Stories to inspire action

The opportunity to be part of a community of teachers where you can express your point of view and have a say in shaping your profession is an uplifting experience, a new book profiling women Federation activists conveys.

Teachers’ fond recollections of participating in Federation discussion forums alongside their member colleagues are relayed in On the voices: 100 years of women activists for public education, researched by Sue Doran.

While teaching at Tweed River High School in the early 1980s, Jenny Diamond started going to association meetings, Women’s Conference, Annual Conference and state Council. “[You] listen to these amazing debaters present … arguments and then you decide how you’re voting and you make sure your voice carries because you’re very passionate about it, supporting the cause. And there’s always that sense [of] voting strongly and proudly because you want it to count. It is exhilarating in many ways. The adrenaline’s going and it’s quite exciting and, of course, if your point of view’s not carried, you’re quite bitter about it sometimes. But that’s democracy for better or worse — I think it’s for the better, though,” she recalls during her 2018 oral history interview with Carol McKirdy. Ms Diamond's union roles included Fed Rep, City Organiser and General Secretary.

Maree O’Halloran recalls attending Federation Council meetings from 1990, while a teacher at Katoomba High School. “I had not come into the Teachers Federation through a political pathway of student activism or a particular group. I was excited by [Council]. I found it fascinating. I thought the people who got up and spoke were incredibly brave … but it was interesting to hear our own work being discussed as though we had agency and control over that work and it was not just work that someone else told us to do,” she said during a oral history interview with Sue Andersen in 2012. Ms O’Halloran contributed to union priorities in many roles including as an Executive member, Research Officer, Industrial Officer and President.

On the voices also carries stories of classroom teachers finding their union campaign activities satisfying and rewarding, for example, high school teacher Vera Leggett, who championed equal pay for women in the 1940s and 1950s. Vera Leggett “saw very clearly that if women teachers were to achieve equal pay they could not leave the struggle to someone else, they had to wage the battle themselves,” Doran quotes from a 1981 article by Gloria Phelan. “It was against this background that Council set up an Equal Pay Committee [in 1956] and it was natural that Vera Leggett should become Secretary. She was a tremendous driving force, sparing neither herself nor her colleagues. She went to the press, she wrote articles, she interviewed politicians, she rang up anyone and everyone who could assist in any way. She fired the committee and Federation Council with her own enthusiasm until equal pay became a major issue for the whole Federation … And she enjoyed … seeing her efforts crowned with success, for by the time of her retirement, equal pay was, at last, a reality for women teachers.”

On the voices: 100 years of women activists for public education — a Federation publication — can be ordered here for $49.95.

— Kerri Carr