Genealife in Lockdown – Where was I when the Australian Census was undertaken

August is Family History Month, in 2021 it is also time for the Australian Census that is undertaken every 5 years. Following on from Alexandra Daws post My Life in Twelve Censuses, I decided to have a look and see where I was and what I was doing for each census year, with a little bit of the state of the nation.

Where was I for each census?

The first census in which I was counted was the 1961 census, at that time we were living in Lucindale in the South East of South Australia. At the time my father was working for the Engineering and Water Supply (EWS) department. We had moved to Lucindale to be closer to my mother’s extended family and for my father to find work. It was in Lucindale that I began my schooling in 1963. Being an early February baby my birthday did not always fall before the start of the school year and so I was nearly 6 when I started school. In the 1960’s you couldn’t start school until you were 5. In Australia Sir Robert Menzies was the Prime Minister and Sir Thomas Playford was the state premier.

An Australian penny – there was many an argument as to whether we lost value with the change from 12 pence or a shilling to 10 cents

By the 1966 census we were living in Robertstown and the Morgan to Whyalla pipeline was being built. This created a lot of work and the EWS department had work sheds there. Water for the Whyalla and Port Augusta was critical with the growth of industry in those areas. This year was also the year that decimal currency was introduced as well as conscription. In a small country town it was conscription that had the greatest impact we all knew someone who was in the selection lottery and some who were conscripted.

The family in Robertstown

In 1971 I was attending Renmark High School and had begun working part time. Like many children living in the Riverland summer holidays were made up of cutting apricots, packing fruit and swimming in the open channels every day. You needed to know which channels were deep enough to swim in and if you used them regularly the slime didn’t grow back. Today the channels have been closed over, which has likely saved a number of children’s lives. The 1970’s were also a time of upheaval and protests across Australia, the Vietnam moratoriums and the Springbok Tours lead to violent protests.

My parents on their wedding day on Norwood Parade in the 1950’s

I completed school in 1974 and moved to Adelaide to attend Teachers College as it was then called. I moved into a flat in Norwood and shared this with a friend from school and my younger sister. Norwood was an area that we were familiar with as our grandparents had lived there and we often stayed with the when we were growing up. Walking down the Parade as a child was a highlight, we could go shopping in a wide range of shops. in 1976 the census year was the first year that the refugees began arriving by boat to Australia. The Land Rights movement had begun at this time. The National Anthem changed in 1976 and 4 could be used including Advanced Australia Fair, God Save the Queen, Waltzing Matilda and the Song of Australia. The Song of Australia was popular in South Australia.

Port Augusta – where I was to spend a total of 12 years over my teaching career.

I spent the first years of my teaching career working in metropolitan Adelaide, living in a number of suburbs including Prospect in 1981. The Pitjantjatjara Land Rights Act gave the Pitjantjatjara and Yankunytjatjarra peoples inalienable freehold title over 100,00km of their land Known as the APY Lands in 1981. In 1983 the Education Department introduced required country service to overcome teacher shortages in the country regions. This was one lottery I won. So I packed my bags and moved to Port Augusta. While I was unhappy with the move at the time it provided my with the impetus to make changes to my career and the move opened up a range of opportunities. I moved into working with Deaf and hard of hearing students which led to opportunities in leadership in a range of fields.It would lead me to the APY Lands.

It was in Port Augusta that I was granted as scholarship to train for my Bachelor of Special Education Hearing Impairment. While studying the principals job for the Centre for Hearing Impaired in Whyalla was advertised I was fortunate to win the position. So by the 1991 census I had moved to Whyalla and worked in what was then the Western Area, this included the APY Lands and as a support service for students who were deaf of hard of hearing we would provide services across from Yorke Peninsula across the west and north of the state. I learnt a lot about the geography of South Australia.

On completion of my tenure I bought a house in Ashford and moved back to the metropolitan area, still working with Deaf and Hard of Hearing children. The 1996 census year was the year that the High Court determined pastoral leases did not extinguish native title. The Mabo Judgement had been handed down 5 years earlier in 1991. When the next census came in 2001 the year of the 9/11 attacks and the start of the global war on terrorism I was still in Adelaide. This was also the year Australia turned away hundreds of boat people and the Nauru detention facility was established.

Students from Amata Community dancing in Ernabella

By the next census I had been living in Amata for 5 years and was beginning to think about my next move. Six years is a long to be a principal on the APY Lands. Little did I know in 1981 when the APY Lands Rights act was enacted that I would be living there 20 odd years later. Conductive hearing loss is a major issue amongst Aboriginal student populations and this is what led me to putting my hand up for a stint as a principal of a school. The remainder of my career has been as principal of schools both in Port Augusta and in the metropolitan area. In the 2011 and 2016 census it was back to Port Augusta as a school principal. During these years we had a Royal wedding, the UK voting to leave the EU, the detention centre being established at Manus Island and a statewide storm and statewide blackout.

The garden at the school in Port Augusta

By 2021 I was back living in Ashford and while I started the school year I am using up all my hard earned long service leave and will retire at the end of the 2021 school year. The pandemic has been at the forefront of our lives for the past 18 months as it changes the way we travel and the way we plan what we want to. Refugees are once again in the news as Afghanistan falls to the Taliban.

Reflecting back over my life through the years of the census highlights that as a country we have become mean. We don’t open our borders to refugees like we did, we talk about boat people, and people are more concerned with themselves rather than the collective. I am sure that we can do better as a nation. Looking at an reviewing our history through a personal lens and through our families history is an exercise that more people should undertake.

Thanks to Alexandra Daws post for the the idea to do this post. I hope everyone has had a good Family History Month.

4 thoughts on “Genealife in Lockdown – Where was I when the Australian Census was undertaken

Add yours

  1. Oh Claire – this is a magnificent blog post. You are right. We have become so mean and self-centred haven’t we as a nation. It is very sad indeed. I love so much about your post it is difficult to know where to begin. I particularly like the map. My knowledge of South Australia is abysmal so this helped me enormously. I loved your take on the important things that were happening at the time – such big social issues. And above all I love how you found a career that truly made a difference in people’s lives.

    Liked by 1 person

  2. You’ve had a great teaching career by the sound of it Claire. My niece is an OT in Whyalla. Her family is doing its second stint there since her husband is a metallurgist. She has no trouble getting work and their kids have a wonderful life.


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