My Shangri-La

scan10100On a recent trip to Hong Kong, whilst staying in the Shangrila Hotel, I read the complimentary copy of Lost Horizon by Tim Hilton (1933) which had so thoughtfully been left on the bedside table. Put simply, the book offers a romanticised story of travellers whose plane has been high-jacked and taken to a mysterious destination high in the Tibetan mountains. There, in the hidden lamasery of Shangrila, they are offered a world of great beauty, peace and tranquility. They are also offered the secret of extreme longevity and with that, the opportunity to pursue perfection through an unrivaled spiritual and intellectual existence.   It is, I believe, what might be described as the ultimate travel story, one which, in Hilton’s own words, “turns imagination into reality”.  The parallels between this story of the heterotopian space of Shangri-La and that of The University of Queensland are many. However, where Shangri-La exists only in the imagination, the University of Queensland offers a travel experience of a different sort. Most notably, where Shangri-La offered the cloistered, timeless world of the lamasery, The University of Queensland offers its antithesis, a springboard to the wider world.

My journey starts in Brisbane, where I was born and educated and indeed where I have spent all of my life except for a short period when my husband and I lived in London, Ontario with our three small children. Having completed my secondary education at Brisbane State High, I accepted a cadetship in diagnostic radiography at the Princess Alexandra Hospital. These three year positions were highly prized, as they offered “paid to learn” employment for cadets who then attended evening lectures. The lectures were structured around applied anatomy, radiation physics and the chemistry associated with the development of x-ray film. Exams were undertaken at the end of each year. Interestingly, radiography was a well-paid job and was one of the few areas in which women received equal pay with men at that time. Having completed my course, I continued working at PAH for a year and then worked for the Health Department as a relieving radiographer. The job offered adventure and independence both professionally and personally as I was required to travel to many of the regional areas of Queensland including: Cairns; the Gold Coast; Rockhampton; Toowoomba and Warwick. It was also a time of professional growth as it was a designated senior position.

Returning to Brisbane, I worked at the Royal Children’s Hospital where I was to meet my husband Tadaeusz Dauber, a resident Doctor. We were married in October of 1971.  Three children, two boys and a girl soon followed, but during this period I did not pursue a professional career as it was considered that radiography carried a risk of radiation exposure. However, I did utilise the time to upgrade my qualification from a Certificate to a Diploma from the Royal Melbourne Institute of Technology with the idea in mind that radiography too, would soon become a University degree course and I felt that I would need to do more if I was to return to the workforce.  This I did when my children were finally all at school. Yet, my passion was not vested in the creation of x-ray images.  Other “images” stimulated my imagination and my unquenchable passion for art, culture and collecting. So what I thought was my hobby was destined to lure me to the “delights” of academia and a professional approach to the visual arts.

Graduating in arts with a double major in Art History, I moved on to my Honours Degree and then to my doctoral studies. As a real bonus, the first chapter of my honours thesis, “Stand Up the Real Elizabeth Durack[1]” was published, first as a journal article and then as a book chapter. Subsequently, I was invited as a guest speaker to attend a conference on imposture at the Australian National University. This was my very first publication and it is now hard to say just how much it meant to me. To have my work recognised at such an early stage in my academic career was certainly very gratifying and encouraging. Of course other opportunities arose during my candidature and I returned to ANU twice for their visiting scholar program. This was a fully funded month long program of intense academic dialogue with dedicated senior professorial tutors. Domiciled on campus, this fellowship gave my fellow candidates and I a real taste of college life.

My next visit to Canberra occurred when I won a travel scholarship to undertake research at the National Museum of Australia which was scheduled to open in March of 2001. It was exciting to see the curatorial direction of the museum evolve but even more exciting to be amongst the first to tour the exhibition spaces in Australia’s first ever national museum prior to its opening. My topic: “Highjacked Agenda: The National Museum of Australia and the Gallery of the First Australians” examined how the inclusion of the Gallery of the First Australians impacted concepts of the national in public life.  However, the opening of the museum was surrounded by controversy and the writing of my thesis was an adventure in itself. Chasing the latest, often adverse commentary, delivering papers at the Museums Australia conference where the National Museum was the hottest and most contentious topic all provided an exciting backdrop to writing, writing, writing.  Six weeks after submission of my thesis, my first examiners report was returned with no corrections and much praise, the second coming not long afterwards and just two weeks before Christmas. It was done.  Thrillingly my work was awarded a Dean’s Honours commendation

Since then I have worked briefly as a lecturer, had further of publications on topics associated with my thesis, attended many conferences where I have delivered papers, and had other publications both in Australia and internationally as an independent art critic. The process of undertaking my doctorate taught me a considerable amount but it also showed me how much I did not know. I love writing and I also love imparting my knowledge to others.

Coming from a family of three children I am the first and only member of my family to have undertaken a tertiary education.  As a Polish immigrant (with refugee status) my husband was also the first and only member of his family to undertake tertiary studies. He too graduated from the University of Queensland and to our delight our  three children are now highly qualified. All graduated from the University of Queensland: one with a Bachelor’s Degree and Masters (with Dean’s Honours) in Law; one with an Honours Degree in Medicine who is now a cardiologist; and the other with a Bachelor of Commerce. Bachelor of Arts who was then accepted in to medicine at the University of Sydney where she also graduated with honours. She is now an Opthalmologist.

We are all proud to call The University of Queensland our Alma Mater. It is possible and most likely  that our grandchildren will also pass through its academic halls. It offers much. We all weave our own dreams and aspirations but it is The University of Queensland that provides a space in which to realise those dreams.

© Dr Christine Dauber, PhD  (Dean’s Honours) BA, BA Honours (Art History), Brisbane.

[1] Picturing the “Primitif”: Images of Race in Daily Life.  Ed. Julie Marcus. Canada Bay, NSW, LHR Press 2000. 239-63.