The way things fell out when G finished secondary school resulted in her entry into teacher training. She had not anticipated doing so well. When she won a Commonwealth Scholarship she could go to any university in Australia, with her university fees paid.
She had always loved learning. This thirst for finding out about how things worked gained momentum through her Primary and Secondary years. She loved literature and history. She has strong memories of the delight she felt in learning Ancient History. Her teacher was the Principal of the small rural Queensland school. He was often away for the lesson and his small group of students went to the library and researched the topic – a de facto research-based learning approach which had good results.
From a Queensland farming family, she was the only one of five children to go beyond Grade 10. Very few of her 58 cousins went beyond Grade 10. About 5 had some kind of tertiary training. The options she considered open to her were teaching or as a Deaconess in the Lutheran Church – and service in either Hermannsburg or Papua New Guinea. The move towards universal secondary education took, she observed, an extra generation in the country. Her mother used to say G had been “picked up on the road” – so different was she to her siblings.
Her father loved her enjoyment of study and bought her a set of Time-Life books on History – ordered them by mail. She remembers the excitement of picking up the package from the farm mail-drop. The things she loved most were reading, finding out new things and relishing the power of language to take her to new realms – so what better opportunity could she have than to continue doing this herself and share the joy with young people?
Later on she would discover the delight in the process of learning, but it began with exploring the world outside the family farm.
Her parents were farmers. Her father took delight in her interest because he found the world interesting. He was a self-taught, intelligent man, known and respected as a ‘good man’ in the Darling Downs. His grandfather, who took his family from Victoria to Queensland, had had a similar interest. G can now see her own love of school – of reading, writing, learning in her Great Grandfather as well as in her father.
Her schooling had involved moving schools – and was, in the end, facilitated by the ‘High Top’ policy of the Queensland Country Party. In the 1950s, and early 60s in much of rural Queensland, the only option for secondary schooling was to send children away to Boarding School. G was sent to Concordia College in Year 8. Two years later, the drought brought her home – the fees were not affordable. The Country Party government’s policy promised a school with secondary capacity within 30 miles of every child. A new State secondary school was built in the local town and she attended for the last 3 years of secondary schooling
Her mother was a fair woman who would never value a good education above other forms of human endeavour and experience, so all children were given a chance to follow their interests. For most of them this was in local business or home on the farm. Her father was committed to the benefits of education.
G was highly organised. She had to be an autonomous learner. She worked out a rigorous revision schedule half way through her final year and stuck to it – while her siblings were out feeding the pigs and milking the cows. She was very much supported in this.
She remembers getting her results – walking to the mail box, collecting the letter, walking home with it unopened, taking it to her room and sitting on her bed. Her mother followed her in and sat beside her as she opened it. Her mother, in a rare show of affection, put her arm around her and shared the joy of her achievement and fulfilment.
The Principal of the Lutheran Teachers’ College in Adelaide made regular visits to Lutheran communities in Eastern Australia to recruit teacher trainees. All Primary and Secondary Lutheran teacher trainees had to enrol through the Adelaide Lutheran Teachers’ College, which was originally attached to the Lutheran Seminary. Students at the College did a three year Bachelor’s degree at Adelaide University, a one year Diploma of Teaching and a one year Theology course on the end. G’s family could not afford to send her to Adelaide and it was also too late to enrol at Adelaide University. The Principal of the Lutheran Teachers’ College, however, paid a visit to the farm to talk to G’s father. He negotiated a program that enabled her to do the Theology year first, and enrol at Adelaide University the following year. This was quite an unusual arrangement.
With this support, G lived in the Lutheran College, completed the Theology course- coming first in a number of subjects – completed her degree, returning to teach English and History at a Lutheran College in Toowoomba for a year before completing her Diploma in Education. The Principal was the same one who had been her Principal when she was a Year 8-9 student. She was, as was usual at the time, paid under the award rate. It did, however, fulfil her obligation to Lutheran Education.
She returned to Adelaide the next year, completed her Diploma in Education and married.
Throughout these years, along with some fellow-students, G travelled home to Queensland once a year, getting the Overland train to Melbourne, then train to Sydney and another train to Queensland. The journey home took three days. She is still in contact with a number of her fellow students who became life-long friends.
Her father was very proud of her achievements at school and in her ensuing career – but such pride was considered inappropriate by his wife and some of G’s siblings.
At University, G met and married her husband, an atheist and socialist. After graduating she moved out of the Church – to the despair of her father, who came to regret sending her to University. He had no way of engaging with her in religious discussion other than to say “You must have faith”. Her difference from her family got greater.
Having moved out of the Church, G sought employment with the South Australian Education Department and was placed at Morphett Vale High School. Few staff members had a degree and the Principal valued her training and contribution. The new open-plan environment was a wonderful one in which to be teaching. There was a freedom of thinking and experimentation. By the time she took leave, three years later, to travel overseas, the student numbers had ballooned to the point where walls were going up in order to accommodate more classes in smaller spaces.
In England she did not teach, but worked instead at W H Smith in London and Chatham, Kent.
On her return she was appointed to an Adelaide girls’ school, where she worked for 4 years before volunteering for displacement because the school numbers were steadily dropping. The move was to a school that had only recently enrolled girls. The practices and attitudes to girls in that environment were in stark contrast to all that she now believed about schooling and learning, especially for girls. This was not to be her arena for change.
She won a job at the Transition Education Unit and worked for two years managing grants before moving into the Participation and Equity Program, a whole school change initiative generously funded by the Federal Government. Then it was a move to the Northern Area Education Office as a Senior Education Officer in the area of Educational Disadvantage, notably Girls, Multicultural and Aboriginal Education.
From there she moved as a Deputy Principal to one of the remaining Adelaide Girls’ Schools before spending two and a half years as Acting Principal. From there she became a Curriculum Superintendent and eventually Curriculum Director.
Education Support Services
Within this period, her marriage broke up and she was divorced. Eventually she entered into a long term relationship with another woman. The vulnerability she felt with this in a school situation played a role in her decision to move into the educational support services. After all the “edges” she had moved to from her family and within the education community, in the 1980s this was an edge too far.
However the move enabled her to continue her lifelong love of seeking new knowledge and understandings. She was leading change and followed that role where it took her. The pull to learn new things and find new ways was always what she followed. Pursuits of fairness and new understandings were her drivers. She felt the zeal to improve the status of women, read the new feminist writers, became part of a group determined to improve the quality and status of girls’ education.
She never regretted the choice of teaching. Every step she took seemed a bonus. She has never longed for a different career. She wishes she had made more time for beyond work interests along the way, but never a different career. The emphasis on girls’ education in her career from the mid 70s was an opportunity. It was good to be involved in opening doors. She remains committed to education as the centre of any community.
She has never sought a high profile. Because her path has been so edgy – from the edge of her family and community to the edge of both personal and educational change and practice, she lacks an underlying confidence. She is still trying to change things, though, through her voluntary activity and her family and community involvement.
Her only regret is that she didn’t stay more than five years in a job and she feels envious of those who have been able to have 20 years of learning in one role. She had to keep moving in order to focus on the change and the learning in her chosen areas.
Her teacher training took her out of the conservative country community into the expansive world of Adelaide in the 1970s.
She still feels she approaches life as a learner, rather than as an educator. She wants students to be comfortable and challenged in their learning, to be regarded and treated fairly, connected to other learners rather than isolated in learning and never doing less than they are able.
She has remained close to her Queensland family throughout her life.
It is possible to live in multiple worlds.