“We create our tomorrows by what we dream today”
This philosophical thought was displayed in a coffee shop I visited recently, and the idea was pursued further by the Oral History group when we discussed the ambitions we had when young and whether our dreams had materialised.
Post war Australia in the late 1940s and 1950s was a time of resettlement and a desire for a continuation of a calmer, safer life after the turmoil of World War 2.
The men returning from war had to be absorbed into the work force and most women who had held down jobs returned to domestic duties. There was also a different attitude to education emerging.
The horizons of many returned men had broadened and the Commonwealth Reconstruction Training Scheme gave many an opportunity to further their education.
Many, who had never considered tertiary education, now were able to attend university and gain degrees in areas which, before the war, would have been quite out of their reach.
As one of our group said: “Just to get a job was all you wanted in and just after the Depression.” This didn’t stop us dreaming though and Rosemary thought she would like to become a ballet dancer.. which of course didn’t happen.
Some of our group though did achieve what they had always really wanted.
“I knew quite early that I wanted to become a nurse,”said Joan. “No one influenced me although my sister who was five years older was not allowed by our parents because at that time nursing wasn’t considered socially acceptable.”
Rosemary agreed. “When my early ambition of ballet dancing came to nothing I began nursing in a country hospital in South Australia although nurses did have a reputation of having loose morals. Matrons became very strict later and standards were very high.”
Before university fees were abolished by the Whitlam government in 1974, higher education was generally restricted to people who could afford it.
It was expected that when a woman married and had children she would leave the work and stay home.
We were fortunate that we didn’t have to make the difficult decisions faced by people todayHelen McAnulty
It is not surprising that the dreams of girls to go into professions were very likely to come to nothing as it was considered by many parents that higher education for a girl was a waste of time and the money could much better be spent on her brothers who would spend their lives in the work force.
As a consequence, almost the only occupations girls were encouraged to follow were those where scholarships were offered, like teaching. Nursing was also a popular choice because trainees were given full board and lodging.
“I had always wanted to be a teacher,” said Elma, “probably because I had so much respect for the teacher I had as a child., and I enjoyed every minute of it”.
Leslye, who grew up in Moree, told us feelingly, “My only ambition was to get out of the place so I went nursing and lasted six weeks before coming back home. I had a series of jobs—legal secretary, police force and finally became an enrolled nurse.”
Obviously it was different for the men in our group but as John pointed out we were taught the work ethic and if we trained for a certain job we were expected to remain in it for the rest of our lives.
“I had no idea of what I wanted to do but when I was about 14 I developed an interest in wild life and realised that the responsibility of the land rested on the landholders so I went to Agriculture College and later worked for the Department of Primary Industries which I thoroughly enjoyed.”
Tim’s future was assured by his childhood growing up on a property and the only thing he wanted to do was to be on the land.
“I joined a Stock Agent and worked in the back country managing properties. You only went to town every three months and had to become proficient in all sorts of things because you were so far from help.
When we did go to town we would get in touch with the local hospital matron and enquirer if any of the nurses would like to go out. It was all above board and very respectable but was a great source of company for lonely young men.”
Reg was also a bushman who grew up in the war years and worked with horses. “My ambition was to be a vet but there was no possibility of that. Still I learned a lot on the job doing the work I wanted to do.”
“My father had a garage and I was in a workshop surrounded by motors from a very early age so I really wanted only to work with anything that had a motor,” Dick told us.
“In our day you did what was available and you did it for the rest of your life. I was also interested in flying and became an instructor .”
Stuart went into a career that was available at the time and his was in the Public Service with the Dept of Public Works and “I ended up in Industrial Relations. I have no regrets as you did what was offered at the time and stuck with it.”
Pat’s dream was to be a hairdresser but settled for retailing as did Bronwyn, while Monica who had Italian and French parents was interested in food preparation.
Always in our discussions is the realisation that although we compare the way we used to live with the way the world is today, we understand that the needs of the community have changed enormously.
While our choice of career did not always follow our dreams, in many ways we were fortunate that we didn’t have to make the difficult decisions faced by people today. We knew the path we had to tread and we don’t seem to have deviated much along the way.