Image: ‘Me and Virginia’s Doll’ 2001
In her own words
In 1979, before enrolling at La Trobe University, I got my Bachelor of Arts degree, majoring in Political Science, from Melbourne University, then worked with the new Equal Opportunity Unit of the Commonwealth Public Service Board, inducting and training young Indigenous workers into public servant jobs, and realised I should get a teacher’s diploma to improve my qualifications and move up a ladder.
1981 seems so many moons ago: Malcolm Fraser was our Prime Minister, Lady Diana married Prince Charles, Bob Marley died from cancer, and both Pope John Paul II and President Ronald Reagan were shot in the streets. My dad died alone in a West End (Brisbane) boarding house. There was a wonderful, radical F.M. radio station (3RMT, later Triple RRR) coming out R.M.I.T. with the latest talk and music. It was also the year of the long and lonely bus ride from Westgarth to La Trobe University in Bundoora.
Everyone I knew was poorer then, but we got by. On study grants, I could afford rent and even dance to famous bands at pubs and fundraisers.
The process of getting into the course was by writing a letter, letting them know why you wanted to be a teacher, e.g. qualifications, life and work experience. I told them I wanted to help my people and getting a Diploma of Education would mean a lot. It did and they let me in.
The lecturers and course work were excellent and challenging. I took English, history and social science for foundation studies, and concentrated on teaching disadvantaged students, which was me down to a T. I got teaching placements at Waterdale Girls’ High School in West Heidelberg, Preston Technical Secondary School, and the Aboriginal Community course at Salisbury TAFE in South Australia.
There was no set-up for Indigenous students at La Trobe in those days. Being a feminist and making friends through student politics at Melbourne University, I sought out the Women's Room at La Trobe, hoping to meet people. I tried to be friendly, but nobody wanted to talk to me. They seemed posh. Maybe I made them uncomfortable. Anyway, it was a place to sit and read a few times when I needed to kill time. I didn’t dare make myself a cup of their International Roast coffee.
Meanwhile my lecturers and tutors were well versed in the teaching of disadvantaged and unruly students in the slums of somewhere, so that kept my attention with methods I still use to this day.
I’m glad I got a Diploma of Education at La Trobe University in 1981. It opened up my life. I’ve taught in state secondary schools, Aboriginal community schools, the Commonwealth Public Service and at university. Teaching has taken me all over Australia and some places overseas.
Now it’s 2018 and, having been a visual artist for nearly 30 years, I haven’t forgotten how important teaching is.