Wednesday, 27 March 2013

Learning Curves

What schooling did my mother have? my grandmothers? my great grandmothers?

Mum went through Primary School and High School up to the Leaving Certificate, so at 15 she was out in the big wide world working.

Mum is at the far right, second row, with her hair in pigtails. She looks like my older sister in this photo

But later she went to Bible College, and since then Mum has always been learning. She learnt to speak and read Bengali when she was in Bangladesh and although she says she isn't much good at it, she can still read some and can still speak a little to the people at Nargi's, the local takeaway. Not bad for more than 40 years since she was there.

Then each time Mum took work she had to learn something new, go to training days. When Aid for the Children of Brazil started up Mum had to learn about not only the Australian legal requirements for overseas adoption and the correct forms and information from this end, but also about the Brazilian requirements and forms and information, how the Brazilian legal system works, and some Portuguese.

Now she is learning about computers - email, how to read this blog, online petitions, all sorts. And Mum always has something interesting to tell me that she has found out through all the things she does with her life - local government, street art in Sydney, the EDO (Environmental Defenders Office), the local museum. She has never stopped learning. Way to go, Mum.

I don't know much about my grandmothers' schooling. I know Nanna O'Toole went to the little school at Cox's River - one teacher, one room - and then was in school at Wentworth Falls for a while. It was unusual back then for girls to go beyond primary (it was unusual for boys in the area to go beyond primary), so I am not sure how far Nanna went. Nanna could read and write and was smart, she did the cryptic crossword every day, and I'm lucky to get one clue out, but I don't know that her schooling went far. I shall have to find out.

Tomorrow I go to see my Uncle Reg, so I can ask him about Nanna Ellem's schooling. She was no dunce either, but again, I just don't know. But I do know that Nanna was always able to turn her hand to a new trade when it was needed, just so long as you didn't ask her to sew or cook.

And as for my great grandmothers, Maud Elizabeth Parker (later Ellem) and Mary Ellen O'Dowd (later Davies), I'll ask Uncle Reg about them. I don't know about Mary Marcella Hall. Hannah Maria Amelia Pearce (later Shoobridge) went to school in Burragorang Valley, probably at the Cox's River School, but life was hard for her family and her mother, Elizabeth Pearce (ni Kerswell), had a child every two years or so and was not known for her devotion to housework, so Hannah left school early to look after her siblings, the house and her father, with help from her grandmother, Hannah Maria Kerswell (ni Rymes). My great grandmother often went out to work as well, to bring in extra cash for the family, and usually ended up keeping house for local women close to giving birth. Hannah often was present for the birth and acted as assistant to Mrs Longbottom, the local midwife. Hannah learnt a lot from Mrs Longbottom, the most respected midwife in the area, and when Hannah and her husband George William James Shoobridge and family moved up to Wentworth Falls about 1916, Hannah became a highly regarded midwife herself. So, like Mum, Hannah kept learning.

From what I know of the lives of my mother, grandmothers and great grandmothers, they all had to be resourceful and smart to keep their families together and fed and healthy and clothed. Although there may not be much formal schooling amongst them, they are and were smart women with formidable skills.

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