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Fisher, Charles Douglas (1921–1978)

by Weston Bate

This article was published in Australian Dictionary of Biography, Volume 14, (MUP), 1996

Charles Douglas Fisher (1921-1978), headmaster, was born on 8 October 1921 at Repton, Derbyshire, England, third of six sons of Rev. Geoffrey Francis (Baron) Fisher, headmaster of Repton School and later archbishop of Canterbury, and his wife Rosamond Chevallier, née Forman. Educated at Marlborough College, Charles was commissioned in the Royal Regiment of Artillery in July 1941 and served in Egypt, Sicily and Italy during World War II. At the University of Oxford (B.A., 1948; M.A., 1953) he represented Keble College at rowing and Rugby Union football, presided over the junior common-room, was a live-wire Christian and 'chiefly organized . . . ''Foot-the-ball" contests of sturdiness and agility between the Gentlemen of Cambridge and the Sportsmen of Oxford'. Tallish and strongly built, round faced and keen, he loved activity. He was a practical joker whose laugh 'gurgled to the surface' then exploded infectiously.

On 15 April 1952, at Canterbury Cathedral, Fisher married Anne Gilmour Hammond. From 1948 to 1955 he taught at Harrow School and in 1955-61 was senior master of Peterhouse, at Marandellas in his wife's homeland, Southern Rhodesia (Zimbabwe). Briefly back in England, at Sherborne School, he moved to Adelaide in 1962 to became headmaster of Scotch College which he transformed, economically and educationally, by adding a new junior school, science laboratories and a chapel, and by instituting a comprehensive outdoor programme and making strong staff appointments.

In the same way, from 1970 to 1973, Fisher put the Church of England Grammar School, East Brisbane, on a better footing: he promoted new educational ideas, raised academic standards, strengthened financial management and established close rapport with staff, parents and boys. He increased the number of houses from six to sixteen to improve pastoral care, stimulated music, created an art department and introduced electives in Asian languages, defensive driving and bachelor cooking. Anne took parties of boys from the school—and some girls—on weekend camps. The boys were 'darling' to her and she was 'Mum'—a restless mum, radical in middle age.

Although strongly opposed to dogma, paraphernalia, symbolism and verbiage in religion, Charles was a conservative. Yet, after moving to Victoria in 1974 on his appointment as headmaster of Geelong Church of England Grammar School, where there were already some girls, he embraced co-education. He found it an asset in music, art, drama and debating, as well as financially. Faced by falling enrolments, he recognized that his previous attitudes were archaic and supported the school council's decision to amalgamate with two girls' schools, Clyde and The Hermitage, despite contingent problems at G.G.S.'s alpine outpost, Timbertop. He skilfully promoted the change as a great educational experiment.

The administrative tasks were forbidding: numbers rose to 1600 on four widely spread sites, and new amenities and new rules were needed. Attitudes had to be changed among a previously male-dominated staff. But in the testing situation Fisher seemed 'as indestructible as a red gum' and remarkably relaxed. His laugh, his cheery, bespectacled face, his participation in plays and his determination to know every pupil at the Corio campus by name, earned him support.

Apart from increased classroom and boarding accommodation, and a theatre, the major building undertaken at this time was a resource-centre, later named the Fisher Library. It was partly funded by the Federal government whose centralism he loved to castigate. Like any meddling with independent schools, the 41-page questionnaire from the Australian Schools Commission in 1974, on which calculations of affluence affecting recurrent grants were based, made him fume. So he worked hard in support of the G.G.S. Endowment Trust, launched in 1976, hoping that it would be a hedge against fee increases and government influence.

Fisher was a manager rather than a thinker. Despite personal optimism, he was pessimistic about encouraging young people to think independently when so many were obviously destined to work in hierarchical institutions. His rather bland desire for his school was that it should balance the development of individuality with the inculcation of attitudes and skills useful to the community, the nation and the world.

Secretary-treasurer (1965-75) and treasurer (from 1976) of the Headmasters' Conference of the Independent Schools of Australia, Fisher was also chairman of the education committee of the Australian Council for Rehabilitation of [the] Disabled. The complexity of G.G.S. and the move to co-education absorbed most of his energy, and the long distance to Timbertop may have claimed his life: while making a routine visit, he died on 5 December 1978 when his car left the road and hit a tree near Kanumbra. Survived by his wife, four sons and two daughters, he was cremated. G.G.S. and C.E.G.S., Brisbane, hold his portraits by Charles Bush.

Select Bibliography

  • W. Bate, Light Blue Down Under (Melb, 1990)
  • Geelong Church of England Grammar School, Corian, 104, no 1, May 1979
  • Sunday Mail (Brisbane), 22 Oct 1972
  • Courier-Mail (Brisbane), 3 Sept 1977.

Citation details

Weston Bate, 'Fisher, Charles Douglas (1921–1978)', Australian Dictionary of Biography, National Centre of Biography, Australian National University, http://adb.anu.edu.au/biography/fisher-charles-douglas-10188/text17889, published in hardcopy 1996, accessed online 21 September 2014.

This article was first published in hardcopy in Australian Dictionary of Biography, Volume 14, (MUP), 1996

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