been a Rhodes Scholar and in 1955 seemed very elderly to me. He had a bald, high-domed head, which gave him the appearance of the archetypical absent-minded professor. He taught Cicero, and when I entered the class, he bowed slightly and said, “Good morning, Miss Davenport”. He was a delightful gentleman.
Vergil was taught by Denis Pryor; his lectures were always entertaining because of his wonderful sense of humour. Yet his knowledge was extraordinary and I admired this, wondering how, like Goldsmith’s ‘Village School Master’, “one small head could carry all he knew”. He was a tall, rather untidy man with his gown streaming behind him as he hurried along the corridors. He had a musical Welsh lilt overlaid by a rich Oxbridge accent. I remember vividly hearing a radio broadcast by Mr Pryor after he left the Department. He described some destructive child “who made Whelan the wrecker look like the National Trust”. He was the master of the bon mot.
Also in the Department was Beryl Wilkinson, a highly efficient, knowledgeable young woman whom I remember was fashionably dressed and beautifully groomed. I admired the fact that a woman could lecture at university, which was relatively unusual then.
The classes were much smaller than they are now. Classics appeared to be “on the way out”; most Classics students appeared to be Law students, for whom, I think, Latin was a compulsory subject. Translation into Latin from English was strongly emphasised and, to me, it was like doing a jigsaw puzzle—challenging but fun. This exercise was our weekend homework. It took me all day Saturday! Lewis and Short Latin Dictionary was searched assiduously. Did Cicero use a particular word? That was the sine non quo. What was the best word order? I used to feel a great sense of achievement when it was completed and safely in the hands of Professor Cooper. Once a week, there was an “unseen”, which involved translating Latin into English under exam conditions—quite a nerve-wracking experience. I seem to remember two three-hour end of year examinations. One tested grammar, and the other literature. Latin was not for the faint-hearted!
In 1976, I returned to the Classics Department to study for a MLit Studies in Ancient History, so useful for teaching my first love, Ancient History. The course work was stimulating, and the staff so enthusiastic and encouraging, even though some of the young students regarded mature age students as “past it”. I was determined to “show them”. I had always been rather competitive academically! I graduated with a 6 grade point average.
My mother died after many years as an invalid, and subsequently, the late Bruce Gollan enabled me to achieve another dream, to work in Archaeology. He introduced me to his archaeologist friend, Demetrios Michaelides, who was Archaeological Officer in Paphos, Cyprus, and later, Professor of Archaeology and Ancient History at the University of Cyprus. For 25 years, I worked there in our mid-winter holidays, and it changed my life. I wrote my M.A. and my PhD theses on Cypriot topics and received my doctorate at the age of 74.
My experiences in the Classics Department at UQ during my second foray into academia were all positive, and I would like to pay special tribute to Bob Milns, Don Barrett, and the late Bruce Gollan for their inspiration and friendship. All my lecturers and tutors enriched my knowledge and encouraged me to strive to achieve the very best of which I was capable. That is the desire of every teacher. I have never lost my enthusiasm for Ancient History and continue to teach it at the University of the Third Age, an activity I certainly enjoy and hope my classes do also.
Pamela Davenport BA (1957), B Ed (1963), MLit studies (1983), MA, PhD (2011). Brisbane.