Kay Rollison (nee Quartly)

Written by Kaye’s daughter Victoria Fielding

I am nominating my mother, Kay Rollison (nee Quartly), who graduated from La Trobe in 1973 with a PhD in history. Kay went on to set up and lead the first Department of Equal Opportunity at the University of Adelaide. In her 15 years in this role, Kay developed and implemented affirmative action policies in order to improve the representation and treatment of women in academia. Her work impacted not just the University of Adelaide, but institutions around Australia.

Kay began her PhD in La Trobe’s first year, so is one of the first people to receive a PhD from the institution. Having grown up in Adelaide, she undertook a BA (Hons) at the University of Adelaide. She then received a scholarship to undertake a PhD at La Trobe, supervised by Professor Allen Martin, on the topic of the formation of political parties in Victoria 1900-1909.

After finishing her PhD, Kay taught history and Australian Studies at various institutions in South Australia. In 1979 she had a daughter, and in 1981, two more daughters (my twin sister and I). Three children under five didn’t slow down Kay’s determination to further her career; in 1986 she curated a photographic exhibition entitled Women Work and Training celebrating 150 years of women in South Australia, and started work as Equal Opportunity Officer at the University of Adelaide.

Highlights from Kay’s career included development of a whole suite of policies and training materials that gave formal structure to the university’s commitment to equal opportunity, as well as the publication of several bibliographies to assist academic staff to be gender inclusive in their teaching and research. Of particular interest were programs aiming to increase the retention of female students in areas like Engineering by working with male staff to counter gender bias. In 1994 she took time out to curate a highly successful exhibition celebrating the achievement of women’s suffrage in SA, entitled 100 Years of Housework, hosted by the Myer Centre in Adelaide.

I remember how proud I was as a young child to tell my friends that my mum worked to give more women opportunities to succeed in academia. As I grew up, I started referring to my mum as a professional feminist. She inspired me and my sisters not to just have jobs, but to do something we believed in, which has had a huge impact on our lives. I also remember, when starting my degree at the University of Adelaide, whenever staff (female and male, academic and professional) saw my surname, they asked if I was Kay’s daughter, and then proceeded to tell me how much they respected the work she did. I am now a working mother studying a PhD and teaching at a university, and I am benefiting from the hard work of pioneers like my mother in building a better path for gender equity in academia.