BRIEF AUTOBIOGRAPHY by Bill Leithhead, November, 2015.
Born in Perth, Western Australia, in 1938, as William Goyne Leithhead, I spent my first year in the small rural town of Carnamah before my parents moved to the WA mining town of Kalgoorlie, where I did my primary schooling. My father, Darcy William Leithhead, was the superintendent of the Vacuum Oil Company railway and fuel storage depot & terminal which supplied fuel and oil to the Goldfields. My mother played the piano for dances; she also played the piano accordion, and created advertising show-cards.
As an only child, I benefited from parental influences in three main ways. Firstly, I developed a love of reading and books, which were always provided for me. Secondly, I learnt to play the piano and then the drums. I played the drums with my mother's dance bands for thirty years, and I presently play jazz piano for my own enjoyment. Thirdly, I developed a love of scientific knowledge, which blossomed into my chosen career in chemistry. I was encouraged in this by my parents, who provided me with simple equipment such as a chemistry set, a microscope, a donkey engine, an electric train set, simple model aircraft and the like.
In 1952, at age 14, I moved across the country with my parents to Melbourne, in the bayside suburb of Carrum, from where I received my secondary education at Mordialloc-Chelsea High School, finally completing Matriculation at Melbourne High School. During that time I became involved in evangelical and other churches. My religious phase lasted lasted for over twelve years, but these days I am definitely a confirmed atheist. I consider that I allowed church activities to interfere unnecessarily with my studies, but that was my own fault!
From 1958 I studied science at Melbourne University, gaining a BSc in Chemistry, an MSc in Organic Chemistry, and a Diploma of Education. In 1964 I gained employment as a lecturer in Organic Chemistry at the Department of Applied Chemistry of the Royal Melbourne Institute of Technology (RMIT), these days known as RMIT University. In 1975 I was promoted to Senior Lecturer in Organic Chemistry. In that role I was able to develop academic courses, incorporate new and novel laboratory exercises, and to to a small extent, engage in research. During this time I also developed an interest in computers and was instrumental in introducing them to the Department of Applied Chemistry.
In 1965 I also became married to a girl, Glenyce Marie Hammersley, whom I'd met through my church activities. Together, Glenyce and I have three children, all of whom are doing well in their lives; we also have four grandchildren.
About 10 years into my career, from about 1975 onwards I became ill with a series of duodenal ulcers. I also had persistent headaches, high blood pressure, anxiety and other symptoms from work stress. In 1979, after a potentially serious overdose of Valium and alcohol, I was diagnosed with serious endogenous depression, which was partly controlled by medication and psychotherapy. But by 1988 it had became quite obvious to me that I should accept the best medical advice, which was to leave my academic employment and go onto an invalid superannuation pension. Reluctantly, I accepted the situation, but was bitterly disappointed and have always deeply missed my teaching activities, plus the up to one million dollars that I have forgone.
For the next 5 or so years I worked part time maintaining the computer networks at a private school, Kingswood College, but left all employment in 1995. In the meantime, I brushed up my piano playing, seeking opportunities to play in public. But until I undertook some jazz piano lessons in 1995 I couldn't get an elusive "jazz sound". I've been working on that ever since with reasonable success!
In 1997 I joined a "Trad" (Dixieland) jazz band and started playing with various bands in jazz festivals, and have continued doing that ever since, although my main taste is mainstream jazz. I've played at Halls Gap, Inverloch, Deniliquin, Wagga Wagga, Merimbula, Monbulk, Echuca, Coolart and Templestowe. My own bands have included the Jazz Travellers, and the Bill Leithhead Trio. I've played at gigs in pubs, clubs, churches, nursing homes and schools. I have also played at National Jazz Conventions in Melbourne and Geelong. But as of 2014 I have more or less retired from such regular involvements in jazz, and consider that I have reached a satisfactory level of expertise, beyond which I am not willing to extort the enormous pressure on myself, because my mental health needs careful balance, and physically I and my wife Glenyce are slowly degrading.
I have also played the piano for a couple of theatre productions with Encore Theatre, Clayton, namely the "The Good Old Days" and "Cinderella". Anyone who has done that sort of thing will know that it is hard work, but very rewarding.
Caravan holidays have always been part of our family life. The children grew up with it, using a caravan bequeathed by my father, and we've been to all states except Tasmania. Glenyce and I toured WA in 2001; it was the first time I had visited for 50 years, and we discovered the wonderful wildflowers there. You can read our 35,000 word illustrated diary of that trip in this web site. Glenyce and I usually manage to do a Spring Tour to various places around the country enjoying Australia at its best. My web site includes many pictures of scenery, wild-flowers, and, of course, fungi.
During my studies in chemistry I became interested in fungi, but it wasn't easy to identify them. Not many people were working in the field, and it wasn't until 2002 that I discovered Fungimap on the internet, which enabled some contact with others with similar interests. In recent years we've been to many Fungi Forays with the Field Naturalists Club of Victoria. This stimulates our intellects, allows us to meet other people, and also gets us out of the house into the forests!
Depression remains a constant background feature in my life, likely to break through at times of stress and fatigue. Since the mid 90s I've also been afflicted with back pain arising from an arthritic disorder called spinal stenosis, or sciatica. Back pain is with me day and night, plus referred pain down the legs to the feet. Apart from taking analgesics and anti-inflammatories, I have had cortisone injections, and finally a double laminectomy, where they opened up the back and scraped away bone and cartilage that were pressing on nerves in my lower back.
All these things each gave relief for several years, but the growths returned in due course. I have had several denervations whereby the irritated nerves are destroyed locally by thermal radiation. Again, this has offered relief for some time, but the nerves grew back. Unfortunately, the condition is no longer operable, and I cope by using medication and diversion into more pleasant activities. As the years roll by, I have also developed "restless leg syndrome", sleep apnoea and hypertension, all of which have been managed by medication and modification of my lifestyle and activities. I use a "CPAP" device for the relief of sleep apnoea. Most recently a new medication for "neurogenic" pain, (that is, referred pain), has been of considerable help, namely Lyrica..
In January, 2007, I was diagnosed with cancer of the prostate gland and had a radical prostatectomy in January. I now appear to be free of cancer, and have recovered well. However, there is basically catastrophic lost of erectile function. what is more, in recent years I have increasing loss of urinary continence, involving a very short time (approx. 20 sec) between the onset of bladder-emptying urgency and the start of poorly-controlled urine flow. I always wear an absorbant pad, which handles leakage.
Also, because I have insomnia from sciatic pain, the required anti- insomnia drugs such as Temaze are inclined to cause me to sleep through, thus causing on irregular intervals a wet patch on the mattress, partly mitigated by using absorptive pads day and night, all the week. Even then the pad and sleeping on a folded towel may not suffice to avoid wetness. I hate this situation, and if it ever becomes intractably bad, then I will consider voluntary euthanasia. I am exploring sources of the necessary drug Nembutal.
Another formative influence has been an interest in psychology. That arose out of my early religious experiences, in parallel with some teenage experiments with hypnosis, triggered by seeing a great stage hypnotist, Franquin. I found then that I could hypnotise some of my friends. Those experiences lead me to read up on psychotherapy, Freud, Jung, and others. In the 1970s I became involved in the Encounter Group movement, where I discovered a great deal about myself.
During the 80s I became involved in GROW, a program of support groups for people recovering from mental illness. This enabled me to understand myself and others even more. Following that, in the 1990s, I and my wife also attended about 7 years of courses and workshops run by Don Treacher, a clinical psychologist associated with the Cairnmillar Institute. Here, the emphasis was upon self-understanding and group dynamics, merging into more existential aspects of our place in the scheme of things.
At a tangent, in the 90s I explored aspects of metaphysics and "alternative" beliefs and therapies. In that vein, four times I have been along to "Confest", a sort of more or less "hippy" gathering of thousands of people, held on the banks of the Murray River in December and Easter. It was there that I learned to get my "gear off", to stay up all night, and to sample marijuana. For several years I used small amounts of cannabis cookies to deal with back pain. It was reasonably effective, but I gave it away on medical advice, and because it's illegal.
For a period of some years Glenyce and I attended regular naturist ("nudist") swim nights and caravan parks. We still enjoy that, but seem to be mostly too busy. I highly recommend the family-friendly naturism movement to anyone who might be interested.
These day I spend a lot of time on the computer, exploring the internet, and maintaining this web site, the code for which I write myself. The domain name elfram.com is registered to myself. The name comes from a mysterious character I met in a meditation session a long time ago, and it might be an alter ego, but I'm not sure.
At home I also spend a lot of time playing my Roland FP5 digital piano through my Roland KC-350 keyboard amplifier. We have a modest circle of friends and family and spend time in the garden and house. We go out to dine, attend jazz concerts, go the the occasional movie, watch intelligent TV, read books, chat and laugh. All told, and notwithstanding the physical and psychological struggles, we have a life of more or less healthy fulfilment.
In late 2015, we were pleased to celebrate our 50th - Golden Wedding Anniversary in the presence of many of our family, past and present friends from the scientific and musical activities that we share.