Public Education: It’s Not Just About Schools

Mildura Carnegie Lirary

Mildura’s Carnegie Library with WWI memorial tower.
Photo by Mattinbgn (Own work) [CC-BY-SA-3.0 ( or GFDL (, via Wikimedia Commons

When we talk about public education we immediately think of schools. Increasingly we are recognising that education is a life-long endeavour and with the explosion of the internet learning outside of the classroom and formal education systems is gaining increasing prominence.  Last week at the Buildings, Books and Blackboards conference in Melbourne we were encouraged to recognise that ‘public education’ throughout the last two hundred years has always encompassed more than the activities conducted in a school classroom.

This conference was about public education in the true sense of the word ‘public’.  Schools and libraries were considered important sites of learning. The libraries of the mechanics institutes played an important part in the education of many people.  This conference covered it all; the history of schools, libraries and mechanics institutes.

A highlight of the conference was the session about the Carnegie Corporation in the Antipodes.  Andrew Carnegie founded the corporation in order to “promote the advancement and diffusion of knowledge and understanding.”  Rockhampton’s Morning Bulletin observed, “[t]he corporation will take from the shoulders of its founder the task of personally attending to his pet hobby of founding libraries here, there, and everywhere.”  The Morning Bulletin went on to note that the Corporation would also fund “technical schools, institutions of higher learning” etc. (Morning Bulletin, 23/12/1911, p. 6). Continue reading

All That Swagger by Miles Franklin

All That Swagger by Miles Franklin (North Ryde, NSW:  Angus & Robertson, 1984).

Today is the anniversary of the birth of Miles Franklin – 14th October.  In a post for the Australian Women’s Writers Challenge I suggested that we remember Miles Franklin by doing what all authors want most and read a book written by her for the anniversary of her birth.  But yesterday morning I awoke with some consternation – Miles Franklin was sensitive about her age during her lifetime and shaved off some years publicly.  She would hate for the date of her birth to be remembered with precision.  Never mind, I thought, I won’t disclose how many years it has been since her birth and at any rate, she has probably moved on from such concerns now!

I have just finished reading Franklin’s book, All That Swagger.  I’m not a great reader of fiction and fussy about what I touch when I do read it.  All That Swagger would not normally be included in my ‘To Be Read’ (TBR) pile.  I chose to read it because it was Miles Franklin’s best-selling book and I have been encouraged to broaden my reading as a result of my participation in the Australian Women Writers’ Challenge.  All That Swagger won a major Australian literary award, the S.H. Prior Memorial Prize, in 1936 but I had never heard of it until I read Jill Roe’s biography of Miles Franklin.  Would it stand the test of time? Continue reading

Significant Historic Australian Education Collections – Deakin University, Geelong

Entrance to Alfred Deakin Prime Ministerial Library

One of Australia’s most extensive collections for the history of education – the Alfred Deakin Prime Ministerial Library at Deakin University, Geelong.

While working on the Teaching Reading in Australia project I had the opportunity to work in some of the best archives in Australia for the history of education.  These archives are significant repositories of Australian history.  Some don’t get the attention they deserve, others are well recognised but their education collections are little known.  In this, the first of a series of occasional posts on education archives in Australia, I share with you the delights of one of the most extensive education collections that I know of in Australia.  It is held by the Alfred Deakin Prime Ministerial Library at Deakin University in the city of Geelong, Victoria. Continue reading

Stella Miles Franklin: A Biography by Jill Roe

Cover of Stella Milses Franklin: A Biography

Stella Miles Franklin: A Biography by Jill Roe, Harper Collins, 2010.

There are times when a book creeps up on a reader, nudging itself forward, saying ‘read me’.  Jill Roe’s biography of Miles Franklin is one of those books.  Over the last few years I came across references to this book in many other histories that I read.  Then a couple of months ago I was doing some research assistant work and had to borrow it in order to check some page numbers. I held it in my hands and realised that I must do now what I should have done a couple of years ago.  I started reading.

The first three chapters tell the tale of the childhood and adolescence of a precocious girl carrying the name Stella Maria Sarah Miles Franklin.  She grew up in country New South Wales and was first educated by a family tutor before attending one of the typical one-teacher schools that were dotted around the Australian bush at the time.

In her spare time Stella Franklin wrote.  When she completed the draft for a novel the twenty-year old author forwarded a manuscript to several people asking them to read it.  Stella Franklin was bold, a quality she exhibited throughout her life.  One of the people to whom she sent her manuscript was the popular writer, Henry Lawson.  He was taken by the book and while in England he found a publisher for it.   At the young age of twenty-one Stella became renowned as the author Miles Franklin when her novel, My Brilliant Career, was released.  Published in 1901 during the first year of the new nation of Australia, My Brilliant Career is now regarded as an Australian classic.

So there we have it.  The highlight of Miles Franklin’s writing career, the source of much of her fame is dealt with in less than one hundred pages.  Why did Jill Roe dedicate so many years to researching and writing this biography?  The answer sustains the rest of the book.  Miles Franklin was a dynamic, complex woman who was described by a contemporary as being “as paradoxical as a platypus”.  She eschewed the path expected of women into marriage.  She mixed with thinkers and activists, gravitating towards those who were making a difference in the world.  She encouraged many writers and was passionate about Australian writing at a time when it was struggling to be heard.  In her life we can recognise her as one of our contemporaries yet at the same time this biography is punctuated by reminders that she was definitely a woman of her times. Continue reading

The Dictionary of Sydney Needs Your Help!

A dictionary is the first place anyone consults when they want to know the meaning of a word.  Likewise the Dictionary of Sydney is the first place you should go to if you want to know anything about Sydney, past or present.  It is a ground-breaking project where historians, whether amateur, professional or academic collaborate to create a dynamic and comprehensive website that is both authoritative and easily accessible.

Yet funding for this project is under threat.  The major sponsor of the project is the City of Sydney Council. Next Monday (30/7/2012) the Council will decide whether to release the funding it had approved ‘in principle’ in 2011.

Yesterday I asked the editorial co-ordinator of the Dictionary, Dr Emma Grahame, some questions about the Dictionary which she answered via e-mail. Continue reading