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John Greenway

John was a foundation member, life member and past president of The Mathematical Association of Western Australia (MAWA). Unfortunately he passed a few weeks ago.

The following is from the Perth Modernian e-Newsletter, Issue 34, February 2018


John Greenway

PMS student 1943-45, PMS teacher 1953-56
Like many kids born in that time between the wars, John Greenway did not realise how lucky he was.  Born in Perth, but spending some of his early years in Geraldton, John doesn’t talk about school or classmates.  He remembers tennis.  His Mum and Dad played on the Geraldton courts while young John used a full sized, no doubt heavy, racquet to hit balls into the bush all round.  Some might say this typifies the John who later came to make a real difference to education in this State.   It did not matter that the racquet was heavy.  It did not matter where other people thought the balls should go.  John had a plan, and John made it happen.

At primary school he was given “things to do” that kept him out of the singing class because the sound of his attempts put off the rest of the group.  Throughout his primary school, John did not enjoy the regular “Friday tests” but he liked the chance to be active in the breaks.  He must have worked however, because he won entrance to Perth Modern School.  The 100 new students (50 girls and 50 boys) arrived in their new uniforms and each was assigned as a “fag” to a senior student.  Fags were expected to run errands for their seniors, and some had a hard time, but mostly it was just a short-term arrangement to help the “first years” settle in.

John’s school record from his years at Mod says, “John is in an average class position but is it doubtful whether he is working to his full capacity”.  But John freely admits this.  He had won a scholarship to the Claremont Tennis Club and was more interested in using the school’s tennis courts than the classrooms.  He enjoyed attending the school swimming carnival at Crawley Baths.  This presented a rare opportunity for girls and boys in the lower school to mix and seems to have been a competition worth watching.

In order to attend the school, John had to board, as his parents were now in Kalgoorlie.  Going home for the long summer holidays, John had a wonderful life swimming in the local pool and playing tennis in the local club.  He was successful against visiting top level teams, as evidenced by newspaper articles one can find using TROVE.  It was decided that he would complete his last two years at the local High School, even though there were so few there that fourth and fifth year students (years 11 and 12) were combined in a single, tiny class.  But now John decided to work.  The school knew he was a “Mod Boy” and he was determined to protect Mod’s reputation.  He ended his high school education with outstanding results and a University Exhibition.

John was now “on a roll”.  He completed a Science Degree with an A in every subject and First-Class Honours in Mathematics, completed a teaching qualification and started to teach back at Mod.  This is an indication of how well he was performing because it was rare for Mod to use newly graduated teachers.

But now academically awake, there was no stopping him.  He was passionate about teaching maths but unhappy about the “rote learning” approach under which the student learned a thousand methods and only had to decide which to apply to each problem.  He was admitted, as the first “alien” to the National Science Foundation Course at Princeton in the USA where he examined new approaches to the teaching of maths.  He was excited with the notion that students should UNDERSTAND the issues and THINK.

On his return to Australia he was appointed Superintendent of Mathematics, and the Maths Revolution began.  Prodded, pushed and defended by John, this new approach spread from a small group at Mt Lawley High to five other high schools and then across the entire state.  Teachers were retrained, the syllabus was updated, new texts were prepared, and the exam system was modified.  It was no longer enough to get the correct answer.  Students had to analyse, think and apply.  John’s reputation attracted visitors from overseas.  Who will forget the larger than life Cletus Oakley, a retired US Professor of Education, who visited out of respect for John and his WA maths revolution.

John went on to higher levels of responsibility in education.  He sat on the Governing Body of many of our WA universities, and strove to make The Maths Association of WA (MAWA) a driving force for secondary level teachers as well as university academics.  He didn’t give up his love of physical activity, in fact many a gentle sailor moved aside if they saw John approaching on his perilously unstable “Moth”, but many will say that the most powerful influence of this Modernian was his expounding of the idea that Maths should be fun, and Maths should be understandable.

Thank you, John Reginald GREENWAY.  You may not have hit the tennis balls as everyone else did, but in the end your serves were pretty successful.

1955 Slazenger Cup winning team
Standing: Felix Spittell, Geoff Hall (Captain)

Seated: Mr Calcutt (Sportsmaster), Colin Brown, John Holbrook, Phil Best, Mr Greenway (Coach)


In 2017 Toni Walker (nee Stock) and John Greenway enjoy a quiet chat at the 60 year Reunion for the Class of ’57