At the age of 19 going on 20, I was teaching still at Gladstone Central State School, and, inspired by the good mark I had fluked for The Modern Far East, I chose a fourth History unit for 1967 - Europe to 1815. The three years of studying history part time, and a little increased maturity engendered by teaching gave me a different perspective on many things, and I resolved to do well in this university course.
But life is contrary and fate is fickle, and I found myself transferred by the State Education Department to Calliope, to teach a composite class of Grade 3s and 4s. You had no choice in the matter of transfers, but in any case I was happy to teach in my old school, in the very room where I had spent my own school days.
I had some strange dreams, though – sometimes in the dream I would be teaching, and at others, I’d be behind the desk (yes, the same desks were still there!) and Old Jim would be trying to force some complicated arithmetical problem upon me. (Maybe it was the Attendance Register I feared as a child would stop me having a teaching career, as mentioned elsewhere!)
|My first car - a white Datsun 1000 - très cool!
I did enjoy the teaching, though. Little country schools like that have a totally different atmosphere from large town or city ones.
But I must move on with this story. Preparation for the new teaching post for two new grades ate severely into the time I was going to put into my university studies, and although I prepared for European History much better than for any previous subject, I didn’t perform quite as well as I’d liked. Not that I could have hoped for the undeserved High Distinction I had got the year before.
At that time, teachers who had done by part time study the equivalent of a year’s full time university study could apply for a Commonwealth Later Year Award to complete their university degree. This was by no means automatic; the scholarships were highly competitive, and the few that were offered nationally went to the students with proven academic performance.
Now this was where that flukey HD the year before, for The Modern Far East, proved to be an ace in the hole. As mentioned in another story, I was granted one of these scholarships, on the basis of my four History units.
It was not without its price. I was at that time on about $40 per week as a second year teacher, which was regarded as good money, especially for a teenager.
To accept the scholarship would give me an allowance of just $19 per week – and even with my limited grasp of mathematics, I knew that was less than half what I was used to. I had a car to run and the expense of living in Brisbane instead of at home. Of course I paid board to my mother for living at home on a teacher’s wage and doing the man-tasks about the house and garden, but it would barely have covered expenses.
She liked having her little boy at home, no doubt – and with a mother’s instinct I suspect she knew that this time would be the last we would share in the same house. And what a house! Formerly owned by the local MP, it was in the prime spot in the town, on a hill overlooking the harbour on three sides, and first to get the cooling sea breezes of an afternoon. Mum was at the time teacher-librarian for South Gladstone School, and she gave me a great earbashing each afternoon when we both arrived home, full of the day’s ‘school’ stories.
|A pastiche of the sort of things I would see out of the front windows at Mum's in the 60s.
The plan was simple. The Department of Education permitted two years leave of absence to do this, and would post me to a school at the end of my BA at that time.
Yet again, we are karmic beings, and things seemed to fall into place. My father’s sister, Aunty Amy, lived with her husband at Stafford on the north side of Brisbane, and agreed, with some misgivings no doubt, to take me on as a boarder, for $12 per week.
That seems like a pittance these days and wouldn’t even buy a packet of cigarettes right now, but at the end of the 1960s, as it was then, Aunty Amy could fill a supermarket trolley choc-a-block for under $20 – a full week’s supplies for three adults. And she complained bitterly about the high prices!
As it turned out, it was a perfect arrangement. We got on very well and I ferried her about in my car when Uncle Vic was working, and it made life more interesting for them to have me there. In fact, Aunty Amy would complain that when I went home for the longish uni breaks, she had nothing to do except watch the soapies on TV. They were very good to me.
I also could manage on the remaining $7 per week. I didn’t need much, and if you’re wondering about petrol costs, I could fill the tank of the Datsun 1000 for $2, as a service station near the uni campus gave an additional 25c worth of petrol to students if we bought a minimum of $2 worth at one go. The extra 25c topped up the tank to the brim. I could drive 500 km on that – the distance from Brisbane to Gladstone, or two weeks round Brisbane.
So, here I was, settling back in to a very different life in Brisbane from the one I had left behind at Teacher’s College. The latter was little more than a glorified high school really, the major difference between it and school being that smoking on campus was permitted!
University was quite different, and I was absolutely ready for it. In February of 1968, because of Vietnam, radicalism on university campuses round the country was at the height, and the beginning of the new age of hippydom was about to break over us. It was a brave new world for me. Terra incognita!
Well, not quite. I’d had two years of evening courses in the History Department at QU so it wasn’t totally strange to me in that sense. But there was one oddity about what I had done so far – all my subjects were in the discipline of History.
I had done no First Year units in any other discipline – just history. I had to open up two other areas at least. I decided to seek some advice on the best way to go about that and make sure my course was legitimate. I didn’t want to have to do extra units for the degree if I could help it. So I ended up with an appointment with a course advisor.
You’re getting bored with this detail, or if you’re not (which would be a miracle), I certainly am, so I’ll just mention the one vital thing that came out of this meeting. Near the end of it, as we sorted out my subjects for the year, the Course Advisor suddenly said to me, ‘You’ve got some good results here, especially this one’ – pointing at that HD in the Modern Far East – ‘Have you ever thought of doing Honours in History?’
I remember my exact words vividly, because they seem so ridiculous, yet they changed the course of my life. I said:
‘Honours? What's that? I don’t know what you’re talking about, but I’ll have a go at it!’
The butterfly in Beijing sent me on an entirely unintended path in my life from that point on. And at last, we come back to where this particular story starts – with Damodar and Devahuti.
Yes, nearly there folks!