I know this might sound bizarre. I don’t recall applying for admission to Notre Dame University in Sydney. I recall seeing an advertisement about the University and later receiving a letter offering me an interview but I have absolutely no recollection of writing to the University. A memory lapse? Or, was I directed by a greater force? I know many will respond to the latter idea with ‘that’s impossible, tommy rot, nonsense’. However, I think some things happen in life that are unexplainable.
Having opened the proverbial can of worms as to whether life is pre-determined, let me say I remember clearly attending an interview with Dr Peter Dean and dancing out through the University courtyard after hearing that I had been accepted. I was to be one of the first intake at the newly opened facility.
Intending to re-hone my performing arts skills, I suddenly found myself being shunted from Child Developmental Psychology to the History of Western Civilization, the Politics of Moving Pictures, Behavioural Science and Comparative Indigenous Literature. Through this process I kept wondering how I had managed to live so many years on the earth knowing so very little.
Some of you might be interested to know how I felt on day one. Well, sitting in a classroom full of bright young people, any one of whom could have been my son or daughter, was ‘daunting’. Their minds were finely-tuned. Fresh from high school, some happy to sail through with a pass, others chomping at the bit for a high distinction.
Professor Hayden Ramsay walked into the lecture theatre, picked up a chair, lifted it onto a table, looked around the room, then asked in his broad Scottish tongue: ‘Is this a chair?’
What a tremendous start!
I always thought a chair was a chair but, from that moment on, I started to question everything which, of course, was Professor Ramsay’s purpose. He wanted us to THINK.
To be brutally honest, I didn’t find University easy. I had to work hard to keep up but I LOVED the experience and I LOVED the people; the tutors and the students; and, whilst, graduating was a joyous event, graduation was tinged with sadness as it represented closure of a wonderful chapter in my life; three years of Bachelor of Arts Degree and twelve months arm wrestling with my Honours Supervisor, Professor Gerry Turcotte, over what should stay in and what had to stay out of my exegesis; (my anger over what had been written about my family by some journalists/authors post my father’s death in 1974 which was a heap of unadulterated rubbish which could not be substantiated but would remain on bookshelves for innocent readers to digest believing it to be truth when, in actuality, it was fabrication or pure fictitious mythology, whichever you prefer).
The ‘Circus’ chapter of Lindrum: The Uncrowned King was completed during the Honours year. How proud I was when invited to read a part of that chapter at awards ceremony. You see, throughout my father’s life he credited the Circus People for teaching him how to entertain an audience so that particular chapter of the work is special to me.
In 2010 I completed the first year of a PhD and then lost Professor Turcotte to Canada. I continued for a time under the supervision of Associate Professor Peter Dean (History) and Camilla Nelson (Literature) but my work never really sat comfortably in the History or the Literature department. Of course, I wanted to tell the ‘Truth’ of history but, at the same time, I wanted to be able to imagine all the characters who crossed paths with my family in bygone eras and characters like the Fishmonger and Milko had to be imagined because they lived long before my time.
So, it came to pass that I found myself in the Creative Arts Department at the University of Wollongong under the supervision of journalist, oral historian, author and documentary filmmaker Dr Siobhan McHugh and author and academic Professor Cathy Cole. We towed the boat out together and returned with an incredible booty but it was not all plain sailing, there were a few Mt Everest climbs on the way through.
The tough thing, if there is a tough thing, about an Honours year and/or tackling doctoral studies is that you are largely Robinson Crusoe whereas during the BA years you are travelling on a raft with others. I confess to missing the camaraderie I enjoyed from 2006-2009 and I hold tight to the memories of
political debates and occasional dinner in the Sydney CBD. Then there was the New Year’s Eve when a few friends turned up on my doorstep in the early hours for bacon and egg sandwiches. I remain silent in relation to chasing ice-cream wagons then offering to dance the heel and toe with a wall of friendly policemen. If I was asked to use one word to describe this chapter of my life I would say it was ‘JOY’.