A Turn in Life’s Direction

Maureen Elizabeth Hancock nee HolyoakI enrolled at the University of Queensland in 1969 as a “mature age” student. This term was used for someone who
did not proceed to university directly from high school and had matriculated, usually via the extremely limited night schools, with fewer school subjects. I think that the enrolling of such mature age students was a relatively recent innovation.

I had left school at junior level as had the majority of young people then. I had come from a large, poor family and was desperate for financial independence. Despite passing Junior with seven As and one B, I did not continue on into the Senior years at All Hallows’ Convent. Back then, schools did not offer career guidance in secondary, nor were health checks conducted in the early years of primary. Both these deficiencies impacted on my life.

Most people back then chose jobs from whatever was possible. The idea that you would follow your dream was almost never one of your priorities, and would have been thought to have been ridiculously self-indulgent.

When I began studying at UQ, I was married and had two very young children. I could only enrol in the evening classes as I had to look after my children during the day. I had been forced to resign from my first public service job as a typist because married women were not eligible to be employed.

At that time, child-minding services were almost unknown. There was kindergarten for the pre-school year only, but the hours were from 10 am to 2 pm, I think. My evening classes had to be co-ordinated with the nights when my husband was not working at his second job of office cleaning. My husband was a railway clerk and we were still poor. At the beginning of each university term, I was always anxious whether this juggling exercise could be managed. My desire to go to university was driven by the need to enter a profession with reasonable pay. I chose to be a school teacher because I knew I would still have to look after my children in the school holidays. It helped that I had always loved learning.

I was fortunate to have studied at a time when university studies were free. I seem to remember having only to pay student union dues and for books.

I loved university study but was very restricted in taking part in any activities except attending classes, tutorials and spending some time in the library. Of course, the library catalogue was via the card file system in banks of wooden drawers. I loved being part of that world of learning. I also loved some of the older buildings; I thought they were beautiful. The spacious lawns, tree-lined roads and proximity to the river added to a very pleasant environment. I even loved the buzz of the refectory.

In my first year at university, I realised that I was very short-sighted. I was attending lectures in the Abel Smith building and soon noticed that the students around me could read the blackboard apparently easily, whilst I could barely make out the words. If I had been examined by a school nurse in my early school years, this problem would likely have been noted. Similarly, I have poor hearing, also not detected until much later in life.

The child-minding difficulty was eased in the latter years of my university studies when the university opened its first child-minding center. In fact, my daughter was the first child who walked through the door on the first day of the opening of that center. Women’s liberation was changing society.

In all, it took seven years to fully qualify as a school teacher. There were the two years of night study needed to matriculate. Four years of part-time study were needed for my Bachelor of Arts. After that, there was a further year to gain a Diploma of Teaching. I have never regretted the time spent in doing this, in fact, I would have liked to have been a perpetual student. But that would have been seriously self-indulgent!

I was extremely grateful for the fact that my university studies were free. I was lucky in that I was eventually able to be a permanent employee of the public service when those rules were changed. I am also grateful that the public service back then had a superannuation scheme. Many working women of my era were not party to a superannuation scheme for a significant part of their working lives.

Long may the University of Queensland prosper. I am glad it played such an important part of my life.

Maureen Hancock, Bachelor of Arts (1973), Diploma in Education (1974), Graduate Diploma in Education (Teacher-Librarianship) ( 1995, QUT). 

Maureen was born in Brisbane towards the end of World War II into a large and very loving Catholic family. After meeting and marrying her husband in Townsville, she moved to Brisbane and had two daughters, and shortly afterwards, began enrolled in a Bachelor of Arts at The University of Queensland, St Lucia. Maureen worked for 30 years in the Department of Education, Schools and Libraries, and is now enjoying a very busy retirement.