- Jarrod McGrouther
Legends of the Nepean: Stevenie Harman
Colyton High School has an exceptional HSIE teacher on their books. Stevenie Harman, the affable and highly respected educator has racked up an enviable 37-year teaching career at the school. Stevenie’s tenure is a feat on it’s own; however, her passion and involvement in wartime commemorative services is what had Stevenie nominated as a legend by St Mary’s Vietnam Veterans Outpost.
Living in Australia, we are proud of our armed forces and are taught from a young age about the history of conflicts Australia has been involved in. For Stevenie, her experiences growing up were different, but nevertheless shaped a similar passion and pride in Australia’s war history. Two stories define Stevenie’s story, with each a spine tingling tale.
The first is a story told by Stevenie’s mother. Born in 1934, Stevenie’s parents grew up in Hull, England. A busy fishing port, Hull was under severe attack during WWII; in fact, by the end of the war, it was the second most bombed city in England behind London.
Elaborating, Stevenie described a horrific incident that occurred to her mother during WWII, impacting Stevenie’s views on the world to this day.
“The house my mother lived in was actually bombed, and our life long love affair with cats began that day. During the incident she had pushed her little kittens into the pockets of her duffle coat. The floor had shifted and she was buried under the floor, so in the rubble the house was gone, and the meow of the little cats in the pockets saved her life.”
At the time Stevenie’s mother was 10, a time of her life that is rarely spoken about. Stevenie explains that the experiences of growing up in England during the war were very tough, “I think it’s very hard for Australian people to understand what it was like to grow as a civilian in a country that was at war.” She continued.
“They’d go to school the next day and the person they sat next to wouldn’t be there, and it would be where’s so and so, oh their house got bombed last night, so they’d either moved away or been killed.”
Stevenie was also born in England, the setting for the second important story. There, Stevenie ironically also witnessed a unique experience at the age of 10 that has no doubt contributed to her passion about educating the youth on the history of the armed services.
“I was picked in the all England recorder band to play at the Royal Festival Hall in London, which happened to be on the same day as Remembrance Day. Because we were performing that night, we went to the Remembrance Day ceremony. These Lancaster bombers flew over and opened their bomb bay doors and millions, not hundreds, millions of poppies floated down.”
The image was described to me as if it were yesterday. Each poppy representing someone who had died in the war, leaving Stevenie and I to talk about why we can’t let this type of carnage happen again.
Moving to Australia in 1968, Stevenie began to learn how important ANZAC Day is to Australians. For the past 15 years, Stevenie has organised the ANZAC day services at Colyton High School, and each year the involvement levels from pupils has grown. Stevenie explained that she believes in teaching the importance of remembrance, but also about progress moving forwards.
“While its important to remember, its also important to teach the kids that we need to do everything possible to avoid this sort of carnage again. It’s important to remember the people who did give everything to try to change things.”
Stevenie always takes her students to the ANZAC Day dawn service, Vietnam Veterans Day held on the anniversary of the Battle of Long Tan, and the ANZAC Day march. Luckily for the students, they are allowed to participate and represent the school with pride. With a multicultural school, Stevenie explained that this past ANZAC day, the representation included African, Fijian-Indian, Pacific Island and a range of other ethnic groups happy to take part and contribute, adding “it doesn’t matter where they’re from because Australia is now their home.”
When quizzed on the impact of her lessons on past students, Stevenie recalled a few examples of times she believed it had all been worth it.
“One of the boys has joined the navy, he’s now at ADFA, another boy became so passionate about ANZAC day that he actually got a Premier’s ANZAC scholarship, so yes I think it has had an impact,” she continued.
“I had a boy come stand here (pointing to her desk) at recess one day, he walked in and just stood there, as I’m marking my role on the computer I asked what he was doing. He said I’m standing here, and I responded yes I can see that, before he replied, I really want to be in that catafalque party, I’m showing you I can stand still.”
Additionally, last year there was a collection to help fund the building of a school in Pozieres in France, with Colyton high raising one of the highest fundraising totals of any school in the state. With children donating what they had, the school raised over $2000.
Finishing our conversation with a question on why Colyton is so important to her, Stevenie’s answer was dignified.
“The kids here deserve to have people that want to be here for them. I became a teacher to teach people things that one day they can teach other people.”
Colyton High School students should feel extremely lucky to have Stevenie Harman as their teacher. A passionate, caring and community focused member of the Nepean should be rewarded, and we here at Nepean News wish Stevenie all the best moving forwards.