1980s - A time of social change

The 1980s saw huge social change at ANU as VALERIE BRAITHWAITE, BA (Hons) ’68, writes.

Did I really send my son to crèche with a raw potato? My husband feebly proclaimed to all that I thought it was a pear. I blamed the child. Perhaps it was just the 80s, the madness of learning to be a mother and an academic at the same time. It never dawned on me that the PhD was just circuit training, and it would take me a decade to find my rhythm for teaching, marking, supervising, researching, publishing and trying to get the next job.

Thankfully being a junior academic in the 80s spared me grant writing and administration. By today’s standards, we were blessed. Our mission was to obsess on teaching and research. And obsess I did, until the edifice of goal achievement came crashing down, as it often did, at “mummy I need you” moments. The identity struggle of balancing parenting and publishing, home and work life is a theme that still resonates.

Struggles of individual identity, however, were dwarfed by the identity revolution of our universities in the 80s. The student population had changed. Women came in droves thanks to Whitlam’s ‘free’ universities. They revelled in the opportunity to complement their roles as wives and mothers with the education they had often been denied. Mature age students came too with oodles of life experience and with questions and expectations that challenged universities in what and how they taught.