From a one-teacher school…
My father fought in the Second World War. He went into the army and when he came home he got a soldier settlement block in quite a remote part of NSW out of Forbes.
I went to a one-teacher primary school of 25 or 26 kids. My family talked a lot, they were sociable and they had books. I was a voracious reader from the age of seven. Mostly I read and listened to ABC radio.
How did that equip me? I didn’t have a chance if you believe all the philosophy about how to be a big success in life.
But in my year at Forbes High School there were 14 kids. One became a physics gold medalist and, out of the 14, I think something like eight ended up with university degrees.
There was a civic sense in the town. The day Forbes High School became a full high school at the end of my third year they had processions in the street. When they got an Olympic swimming pool it was a huge issue.
No one in my family had ever gone to university but education was celebrated. I knew I had to work for it but it was also kind of normal to be educated.
[In her final year Wendy went to Tamworth High School.]
Teachers asked me: “would you like to go to university?” They said: “we’ll help you fill out the forms.”
A duty to assist and enable
My state school teachers fought for clever kids. They saw that as part of their duty to assist and enable.
I was offered a Commonwealth scholarship and a teachers college scholarship. I ended up taking the teaching one and I knew, in order to stay there, I had to pass each year.
I was 16 when I finished school and went to the University of New England in Armidale. I was there for four years and did an arts degree and a diploma of education.
So, at the age of 20, I was teaching in the classroom with four years of university education [behind me]. It was fun, l loved it.
I wouldn’t have been able to go to university without a scholarship and I knew there was a social contract. I knew when I finished I would be a teacher.
I still have that sense of a social contract. I still think I owe my society and community something for having invested in me. Sometimes we just forget these really basic things.
I often say to young people when I talk to them about education: it’s one of the few gifts society can give you that no one can ever take away.