Q probably decided to be a teacher because teachers were the only female role models she had. As she grew up, she formed a view that education could make a big difference to individuals and to the world. She saw education as a way to influence the future. This derived, she thinks, from both her own experience of education and from the role models she saw.
She was very fortunate; she had terrific teachers. They impressed her both in what they taught and in the beliefs to which they adhered. She knew no other professional women, and grew up without knowing any university educated women outside of school. She is sure many of the women who taught her would not today be teachers. They would have perceived themselves as having fewer choices of career than women of their background would today.
Q’s parents were ambivalent about a university education. . They saw teaching as being a compromise option because of the hours they perceived teachers working. It meant, in their view, that she would still be able to have children and work. For a brief while her father had an underlying attitude that working men’s children did not go to university. Her mother had wanted a career in something like accounting or banking. She was perceptive enough to fear that university would take Q out of her world – and also fearful that Q would never find anyone to marry if she was too highly educated.
In her Primary years, Q was placed in an Opportunity School. She was also awarded a Bursary to assist with the last two years of secondary schooling. It paid, she remembers, for her history books and a swimming costume.
She attended Asquith Girls’ High School and loved it. She had career counselling at school. She wanted to do Law, or be an academic. The counsellor arranged for her to attend a session in the old NSW Supreme Court building in Sydney. She had, she recalls, no idea what was going on, but was interested in it. She saw it as a pathway to Politics. The counsellor completely discounted any possibility she could be an academic.
Her parents were not supportive of her studying law so she chose to take up a Teachers’ Scholarship at the end of schooling – it seemed obvious.
On completion of her Arts degree in English, Anthropology and History then her Diploma in Education, she applied to remain in Sydney. Her first appointment was for several weeks as a supernumerary teacher at Pennant Hills High School. The Principal told her she could stay there if she would teach French. Being (in her terms) high minded, she told him that would be terrible for the students as she was not trained to teach French.
She was appointed to Narrabri High School. After a week staying in one of the seven pubs in town she boarded with a family until she organised to share a house with two other teachers. She taught English, History and Social Studies. The Principal and the head of English were both female, the latter active in the Australia Party. It was an election year and the Australia Party ran a local candidate. Q got involved in the campaign.
At the end of the year she decided she wished to return to Sydney and did not think that she liked teaching secondary school and went to work for the Department of Christian Education in the Uniting Church. Located in Castlereigh Street in Sydney, they trained teachers and produced materials for Religious Education and Sunday Schools. The work appealed to her and she stayed for three years, honing her skills in adult education. She has drawn on these skills all her life and learned most of what she knew about that in this job. The curriculum was calibrated to age. It was there she also met the work of Freire and Illich and gave her a political framework in which to develop her learning in adult education.
She paid her Bond back to the government at $10 per month.
The adult education experience laid the foundations for an interest in team teaching. This led her to take up a job at Simon Stock School, a Catholic School in Pendle Hill, managed at that time by the Brothers of the Society of St Gerard Majela. On arrival Q discovered that the teacher leading the team teaching that had drawn her to the school had been assigned to other duties and Q was the most experienced team teacher. After a term she decided it would not work without resources. She had put her energies into teaching her Form 1 class to read. She regards this as her only really significant school education achievement. She also came to the conclusion that the outside influences on children were so great that the school was not necessarily the most important influence in their lives. This shifted her interest to community as she had always been interested in the connections between school and community and believed that schools all too often operated in isolation from the communities which they served.
While nurturing the idea of community engagement she resigned and took up a job as the national training officer for Angus and Robertson, a book publisher and retailer owned by Gordon Barton who had introduced one of the first computerized stock control cash register systems in Australia. Q had applied to become a trainee manager, but was spotted by the newly arrived human resources manager and recruited to the role of training officer.
After a year in this job she headed overseas for four years. In London she worked briefly in a psychiatric hospital, before applying for a job as a community worker in Camden in the team based at Swiss Cottage. The selection process involved a group interview. As she had not received any of the background information on the job (it had she later discovered been wrongly addressed) she decided on a strategy of keeping silent for the first 15 minutes and allowing her adult education experience to come into play. She emerged as one of two shortlisted candidates. The other applicant was both trained and experienced, but threatening to the conservative social worker in charge. Q got the job, which involved assisting the social work team set up a ‘patch’ system, working a geographic area of service delivery rather than providing age-related services. It was, she is sure, her training in education that got her the job and enabled her to do it. She later did a course at the National Institute of Social Work (NISW), as she had worked with lecturers from that Institute as professional advisers whilst on the job at Camden.
Returning to Australia in 1978, Q looked for a job. The Wran government in NSW had set up a series of family and children’s services, including community childcare, support for out of school and school holiday centres and work based child care services. Q found a niche in the second of these, providing training and resources for those who were running these community based services. When she had been there for a little over a year the State Government set up the Western Sydney Area Assistance Scheme (WSAAS) – a regional community development program which was a follow on from the, by then discontinued, Whitlam initiated Commonwealth Australian Assistance Plan. WSAAS was managed by the newly legislated Department of Environment and Planning and operated through project officers in each of the ten local councils involved in the program.
Q went to work as a Project Officer, working with Blacktown Council, the largest of the councils and subsequently moved to the Department of Environment and Planning running the whole program. She drew together the various stakeholders and got them to work together with the three levels of government. She set up mentoring and professional development programs. She loved it. She has recently participated with others in writing a book on the program, intended as a three year pilot, which continued for 30 years (to 2009), which is in publication.
At the same time she had begun to study Law. Her original intention had been to enrol in a Masters Degree in Town Planning, which would have developed in her work in that direction but she met someone who was proposing to study Law at the University of Technology, Sydney and Q, feeling she had unfinished business with Law from her schooldays, decided to join in. She had always wanted to do it, had no idea where it would take her, but undertook 4 years of study part time while working.
She liked it. Her interest centred on the philosophy of Law, Administrative Law and Law as it affected people on the ground. At the end of her course she became an Associate to the Chief Judge of the Family Court.
She had, she reflects, no real career plan. She just wanted to do jobs she believed would make a difference and involved her in learning new skills. She has always had a strong sense of links to previous jobs and of developing, building on and diversifying her skills with each new job. Her diverse experience and skill sets gave her an edge. She initially decided she did not want to practice as a lawyer but to continue her community work so she joined ACOSS as a Deputy Director. Subsequently her age and experience secured her a position as Registrar of the Family Court – drawing again on her adult education, negotiation and community background. She trained as a family mediator and conciliator.
She was admitted to the Bar. Tribunal work, however, emerged as a good fit with her skills. Six months after being admitted to the Bar she was appointed as the inaugural President of the (then) Community Services Tribunal. Setting it up drew heavily on her education training and philosophy. She eventually abandoned private practice at the Bar in favour of Tribunal work, which she has been involved with for twenty years, including in some leadership and management roles.
In parallel with her working life she has always been involved in community organisations which have had goals in which she believes, serving for a long period as the Chair of the Board of the NSW Women’s Legal Service and of the NSW Council of Social Services, amongst other organisations.
Q believes, had she trained in Law from school, her career trajectory would have been quite different. Her interest in Community work came through her education experience and the influence of Freire and Illich. Her legal work has derived from her community work and been significantly enhanced by her education skills. Her involvement in education stood her in very good stead in tribunal work. In the course of making decisions and resolving disputes she could bring people along, take them through an educative process and mediate – not always to eventual agreement. This is particularly important in some jurisdictions such as adult guardianship. Education taught her to identify where you wanted the learner to end up and to devise a pathway to get there.
In retirement, Q is still studying and building her skills. She had wanted to do Art at school but had to choose between Art and Latin, which she loved. Had she chosen Art, she thinks she may have ended up in Architecture. She continued to develop her interest in art throughout her working life. At one point she considered doing a Museum Management course. She is a visual learner and, still with the head-set of an educator, is consciously developing her skills in this area in retirement with a view to developing a practice in ceramics.