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Connal, Norman Scott (1888–1969)

by Michael D. De B. Collins Persse

This article was published in Australian Dictionary of Biography, Volume 13, (MUP), 1993

Norman Scott Connal (1888-1969), headmaster, was born on 11 February 1888 at Walcha, New South Wales, only child of native-born parents John Scott Connal (d.1891), grazier, and his wife, Frances Margaret, née Rutledge. After Frances re-married, Norman was educated in Sydney. His brains, so his mother insisted, came from her. He attended St Mark's Crescent School, Darling Point, Fort Street Model School and the University of Sydney (B.A., 1910), and from 1901 was a chorister at his stepfather's church, St Mark's, Granville. Connal taught briefly at Mowbray House, a preparatory school at Chatswood, before being appointed in 1911 to Maryborough Grammar School, Queensland. There he taught English and Latin, and coached both boys and girls at sport; promoted senior master in 1913, he was acting-headmaster that year. On 2 July 1914 he married Elsie Marjorie Mackenzie (d.1955) at St Stephen's Presbyterian Church, Maryborough; they were to have four children. From 1915 he was English teacher and sportsmaster at Brisbane Grammar School and in 1918 became secretary of the Queensland Great Public Schools Association.

In 1929 he was appointed headmaster of the somewhat neglected Church of England Boys' Preparatory School, Toowoomba. While espousing traditional concepts of upright behaviour and learning, the revitalized 'Toowoomba Prep' was conducted along unusually liberal lines and in a distinctively Australian way. Connal taught mathematics and English, transmitting his love of literature and regularly reading aloud to the boarders in the evenings. The number of boarders (some of them from remote stations in the bush) rose over thirty years from 27 to 160 and dayboys increased from 40 to 83. Although shy and often unwell, Marjorie Connal acted as the school's unpaid and devoted housekeeper, and was as much a mother to many small boys as Connal was a father.

In an institution run always on a shoestring, Connal struggled manfully with problems of finance and building, particularly during the Depression and World War II. The Australian army occupied the Toowoomba site in 1942-43, forcing the school's evacuation to Southport; there, as at Toowoomba, opportunities abounded to make cubby-houses, hobbies were fostered, and groups could hike and 'boil the billy' in the adjacent bush.

Colleagues throughout Australia and clergy of several denominations saw in Connal a philosopher and a friend; he was the confidant of whole families and of successive Anglican archbishops of Brisbane, especially J. W. C. Wand and R. C. Halse. Connal was a member of the Brisbane diocesan synod, and clergy summer schools were regularly held at 'the Prep'. In 1952 he became foundation chairman of the Junior Schools' Association of Australia; at its conference in 1958, he spoke of discipline as 'consecrated commonsense' and received a standing ovation. He preferred traditional wisdom to modern psychology. Known as 'Boss' (but to earlier pupils as 'Jelly'), he inspired respect, trust and deep affection. Connal was candid and convincing, wise in his understanding of his charges, ebullient, humorous and, on occasion, earthy. His monumental body (he loved food), rich voice (equally compelling whether preaching or leading the choir), sagacious eyes and aroma of pipe smoke made him larger than life to adults and children alike. Naturally dignified and humble, he remained a well-loved legend for decades after his retirement in 1958.

On 11 December 1958 Connal married a divorcee Flora Margaret Armitage, née Dunn, at St Thomas's Anglican Church, Toowong; they later visited Britain, the fulfilment of his lifelong dream. Survived by his wife, and by three daughters of his first marriage, he died on 13 April 1969 at his St Lucia home and was cremated. A new wing of the school had been named after him in 1966.

Select Bibliography

  • J. Somerville, Boss of Toowoomba Prep (Toowoomba, Qld, 1985)
  • P. McNally (ed), School Ties (Toowoomba, 1990)
  • Church of England Boys' [Preparatory] School, Toowoomba, St Aidan,1929-58
  • Maryborough Boys' State High School, Palma, 1956, and Centenary, 1981
  • Church of England Boys' [Preparatory] School, Toowoomba Archives
  • private information.

Citation details

Michael D. De B. Collins Persse, 'Connal, Norman Scott (1888–1969)', Australian Dictionary of Biography, National Centre of Biography, Australian National University, http://adb.anu.edu.au/biography/connal-norman-scott-9806/text17335, published first in hardcopy 1993, accessed online 15 November 2018.

This article was first published in hardcopy in Australian Dictionary of Biography, Volume 13, (MUP), 1993

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