Hugh Cairns B54


The old Bodeites building remains a happy memory, a countryside wildness with Eton Fives and Squash courts running way down, their bushes reaching the old main road. On the hill top road, opposite us, the Robinites’ grassy kick-around field was a friendly inter-house area where the likes of Richard Knox and I spent much spare time, often with the likes of David Curtis and Arnsby-Wilson, to let off steam perhaps from our smallish House. Our small community itself was a mild routine-led set of daily processes, with good senior monitors like Bryce Cottrell and Don Cupitt benevolently keeping the hierarchical student community at work. To me it was a good home with groups of good blokes, and I never knew of any nastiness there. ‘The Arrow’ and my first Housemaster were sternly and kindly efficient Bodeite members, and our ethos was still reverendly First World War.

But in my first weeks I think I had bad luck! Not really, but the fine old WWI House Master, ‘gassed’ Mr Hollowell, was heard to say: ‘that’s the second Peter May!’ when I was making 48 not out in my important first weeks Under 16 Colts match … and that remark stayed in our House … and in my mind! … the expectations of years following me, without much happening!

Of course, I was generally good at all sports – the ‘lucky’ coincidence of the ‘Pict’ genome where survival was the game, and good coaching at the Dragon School and Charterhouse. I was Head Monitor of both Schools and House: but never worked to be above the middle of the group I was in, even in the sports I was good at. In the Firsts at Hockey and Cricket (Captain of both), and Soccer and Fives intermittently (and Rugby at the Dragon), I nevertheless never understood properly why I should have been made the captain or a monitor. I now think I was simply good in a team.

What have I done since I left in 1954? National Service in West Germany with The Royal Greenjackets, 2nd Lieut., followed by a stint in a car factory in Philadelphia in 1956, and then to Oxford University reading Art-Theology followed by Edinburgh University pursuing a Philosophy of Religion Divinity Degree (BD).  
My studies and my time at institutions, including Charterhouse, explain why I then entered the Church of Scotland’s Parish Ministry, in Kirkcaldy (Fife) 1963-6. I feel that the beauty of the Music in Chapel, of the English countryside itself, of the rounded School’s Education process, and the Masterly Boarding House disciplines in sensible living, presented ideals of natural Goodness that I have found in Carthusians: giving, humble and warmly creative.

Having served as a Parish Minister in Fife (interestingly, Gordon Brown was in our Youth Club!) I worked for my Ph.D. at Edinburgh University, Princeton University and Seminary, the College de France in Paris, the University of Bochum researching Science, Ideology and Religion (1971). My studies had led me to pursue the French Jesuit Geologist Pierre Teilhard de Chardin (it led to the Princeton and Paris scholarship and Scots Church locum), then time in Bochum working on the then unpublished diary/journal. This led to understanding his radical re-modelling of Christianity as a new religion which presented us with a planetarian vision and a scientific spiritual empathy unknown to the Cambridge Atheists of the 1970s who ridiculed him without understanding him. Later, when writing my books with Australian Aboriginal Elder Bill Harney, I tried to demonstrate how we can keep truthfully scientific when ‘modelling’ Christian concepts as sensible believers. The myth-stories of spiritual cultures are a world full of early-science-in-stories and these world-wide spiritual Originals have a Family-Group Faith that ‘Jesus’ knew. Presently our emotions may prefer our own distilled concept-clusters and mythical doctrines; but, if our faith is re-modelled in a ‘developed’ Christianity, our spiritual and ecclesiastical traditions (and their memes) can remain in an expanded scientific set of human world ‘space’ realities, always aware of testing true ‘facts’ in both Science and Religion. (I had quite successfully made a beginning of this 1970-74 to the 6th form when teaching in Edinburgh.)

This is where I had reached in 1974 when a childhood memory developed into another ‘spiritual’ ‘vision’ that energised my whole being. My mother had taken me at 6-years into Professor Radcliffe-Brown’s public Children’s Lectures at Oxford, and his photographic Northern Territory world had remained with me. Now I had the chance go to be Principal (‘Provost’/’Master’) at Saint Andrew’s College in the University of Sydney. For all our family this has proved a generally happy event; and the quite-old 1876 Institution allowed me 13 good continuing years of Scottish Enlightenment.

Although there were uncertainties about Sydney we seemed to be ready: our first formal dinner there found me found me sitting next to Wanjuk Marika, the very first Aboriginal Chairman of the Aboriginal Arts Board. Mine could therefore be something of a high-profile job, with hard memories relating to real life now. Old concepts could be reified in socio-politics; or ancestors acts nullified in real life. My Aunt had remembered her Great Uncle in 1875-6 caring for the welfare of Aborigines, Islanders, and Chinese miners: The Queen had placed his name in Queensland where his enlightened policies had been rejected by mining and pastoral interests in Brisbane – who had propelled him out.

With my wife Hilary (of Priorsfield) and four children, I arrived in Sydney, Australia, in 1975. The Principal had the Chapel Services to take, and I embarked on my Teilhardian (Evolutionary) Faith including Freudian inner understanding, Darwin, Tillich and Teilhard. Over time chapel was still quiet but I soon found it was the Andrew’s legal humanitarian Dr Evatt who had put forward the
United Nations Charter on Human Rights almost 30 years before
the Enlightenment Tradition of Freedom, Science, Intelligent Religion was alive and well.

I did teach in the Divinity School for a time, and it was clear that, as in any modern society, this was to be an up-and-down intellectual, ecclesiastical and spiritual adventure. Yet this began 13 mainly happy years at the University of Sydney’s Saint Andrew’s College. My fine friend and mentor John McIntyre in Edinburgh, Professor of Divinity there, had been Principal of Andrew’s in the 1950s; and now I was welcomed by his students – top medical and all sorts of fine professional and professorial men. I learned all the time, listened to all and sundry, just like him. But I was not a top academic, and I found myself enjoying students for themselves. We were a college where there was grace and yahoos at formal dinners, huge backing of the Sports teams especially rugby and rowing, and of course 8 ounces of red meat every day for the team members. I soon added ‘greens’ as girlfriends now could come to meals … so, now did my wife (before that it seemed ridiculous). But it was my own back-in-Oxford experience in 1984 that had decided me that ‘women must be students here now’, and my wife’s regular ‘diminution’ by ‘men’ in the wider university and in town, increasingly deepened my motivation in College, and the ‘Women-in-Andrews’ demand became my priority.

While this became my work from 1979 until 1988 when I left College residence, I was sad but sure that co-education would be the best. Pushed out by the Old Boys ‘board’ actually, I was glad the students had voted 200-zero that the ‘Council should resign, not the Principal’. So I rejoiced when the academic and office team I had left in 1988 had kept to the task, so the College Council at long last in 2001 brought The Female Student into Membership in Andrew’s. This has been, since 2002, a great success, producing  a very fine college, now with the ‘best women’s and ‘best men’s’ results in our campus’s academic Faculties, and the undergraduate socialising, cultural skills, and best sporting results (across all the 7 colleges), this last year, have shown its overall success. The Academic Committee and my old team had made it all happen: they managed a wonderful renewal.

From 1988 I had been involved with numerous conferences on the Aboriginal World and the present plight of the Original People here, and had presented Papers in Aboriginal Art, Culture and Sciences, and especially in their astronomies. Some were international, but my basic ideas were simply that Aboriginals have a very strong 'Intellectual World' (just like we do) which has been deliberately hidden by certain Authorities, often for nefarious purposes. 
 Some Church history (including, but not only, Presbyterian) could be ugly: but motives were normally good (as ‘Jesus’ wanted) but it is the practical applications that can become non-Christian. Then came the 80’s, where freeing from Fundamentalism (into The Uniting Church in Australia) coincided with a lecturing position that ended in 1983 so I continued to focus on research and writing. Ill health since 2010 has somewhat reduced my energies but I continue to work on my 3rd book with the Aboriginal Elder Bill Harney, with its other subjects: ‘the real Jesus’, and the ‘First Fleet’.

What a life this is … Luck to be in a good school, able to do some things quite well for many years… with the blessing of a good wife, and love. I have a wonderful family of 4 children and partners, 11 grandchildren and 2 great grandchildren– so much to be thankful for.

With my best wishes to you, The Headmaster and the whole staff and great school!