“Why are you wasting money sending a girl to school?”
“She’s only going to get married and have kids.”
Dad and I had been fixing a fence when the next door neighbour stopped to share his thoughts on my education. It was 1980 and I was 10.
But Mum and Dad were prepared to make enormous sacrifices to give their kids great educations. They both knew from personal experience what it meant.
My Dad was a lot like Bill Shorten’s mum, only he never did get a university degree. His impediment was similar, too: family, with the added demands of farming.
Dad was bright and wanted to be an engineer but the local high school only went to year 10 and his parents were not rich. Still, they were supportive. When he was accepted by the selective Melbourne Boys’ High, Dad was sent to board with cousins in the big city.
The experience was transformative. For the boy from South Gippsland, Melbourne Boys High opened new horizons, hopes and dreams.
Then his own father fell gravely ill and there was no option other than to return home to run the farm. Dad finally sat his matric amongst the local teens in his 40s and, while he loved to draw up extravagant plans for everything from the pump house to the new garage, becoming an engineer was beyond his reach.
Dad made the most of his farming career and even won a six-month study tour to the US sponsored by the Young Farmers.
My Mum, like Bill Shorten’s, got her ticket out of poverty with a government scholarship to attend Teachers College, which was not rewarded with a degree but a career nonetheless. She finally graduated with a diploma in 1990.
Unsurprisingly, both Mum and Dad were keen for us to do our best and it was always assumed my brother and I would go to university at a time when degrees were rare, especially for farm kids.
They’d squirrelled away money for years to send us to the best school an hour down the road and struggled like hell to pay the fees through drought and the “recession we had to have”.
So, when I emerged from uni with a couple of degrees in 1992, I knew it was as much my parents’ achievement as my own.
Nowdays,a degree isn’t all that remarkable and our neighbour would be considered a dinosaur but I’ll never forget the sacrifices my parents made,