|Interviewer: Robin Hughes
Recorded: August 6, 2002
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).
The interview has been left it in its original state so that you can get a sense of how the conversation developed. The repetition of some questions, or a question followed by another question, is often due to the end of a particular tape or some other interruption, and has been indicated at the appropriate place in the text. There has been minimal tidying up of the text so that the flavour of the encounter has been kept.
What was it like? What was it about the high school teaching that made you like it so much?
Well I taught in girls' schools, and I just loved that age group, especially the sixteen seventeen year old. Davida Allen was in my class at Stuartholme, and Davida was the most fascinating person to have as a, ah, schoolgirl.
I remember on one occasion she - the nuns were very, I have to say, very, very accommodating. Because on one occasion, Davida covered herself, nude, in blue paint and pressed herself to the canvas and then she built the picture around this. And I had the dilemma of saying, "Well actually, Davida, it has been done before". Yves Klein did it.
I knew she didn't know and I thought, "No, it's the first time for her, and so therefore it's the first time, as far as she's concerned". And the nuns were quite cool about this, but Davida's mother was not. I remember I had to go up to the mother in, um, Toowoomba and say to her, "Well, Mrs Allen, you know, there's an element of innocence here".
"That she can do that, cover herself in blue praint [sic] and press herself" ... "Oh, do you think so?", she said. And, ah, we managed to get over it. But Davida and I, of course, have stayed very good friends, ah, you know, right through our life. We still are. I'm god-daughter [sic] to her daughter ... godmother to her daughter and ah, we're in contact. Not regularly, but every time there's a bit of a joy I get a lift out of it.
But there were lots of them like that. You know, Davida's one that stands out because she was so bizarre. But, you know, I just love the adventurous, open, fun loving thing of girls at that age, sixteen seventeen.
You took the trouble to go to Toowoomba to speak to Mrs Allen and give her what must have been the first of many reassurances about Davida, I should imagine.
She needed many reassurances.
Was this a sort of throwback to Miss Craig taking the trouble to do this for you?
It could have been. I think Miss Craig has been an enormous influence in my life. She stands as a great monolith of perfection, and fear. As I said, you know, we were really scared of her. But she was so um, gently concerned about each girl in the school, and helping each girl. Always - never letting you know she was helping you.
I didn't find out for years after that she was telling the staff not to upbraid me for missing classes because I was in the art room. You know, I didn't know any of that. I didn't even know actually, what she'd said to my father in that phone call, when she persuaded him to let me stay on.
So she was always in the background, always there, and I, I s'pose in a way it may have been. But I felt in Davida, there was someone worth going in to bat for. And Mrs Allen, who was a lovely woman - now dead - but she was, she was the absolute epitome of genteel, upper middle class, propriety and to have Davida was an absolute, ah, problem.
I remember her taking me into Davida's bedroom and it was - she'd done it up beautifully, all little pink lace things, with little teddy bears and dolls, and there's Davida, you know. Anyway, Davida got paid back, because she had a daughter. I said to her that she complains about it from time to time - not seriously, of course - but, ah, I say, "Davida, you're ... Sarah's doing to you what you did to Dorothy".
And so you really enjoyed this interaction with the children, the girls ...
The girls, yes.
... at the school ... in the schools you taught in.
I loved it. And then when Bill - it was Bill Robinson, actually, who persuaded me to go teaching at Kelvin Grove. And I remember saying to him, "Bill, I just so love this age group. I'm not sure that I love that other age group, you know, when they're moving into young adulthood". Um ...
What kind of a - of an institution was Kelvin Grove?
It was a teachers' training college then. The Colleges of Advanced Education. It would now be a university, of course. Colleges of Advanced Education hadn't yet started, so it was a teachers' training college. And, ah, so they were post-graduation, you know, university aged students, and, ah, I wasn't a hundred percent sure that I was going to be happy there. I was feeling - was I - I always think, "Am I adequate?"
That's always - and I think this is a female scourge. I call it the 'who me' syndrome. You know, someone says, "Why don't you do that?", and you think "Who? Me?" You know, as if anyone else but me, you know, is the appropriate person to do that job. And I think a lot of women suffer from that. Or a lot of women my age. I don't think younger women do any more, thank God.
But, um, I felt, you know, "Was I able to do it?" Bill was a wonderful, staunch friend. Always has been, always will be, you know. And he encouraged me, and, ah, insisted that I do it.
Why did he want you?
Well, I think he could see that I was a good teacher. He was a splendid teacher. Bill is - has just got a whole wash of grateful students in his trail, you know, that just - he, he was a life changer for many of his students. And ah, he could see that I was a good teacher, and he thought I'd be good in the institution. And he encouraged me.
What finally actually persuaded you to do it? Why did you decide to do it?
I think, well, Bill very much, but I think also at the back of it is that thing that, you know, one has to keep moving forward. I remember my sister-in-law saying to me, "Iisn't it funny that Gran", that's my mother, "produced two such ambitious people?" And I'd never thought of myself as - yes, it is - "Ambitious. Me?" She said, "Oh, yes. You and Ian", her husband. And, ah, I've thought about it since. I've thought, "Yes. She was right. I was ambitious".
But I was never conscious of being ambitious. I never thought, this is where I want to get to, and I'll get to it by these steps. But when I was going to make a step forward, and feeling nervous about it, a sense that I must keep moving forward helped me, you see. I think otherwise, I'd have taken the easy option, not been persuaded by Bill, and stayed teaching in high schools, which I loved.
But it wouldn't have been a good thing, when I think now back on my life, if I'd stayed as a high school teacher.
Oh, well, I think I've had more to offer, actually, and I think as a gallery director, I think everything that I've done since, I don't think that was a broad enough palette for me really, which sounds arrogant. Because, you know, what more can you want than eager seventeen year old [sic]. But I just think for me, personally, I needed a broader palette.
Well also, once you moved into teacher training, there was a sort of multiplier effect of what - of your capacities as a teacher, you could transmit them to a whole lot more children that way, couldn't you, really, by training other teachers.
There was, and there was also the despair of, um, seeing the quality of some of the people coming through and thinking, "My God, these people haven't the wit ever to get another job, and for - they're going to sort of, blight the lives of kids for the ... " You know, it's a terrible responsibility, teaching, I think. High school teaching.
And some of them are marvellous, of course, but some of them were abysmal.
How long were you at Kelvin Grove?
I'm just trying to think. I, I went to Kelvin Grove in, ah, when I was just turned 40, and I left in 1977. I was born in '31, so that makes it ... 46. So six years. Seven years. No, wait a minute, it wasn't. [INTERRUPTION]
Kelvin Grove was a teachers' college, and therefore in those days, not so much emphasis put on research and scholarship, more on teaching. But did you pursue any writing or, or publishing while you were there?
Yes, I did. I did my first book while I was at Kelvin Grove, and that was a direct result of being at Kelvin Grove, because I realised I was teaching teachers to teach art, and I realised that all of the art books that existed, that could be used in schools, had examples of art that the children could never see. Like St Peter's in Rome, or um, the Mona Lisa. You know, there was nothing that they could see.
And, ah, nothing to my mind that made them - helped them look at a work of art as an, an audience, not a maker. And so I wrote this text for schools which looked at the components, if you like, of art space, for instance. Line, you know, dynamic movement, all ... different aspects. Colour, you know. So that ...
And then looked at it, not chronologically, but using sculpture and architecture and painting from whenever, you know. Just through the whole stretch of art history. At the end of the book I had a chronology so that they could see, you know, where things fitted. And it was very popular, the book.
In fact, it was really popular. A good money earner, that one. Ah, but in a funny way it was popular - more popular overseas than here, because it was, its rights were taken up by a, um, English publisher at the Frankfurt Book Fair. This guy from Holmes McDougall in - publishers in England was just looking through the racks.
He wanted to have something to look at when he went home to his hotel, and he just happened to pick this up, this book of mine. And he took it, and he thought, "Oh this is a goer". And they bought the end on publishing rights, and produced it in England, where it did very well.
But the examples in it were like Queensland houses and the Brisbane City Hall and - so it was ironic. It was custom designed for Queensland students, but did very well in London - in England, really.
Yes, it was custom designed in terms of the pictures, but the concept was what was really interesting to me in that book, because you started in - with, with the environment in which children live, and took them from that through other aspects of things to um, finally, you know, a space within a frame.
And I just was really so impressed with that myself, because as a - it was a way of thinking about taking someone who didn't know about art into art.
And how to look at it, yes.
And I wanted to ask you, where the idea of doing it that way actually came from.
I think probably from teaching, and trying to get these - to be teachers, you know, these young people who were going to be teachers - to get them to understand, you know, we're not just learning about Doric and Ionic and Corinthian orders of the Greek architecture. You're really talking about how people lived and why. What was this thing, the Parthenon? You know, what was it used for?
How did the people who lived in Greece at the time view it and use it? You know, what was the difference between that and say, Chartres Cathedral? And the difference was, it was just a shrine for a goddess. They didn't go inside. The ceremony took place outside. And little things like that.
And so they could then relate it to their own, as you said, their own lives and their own way of going about things. And looking at market-places and places where people congregate and meet. Every town's got one, whether it's a shopping mall, or whether it's the Agora , or whether it's a market in Vietnam, you know.
And that's what I was trying to do. Try to look at that whole bigger picture. It was - proved to be a bit of a problem for teachers, though, because if they didn't have the chronology in their heads, and I'm talking about say Piero della Francesca in relation to space, and architecture in relating the figures into Greek columns, you know, and how the space works around in the painting in relation to architecture.
And then in the next breath I'm talking about Picasso, or Matisse. I think if they didn't have that in their head and couldn't help the kids, I think it got a bit confusing. But it was a [sic] worth doing, I think.
And Betty, you were now back into the old award winning mode as well, with this book, weren't you? Because when we look at your early life, there are a whole series of awards.
I know, yes.
You were always up there getting an award and now you had another one.
I don't win prizes, unfortunately. I've never won a lottery or a prize of any sort, but I do get awards, yes. Ah, this one was really a fluke, because the [sic] Holmes McDougall entered it for the Times Literary Awards, and they have a segment for information books. And there's a book ... a segment for senior information and junior information.
Junior information is really primary school, and it won the senior information award, which was terrific. It was a surprise to me, and surprise to ... now I'm trying to think who published it. Er, Rigby. A surprise to Rigby's too because - and a shock for Rigby's, because Rigby's hadn't let on that they'd sold the rights, the publishing rights. I was getting no royalties for all of this sale in, ah ...
And I being the docile person in these respects - I'm not docile normally, but in those things, I am - I never followed that up. Never upbraided them and never received any royalties, either.
They continued not to pay you ...?
Never got royalties from the English ... well, that, that end. Whatever they call it. When they just have all the material and they just sell that. Anyway, that's another story.
But you did get the award?
I got the award, and I was very grateful.
And what was next for you?
After teaching at Kelvin Grove, I then had long since moved away from painting, and I was teaching painting as well as art history, and I began to feel a bit of a fraud, 'cause somehow, you have to be a practitioner. You have to be engaged in the problems that you're trying to help the children, or the young people, solve.
And, um, I thought well, I've got all of my qualifications in art practice, I've got nothing in art history or theory. So I took advantage of the then generous study leaves that they used to offer. They - you could then apply for a twelve month study leave. So I applied for the Courtald Institute in London, and got in, to my amazement.
Because I had no first degree, but I got in on the strength of my - the success of my publication. And of course, they knew it in England and - 'cause it had been published in England. And so they waived the fact that I didn't have a bachelor's degree, because it's a, it's a postgraduate college. So I had no first degree, and, ah, I had the best year of my life. 1976-77.
That's - I have to date everything to that. Had I been to the Courtald, had I not been to the Courtald. Because that was the great um, real, you know, formative thing, I think, in my life. I had a marvellous time at the Courtald. I happened to have the last - one of the last years when John Golding was still at the Courtald.
He was my supervisor, and, ah, he was a sheer joy to work with. And, ah, it ... there again, I was terrified, you know. I hadn't written an exam. I was 46 - something in the vicinity of - and had not written an exam since I was 17. And so, you know, immediately that thought, "Can I do it? Can I, can I possibly do it?"
But as it turned out, I found I could do it, you know, really I just, suddenly I just slipped back into student mode very, very easily and did a postgraduate degree without ever having done an undergraduate degree, which would have helped me more than somewhat, I have to tell you. But ...
Did you have to do a Master's thesis?
I did a Master's thesis.
Interesting enough, I'm then - now a teacher, I've got no thought of art galleries. I had grown up in Brisbane, remember, in the '30s, without access to anything. All I can remember is that 'Evicted', and I was fascinated to think of how information is brought to places that are in remote areas.
Where the centre of what you're wanting to do is elsewhere. And New York - in the 1940s the centre of art was Paris. And I was fascinated to think how those American artists, Jackson Pollock, Arshile Gorky and De Kooning etcetera, how did they - what fed them when Paris was where it was all at?
Now of course, they were there when the expatriate Parisians were moving across to, you know - Matta and André Breton - were moving across to New York, but it wasn't just that. It was Alfred Barr at the Museum of Modern Art, and he was bringing in these incredible exhibitions, out of studios.
He was selecting them out of Picasso's studios, out of Braque, out of Miró, out of, you know, the Impressionists, the Bauhaus. And they were having access to these in New York, really in a way that I think - this is my thesis, anyway - that the young artists in Europe, who were right in the middle of it, couldn't see.
Barr was sort of laying it out as it were on a laboratory br- ... bench, so they could look at this, see what was useful in it for them, and take what was useful and move it into the next square. And they did. That school of American, post-war American painting, really carried forward those really exciting inventions of the early part of the twentieth century into the next square.
It wasn't European artists. European artists later have, but, ah - like Anselm Kiefer etcetera, now - but then, in the '40s and '50s, it, it - the centre as it were moved to New York. And I think Alfred Barr and his policy at the Museum of Modern Art had very much to do with that. And of course, then in my life, subsequently my passion in, ah, as a museum director was the fact that I could not only display what the museum had to the best of my ability, but also bring in what we didn't have. [INTERRUPTION]
What did the Courtald think of your thesis?
They thought a great deal of it, actually. I did very well and, um, John Golding, who was my - as I say, my supervisor - was fascinated, because I went over to New York in order to do this, and I worked there, and did a lot of the original work on the early days of the, um, museum, and was able to talk to some of the artists. Some of them were still alive. Pollock, of course, was not alive but his widow, Lee Krasner was, and I was able to find out, you know, whether they really had been - were they actually going to the museum, were they getting a lot out of those exhibitions.
So I was able to do some very interesting work. In fact, with Lee Krasner, with Pollock's widow, I had a immediate rapport. She was a really tough lady from the Bronx, and we got on beautifully. I was saying, "Well now what did Pollock have in his library? Could he have had access to these things outside of the Museum of Modern Art?" And she says, "Well", she says, "Pollock's ... " - she used to call him Pollock - "Pollock's studio's exactly as it was when he left it". This is in 1975. No work's, no really serious work's been done on Pollock.
She said, "You come up". She said, "Come up, stay with me. Gee I'll love it. You know, come up to New Hampton and spend a week. You can work in his studio". And I ran up John Golding and I said, "John, I've just struck gold here. Lee Krasner's given me access to everything in Pollock's studio. I can, you know, do a whole ... but I'll need more time". And there was this strangled silence at the other end of the phone and John said, "Oh", he said, "Betty, the Courtald doesn't give extensions of time". And you know, quite rightly too, because, you know, that would have given me a huge advantage over other students.
And, ah, so, I had to turn it down. But I think I did the right thing. It was either get your Master's, or get this material on Pollock. But I think .. the Master's in the end was the way to go.
Did you ever go back?
No, I didn't, because you know, there again, it was - I was in the middle of teaching. I had a one year break. That's what John said - John Golding said - "Look, do it. Do it. Come back and do your thesis next year". But you see, I couldn't. I was - I had a family to keep, you know. Roy, as you know as a painter doesn't - you know, it had to be my salary that was really the mainstay of the ... circus. The establishment.
What happened to the family during that year you were on ...
Well they came over on the proceeds of that little book, you know. The 'Understanding Art' book. And I was terribly upset at the thought of them getting on an aeroplane and then stepping off the aeroplane in London and not experiencing the world, you know. Because I'd gone over by boat. And so I encouraged Roy to try and find a way of going by boat, and he found one of the last, the Chandras line. This Greek line was still running trips to London, and they got on that.
They went through the Panama, and it was a marvellous thing to do for the kids, you know, because they had all of those stops right the way across. Marvellous trip, and then they lived outside of London, at a place called Eversley Cross. I lived in college, 'cause I knew - it was a two year course I was doing, but I was trying to do it in a year.
So I knew the only way I could do it would be this total, undivided, boring attention, you know, and ah, which I gave it, but I could only give it by living in college, which I did. And then at weekends I'd go down to Eversley Cross. By, you know, by weekends my eyeballs were swivelling in their sockets. I was absolutely no good to anyone ...
... and the poor kids. But Roy was wonderful. They had a wonderful time.
And Roy was happy with that arrangement?
Oh, yes. And it set - you know, my eldest son is an archaeologist, ancient historian. It was taking him up to see Hadrian's Wall that it was all about. You know, that's when he started, the magic of walking along this wall and thinking of the Picts on one side and the ... that got him interested in archaeology.
He's a near eastern archaeologist, as it turned out, but that interest in history, in ancient history, dated from then.
Now you had this Master's under your belt, and a very good one, and you were coming back. Did you come back to continue in teachers' college?
Yes, I did, because that was one of the rules. You had to ... er, do a - the, the period you'd been away - if you'd been away for a year, you had to do at least a year on your return. And of course, when I came back I was in much demand, because I now had this very classy degree. The Courtald is probably the best - still is, I think - the best art history degree that you can get.
And so, I was being courted from - in Melbourne, but I had to do my year back in, ah, Brisbane. But then I must say I did take off immediately, which gives me a few qualms of conscience, because, ah, it's a bit opportunistic, to have taken that, got your degree, and then immediately gone off to something else.
But I was headhunted there for that job in Melbourne, and again, my immediate impulse was, "Oh well, you're not good enough for Melbourne. You got away with it in Brisbane, but you're not going to be able to do it in Melbourne". And there was terrible anxiety. I had to go down for an interview, and I went down for this interview, and they put me up in a hotel and I didn't - that was one of those few nights when you just don't sleep.
'Cause I was - she said, "We'll ring you in the morning". And I wanted him to ring and say, "Look, I'm sorry, you didn't get it. We ... " And I would have gone back to Brisbane, all of my problems would have been solved. I hadn't shirked, you know, this opportunity. Because whenever an opportunity emerges, I try to reach for it.
So I'd reached for it, and if I'd failed fair and square, I could have gone back to Brisbane, and, ah, lived happily ever after. But he rang up and said, "You've got it". So that sealed it.
And what exactly was the job?
It was Senior Lecturer at Art History ... it was then called PITT. Preston Institute of Technology. It's now - then it became Phillip Institute of Technology, and now I think it's RMIT. It's now, of course, as I said, a university, as they all are. But, um, it was a fairly progressive tertiary institution in Melbourne. Brian Seidel was the Head of School, and he was trying to set up something a little bit different to the other schools in Melbourne, and I think he did.
Um, I was worried. I needn't have been. You know, I love teaching, and - I made some very good friends there amongst the students at Phillip Institute. But, er, there's always that, um, initial feeling of lack of confidence in every time I've moved into the next step. But fortunately, there's enough in me to think, you know, "No, come on. You can do it. You know, take that step". And of course, it worked out beautifully.
It was a bit of a trauma for, um, the family. See, Bill Robinson had - while I was at teachers' training college - decided to move up to Toowoomba. He was very unhappy at Teachers' Training Kelvin Grove. And he moved up to Toowoomba. He moved his whole family up to Toowoomba into this terrible little house. His studio was the, the tin recess that they used to put wood stoves in, remember? And that was his - the only space he could have as a studio.
And I - it was a disaster, but fortunately, he hadn't - he'd had difficulty selling his house in Brisbane. He hadn't sold it, so they could move back to it, and pick up their lives. I didn't want to do that to my family, uproot them all from their various schools, go to Melbourne, find the same thing, disaster, hate it, can't do it, and have to move back to Brisbane.
So I, I moved on ahead. I spent a year in this miserable student accommodation at La Trobe University, which was terrible, and all of the kids were reaching a point in their schooling. Ben had finished. Paul was about to finish - he had to do Grade 12. Peter was about to move into Grade 11. There was a natural break for each child, so, you know, the year after seemed the year to do it.
In retrospect, I think I made a mistake. I think I shouldn't have left the kids at that stage for a year. I think I should have taken my courage in both hands.
Why did you - why do you feel that?
I think they needed me. I was pushing them, you know. I said to - Paul, whom you've met - you know, I said, "Paul, I'll never forgive myself for walking away from you at that crucial point in your year", because he was achieving terribly well in Grade 11, you know, top. The last thing I did was go to prize giving where he received the Form Prize.
The next year, he was - he virtually failed. He only got his HSC because of his terrific marks in Grade 11. And he said, "Are you kidding?" He said, "That was the best year of my life". I'd got off his back. He went wild. But I still don't quite forgive myself, for that.
You felt they needed you. What about your needing them?
That's a very good question. They'd say - they'd be cheering now. Now let me be absolutely honest. Needless to say I missed them terribly and used to write regularly and look forward to their letters regularly, but I'm a bit of a cat that walked by itself. And, ah, and this has been a problem for Roy. I think it's been a problem for all of them, this sense that I'm sort of going along this tunnel which is mine, and I'm being very self-critical here, you know, because I think this is a great fault of mine.
But you can only be what you are, and, ah, I think when I was down there, I was doing it in their name, you know. I wanted it to succeed and I wanted - because I knew that Peter, in particular, would flourish in Melbourne, 'cause he was getting interested in music and I knew all of these things that, you know ... I knew it was going to be a good move.
So I was doing it for them, but I am very independent and can manage ... not easily, but can manage on my own. And, ah, I think in that year, while I hated it, I hated living in that dreadful college, I hated being in amongst students who were nearly twenty years younger than me and it was ... all of that was hard. But at the same time, I was so engrossed in trying to make that first year work - and I was also looking for a house, and I was also trying to pick a school.
I used to go around to schools at closing time when the bell went at three and watch the kids as they came out, and cross them off the list or tick them according to what I - how I thought they were behaving in the, in the street. So I had to pick the school and then having picked the school, I had to find a house within the radius of the school. So there was a lot to do in that year, in my defence, for managing things so well.
And yet you say you've felt a bit guilty ever since, but you think about it. All over the world at this moment, there are men going ahead of their families to establish situations like that. I mean, it's quite common for men to do that.
Yes, but I don't think ... well, this father anyway, I don't think he would have put the same ... I know he didn't, put the same emphasis that I did on their ... you know, achievement. And that's what I think that Paul says, "Are you kidding, it was the best year of my life", I had stopped sort of encouraging and pushing him and helping him with his homework and you know, doing all of those sorts of things, and trying to have him achieve to the best of his ability.
And I did that with all of them. And I do think mothers are probably better at that than fathers. I don't know, sort of ... Roy was terrific in other respects, you know, in camping and outing and, you know, they had marvellous times with their father. But I don't think in those things where it requires doing things that the, that the child may not particularly want to do, I don't think he was so good at that.
I was better at that, and I just think they were at those crucial years of their life, where they could have done with a bit more steadying, perhaps.
Now your life at the - well, what became the Phillips [sic] Institute was one of teaching and ...
And the family came down and joined you after that first year.
The year after, yeah.
Um, what was your - how did things evolve for you there? Did things change?
Um, yes, it did, because I had to sort of suddenly fit into a much bigger, more complex and complicated city. Melbourne was a very different story to Brisbane.
Did you like it better?
Yes, I think I did. Brisbane didn't ever appeal to me. Why they didn't appeal to me ... the society, really the whole ... structure. This was a, was a liberating thing for me, Melbourne. The lovely thing that I found about Melbourne was that you could dip in and out of society with ease. You didn't ... you know, in Brisbane you're either in or you're out.
And I think Sydney - I don't know, I've never lived in Sydney - I have a suspicion that Sydney's a bit like that too. In Melbourne, you could - you were accepted and the women in Melbourne were very good. I remember Janine Burke and Lesley Dumbrell and a lot of the women were very - you know, that sort of sense of sisterhood which I'd never, never, never experienced. It just didn't exist in Brisbane.
And that was very comforting and warming and welcoming for me. And, ah, I really enjoyed that, and I enjoyed the complexity of Melbourne's life. But I'm the sort of person, as I say, a bit of a recluse. In fact, I am a recluse I think. And I don't - not a party girl, you know. You know, I don't want to be at every opening.
In fact, I hate openings, exhibition openings. Like exhibitions but hate exhibition openings. And in Melbourne I discovered, you know, you could go to an opening. You'd be welcome, and then not go to them for weeks and weeks and weeks and weeks and then go to another one and you're still welcomed, you know. It was so ... and I really enjoyed that aspect of it.
You'd shown as a child leadership potential. Did you get an opportunity to display that in this new situation?
Yes, I think I did. I did it without sort of really realising that I was doing it. I just really loved - I really wanted to teach the first years, rather than the third years or the postgraduates, because I felt in the first year, you get them and you can really get them interested in history - but I was only teaching history of art, of course, now by this stage.
And, ah, I did love that, and I did become, you know, something of a, a favoured teacher in the place because I was able - I'm a good communicator and I was able to do this. And, um, I found that I was then moved to Principal Lecturer. And then Brian Seidel decided that he was going to resign, retire early.
And I suddenly thought, uh-oh, you know, I'm Principal Lecturer, so, you know, there's only one - like I was almost a Deputy Head. I thought, whoever is Head is crucial, you know. It's got to be someone I can work with. And I remember doing a lot of vigorous lobbying. I remember trying to talk Bill Wright [sp?] into ... talking to a whole lot of people I thought would be good. I wrote out an application - I didn't want the job, but I just - this was a failsafe, you know, in case ...
I didn't want to work under the, a person I didn't want to work with. I would rather have worked with, you know, people like Bill Wright [sp?] would have been great. I would have enjoyed working under them. And on the ... about four thirty on the day the applications closed, 'cause I was Principal Lecturer, of course, I could look through the applications and see, none of my carefully nurtured people had applied.
So I just slipped mine in, and of course got it, and became Head of School. And I was Head of School for some years.
And in that position, you discovered what it was like to be in charge of other people in that more leadership role.
Yeah, that was my first ... exam[ple] ... you know, taste of having to, you know, lead an exhibition ... an institution, move it forward, fight for its budget, you know, and all of that administrative side of things. That was my introduction to it.
And how did you find it?
Oh, I found ... I liked it. I loved the thing of trying to sort of progress the thing and ... what I didn't like, actually, was the fact that I was the only - and there was one other woman, Head of School, Head of Nursing, and me, and there was a - the academic boards, you know, all of the different schools, Science and Phys Ed etcetera, and there'd be a huge academic table - you'd be all sitting around there.
And I found that my - a woman's voice is a real problem in a big forum like that, because they would just talk me down. And you can either be talked down or become shrill. But you don't have the tongue, you know, that - like a man's voice can just talk you out. And that was a real problem, and I was ... complaining about this with my staff. I've always had an ability to get on with my staff, which has probably been the secret of my success.
And this artist, Victorian artist, Dom de Clario, I was saying, "You know, well the trouble is, I just get talked down at these blooming academic boards. You know, Peter Ikinbark [sp?] just talks straight over the top of me". And Dom said, "Oh Betty, you haven't a hope". He said, "All of the business is done in the squash ... in the showers of the squash court". He was a very athletic young man. He used to play squash.
And I said to him, "Okay, Dom. You be my mole. You listen very carefully. Tell me what's going on". And so at academic board - Dom would do this. He became my mole. [INTERRUPTION]
[end of tape]