My Bio

I was born in Melbourne, Australia. When I was about 2 and a half years old, my family went to England for a few years. Even though I was so young, I have a lot of memories of that time. My father was in the Air Force, and we lived at Bomber Command Bawtry, located on a beautiful old estate, where the Manor House had been used by the Air Force during the Second World War.

Above, Bawtry Hall, Yorkshire, England, near Doncaster.

It was in the north of England, near Doncaster. There was a lake, where I was once chased by an angry mother swan, a woods that we walked through, with big old chestnut trees, where we played conkers, and fields of beautiful spring flowers: buttercups, blue bells and my favourite flowers, daffodils.

I started school in the village, at the age of four. I remember my father saying “School, eh!” and showing me an easy way of doing up my shoe laces. These small gestures of empowerment, which are daily occurrences with most parents, were very rare, and stand out in my memory.

I suffered from asthma, and had frequent attacks which kept me out of school. My mother taught me the alphabet, and I was able to read at the age of four. I loved Noddy books, by Enid Blyton, but these are considered politically incorrect these days. I really don’t know why. I once read that Noddy and Bigears had an unhealthy relationship. Maybe they were gay! But this seems totally absurd to me.

Cover of The Three Golliwogs, in which the gol...

Cover of The Three Golliwogs, in which the golliwogs are the heroes. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

I used to read Golliwog (above), which is obviously unacceptable these days because of the racial stereotypes it contains. Australian cricket commentator Brendan Julian got into trouble for referring to Sri Lankan bowler Lasith Malinga as “golliwog” because of his wonderful hairstyle. He apologised and said it was meant affectionately. I don’t think BJ realised the implications of what he said.

Sri Lankan cricketer Lasith Malinga tosses a c...

Sri Lankan cricketer Lasith Malinga tosses a cricket ball during a practice session on October 2010 at the Sydney Cricket Ground. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

I can remember reading my brother’s Boys’ Own Annual. We also had a boxed set of four books: Grimm’s Fairy Tales, Aesop’s Fables, Black Beauty and  The Three Muskateers. Grimm’s Fairy Tales were very grim indeed. I can’t imagine them being considered suitable for children these days. They have been “modernised” to make them less grim. However children seem to have an appetite for horror, and can tolerate such tales.

Illustration from the book "Grimm's Fairy...

Illustration from the book “Grimm’s Fairy Tales”, Fitcher’s Bird. (1914) (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Hansel and Gretel, about children lost in the forest, was based on the historical reality that in the past, impoverished families would abandon children that they could not afford to feed in the forest, I suppose they either starved to death or were taken by wolves.

Once my family went to an auction in Sheffield. My father wanted to buy some of the famous Sheffield crystal, and I think he got a couple of decanters. I had an asthma attack and my mother took me outside. She tried to find our car, which was parked in one of the maze of little streets, but she couldn’t find it. In the meantime, my father came out with my brother and went back to the car. My mother and I weren’t there, so he got angry at the inconvenience to him, and drove home without us. Imagine that – leaving his wife behind with a sick child. My mother returned to where the car had been parked and realised that he had left without us. She was understandably angry, and had to get the bus home (a long journey up what was then the Great North Road, followed by a long walk home, carrying a sick child). My brother tells me that when she got home, she was so angry she went straight upstairs and started packing her bags.

My father talked her out of leaving. My parents had been told that I had to return to Australia because i wouldn’t survive another English winter. My father agreed to return to Australia.

Back in Australia, when I was six, I read Black Beauty 29 times, and cried my eyes out every time. I always loved animals, and, like many girls, desperately wanted to have a horse.

The cover of “Black Beauty”, one of my favourite books as a child.

I started school at Wattle Park State school in Burwood, an eastern suburb of Melbourne.

When I was “seven and three quarters” (every month seems significant at that age) we moved to Canberra, the national capital, as part of the relocation of the public service and defence forces.

Above, the corner of Banks Street and Schlick Street, where our house was. There used to be an almond tree right on the corner. Pinoak trees, that produced spectacular autumn leaves, lined Schlick Street, and there were prunus plums, producing the blossoms that Canberra was famous for, along Banks Street. 

“Yarralumla” is often used to refer to the Governor-General’s residence, but actually it is just a suburb of Canberra. Government House is on the outskirts of that suburb.

Re-visiting Dunrossil Drive, April 2012

One of the things I like about Canberra is the way that politicians, government buildings, embassies and public figures are a part of every day life. We used to drive past the Prime Ministerís Lodge on the way to the shops. My friend Brett, who organised our school reunion, describes going to the local Turkish Halal Pide shop at Yarralumla and seeing Kevin Rudd and his wife eating there. When we lived in Yarralumla I used to ride my bike with friends (Susanna Price on her “boneshaker”) up the famous Dunrossil Drive to Government House, Yarralumla, where we would stop and peer in through the big wrought iron gates. Susanna tells me that the “boneshaker” had been her mother’s bike, and Susanna later rode it around the ANU when she was a student there.

Dunrossil Drive is named after the only Australian Governor-General to die in office, Lord Dunrossil. “Yarralumla” has been the official residence of the Governor-General in Canberra since 1927, when the Commonwealth Parliament moved from Melbourne to the national capital.

Brett drove me up Dunrossil Drive one evening, during my holiday in Canberra. It is flanked by old trees, pinoaks I think, whose canapies meet overhead. It is really something special. In Autumn it is spectacular, but I guess Gough would not appreciate its scenic beauty, given his now iconic and historic trip up the Drive to be dismissed.

Above, Dunrossil Drive, leading to Government House Yarralumla.

However, to me, Yarralumla just means the suburb my family lived in when we first moved to Canberra in 1959.

Now one of Canberra’s most expensive suburbs, it was then quite modest, and we lived in a humble red brick, two-story duplex “govvy” at 46 Banks St, pictured above.

Our house was opposite what was then the Forestry Commission. My friends remember going up the path to the left of the building, and getting into it via a side door. We explored and played inside. Apparently, I was the ringleader in this venture.

The old Forestry Commission building, above

The oficial story is this: “The Commonwealth Forestry School was established in Westridge near the brickworks and Westbourne Woods in 1926. It opened with its first intake of students in the following year. Today the heritage-listed Forestry School and the associated principal’s residence Westridge House are located on Banks Street, Yarralumla. CSIRO Forestry and Forestry Products subsumed the school in 1975. Westridge House, an impressive Tudor-style structure, recently underwent a A$500,000 refurbishment and is presently in use as a residence for the chief officer of the CSIRO.”

The old brickworks, which we kids just knew as “the quarry”, could be accessed by crawling under a cyclone fence. The quarry was deep and often half full of water. I guess it must have been dangerous but we had a good time playing there.

We also used to play in the Westbourne Woods, just down the road. Sometimes we would take a couple of potatoes and a box of matches and cook the potatoes in the woods. I remember once  wandering through the woods and coming across an old hermit living in a in a lean-to. He had a couple of goats. I liked goats, because I had fond memories of “Billy” and “Nanny”, a pair of goats kept at Bawtry to keep the grass under control. I liked their strong small, but I remember my mother disliked it. She could small goat on me when I got home that day.

In those days, we used to have “Bonfire Night”. During the school holidays leading up to this event, we school kids would go into the Westbourne Woods and drag out branches for the “bonnie”, including a large centrepole. There was a vacant field just across the road from where Don Aitkin (eminent political scientist and ex-husband of my French teacher and mentor, Jan Aitkin) now lives, a bit further down towards the “Molongolo” end of Banks St, now the Lake. Three bonfires were built in a row. The interesting thing is that this was done entirely by kids, with no adult help or supervision. Not only that, each of the three bonfire sites “belonged” to a different neighbourhood. Ours was the closest to our house. The knowledge of who owned which site was handed down from generation to generation of kids, by unspoken tradition. On bonfire night itself, parents would also attend, and we would bake potatoes in the coals. Of course there was a Guy Fawkes on top of the fire, but we had no idea where this grizzly tradition came from. We set off crackers, rockets, catherine wheels and other fireworks that are now banned – presumably because too many kids blew their hands off, although I don’t remember that ever happening.

Map of Yarralumla in Canberra

Map of Yarralumla in Canberra (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

You can read about my school and University days under the heading My education.

After graduating from Monash, I got a job at the Centre for Urban Research and Action (in the inner city area of Fitzroy) which was set up by Brian Howe, who was then a Methodist minister, of the radical Wesleyan social reformist tradition. He became a sort of professional mentor for me. I was involved in projects related to low income housing, urban renewal, and the social impact of freeway development, amongst other things. Brian later went into Federal Parliament and became the Minister for Defence Support, the Minister for Social Security and Deputy Prime Minister.

(Above, Brian Howe at the National Press Club this year – still able to do a bit of methodist tub-thumping!)

Through Brian Howe, I met Alan Jordan, who I lived with in North Fitzroy from 1973. Alan died in April 2012, and I have written my reflections about him in this blog.

I was part of the group that set up Melbourne’s first women’s refuge, and I think we really made a difference. After that I worked at the Western Region Centre for Working Women. We did pioneering work researching issues raised by women factory workers and women working as outworkers. I gave evidence at the legal case at the Arbitration Commission, heard by Joe Riordan, bringing outworkers under the Clothing Trades Award, which was a major breakthrough for this very exploited group.

The case was conducted by – guess who? – Julia Gillard, who worked at Slater and Gordon, representing the Clothing and Allied Trades Union. She was later to become the first female Prime Minister of Australia.

Due to the influence of Dick Wootten, a Uniting Church minister who was passionate about human rights and the struggle against dictatorships in Asia (especially South Korea and the Philippines) I became interested in women working in Asia, and attended various meetings in the Philippines, Hong Kong, South Korea and Japan.

In 1980 – 81 I spent a year living in Japan. I was on the outskirts of Tokyo, and I loved it there. I learnt to speak reasonable Japanese, and found out a lot about women workers in Japan. Japanese people were really good to me and I really feel for them, in the wake of the dreadful Tsunami over there in 2011.

When I got back to Australia, I continued working at the Centre for Working Women, until funding for that sort of thing dried up. My book Women at Work was published by Penguin in 1982.

I decided to go back to studying, and in 1987 I enrolled in Law at Melbourne University. I had a mortgage at the time, so I had to study part time and work to support myself, so it took me six years to complete the degree. That was OK. I really enjoyed studying, although law is terribly hard work. Because of studying and working part-time, I was exhausted.

Even though I finished my Law degree in 1992, I didn’t actually attend my graduation until December 2011.

As a hobby, I trained my dogs. I had always loved dogs, and I remember telling my mother when I was about 7 that I wanted to be “a farmer’s wife” when I grew up. I wasn’t interested in the farmer, I just wanted to be with animals. My mother says that she suggested to me that I could be a vet, but I said I couldn’t stand to see animals suffering. I don’t remember that.

When I was studying Law I used to train my dog in the park, and find myself with an audience. People would come up to me and ask if I did lessons. At first I just said no, I was just training my own dog. But when the recession hit and it became hard for me to find part time work to fit in with my studies, I began to offer dog training lessons. I did individual lessons in my client’s own home, tailoring what I did to their needs. This was a totally novel approach at the time.

I chose the name “Wagging School” (which is a pun – in Australian slang it means truanting or cutting classes. This a reference to people leaving the big, traditional dog training schools and coming to me. It also suggested dogs wagging their tails – happy to be trained, because I used positive reinforcement, instead of the old, harsh methods).

Business boomed. When I finished my Law degree in 1992, I was unable to get Articles as a mature age graduate, so I thought I would give full time dog training a go for one year, and then reconsider my options. In 1993 I went to the US with Wendy Nicholson, and we attended dog training seminars and conferences with people such as William E. Campbell, Dr Ian Dunbar and Jack and Wendy Volhard, amongst others. I had the privilege of meeting Job Michael Evans, who died shortly afterwards. I found that in the US they were five years ahead of us in this field. I came back all fired up with new ideas.

After that, I never looked back. I became a pioneer in new dog training methods (reward-based rather than force-based) and also in helping pet owners with problems rather than pursuing formal obedience competition.

I find animal intelligence and behaviour really interesting. Amongst other things I designed and conducted classes for people wanting to get their dogs into film and television. I did some work with animals in film and television, which is hard work and not as glamorous as people imagine.

As well as handling various dogs, I also “wrangled” (as it’s called) a possum, a cockatoo, some chooks (that’s what we call chickens in Australia) a cat and some rats.

The rats were interesting. They are very intelligent animals, and a lot of fun to train because they are so responsive. Behavioural science owes a debt of gratitude to rats.

I had a business association with Animal Actors, a casting agency. We were asked to provide some common brown rats for an episode of a TV series. This was a problem, because trained or handlable rats kept by rat fanciers came in all sorts of colours. They were not your average Rattus Rattus.

I went in search of rats. The search led me to the Sarah Sands Hotel, a hang-out of punk rockers, where the barman, a young guy, was said to have pet rats. I turned up one Saturday afternoon, and asked to be admitted. The bouncer at the door looked at me suspiciously. i looked far too respectable to have any business in the pub. I said I had to see to the barman and talked my way in.

Unfortunately, being a punk rocker, he was into the black and white theme, All his rats, which used to sit on his shoulder, were black and white hooded rats. No good for us.

Eventually, my associate in Animal Actors found a man with brown rats. He kept snakes, and bred rats to feed to the reptiles. He had three breeding males which were surplus to requirement (and not only that, he didn’t need them anymore). He said “when you’re finished with them, just knock them on the head.”

I couldn’t do that, so I ended up keeping them. I insisted that they were “working rats” not pet rats. One was a beautiful caramel colour. I called him Terence (Terence Rattigan – get it?). The other two were plain brown, so I trained them for the job, which went perfectly.

The cockatoo was interesting. I took him in my car to the ABC studios at Rippon Lea. As I was taking him through the car park I met Mary Delahunty, the ABC newsreader, who later went into politics. I noticed a strange sound. It sounded like a hissing sound, like static on the radio, with a barely audible human voice coming through. That’s exactly what it was. The cockatoo was imitating the sound of my old staticcy car radio which he had been listening to as we drove to the studio. What a talented bird!.

The chooks were also an interesting experience, although a disaster for Animal Actors. They were needed for a performance of Eugene Onegin by the Australian Opera. I brought them into the theatre, and had the opportunity to watch rehearsals, with the famous Australian bass, Donald Shanks. The chooks had to mill around in a “rustic” scene. Seen from the audience, the stage floor looked flat, but when I got on stage, I found out that it sloped towards the orchestra pit, so that the audience could get a better view of the set. To make matters worse, the floor was made of slippery masonite. When I released the chicken and tossed some grain on the floor so it would go clucking around, it started moving, but lost its footing and slid down the slippery slope of the stage, shot off the edge of the stage, through the air and landed in the middle of the safety net above the orchestra pit, out of anyone’s reach. There was much clucking and flapping of wings and the poor animal was very stressed. The violinist below said “My music sheet is soiled”. Someone retrieved the chook, and I left the theatre with my tail between my legs.

Unfortunately, my animal training career all came to an end about five years ago. I developed severe osteo-arthritis in my hips, and lost mobility, so I had to retire. I went through a bad period of adapting to chronic pain and disability. However, this year, things have really looked up for me.

I had my first hip replacement operation in February 2011, and my second operation in June. Both ops went really well, and I no longer have hip pain. I did months of hydrotherapy and physiotherapy to get my strength and endurance back. I was able to learn how to walk without crutches, which is awesome!

I am single and I live with my German Shepherd Dog called Chance (the fourth I have owned, and by an amazing co-incidence, the great-grand-daughter of my second German Shepherd, Valley), and I share my house with two Vietnamese students, studying for a Masters of Environment at Melbourne University.

Above, Chance, my German Shepherd, high in prey drive, nine years old and almost out of the puppy stage.

I am living in East Brunswick, Melbourne, in a house that I have now paid off. I enjoy movies and socialising with my friends. I love music, and often listen to opera. Much to the surprise and disapproval of most of my friends, I enjoy watching cricket, tennis and Moto-GP. I have recently re-discovered my old love of photography and renewed my interest in art. My latest project has been to photograph the lovely autumn leaves around at the moment.

I am interested in what’s going on in the world and I am passionate about human rights issues. I feel I have have had an interesting life pursuing things that interested me.

I hope to share some of these interests with you.

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2 Comments

  1. Susanna

     /  June 10, 2012

    Hello Kaye,
    Great work.
    I like the insights on our childhood reading matter.
    I was enthralled and terrified in equal part by the children’s classics that Dad read to us with such dramatic flair – wonderful language, nightmarish images. What was it that seemed so sinister at the age of 3, 4 or 5 about Tolkien’s Mirkwood spiders, Kingsley’s Mrs Be-Done-By-as-You-Did, even parts of King Arthur, Alice’s adventures, and yes of course, Grimm’s Fairy Tales?
    Whereas Robinson Crusoe, Treasure Island, King Solomon’s Mines, Dr. Dolittle, and Wind in the Willows, seemed to be breezy adventures.
    I have a book given in 1898 to my Grandmother by her Grandmother. “Struwwelpeter: Pretty Stories and Funny Pictures for Little Children” by Dr. Heinrich Hoffmann. Google describes it as one of the most popular children’s books ever written. These images were intended to be humorous and banish fear: a cruel little boy being bitten by a dog; a careless girl setting herself on fire and, somehow, leaving only her shoes unincinerated; a little boy who sucked his thumbs having them cut off by the tailor; a boy who would not eat his soup wasting away to an early grave. And more… Tough love?
    Best, Susanna

    Reply
  2. Gabby Ellis

     /  June 8, 2012

    Hi Kaye,
    I really enjoyed reading this section of your blog. I am looking forward to discovering more about you in the other sections. Keep writing.
    Gabs

    Reply

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