|Interviewer: Robin Hughes
Recorded: December 7, 1993
This is a transcript of the complete original interview conducted for the Australian Biography project. Each transcript page covers one videotape (approximately 35 minutes). There is also QuickTime video of the full interview available. To play the video, click on the icon in the right hand column. In addition, each question in the transcript is linked to the video. Clicking on a question will play the video from that point. (Help with this feature.) Optionally, you can download the video file for offline viewing (approx. 10MB).
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You say that Melbourne was tribal, and that if you belonged to the tribe Catholic you were against the other tribes. At that time, when you were growing up, was there really overt strong feeling against Protestants among Catholics, and against Catholics amongst Protestants?
Well we felt that the other tribes were against us. And you see, we had a tribal leader, we had Archbishop Mannix. And when he used to come to school the whole school closed down. It was like being visited by royalty, and he'd looked a very princely person and again I remember making a terrible boo boo. I met him. I was walking along the passage and there he was and instead of going down upon my knees oh, you know, genuflecting and kissing his ring, I called him father, so again, I have never been famous for my tact. But he did rally the troops and he did keep the people together and there was of course in Melbourne that strong memory of the anti-conscription movement and it was, I think, looking at it from other eyes, you can see that Catholics were regarded as probably disloyal. They wouldn't want to help Britain in her finest hour and see people like my papa who refused to fight. Though my mother's brother, Uncle Joe, went to war another thing which has given me a horror of war, and came back gassed. He only went as a stretcher bearer and was a wreck, and drank himself to death, poor lad. So that gave me a sense that war was dreadful. But you see these Catholics were unreliable, they were also Irish, and there is that strong sense that the Irish were poor. And when they came ... For instance. my great great grandfather was born, poor lad, in the poorest part of Ireland, or one of the poorest parts, County Cavan in 1842. So he lived through the great famine. We were very worried for a while that he might have been a souper. You know that you got souper if you turned Protestant. But no, apparently the landlord was decent, and as soon as he was old enough he came to Australia and worked on the railways, and then, got to be an inspector and so on. And did better with himself. But Catholics were outsiders, and I mean in Victoria. That was the case until very, very recently. The majority of really significant positions belonged to people from the independent Protestant schools. So we felt a little bit excluded and we did huddle together, and then all sorts of things like: the church teachings, well the notion of the one true church, meant that we held together. We also, at school, learnt this apologetics: how to explain to everybody the answer to everything and prove that the Catholic view of the world was right. And certainly, well I ... In the country town in which I grew up, I had to have two big girls to escort me to the convent school because the state school kids were out to get Catholics. And they used to sing out, you know, 'The Catholic dogs, jump like frogs, eat no meat on Friday', and we would shout, 'Catholics, Catholics ring the bell, while the Proddies go to hell'. So truly it was tribal. And when we were at school we were [taught] one of the worst evils was to make a mixed marriage, that's to say to marry outside the Catholic Church. And all of our socials were with boys from Xavier and St. Kevin's and we were not supposed to go out with non-Catholic boys. Even that word non-Catholic is quite remarkable. And when we went to university we were warned in case we lost our faith, so we had to belong to the Newman Society and stick together there and by and large I did tend to do that, except that doing Honours meant also that I mixed more widely and made some friends outside the fold. And you see, if you set that split in the Labor party in that context, it's much more understandable. Particularly as communism was called Godless communism. See one of the things I remember getting very interested in Marxism, and Karl Marx, and anyway we were reading about him in history and I saw, of course, a very different Karl Marx, and thought this was nonsense. I mean, all right, so he was a materialist, well so what? I mean in fact, his passion for justice seemed to me to be very close to what Christianity ought to be about, as well. So I gradually moved away from this high papalist triumphalist Catholicism. Oh I also ought to mention that in the school up to the senior years we used to do special church history because you see there was a special church history, which was different from other history and you got the true Catholic story there, and you realised that anything that really mattered was what happened in the Catholic Church. I mean, looking back on it, I can see that it's all very peculiar. And because I was fortunate enough to ... to have an education, to be able to think, I suppose I've been able to accommodate my thinking life with my believing life, but of course there's still some Catholics today who can't do it, and then even more so, many of my contemporaries at university left the church, and many more, of course over, Humane Vitae, the first encyclical against birth control. Fortunately that was a thing which didn't worry me.
It didn't worry you?
Well of course, of course it did, but it wasn't a practical issue for me at all. And being ... I mean some people think I'm not a Catholic at all, that's as may be ...
It was in church history that you said you had a certain sympathy for Luther?
That wasn't in church history. That was in matric history, when we were going to do the matric exams. And we didn't have church history at that advanced and exalted stage.
Some people would say that in some ways you've been a bit like a Protestant within the Catholic Church.
Yes, that's true, but I find it, and I think it's true, that I often feel closer to Protestant friends than to some Catholics, but vice versa. Some Protestants feel closer to the Catholic position. I happen to think that the Reformation was one of the great disasters of history, the way it divided Christendom. I also happen to think that if he had lived today Luther would not have been regarded as a heretic. I mean there's been interesting theological work done on these grounds.
So the aspect of the Reformation that you think was a disaster was not necessarily the ideas that were espoused, but the fact that it divided organisationally.
Yes. The split. And of course, it was largely political. Same in Northern Ireland. The interests of some of the German princes, like the interests of the British Monarchy, lay with the new religion and getting free of Rome and that whole entanglement of the Holy Roman Empire. Just as it was in the interests of the Spanish Monarchy, and to a lesser extent the French monarchy, to remain Catholics. And we know all about the principle of Cuius Regio Aius Religio, that ... you know, that you will follow the religion of your ruler. You see religion I think is one of the world's most dangerous drugs. I would always make a distinction between faith and religion. We have to have a religious framework, of course we do, and that's where I suppose I'm a believer. I was brought up a Catholic. But then you have to move into it, to internalise it. When religious belief is used as a political weapon, or a patriotic weapon, then it ceases to be proper religion, and I remember being absolutely bowled over by Marx's critique, when I first read it, and he took that from Feuerbach. Remember he said, 'What people call God is just a projection of their social, political and emotional needs'. I don't think it's true, myself. I mean, I think God is more that that, and in fact the God I believe in is someone's ... one of my favourite theologians says, 'The best definition of God is interruption'. Well, in other words, interrupting your complacencies, and calling you to go further and rethink, and be more just, and all that sort of stuff. But it's all very easy to use your religious beliefs as a cloak for other things, and is a justification for other things. And I think that happened. That's why the Reformation split widened so much. And then generations of suspicion and hostility are very, very difficult to bridge over. To this very day there are lots of Catholics who suspect Protestants, and lots of Protestants who suspect Catholics, and I think still that there are lots of people who suspect me precisely because I am a Catholic and religious, and they still think that probably behind it all there's some dire papal plot where I'm going to pull out an ace from my sleeves, and I find it terribly interesting: the prejudice still exists amongst educated people against Jesuits, for example. So we're all culturally conditioned, just like fish swimming in ocean. They don't think about the ocean, they're there. And we just ... we're influenced by our culture. But I hope, if you live a thinking life, then you change it just a little bit, and try to get on top of some of those things.
So in having ideas and thoughts that really are a protest against some of the things that are taken for granted within your church, you believe that it's better to work for those changes from within the framework of the church, rather than go outside it.
I do. I don't know what I'd be without ... without being ... well I call myself a Christian. But the particular form of Christianity in which I was brought up, I find that the Eucharist is profoundly meaningful, providing the priest doesn't talk nonsense, but I'm very fortunate that I do belong to a Eucharistic community, which really does make sense, and the priest is not merely a good man, he's a prison chaplain, immensely compassionate, and he's also a scriptural scholar, and we all have to work hard to be part of that community, and to bring to our worship the lives that we live. Now that's ... that's great for me. I really do believe in that whole sacramental system, and I also like the Catholic theology which regards this world as good in itself, which is sacramental. I like its tolerance. I always say I don't like fanatical people, but I think I probably am rather fanatical myself. But one thing I'm certainly not ... I think I'm not a puritan. I love life, I love enjoying things: I like my body, I like good food and drink, I like swims, I like all of those sorts of things and I don't regard them as evil, and I don't suspect them. And one of the reasons why I get so upset about all this nonsense that's been talked about sexuality and population control is that look, sex is a good thing, and I don't see why we should be slaves to ... to biology. I really do think that love is the most important thing, and you ought to have children so that you can love them. And if you're trapped, and just the sort of women ... those poor women who are just baby bearing machines and I think that's ... that really is an insult to the God who made us to live with dignity and happiness, and I'm sorry to say that, but that's the way I see things. And I think the way some sections of the Catholic Church are so obsessed with ... with sex is just weird. You'd think it's the only ... Well, you mention to some Catholics, say what's the word that comes into your mind when you think of sin and it'll be 'sex', and that's weird and terrible, isn't it?
What's the word that comes into your mind when you say 'sin'?
I think war, injustice, suffering people. Sorts of things that, well, what you see and what you hear with Aboriginal Australians. That's our original sin. I have many Aboriginal friends and they're nearly all people who've made it. But when I hear their stories sometimes I want to break down and weep. I mean, they've made it in our terms and still ... still you hear their history, you still hear ... One of my good friends was coming to see me one afternoon and she rang up and said terribly sorry, she couldn't come. She just left a message. And I rang to see what was the matter: look her little grandson was being bashed up on the way home from school. It's still going on. She and her husband, they're middle class, [but] they dare not drive a decent car. Why? Because the police pull them up and accuse them of stealing that car. I mean, I've seen in a country town: I have seen Aboriginal children playing and I have seen a lout come out from the pub and drive that car straight at them to try to kill them. I mean I ... Now that's sin. These are fellow human beings and we're doing that to them, and I think that ... and I know I'm fanatical about this and people say I'm just obsessed by it, I'm sorry I am. I think that in scriptural terms the Aboriginal people are Australia's suffering servant, wounded for our iniquities and bruised for our sins, for our brutal materialism, for our insensitivity. And look, I mean the people who first arrived, look, they were poor unfortunate ... well my ancestors starving Irish, and I think they were all in an advanced state of culture shock, and this country must have seemed terrible to them and they needed their land. They weren't brutes. They didn't know what they were doing. If you were an ordinary Nineteenth Century person you believed one white person was the equal of about fifty black people, and that you had a right to the world. I mean, we still go on with that. One of the weird things about the Gulf War was, it seemed to me, that simply because if there's oil anywhere in the world we have a right to it because we're pink people. Now I don't think the people in the past were wicked or evil, though I don't think it was a good thing to shoot Aborigines or some of the terrible things that you know ... kicking children's heads off and that sort of thing. So I'm not saying they were all monsters, but dreadful things happened, and it's about time we acknowledged them, and said, 'We're sorry', and tried to do something about it. So the end of that lesson, and that's ... but I do get passionate about that one, which is why I am a nuisance now because everybody in this state types me and says, 'She's just a ratbag, she's just passionate about the Aboriginal cause', and I don't help the cause of reconciliation, so I've decided, at the moment, that I have to try and stay quiet. Besides which, I think that Aboriginal people, they're the ones who say what they want and they need, and it's our business to listen and do what they tell us to do.
What do you think reconciliation will do for white people?
It will help us. I think, change some of our values. And also it will help us to live in this country a little better. I mean, we are wrecking this environment at an alarming rate and we're also extraordinarily aggressive and individualistic. I think that one of the great things about Aboriginal culture, and I don't romanticise it, I think can also be a great difficulty, is that they really do know about sharing. And they're not particularly materialistic, though they also like good things. And they love life. I mean, I just can't get over how it is that they've survived. You think about what they've come through and they've survived, a lot of them, laughing. I mean, they think we're funny. When you see ourselves through their eyes we really are hilariously funny, especially say in the north-west, where, I mean, sun gets up and they sit under the tree and tell stories or sleep during the day, and then the sun goes down and they begin to revive. Whereas we crazy persons, who work right through the hottest time of the day and charge round like elephants and rhinoceri, and drive our cars in straight lines and don't give ourselves a minute's relaxation. So I just think they give us a different perspective on things. And after all, we won't survive, the planet will survive, unless we scale down our consumption of things. So why not sit still a little bit more and why not make do with less, and you know, of course I'm the last person to talk because I am ... I know I'm a workaholic, but we really shouldn't work as hard as we do. My only excuse is I like my work. But, you know, we can learn from them. Just to be a little bit more relaxed about life.
As a Catholic, what difference did Vatican II make to you?
Oh, everything. I was studying in North America when Vatican II was going on, and of course I'd already been sent away to study, which meant moving into a different environment. I mean granted we lived in a religious community. Our sisters in Canada ran one of the colleges in the University of Toronto. So we were still in community there, but we were moving into a different milieu and the sisters in North America had moved earlier than we had, so there were all sorts of changes occurring then and we were reading these documents of Vatican II and I was sort of over the moon. I think I was made for it. It was the sort of view of the world, which really had always suited me. So when we moved out and took off our veils and moved into secular dress, that didn't worry me at all. That's ... I mean I'd been play-acting before that. This was who I really was: an ordinary human being with a particular professional work to do, but, praying ... but I didn't ever like those walls between ourselves and the community. And I had more friends outside the community than in the community. I mean, that's not odd, because we don't choose the people we live with. One of the miracles is that we live together, and live together with certain friendliness.
For people, who don't perhaps understand the significance of Vatican II, could you say really what it, what it was, what it meant in the Catholic Church at that time? Just putting it in a little bit of context of where things were at when it happened and why it happened?
The essential thing was this great genius of John the XXIII, who announced that the great infin giornamento, that the church, Christian people, ought to become citizens of the world in which we live, instead of living off somewhere in our own little Catholic puddin' paddock. Remember the end of the Magic Puddin'? The puddin' had his little paddock, in which he looked down on the rest of the world. That ... and one of the other slogans was learning to read the signs of the time. It was a new theological emphasis and instead of God being out there, God ... There's one wonderful passage in one of the documents: the spirit of God's at work in the hearts of all human beings, inspiring us to whatever is good and true and just and beautiful. And that was the task that the council set to do, to revise the new notion of the church as the people of God, instead of this sort of tight edifice, and bringing the liturgy ways more in tune with the world. I personally now think that it's a pity we've thrown out some of the great tradition. I'm afraid I'm a snob here. I do not like badly played guitars. I do not like cheap and crude hymns. I think God's worthy of something very good so give me Bach and Mozart any day thanks very much, rather than these, and I do think we need an element of mystery, but I do get that in the particular Eucharist that we have. We do have, in fact, taped music of you know, the great classics: William Byrd and so forth. There's no need to throw out the whole tradition, but it is important I think that the people should understand ... should be in the language of the people and I think it's also ... There was a new emphasis on Scripture and the study of Scripture and that of course brought us much closer to Protestantism. So it simply meant that there was a concerted effort made to ... to be a Christian in terms of the needs of the world in which we live.
Didn't it also, to some extent, give much more authority to the people in the church?
... and diminish the sort of authority that had been focused on the papacy?
And the whole hierarchical centre. Because you see this new model, the people of God, suggests ... and one of the other wonderful things that Vatican II said, when it was talking about this notion of infallibility ... said that it's the people of God as a whole which interpret what God means for us, in our times, and the papacy is the focus of that belief. Because of course theological training is necessary, but also the living experience of people. That's why I think lay people are the ones who should pronounce on sexual matters. Celibates shouldn't.
But what about the Pope's infallibility?
Well, I have no difficulty with the way it's defined in Vatican II: that he is the focus of the faith of the church, and you see, a pronouncement is only infallible when the Pope says it is infallible. And there've only been two infallible pronouncements. One, the Assumption; one, the Immaculate Conception. So what John Paul the II was saying is not infallible. You take it seriously, yes, but at the same time, if it is the case that he is the focus of the faith, the community, and God's spirit works in the whole community, then the papacy also needs to listen. This present John Paul II is going back to this older centralised, monarchical view, but what Vatican II did was a more conciliar notion, and it also suggested that local churches had a need to reflect on their own experience because cultures are different and that the church ... It was more like the church as a federation. Now the present pope is bringing it back to a more monarchical view. And he may be right, okay. It doesn't seem to me to be in tune with the teachings of Vatican II, and it certainly doesn't seem to me to be in tune with Scripture. Now, I'm not saying he's wrong, I'm simply saying that I have to see the world the way I see the world, and before God I cannot see it any other way.
Vatican II appealed to you. It gave a sort of recognition to something you'd always felt about the power of the people and what it meant to be a nun. It also licensed your political activism. which had brought you into some trouble, but it was ... some people would say it was an aberration in the history of the church, and that your attitude is one that isn't the normal line of Catholic development at all, and that the current pope is just bringing things back on course after a sort of crazy period in the seventies, when people like yourself lost their heads.
With all due respect, I don't think those people know much about history. I mean it may be true that I lost my head, I'm not a prudent woman. I'll ... I'll accept all of that, but if you really do look at the story of the development of ... even of the Roman Catholic Church, it's always been the story of adjusting to new circumstances. The only problem is the Catholic Church takes a remarkably long time to adjust. I mean, the hierarchical order that we have comes essentially from the fact that when the Roman Empire collapsed the only educated people were the clergy, and then through the high Middle Ages there was ... they took on the shape of the feudal society. Pius the Ninth in the mid Nineteenth Century, you know, condemned democracy as a sort of heresy and he condemned religious toleration as a sort of heresy, so the dear old Catholic Church takes a very, very long time to adjust. And there's nothing necessarily wrong with that, because silly people like me do jump on every band wagon. But you simply cannot deny the fact that doctrine develops. I mean, these people who get frenzied when there's any talk of a married clergy or of women priests, forget the fact that Jesus wasn't a priest in our terms. He was a lay person. I mean things develop. That's one of the laws of life. I think it's very sad that so few people in our society know anything about history. Well I always did very much better at university at history than at English, and you know I've still kept up my interest in history and so ... But you see we all love to have things secure and right and tight and I think there is ... There is a sense in which an old-fashioned authoritarian Catholicism appeals particularly to a certain type of personality, and God loves those people, and it's fine to be authoritarian and anal retentive and all of those sorts of things, but there are other ways of being a human being and I ... Look I think it's great and I admire these people and their fidelity and so forth. I just wish that they would trust more, and realise that somebody like me is trying to follow my conscience, and it's not always easy ... and do what I believe to be right, so why not let us get on with it, and let them get on with it? I mean, the very meaning of the word Catholic means 'universal and tolerant' and if the mystery of God means ... I mean, it means that it's a mystery. I mean, how can you be so sure? I remember even as a kid, funny ... it's all very peculiar. They had it all worked out, you know, which bit of Purgatory you'd go for for which sin, and I always thought that that was most extraordinary. It's never been my habit of mind, you see, because I was brought up in a different sort of way, but it has to be said that many Catholics, particularly with big families ... people were brought up in a fairly authoritarian way, and certainly in many Catholic schools the children were caned and it was fairly tough and rough. So that's not surprising. But let the hundred flowers bloom.
You've often been referred to as that communist nun. How do you feel when people call you that?
Well, I ... I used to say to them yes that's perfectly true because I'm a practising communist. I mean the Russian experiment wasn't communist. It was the old Czars back in a new form. But I ... I share what I earn, and in our community it's from each according to ability to each according to need. Communism in itself is a good thing, so what's the fuss? And I mean, I think it's dreadful. I mean we Australians are most peculiar people. We think that anything that is different is somehow wicked or wrong. It might be interesting, mightn't it? And why not change your views? One of my favourite quotations from dear old William Blake is, 'standing pools breed only toads and vipers'. It's a lovely saying. And they do, don't they?
You came from an Irish background, and your ... you were born and grew up in Australia. How do you feel about your Irishness? Do you feel more Irish, or more Australian, or ...
I feel I'm completely Australian. But I like to think that I'm a Celt. I find I've only been to Ireland a couple of times and it actually didn't appeal to me very much, which is disgraceful, and again my sister's ... she loves it and she trots around and does family history. I find it rather narrow and if I may say so, a little priest-ridden. And I find most of them ... and the scenery is beautiful, but they do seem to be acting ... play-acting as Irish people. My favourite country in the world is Italy. I love Italy very dearly indeed, because I like that sort of life. But I like the fact that I'm Celtic, whatever that means, because I think it does mean that there's ... well within the culture that I was brought up, as I say, there is that very, very strong sense of spiritual or psychic realities. I'm firmly prepared to believe in that such things as ghosts exist. I don't think they're necessarily supernatural either. I think they're preternatural. And I'm sure that comes from my Irish temperament. And I, yes, well ... I think I belong to the more joyous side of the Irish. And I think also, my Irishness gives me a very, very strong sense of injustice. I often say to some of my Nyungah friends, my Aboriginal friends, 'Look, my ancestors also knew what it was to be persecuted'. And I, again, these dreadful prejudices ... I really don't like England very much. I don't like the class distinctions there. This is a terrible thing to say. And I do feel that they condescend to me A. as an Australian, and B. as somebody with an Irish name, but then ... but that's they're prerogative to do whatever they want to do. So yes I think it's made a difference, and I think I'm quite proud of the story of Irish history and I think the Irish writers of this century are the greatest writers. I mean, Joyce and Yeats and Shaw, and then going back to that wonderful Swift, they write a wonderful prose. So yes. But I'm ... I'm definitely Australian, there's no doubt about that. Even though I loathe patriotism, I love to quote Dr. Johnson: 'Sir, patriotism is the last refuge of a scoundrel!' I mean, I think really, the days of nationalism are over, and what we need to do is to realise we all belong to the human race.
So what does it mean to you to be Australian?
I am very attached to what I like to think of the Australian nature: the place where we may begin again, where people who've been turned out for all sorts of reasons - political refugees, economic refugees - people who've come here to a big, open country, but we've got to learn to respect it, we're destroying it, where as good old Joe Furphy says ... One of my favourite books is Such Is Life ... 'It's the recordless land'. I mean he got it wrong. The Aboriginal had ... had all their stories, but the fact is we don't have all of those grim traditions of class, of injustice, of prejudice, and I still am rather proud of the fact that really we've absorbed so many millions of migrants, you know, a couple of million since World War II, with the minimum really of fuss. I know there's ... there's a certain amount of intolerance, and the average Australian will say, 'Oh, I hate those Chinks or those Viets', and then you point out that their next door neighbour is Chinese, and they say, 'Oh, he's a good bloke'. So I don't think we're ... this is one of the good things and I think we're free and easy, and I really do think that we're fairly democratic. In fact, my Chinese friend falls about. She cannot get over the way people speak so disrespectfully of our dear Prime Minister and the politicians. I think that's terrific. Our great, great blot is our treatment of Aborigines, but I think our big task now is to change that, and if we learn from them how to live in this part of the world, that's terrific, and I think now we're beginning to learn more about the cultures of the peoples around about us, although many of us are brutally insensitive. And that's so important. I always like, when I'm going to a country, to find out what you shouldn't do. You know, things like, for instance, I discovered to my horror, after being a couple days in Indonesia, that when somebody offers you a drink or something like the first thing you do is say, 'No thank you', and you have to be pressed and then you don't ever drink until you're urged to do it/ You know things like that, because if we're all going to live together, we've got to respect one another's views, but that makes it ... I think it's marvellous to be Australian at the moment. We've got these big challenges. And I think the people who are resisting it are just frightened, that's all. Ignorant and frightened, like ... you know, like dinosaurs. But if you look at it positively, we've got marvellous opportunities to learn about other cultures and look at all the people who come from the different countries into Australia. And I love travelling and I love ... and it's a great glory to be an academic and to be able to go and teach in different countries and meet people there. So, yes, I'm glad I'm Australian in that way. But I don't like the ugly Australia.
Let's talk about your life as an academic now. You started out as a teacher, and in some ways it was the order that turned you into a scholar.
Oh yes, that's the story of my life. I ... one of my ... My philosophy of life is ask for nothing and refuse nothing. So all the things that have happened to me have happened to me. In fact, you know just apropos of this, I was just thinking to myself sadly, just a couple of days ago, I said, 'This is frightful. I can't see myself getting out of Perth. I'm going to Sydney in January, but it looks as if there's nothing next year at all. Isn't this frightful?' In the last three days I've had three invitations. So you see, things happen. The good old serendipity thing. So yes I was asked to go away. I though it was all right, I was enjoying my teaching but all right, so this is obedience.
What were you asked to do?
I was asked if I'd like to go overseas and do my doctorate in Toronto, and I said, 'That's fine by me', and off I went.
Now how did you choose what to do because you'd done a double Honours - History and English Literature, and you've already told us that you enjoyed the history more, so what made you go off and do a PhD in literature?
Ah, but when I became a teacher, I loved the English much more. I think you need more maturity to be able to respond to literature. See I was very young to go to university and I was also extraordinarily immature. You know, little girl from the convent, family of two. I lived a very, very sheltered life and I really didn't know what was what. And I ... you know, as I said, I'd never been practical but I've learned. I still don't know much what's what, but I've learned to do a bit and I've matured a little bit and I just ... and I love ... I've always loved reading. I could read and write before I went to school, and my father read to us from very, very early, and there were always books, around, so God help us if there are no books. When I travel, my luggage is always heavy because I think, imagine if I was stranded somewhere and had plenty of time and didn't have books to read? So there we are. So I decided, yes, I'd do a PhD in literature, which I did. And then I'd fallen in love with Patrick White's novels so that was easy. I decided to do my doctorate on Patrick White. And then when I came back, you see, the idea was I'd go into this Catholic Teacher's College. Well, yes, but then I thought, now this is silly, I can really do better than this because, I mean, it was primary school. And I couldn't teach. I mean, I'd never taught primary school in my life. And I really was a bit much for the kids and I was not ... I was not bringing the practical things that were needed, so all right, I applied for a job at UWA, and again I was very lucky that there was this eccentric professor, who ... who appointed me. I mean it was a very eccentric thing to do. And at first, you see, I arrived and I was still wearing a veil. Particularly the kids from Catholic schools didn't ... oh, didn't like it at all. Didn't want to be in my tutorial.
Kids from Catholic schools?
Oh, they'd had enough of priests and nuns most of them, you see. But, well, gradually, I mean, I'm a good teacher, if I say that myself, and so I got reappointed, and equally I haven't ever wanted to apply for a promotion. I've had the head of department twist me by the arm. I know people don't think this, and I know they think I'm ambitious. I don't really think I am. I frankly don't care. But it's good for the department so there we are. So I love teaching and then, one of the sad things about my life is, you see, I thought I was going to be a great poet. But when I was away I did a semester at the University of Chicago before we went on to Toronto, and I did a creative writing course.
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