Reflecting on a lifetime in education

This year IEUA NSW/ACT Branch Organiser Jackie Groom celebrates 60 years in education and 40 years of IEU membership. As well as being a busy organiser, she’s convenor of the Branch’s Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Advisory Committee. Here she reminisces with Sue Osborne.

“In 1963, I went to the Catholic Teachers College in North Sydney, which in those days was the training college for the Josephite nuns. I would have been 19. They had just started taking in lay people.

“My mum was a teacher at a Catholic school, so I thought, ‘let’s give it a go’, and the rest is history.

“My first position was teaching 30 Year 3 boys at St Therese’s Primary School, Lakemba.

“In those days you had to prepare them for confession once a month, and so they had to know the prayers and 10 Commandments – ‘Did you steal anything? Were you nasty to your brother’?

“About halfway through the year, the principal said ‘the Father wants to see you. Your boys are in big trouble’.

“Two boys had confessed to committing adultery. I had to explain to the whole class which of the 10 Commandments only applied to adults.

“Then after the class finished, I asked the two kids, ‘why did you say that’?

“They said ‘we got fed up with pinching biscuits and hitting our sister’, so we thought we’d try something new. That one was higher up the list’.

“I was the only lay teacher at the school, so the priest watched me closely.

“The priest was in charge of the school and paid your wages. I had to walk up to the presbytery every Friday, knock on the door and ask for my wages.

“More than once the housekeeper came to the door and said, ‘I can’t disturb Father. He’s having a sleep. He’s got Novena tonight. Come back on Monday’.

“The principal ending up making sure he gave my wages to her when he said Mass at the convent on Thursdays.

“I did three years at Lakemba. Then I got moved to Central Bankstown. I had a mixed Year 4 class.

“I got married. My husband was a teacher with the department, and he was posted to a school at Rocky Hall, which is halfway between Eden and Bombala on the Ben Boyd stock route.

“There were 16 kids in the school, from kindy to distance education for high school kids.

“In the mornings I used to take the little ones on the verandah to listen to kindergarten of the air, even though I wasn’t registered to teach with the department.

“We were 60kms from Bega. But it was a nice community. They expected you to do everything. If the kids came off their bikes on the weekend, they’d say, ‘go up to the school and they’ll fix it’.

“Then there was a terrible drought and my husband got very ill. The sheep were dying in the river upstream, they were pumping the water out of the river downstream to fill the school’s water tanks.

“They moved him to the Central Coast. I went back to Monsignor Slowey, Director of Catholic Education at the time, to keep my commitment to work out my bond. He said, ‘I have just the job for you. I’m opening a new school, St Joseph’s Catholic School at East Gosford, and we’re starting with Year 7’.

“I said, ‘but I’m primary trained’, and he said, ‘that’s okay, just keep a chapter ahead of them in the book and you’ll be fine’. I ended up teaching English, History, Art and Religion.

“I did my uni courses by correspondence so I could be at least a decent teacher.

“I stayed there for four years. We had a second child and we decided we should move to the country to bring the kids up.

“Dall [her husband] got a job at St Columba’s High School, Harden and I got a job at Sacred Heart Central School, Cootamundra. We were there nine years.

“We moved to Armidale, where I finished my degree, and then Wyong. A vacancy came up at St Joseph’s East Gosford and I was there for 12 years and then I became an IEU Organiser in 1993.

My mum used to get paid £1 a day teaching in a Catholic school. But if there was a public holiday or a Saint’sDay, she didn’t get paid, she didn’t get paid for school holidays and there was no sick leave.

“I saw how difficult it was for her and at uni I heard there was a meeting for lay teachers in non-government schools

“A Mr Watson, an economics teacher at Waverley College was organising it.

“That was the start of the Assistant Masters and Mistresses Association
in 1963.

“At Cootamundra I found out people were getting different wages in the same job. I got in touch with John Nicholson. He was General Secretary of the Independent Teachers Association.

“I rang him and he flew down to Cootamundra and we had the first ever chapter meeting at Sacred Heart Central School

“The first meeting of the South East Sub Branch was in my dining room in 1970 at Beechwood. Twelve people came.

“We decided what we wanted to do and how we wanted to be paid despite the fact that the schools in the Canberra Goulburn Archdiocese were managed by the Catholic Education Office in Canberra and Father Flood was the Director.

“Kevin Watson, a De La Salle brother was the Principal at the time, so we would go to him and negotiate workloads and other duties

“There were four lay staff at the time and he was always very supportive and it was a great place to work.

“The number of ‘religious’ were dwindling and they were stuck for teachers because nobody wanted to teach with the Catholics, because we were getting less money than our state school counterparts. There was no award, no agreement.

“It might have been in the late ‘80s before the first one came in. We gradually got parity of salary with the state teachers.

“John Nicholson was a lawyer and he operated from his office in Chatswood. The union didn’t have an office.

“I was an unofficial Rep at Cootamundra but when I went back to St Joseph’s, I was endorsed as the Chapter Rep. I became the Secretary of the Central Coast Sub Branch then was elected to Council and Executive. As a member of the Executive I was elected to Federal Council and in 1993 I became an Organiser.

“I’m convener of the Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Advisory Committee and with their assistance and the support of the IEU Executive, we are currently working to complete the NSW/ACT Branch of the IEUA Reconciliation Action Plan

“I enjoy my role as an Organiser. Being part of the union is the only way teachers and support staff are going to achieve fair and just pay and conditions. Has the employer ever offered better salaries and conditions voluntarily? ‘No’.

“I’ve made some good friends among members through being an Organiser and visiting the schools.

“I love the social interaction with members and colleagues at sub branch meetings and IEU Council, assisting members with issues and keeping up with the changes in new enterprise agreements and it keeps the mind active.

“As long as the body holds out, I’ll keep organising. I love it and it’s what I joined the union to do.”

Jackie (second from left) receives her 40-year IEU membership gift fromIEU Secretary Mark Northam (left), with Organisers Liam Griffiths, VeronicaYewdall and member Kathy D'Souza