Kevin was born in Brunswick in the 1920s. His family were pioneering tobacco growers in the King Valley in Northern Victoria. His father’s family are related to the Ah Kets, ‘probably one of the most prominent Chinese families in the early Chinese history here’ and his mother’s family have links to the Hoy Lings; his grandfather was a merchant in the goldfields in Castlemaine and owned Ling Na restaurant in Little Bourke Street. Kevin was an only child and remembers that he was very independent and active: ‘I was always a go-getter, I was always a leader, it didn’t matter what it was’. He believes he went to ‘one of probably the best Primary schools in the State’ in which the students were expected to be inquirers and researchers. He then sat the entrance exam to University High School and, as an ambitious student, sportsman and leader, he excelled in everything in which he was involved. Although he was guaranteed a job with a leading sporting firm when he finished school, he opted to become a teacher instead and worked in a large number of Melbourne high schools in the 1950s and ’60s, including Upwey High, Burwood High, Dandenong High, Blackburn High and Nunawading High. In 1974 he became principal of the all-boys Northcote High School. He remembers this as a time of hope with the Whitlam government giving greater funding to schools; however, many were particularly run down, under resourced and in huge competition with independent schools. Northcote High had a population of mainly Greek and Italian students at the time, which created some racial tensions. While Kevin was principal he introduced female enrolments, creating what is now the co-educational Northcote High School. Of his teaching philosophy and principles Kevin notes that ‘my method of teaching was not that you had to remember things, I didn’t care what they said as long as they thought about it’. He remembers that he learnt during his time as Acting Principal at Eltham High School and Principal at Northcote High School during the 1970s that ‘there was no formula that any Principal or teacher could adopt for the rest of their life for teaching; you had to adapt to the circumstances’. He also states that good principals are ‘people who can communicate with people and understand how to handle staff’. Kevin made significant contributions to the secondary education sphere as a Chinese-Australian amidst both overt and subtle racism, however, he remembers his ambitions to achieve kept him competitive: ‘I’d be better than them anyway, what they could do I could do better’.
Primary: North Brunswick State School, Melbourne, Victoria (1920s)
Secondary: University High School, Parkville, Melbourne, Victoria (1930s)
1. Kevin Yon as a young tennis player, c1930s–1940s. Legacy Obituaries 2. Kevin Yon, playing tennis for University High School, 1931. Photographer unknown. Age, 27 May, 31 via Trove 3. Melbourne Teachers College, c1950s. Photographer unknown. State Library Victoria, H2009.153/17 4. Northcote High School, 1982. Photographer Graeme Butler. Northcote Conservation Study sheet 07 19_1982 via Flickr 5. Upwey High School (originally Upwey Higher Elementary), 1937–1945. Photographer unknown. State Library Victoria, H2014.1019/1