The Sociology of A Place To Call Home Part 8
by Sandshoe (Honshades)
I accepted a lucrative Fellowship as a student trainee under contract for eight years to the Queensland Education Department. I was to complete a Bachelor of Arts and Diploma of Education within four years and teach for four. My father begged me to accept a Commonwealth Scholarship of lesser value. He would fund the balance if I still wanted to be an Anthropologist. I had talked Anthropology for a year.
My father previously communicated financial worry to me that he was retiring. I lied again without a qualm I wanted to accept the Fellowship.
I was required to attend the new James Cook University in Townsville that was ‘zone’.
My work in the last two years of High School was dedicated to getting to the University and that was always in my imagination where my father, brother and sister had attended. If a subject was not available at the JCU I could go where it was available. Anthropology I considered met that criteria. I was allowed by the Department of Education to enrol at the University of Queensland.
After I moved into my residence at the College, I received a directive letter from the Department of Education anthropology was deemed ‘not a teaching subject’. My incredulity I was required to withdrew the enrolment was impulse to rebel. I enrolled in Political Science.
I expected to receive another letter directing me to withdraw enrolment from it, which never arrived. My intention had been to take the letter rejecting Political Science to a seething campus in the form of Students for Democratic Action (SDA). I entrapped myself. That one of the Majors of my eventual graduation is Politics was founded on nothing more than rage at the grounds on which my enrolment in Anthropology was rejected.
I recognised, belated, if it was not my enrolment in Pol Sci slipped past the notice of scrutineers, the enrolment was a literal red flag and my likely next move anticipated.
Where to go for counsel I had no notion other than to the Department. The small print terms of my contract suggested it was available to me if I had any concerns. I said nothing to my parents to fly under their radar likely to detect disappointment.
When I was at University long enough to get my feet on the ground, I made confident appointment with the offices of the Education Department for career advice. I had read a newspaper report that proposed the potential placement of psychologists in schools in Queensland. Independent of influence of any complexion I had been considering it was an imperative.
My transition to University was the incentive that I was wracked with homesickness. The size of the University was traumatic. I was in an academic stream class of nine students in my final year of High School. The University on the other hand was the biggest in the Southern Hemisphere and only emergent from being the one University in Queensland.
No, said the person I was allotted to speak with. He looked confused, diminished me, there was nothing like that and there never will be. I was stunned. He fell silent. I was dismissed. I had no idea how to persist to make conversation and negotiate with an institution I presupposed would accommodate my enquiry with interest.
I had as well a type of chronic fatigue, not that it occurred to me for many years I suffered those symptoms. I fell asleep at 8pm and slept until 8am like clockwork through an alarm and missed my College breakfast hour. I walked a short distance to University from College for a 9am lecture. I sat down in the lecture theatre and fell asleep. The mechanism of sleep felt like an applied anaesthetic.
I was never woken and never rebuked. English I class as an example was somewhere like 950 students, which seems an unimaginable recall. The class was divided into two sittings. Numbers dwindled at the end of the year as I remember it to a handful of students at the front of the auditorium and I asleep in a seat in the back top tier. Falling asleep in class and struggling into consciousness at its end to leave I experienced as a sense of eventual and devastating failure.
No one was more surprised I was awarded a pass for my four First Year subjects of English, History, Political Science and a Pass (Minus) for a compulsory foreign language, Japanese. Pass (Minus) meant I would not be allowed to enrol in further Japanese language studies.
How deficient it was I had no counselling what subjects I chose. I had studied French for five years of High School. I was competent to translate letters for my father related to his work in the sugar industry. I spoke French at our dinner table with a visiting scientist. I did not foresee the use of French. Two of the applicant students as it was had sat at the beginning of that year through being bombasted by the Professor of the Department we had failed an aptitude test, yet persisted with application to enrol.
The brilliance of the intellectual content of Professor Akroyd’s ire that she would have to allow our entry was rivetting. I credit it one of the finest lectures of the privilege that has been mine. The professor covered the status of the culture of Japan and the mindset of Australian young people who were ignorant of Asia and the waste of resources deployed to cater to their whims. I was moved to read her obituaries include a reference she could be ‘prickly’. Not at all. She was enraged.
In my second year of University I attended at the Education Department after requesting an appointment. I felt no option and reflected I must have been unlucky in the previous year. I could not be rebuffed a second time surely if I reported I foresaw I would not pass my exams. I thought my decision to present intelligent. The interviewer reached into a drawer of his desk and took out a folder he opened, He announced let’s have a look. He scoffed. A student like you with the results you turned in. He made it clear I was misrepresenting the case. I was dismissed.
Recognising I had returned only Pass marks in my First year subjects and of the four I was not permitted to enrol again in Japanese ought to have alarmed him. I was asked nothing. My memory of presenting looks little more than attending an empty room. I wonder now as I write if it was anybody’s office at all I was so rapidly moved on out of there.
No one was more astounded at the end of that year I was awarded a Credit in second year English. Yet I only returned one essay of three I was asked by the exam paper to write. I wrote on William Faulkner’s
Light in August. I reckoned only I would go ahead and enjoy myself as I was going to fail.
I was well equipped for studies in English from my home background. My advantage was as well that when I was a High School student, I was selected with two others of the students from my school to attend an intensive three-day course in Australian Language and Literature studies for High School students newly instituted by the Foundation for Australian Studies under the auspices of Colin Roderick at the James Cook Campus in Townsville.
I further note it was said by an incoming English lecturer in 1969 he was surprised by the high standard of the work of incoming Queensland undergraduates. Unavoidably I consider the likely politics underlying reaction to the Committe reccommendation soon to be released to remove University lecturers from setting examination papers. The examiner who marked the work I passed in for assessment of my First Year University English assessment might have been inspired to scrutinise the contents more closely than to fail me.
I failed however the second year History exam by reason of ‘Did Not Sit’.
I slept through it not responding to the alarm to get out of bed and attend. I failed my second year Political Science exam that was multiple choice.
The Education Department deemed I had failed second year by not turning in pass results for at least two subjects of three. I was advised by letter from the Department to repeat the year at my own expense or attend the Teachers Training College in Townsville under the terms of the original contract inclusive continuing remuneration.
I applied for permission to attend the TTC in Brisbane. If I was going through with this I needed to remain in Brisbane for that stability. My application was rejected.
I lost active membership of the University choir for which I had been appointed to Promotions Officer. I lost contacts with friends relatively easy to lose in the days before social media and mobile phones. I lost association with their parents where I had been a guest in my friends’ homes. I lost my city. Brisbane I truly identified with at the end of two years. I lost my proximity to my aunt who had recently retired out of her teaching position. She was now after the death of her remaining bachelor brother living alone in her Brisbane home she lived in her life long since immigration in 1922, my father’s family home and his children’s for succour had I utilised the potential of my aunt and uncle to advise me as my brother had when he was at University. My father was the only one of his four siblings who had children.
I acknowledge my paternal younger uncle who moved away to live elsewhere accepted Legacy children who became his responsibility and that they cared for him in his later years. I hold great affection for them and their loving care.
My potential to access counsel was cruelled by my taking on a degree of alienation from my brother, but as well my aunt because I rejected the offer extended me to go to boarding school where she taught. My brother grieved I did not I would realise later.
The Education Department meanwhile had no motive deeper than to stock its new TTC in Townsville. Who would demand that move of me. I was naive of the crisis Australia faced that was a plummeting shortage of teachers in the 1960s. Murmur, too of a significant gender imbalance was turning some educators’ tables. Married women could not teach as permanent teachers and were not encouraged to try to retain their employment until the mid-70s. In 1966 women in the workforce constituted less than 24%. The number of female teachers at one dip represented well less than 40% of active teachers.
The result I foresaw of accepting going to the TTC was I would be teaching in one year’s time with one full year of University qualification and one at TTC only and I would be 20 instead of 22. We were to finish our degrees externally by contractual obligation. The future looked arduous. I was already anxious a teacher was to undertake one year teaching in a city school and one by transfer to rural or remote Queensland. I saw myself isolated if I needed the assistance of the Education Department in a remote location.
Eight years contracted to the Education Department looked intolerable.
I never considered appeal to my parents. To return to University for one year full-time would have been at my parents’ expense, but as well I would still be contracted to the Education Department at the end of it.
Hanging over my head was the real rub of contractual expectation I repay the Queensland Government two full-time years of University tuition and remuneration paid me.
I forewarned my parents I would fail my second year.
Why they paid no heed is a mystery. I had consistently predicted the status of a result before I was advised other than in my First year University result I did not discuss with them beforehand. My father when I was a small child asked me what I thought I got for my first Theory of Music exam. I said 100%. He told me I could choose whatever I wanted him to buy me if I was awarded 100%. I checked with him on that. Anything. Ought to have struck while that iron was hot.
I said a fountain pen.
When the result came in the mail from the Music Examinations Board, he ordered me to get into the car. I got to pick out a fountain pen at the newsagency. He announced to the newsagent he had not believed me. I could wear that. I understood he reacted and unwisely when I said 100%.
He hurt me when I responded to his asking me what I thought I got for my Senior examination. I listed the subjects and points with accuracy except unsure about one. He drew a sharp intake of breath to smother what he was about to say and released it. I recognised anger. He was so rarely angry with me I felt confused. He struggled to modify himself that sometimes people do not like it when our heads get too big.
Never in my life had he before accused me of being conceited.
When the Senior exam results were phoned to us by a teacher who was a family friend, I even reflected without saying anything abrasive to my father he would have been wiser had he remembered the fountain pen. His reaction when I naively had told him my anticipated matriculation results and points hurt me to my very core.
My father cried when the results of my second year at University became official. I was at home on summer holidays because especially I went home to tell my parents I expected to fail. I feared what effect my failing would have on them.
My mother especially was not well. I did not anticipate seeing my father cry. The shock was seering. I did not understand how very far my parents and I were growing apart that long periods elapsed between our seeing each other.
When my father ordered me not to go out in a short sun dress I was ironing to do exactly that, I was more than out of my depth how to cope. I had no acculturation in being told what I could wear. My adolescence was conservative to the extreme. I had been away from home for two years and 19 year old. I packed the dress into a handbag and dressed in jeans, changed into it when I was well clear of home.
My father had no experience of parenting a teenager through to adulthood. He was out of depth.
The further pressure was the politics of the era. The corruption of the Queensland Government as an issue in the wider political backdrop of my experience at University had caused me a growing sense of alienation from my parents’ political viewpoint. Jo Bjelke-Petersen was their man. When my father indicated some years later to a rose bush he planted in the front garden of their retirement home in commemoration of Jo’s wife, dear old Flo…knock me over with a feather. He eventually changed his mind of his own behest, but those long years of aloof care we not refer to my being a dissident were a loss.
I had decided to look for work before I went to Townsville to go to the TTC. I desperately did not want to go the closer it got. I would find a way to go back to University and finish my degree. I would undertake external studies. I would aim to do anthropology and psychology units. My mind ran riot.
I was chastised by the owner/manager of a Cairns bookshop local to my parents in North Queensland that I applied for a position she advertised for a sales person. The bookshop was a stand out. My heart was set on that employment. I had thought the owner was of immeasurable worth to our district. She was a High School schoolteacher who retired early to establish her excellent bookshop she saw was needed.
I was alienated from seeking position with her ever again.
Go back to University, a smart girl like you, even thinking of it for a poorly paid position like this, what about all the money your parents have spent on your education.
Never mind I had failed two subjects. She might have framed I think in retrospect a creative response. I wonder if she knew about the shortage of teachers or agonised over the gender gap.
Yet even when I lived in College in Brisbane with a mixed lot of University under-grad and post-grad women, socialised with other Varsity colleges I heard not a whisper. Among my friends in College our female conversation was homesickness and for entertainment boys or poetry or with those inclined their love for girls and poetry. The balance was the Vietnam War and conscription.
Aside, I did learn from a Medical student the names of bones of the human body I selected out of a skeleton box and held out to her for instruction. A cartoon glued to the top featured Snoopy lying on his back on the roof of his kennel dreaming of bones, the caption how apt that happiness is having a few bones stashed away.
I applied cold call to the Cairns city library. The Manager librarian attempted a case to its administrators to employ me, although no position was designated, she warm, empathetic, admiring and expressing later the strength of her regret she failed, how strongly she was drawn to my working with her. I would have been happy in a childhood habitat and working with her.
I had run out of time. I farewelled my parents at the airport insisting my father not pay for me to repeat my University year and that I was happy to go to Townsville TTC.
I had to first find housing in a city I had no knowledge of and booked myself into a room at the People’s Palace.
to be continued…
Christina Binning Wilson