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FIELDING, Garnet Stewart (1935-2017)

FIELDING, Garnet Stewart (1935-2017)

Garnet Fielding.  Portrait by Robert Hannaford.

Garnet Fielding.
Portrait by Robert Hannaford.

Garnet Fielding, 1993.

Garnet Fielding, 1993.

Garnet Fielding was a member from 1979, Deputy Chairman in 1980, and Chairman of The Geelong College Council from 1 August 1981 until his retirement in 1996. In recognition of his service Garnet was appointed a Life Governor of the Geelong College in December 2003. The Garnet Fielding Wing on Noble St is named after him. His portrait by Robert Hannaford is on display in the Senior School Dining Hall.

During the 15 years of his tenure as Council Chairman, Garnet worked with three College Principals, S P Gebhardt, A P Sheahan and Dr P C Turner. Shortly after his appointment, he led Council through the issues involved in the School's moves towards independence with it becoming an incorporated body in 1982. He later supported the establishment of the Geelong College Foundation as the primary financial entity for the College in 1987. He achieved a notable position for the College by appointing Dr Turner the first female Principal of an APS School.

Many Building projects were completed during his term including: a laboratory and classrooms at Middle School opened in 1988; Robertson Hall in 1989; and the Middle School Arts Centre in 1995. Projects at the Junior School included expansion of the Early Learning Centre for three and four year olds; Junior School extensions with Music Rooms, the Joan Sweetman Multipurpose Room and other facilities for Dance and Music. At Senior School, major projects included the refurbishment of the 'old' House of Music into the College Chapel in 1989; Davey House renovation; and the construction of the Noble St Wing subsequently named in his honour.

He personally pursued formal adoption of a College Coat of Arms in 1986 and encouraged the heritage aspirations of the School through the naming of various buildings such as the Tait Forecourt, Elliott Theatre and Thwaites Wing. He commissioned the Rolland Window at the Chapel and supported the fund raising that led to the installation of the large bronze Pegasus to dominate Helicon Place. A new Boat Shed was constructed in 1995.

Garnet was born near Stanhope in northern Victoria and boarded at Scotch College as a Lord Gowrie Scholar from 1948 to 1951 where he became a School Prefect in 1951. He entered Ormond College graduating Bachelor of Laws from Melbourne University in 1956. Garnet was a partner in the law firm Whyte Just & Moore from 1959 to 1995, finally retiring in 1999. Garnet died on 31 January 2017.

Two tributes to Garnet Fielding were given as speeches at his retirement dinner at the College in 1997 and published in Ad Astra. The first is by former principal Paul Sheahan; the second by Council Vice-Chairman, Keith Doery. Excerpts from these follow:

Paul Sheahan:
'Ascending to the Chairmanship, Garnet Fielding became only the sixth incumbent, following in the footsteps of some considerable predecessors: Messrs Charles Shannon, Stanley Hamilton-Calvert, Sir Arthur Coles, Dr Norman Wettenhall and Mr Geoff Neilson. My appointment to be the ninth Principal of the Geelong College began for me a most exhilarating decade in Geelong and a most satisfying relationship with a most remarkable man in an almost equally remarkable school. Garnet’s interest in the College was, and I suspect always will be, passionate but he had the grandness of vision and the benevolence of spirit not to interfere but to be there as a sounding board when necessary. Heads and their staff are paid for their devotion; Council Chairmen do it for nothing, nothing other than, perhaps, the satisfaction and justifiable pride.

There are major achievements through Garnet’s sixteen years as Chairman of Council. What are his legacies? The fact that the School is a beautiful place is not solely due to him but he took such an interest in the judicious planting and the oversight of building detail that generations of Collegians to come will owe him a considerable debt of gratitude. Collegians are indeed fortunate to enjoy the fruits of his passion for traditional beauty. Together I am proud to say, we reintroduced religion into the school in an unmistakable way, introducing the minds of curious students to religious philosophy. Leadership, vision, wisdom, judgement, energy, commitment and a sense of humour are hallmarks of his time in the chair. And those who have been privileged to have been asked to join the marching platoon around the Fielding dining room after dinner will understand what I mean about humour! He did not shrink from difficult and sensitive issues when they were in the long-term interests of the College, and the school has benefited enormously from his capacity to confront as well as deal with the hard decision. A man of lesser stock might have caved in. But those, who though he might, underestimate the man; he is nothing if not resourceful, determined and utterly dismissive of intellectual dishonesty but also, I hasten to add, of the highest personal integrity.'

Keith Doery:
'I would like to share with you a few thoughts on Garnet Fielding's association with this school. Every Council meeting over those 15 years was always conducted with firmness and and formaility but always encouraging full discussion giving everyone ample opportunity to put forward their view. Never at any time did he show any sign of frustration or annoyance when debate became repetitious or dragged on unnecessarily. Despite allowing free discussion, meetings nearly always finished on time with agenda being completed. In all of those fifteen years I can only recall one occasion where there was the necessity to call for a vote. Meetings were always tightly run.
Jock Lavender, a former member of CounciI, is an apology for tonight. In expressing his regret for non-attendance he made some astute and telling remarks about Garnet's Chairmanship, let me quote from his letter, "I have sat in many meetings but none have been chaired with the graciousness and good humour that Garnet so consistently displayed. All of us who have served will remember his clarity of thought and his enthusiasm in all matters relating to the welfare of the College.”

The affairs of Council took up only a portion of his time in being Chairman of The Geelong College. Garnet attended all Committee meetings either as a floor member or as a Committee Chairman, always displaying his keen attention to detail and always being well prepared for the matters to be discussed. In matters of expenditure he was ever mindful and showed unfailing concern for the sacrifices being made by parents, this often became the deciding factor whether to undertake the project now or defer for twelve months. Finance meetings were always followed by the Planning Committee which he so ably chaired. It was at these meetings that future buildings and improvements together, with associated landscaping were developed. One can look back over his years as Chairman to see the result of this all important planning with such examples as the Noble Street classrooms, the magnificent Art Centre at the Prep School, the refurbishment of Mackie House, the new Boatshed down on the Barwon, and the gigantic step in the transformation of the former House of Music into the Chapel which now forms such an important role in the life of the school, not only for the present student but for those who have been pupils in the past.

It has not only been bricks and mortar for buildings. Any list should include such things as the existence of landscaping and tree planting the Prep, the Mackie Gardens and more recently Helicon Place with that inspiring sculpture of the Pegasus. Without the generous support and benefaction of the College community, many of these works would not have been possible. During Garnet's stewardship his sympathetic concern for the devastated community of the former Morongo resulted in his efforts to accommodate and provide for a continuing caring education for those displaced former students.

I know there are many things left unsaid about his time as Chairman but perhaps one aspect will always stand out - his reports and addresses to the School community on so many occasions, particularly Speech days. No one who has ever attended can fail to be impressed at his flawless presentation and careful choice of word. I doubt if in the seventeen years of Garnet's time on Council including fifteen years as the sixth Chairman of the School whether any of his predecessors were faced with the heavy responsibility in the appointment of two Principals. It should be noted that in all that time he missed only two Council meetings and on both occasions he was overseas.

Not many may appreciate the incredible demand on Garnet. Over the last 15 years despite many responsibilities and personal tragedy he still put the interest of the College at the forefront. He was always supported by the never failing encouragement and love from Judy.'

Sources: Ad Astra May 1997 pp6-7; Geelong Advertiser 2 February 2017.
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