Jim and Jillian Dellit established this website to bring together their various endeavours, to engage with and contribute to the educational community and educational delivery. Jillian is continuing this work both in her own right, and to keep faith with Jim's life, 1947-2014, and their productive partnership 1970-2014.

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Conversations with Baby Boomer Teachers: Profile No.19

Posted by Jillian in Biography, Education reform, History of Education
February 20

V grew up and attended High School in Country South Australia. Her parents had secondary education. Her father grew up on the family farm and her mother had been a housekeeper in a school boarding house before marrying. Her father developed polio in the 1950s. V’s older sister ran the farm and her other sister trained as a nurse. Their mother had dreams that V would marry into the local gentry. V went to school at four and a half as part of a community bid to keep the local primary school open. To stay open, the school needed to average 14 enrolments over the year. By starting school early, V pushed up the average attendance enough to keep the school open a bit longer.  It did close, nevertheless, and the children, including V, were bussed to the next town for school. Before it closed an inspector came to the school and was impressed by V’s reading ability.

At High School she was a good student and did well at the Intermediate Certificate., V’s Physics and Chemistry teacher recognized her ability, got to know her parents and argued for her to become a teacher. She explained about teaching scholarships and encouraged them to allow V to apply. This they did and V set off the following year to an Independent Girls’ boarding school in Adelaide.

In some ways this was a disaster. V was physically ill and homesick.  The school did not support her ability in Science subjects and did not help her manage either the transition nor her time there.  She was good at sport, which provided both an outlet and acceptance. She was, however, poorly prepared for university.

Her university years were less than smooth because of that poor preparation.  She began in a Science degree but was moved to Arts when she failed subjects at the end of her first year. She graduated, nevertheless, as a Science Teacher, and was posted to a Girls’ Technical High School where she initially taught Arithmetic and Physiology.  She studied Botany and Zoology part time to complete her Science degree.  She was offered an Honours year to follow her work exploring the Mangroves north of Adelaide but did not take it up as she owed a year of teaching to the Department.   She was the first student to study that environment.

Biology was just emerging as a subject in schools. V got involved in the newly formed Biology Teachers’ Association which began providing training for teachers in the new curriculum. They ran camps in the country, designed to show teachers how the environment could be used to teach Biology in an interesting and practical way. It didn’t matter where you were, the environment could be used successfully.. This was an exciting and formative time for V. She worked with John Smith, for a while a Science Advisor for the Education Department and an advocate for marine environments. Under his leadership and work with Biology teachers the early foundations for South Australia’s marine parks was laid. V recalls that he began mapping the reef at Brown’s Beach – now part of the Marine Park – a long way ahead of public awareness or government action. This work, she believes saved the reefs.

At the Girls’ Tech School, State Superannuation staff came and talked to teachers about benefits of Superannuation. The women on staff, however, were not invited, as the general assumption was that they would marry and resign anyway – losing a proportion of their contributions to admin fees. This has had lasting disadvantage for her.

After three years of teaching, V went overseas. This, and subsequent, travel was important to her. It widened her horizons and highlighted what we had in Australia and what was educationally possible.

On her return she taught, became a Deputy Principal, had children and went on to become a Principal, initially of a Girls’ High School because a former colleague encouraged her to apply, telling her , “ You’ll be sorry if someone less able than you wins the job.”.        She recalls Principals’ meetings early in her career where fellow principals and superintendents had no idea of how to include a female into their ranks and treated her as an aberration.  She was, however, mentored by at least one superintendent of schools, who encouraged her to apply for acting Superintendent and Class a Principal jobs.     She then did a year as Acting Superintendent of Schools, initially working on policies of harassment, then going on to work reviewing schools and planning new schooling provision. Her experience of sub-school models helped considerably in this work, which she really enjoyed.

She did win the Class A job, and went on to manage two very complex, specialised schools in high demand. She was able to develop international connections and Sister School relationships that further broadened her understanding of educational possibility. She is also a advocate for Music Education for all students and retains her interest in the education of girls.

She spent the last eight years of her working life managing Leadership Projects for Principals with quite a complex project management responsibility.


V feels she has continually had experiences that pushed her comfort zone, leading to considerable learning.  She was the first of her family to attend university. She would not have done so, had it not been for a far-sighted teacher in her junior secondary years who took the trouble to talk, not only to her, but to her parents, about her potential. A similar intervention, from a Superintendent of Schools, when she was first a Principal, led to her subsequent career trajectory. These personal interventions were critical to her confidence and also awareness of opportunity.

Her parents came through the Great Depression and she grew up in a prudent environment with the family saving the ends of cakes of soap, had home-made clothes (and few of them) and habitually looked for resources from anywhere – using what they  could find. This laid a foundation for life-long habits and attitudes.

She often thinks she should have done Law as she has been interested in legal issues in all her jobs and enjoyed working them through. Having said that, she has enjoyed education and believes it is the foundation for all positive change.  It has provided many interesting opportunities. She attended a Mt Eliza Leadership Training program with a range of Business leaders from Australia and overseas, trained staff in project management and very much enjoyed conversations with the range of people she met.

She is a big-picture person – wanting to see the context in which she is working, and always analysing the issues and broadest possible solutions – applying her accumulated experience to the next challenge.

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