Wesley College Melbourne Australia
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Monte Phillips and Wesley College Songs

In the March 2009 edition of the Lion we celebrated one of the great traditions of Wesley College - singing. The fourteenth edition of the Wesley College Song Book reminds us all that singing has been very much part of the Wesley way of life ever since the publication of the first simple pamphlet of songs in the 1890s. Over the years the song book has evolved, with each new edition reflecting the metre of the school and the times. It is fitting that one of the greatest treasures in the Wesley College Archives is a simple, and yet extraordinarily beautiful illustrated, version of the Wesley College songs produced by the hand of an OW. It is remarkable that book survives today as it was badly damaged in the 1989 fire – found soaked and buckled and yet as fate would have it, the hand drawn ink musical scores and the exceptionally fine pencil and watercolour illustrations held fast. This treasure from the past was conserved for future generations to admire. The book elegantly embodies the ethos of the College - make the most of your schooldays and make the most of your life after school by living life fully – in effect an encapsulation of our motto dare to be wise.

Football Song 

The story of the book and the man behind it is one of those classic engaging tales of the past. F Beaumont Phillips, known as Monte since his school days, created and presented this remarkable book to Headmaster LA Adamson as a heartfelt gesture of appreciation for all that he had done for him as a student. Monte had loved Wesley and for him a big part of Wesley was singing - particularly massed school singing in the newly opened Adamson Hall. Born in 1890 in Ballarat, Monte entered Wesley in 1904 as a boarder and pupil no. 3130. Monte had won a coveted Government Scholarship and this offered him the opportunity to continue his education. Adamson used to write to the boys on the Government Scholarship list inviting them to take place at Wesley College and Monte was thirteenth on the list. He came to Wesley determined to do well. Indeed, he impressed all who knew him. As Andrew Lemon in A great Australian school: Wesley College examined notes: “Monte - F Beaumont Phillips was not only short in stature but had a damaged leg. He belonged to the Headmaster’s first years in charge. Musically gifted, he collaborated with Adamson in creating and perfecting many Wesley school songs and worked for a time, after leaving school, as Adamson’s personal secretary.” It is worth recalling that at school, Monte excelled as a champion shot and was a member of the 1908 Wesley College Rifle Team, winners of the First Public Schools Premiership (Cummings Cup). As a prefect he exhibited early evidence of his natural leadership qualities.   

Imbued with a sense of wit and along with gentlemanly charm and conduct Monte embraced the core values of decency, fairness and service. He gained his law degree from The University of Melbourne, but interrupted his legal career to enlist in World War One. His short stature and damaged leg meant his work was in administration, but through dogged determination and some “wrangling” he was able to arrange a transfer to active service in the Army Medical Corps, serving briefly in Egypt and then in England from October 1917. He went on to join the Australian Flying Corps and end the war as a Flying Officer with observer’s wings with rank of lieutenant and a reputation for efficiency and initiative. 

In an extraordinary twist of fate having been noticed by British officials, Monte would embark on an adventure that altered his life forever. Andrew Lemon records

“After demobilization in Melbourne in 1920, armed with the appointment as special judicial commissioner, Monte arrived in Honiara, British Solomon Islands Protectorate, to adjudicate on inter-racial land-ownership disputes. Undeterred by the danger of travelling alone he sailed a yacht designed for a one-legged sailor and carried a portable musical instrument, relying on calculated showmanship to gain entry and an audience. Perhaps all that singing at Wesley had helped after all. Indeed, he succeeded and, as a result of his work, was appointed judge in the Mandated Territory of New Guinea.” 

When he arrived in Rabul in November 1925, he began a judicial career that would see him elevated to the Supreme Court bench. He was enlightened and progressive. Values of fair play instilled in him from school days came to the fore and he soon established a reputation for the fair treatment of the native population – often badly treated by the whites. He gained notoriety and commendation for assuming leadership (in the absence of the administrator and chief judge) during the Rabul police strike of 1929.  Monte drew on his experience gained as a special constable during Melbourne Police strike of 1923. “Under his influence thrashing of servants became a hazardous venture and native rights gradually obtained some respect.” In May 1937, there were volcanic eruptions in Rabul and Monte took charge of the evacuation. He was awarded a CBE for his efforts and in April 1938 was made Chief Judge. In 1940 he graduated from The University of Melbourne with a Master of Laws.

Monte served at home and overseas in World War Two in the Royal Australian Air Force rising to the rank of Group Captain. He married Marie Jean Briton-Smith in London on 11 September 1943. After the war he returned to Papua and New Guinea and continued his fine work in the law. He was socially aware, actively sought answers to problems and is remembered for “urging generous war compensation and leniency towards collaborators and faithfulness to the ‘sacred trust’ of colonial administration.” In 1953 he became the first Chief Judge of the Supreme Court of Papua and New Guinea. He revelled in going bush to preside in makeshift courts and was respected and honoured wherever he went. He retired in 1956, and was knighted the same year. Sadly retirement was brief - he died in 1957. Upon the death of his wife in the mid 1990s, Monte’s gratitude and thoughtfulness was revealed in an extremely generous bequest to his old school, and yet just as meaningful is the beautiful Wesley College Songs that he had fashioned for his friend LA Adamson. Indeed, Adamson had bequeathed this item to school in his own will.

The tradition of singing at Wesley is embodied in this book. OWs when they gather, wherever they are in the world, have no trouble recalling the words of favourite songs, as memories of school days come flooding back. Singing remains an indelible part of the Wesley experience.  

Information for this article was drawn from: Andrew Lemon, A great Australian school: Wesley College examined, Wesley College Chronicle and Australian Dictionary of Biography Online www.adb.anu.edu.au