It was an ordinary Thursday when a group of old school mates and their teacher reunited at the Christmas Hills Raspberry Farm for lunch.
There was, however, something special about this get together.
The lunch came just a few weeks after Associate Professor Neville King was appointed as an Officer of the Order of Australia.
Dr King, who is now retired and living at Hillwood, is credited as one of the experts who introduced Cognitive Behaviour Change to Australia.
Cognitive behaviour therapy is a type of psychosocial therapy designed to help people change unhelpful or unhealthy habits of thinking, feeling and behaving, and is now the main psychological approach to care worldwide.
It was this, as well as other significant work as an academic, researcher and author, that led to the accolade for his distinguished service to medicine and medical education, particularly in the field of cognitive and behaviour therapy.
Dr King said the motivation for studying and researching childhood anxieties came from his fear of canines, after being chased by dogs on his way to Railton Primary School.
When Devonport’s John Blenkhorn picked up the newspaper on Australia Day, he knew there was more to the story.
“My thoughts were ‘gosh I know this man but no I don’t’, I knew Neville the boy,” Mr Blenkhorn said.
“We were at the Railton school together and in the scout movement and we, along with many others, were chased by the same dog.”
He remembered who owned the dog and, more importantly, he remembered Miss Meers, the teacher Dr King said had a significant impact on his life in his interview.
Armed with this knowledge, Mr Blenkhorn arranged a reunion of sorts between the professor, the teacher and the dog owners, to reminisce about their time at Railton and learn the truth about Bristol the bulldog.
Dr King is living with Huntington’s Disease, an inherited genetic disorder, but his words and actions were clear as day when he first saw Miss Meers – now Mrs Isabella Hicks – after all these decades.
With tears in his eyes and a broad smile Dr King said it was an honour as he shook Mrs Hicks’ hand, before leaning down to kiss her cheek.
Mrs Hicks not only taught Dr King at Railton, but also former Tasmanian Premier Michael Field.
“I thought they would probably do well but not quite so well … the children were all kind, they did what they were told, I don’t remember any that were really naughty,” she said.
Mr Field was not at the reunion but he too remembered Mrs Hicks.
“I think she was my grade one or grade two teacher and I met her again at a university function when her granddaughter, I think, received a degree at the Burnie civic centre,” Mr Field said.
“I remembered her with affection.”
Dr King said she instilled in her students that they could achieve anything they dreamed with hard work.
Despite her influence being notable, Mrs Hicks was only a teacher for about four and a half years.
She taught in Railton and Perth before she married her husband Selwyn.
“In those days you stopped working when you got married,” she said.
“I cried when I finished, I was happy to be married but sad to leave.”
Keepsakes from her days teaching include seven small black and white photographs, one which pictures Dr King.
She passed them around the table of old school mates and their partners, with a magnifying glass to help get a closer look.
Also attending the lunch were brothers Trevor and Lewis Coleman.
“The Coleman family lived a few doors down from the Kings along our road to the school,” Mr Blenkhorn said.
“Mr Coleman had Bristol the bulldog ... they loved nothing better but to see kids run as they let Bristol out the front gate.
“Michael Field told me that Neville became a very fast sprinter at the Devonport High School, I guess every time he left the blocks he could hear Bristol not far behind.”
Mr Blenkhorn said the Coleman family had no idea their “sport” would set Dr King on a lifetime of work, but the brothers saw Bristol a little differently.
“He was a beautiful dog,” Mr Trevor Coleman said.
“Our young sister used to sit next to him and he would bark at anyone who came near her. We were never scared, he was a lovely dog, he would roll around and play with you on the grass – no worries.”
Bristol was fiercely loyal to the family with eight children but was never an animal that truly needed to be feared, the brothers said with a laugh.
They had no idea about the ground-breaking work their pet had inspired until they heard of Dr King’s award and both found the situation “pretty funny”.
There was a second dog who lived with Bristol – Buddy the terrier – but he was far less territorial towards strangers.
“We had a male school teacher who used to come down and take him for a walk after school … we used to take him for walks but he got too big,” Mr Coleman said.
Such was the life of children at Railton, with “a lot more freedom in those days”.
The Coleman family enjoyed stirring people up – including their mother.
“We used to go bush quite often and we came up on this rather large tiger snake that had been killed,” Mr Lewis Coleman said.
“It was huge to us, we took it home on a couple of sticks.
“Our little sister was only 18 months at the time, we put her on the veranda and curled the snake up facing her and went and called mum. Then the neighbour came in and said they saw us carrying it in and we got in a lot of trouble.”
The pair maintain that Bristol would not have hurt anyone, but Mr Blenkhorn was convinced they enjoyed seeing him chase the other children.
He hopes to stir up memories of others who once attended Railton Primary School and encouraged them to touch base.
A Back to Railton Reunion event is being held on Sunday, July 15.
Mrs King said some other school mates had made contact when they heard of Dr King’s appointment as an Officer of the Order of Australia.
“I made a wish six months ago that I could learn more about his life when he was younger,” she said.
“And now all of this has happened.”