JUDY CAROL GILLETT-FERGUSON
by Sandra Winder October, 2008
Judy Gillett-Ferguson (nee Goss) was born in at Petts Wood, Kent, south of London, on November 7th, 1939, two months after the start of the Second World War, She was the first child of Joseph and Esther Goss (nee Shriebman). Her younger sister, Patricia Jean, was born in 1943. Her parents had met in London and on 16th October 1937 had married at Hackney Registry Office in London. It is from them that she acquired her lifelong commitment to social justice and activism in support of the disadvantaged.
Judy’s father, a qualified toolmaker, was exempted from war service because of his chronic asthma. For most of the time between 1939 and 1945 Esther and her daughters were evacuated to the coastal village of Topsham, near Exeter, in Devon. Her uncle’s father-in-law had an attached cottage there and he made it available to the family for the duration of the War. It was a “two up, two down” and quite primitive because there was no bathroom, no running water and the toilet was at the end of the yard.
At the age of 2 Judy was placed in an orphanage called Fortisgreen House to she could escape the German bombing of London. However, she was so distressed at being separated from her family that she only stayed a few months.
Judy’s first school was in Topsham where she learned to read. She remembers getting a doll’s pram for her birthday at this time. When Victory in Europe Day finally arrived in 1945 the whole village danced in the streets in a Cornish type floral dance.
At the end of the War the family returned to London and lived in a block of flats at 8, Grant House, Larkhall Estate, Clapham. Unlike some of the uglier flats built a few years later, this relatively “genteel” housing was built around an attractive square with beautiful lawns and gardens featuring huge dahlias.
Judy’s second school, which she attended from the age of 6 to 10, was Larkhall Lane Junior School where the Headmistress was a Miss Agars. The two teachers she remembers were Mrs Churchfield and Miss Blight. She was the May Queen’s Assistant on May 1st and starred in various plays. Like thousands of children in London schools she was delighted to be given daffodil bulbs to grow and nasturtiums. She took them home and when they flowered in the spring she brought them back so that they could be judged in the school hall.
When she was nine the family moved from Clapham to Battersea to a newly built block of flats at 25, Fox House, Maysoule Road. While living there Her memories include a big Guy Fawkes Night bonfire right in the middle of the road and all the people from the street coming to enjoy the fireworks. Unlike the Larkhall Estate there was no green area where children could play, only asphalt. As a result of the move to Battersea Judy’s parents moved her to a nearer school (Eltringham Street).
Her new classroom seemed enormous. It was tiered like a lecture theatre. The main memory Judy has of this institution was the pages and pages of sums the pupils were given to do. When they completed their work they trooped down the stairs like little soldiers. If they got all their sums correct they were given a coloured star or circular sticker.
One day on the way to school, carrying her leather satchel, Judy, who confesses to being “a bit of a show-off”, decided to “post” her satchel in a red letter box. The problem was that having squeezed the bag into the narrow opening she couldn’t get it out, so she stood there hanging onto it with her hand in the letter box until the postman finally came. She vividly recalls “getting a bollocking” for that piece of mischief. The punishment for arriving late at that school was that naughty children were lined up and caned on the back of their legs. Of course Judy was late one day and returned home that day with red welts for her trouble. Her parents were furious and decided she would return immediately to her old school, where she had been much happier. She travelled the 6 or 7 kilometres by double decker tram, but she didn’t mind at all because she was back with her old friends and much better teachers.
One day she was called into the Headmistress’s Office. She wrongly thought she was in trouble. Sitting in the room was a Canadian soldier who had been a boyfriend of her aunt Alice during the War. He had come to the school in the hope of getting back in touch with Alice’s family. Judy went home on the tram with the overseas visitor and he was made very welcome by the family. Sadly for him Aunt Alice had married by then so he went back home but months later sent the family a generous food parcel to thank them for their hospitality.
At this time she was learning to play the piano, was enrolled at a drama school and took ballet lessons at the Sadlers Wells Ballet School. She travelled there with her father by underground tube train on Saturdays.
When they lived at Grant House they got to know the Katzenell family. Judy made friends with their children, Ida and Sydney. In the summer of 1949 her parents put her on the famous Flying Scotsman train with one of her dad’s friends (Peter Kerrigan). This enabled her to go up and stay with the Katzenells who had moved to Glasgow. As chance would have it she stayed with them in Westmoreland Street, just around the corner from where her second husband Dave was living. She travelled with the Katzenells to the coastal town of Troon. Here they stayed in a guesthouse and slept in an “in-shot” - a space in the wall which served as a bed. It was covered in the front with a curtain. Apparently these were quite common at the time. It was here that she bought her mother a brooch in the shape of a highland piper.
In 1950 was a momentous year. Judy’s mother embarked on a 12 month “pressure cooker” training course to become an infant school teacher. The same year her father, an asthmatic, decided to immigrate to Australia because his doctor said he would benefit from a warm, dry climate such as South Australia’s. He promptly set sail to find a house for the family in Adelaide. Then, at the end of the year, without warning, Judy’s mother, Esther, became ill. When she underwent exploratory surgery it was found that she was riddled with cancer so Judy and her sister were sent to live with their maternal grandmother in Stoke Newington in north London. Judy was almost 11 and her sister was 7. On receiving the news that Esther was sick Joseph’s workmates kindly clubbed together to raise the money for his return fare.
The two sisters attended Old Hill Street School where 90% of the pupils were Jewish. Judy sat for, and passed her “11 plus” examination and was interviewed for Grey Coats Grammar School. She was not accepted because of an essay in which she wrote about sleeping in her grandmother’s kitchen. However, she was successful at getting into the prestigious Dame Alice Owen’s Grammar School, which was established in the 16th century. She recalls that the school houses were named after breweries and the Owen’s coat of arms was a pomegranate tree. Judy went there for five short months. She came home from school one day to receive the devastating news that her mother had died. Esther was only 37.
Within 2 months her father, who had only been back from Australia for 3 months, had arranged for himself and his daughters to come out to Adelaide. They sailed on the S.S. Strathmore arriving on Anzac Day 1952. They went to live with Jean and Dick Blackburn for a few months and attended Linden Park Primary School. Then they moved to Glandore and were cared for by Sheila Coombes, the sister of a friend. She attended Black Forest Primary Schools and Judy went then to Adelaide High School in 1953.
Three years later, in 1956, Joseph remarried and had two more children with his second wife, Muriel. Judy left school that year and started worked at Coles. The following year she returned to Adelaide High School and won a Leaving Teaching Scholarship. She notes fondly that the teachers there were very supportive of her. At the end of 1957 she moved out of home and went to live with a Mrs Symon who was like a surrogate mother and taught her many domestic skills.
For the next two years Judy was studying in the “C” Course for Infant Teaching at the Adelaide Teachers College, Kintore Avenue. She got engaged to Bill Gillett (who she had met in the Eureka Youth League) in her first year and they married on December 18th, 1959 at the Adelaide Registry Office, the day after she finished her course. Forty young women from the College showered the newlyweds with rose petals.
Judy and Bill honeymooned for the six week summer holidays in the South East of South Australia, travelling around and sleeping in a 1938 Vauxhall. The Education Department rules at the time required that married female teachers resign for 3 days in order to be transferred from permanent to temporary status and to lose 3 day’s pay as a result!. Another inequity was that women were only paid ¾ of the male rate! When they returned from holiday they lived on the Esplanade at Henley Beach in a two roomed bed –sit flat where they shared a bathroom with another couple.
Judy began the 1960’s with her first teaching appointment at Estcourt House, Tennyson. This establishment was for children aged 2 to 13 years who were convalescing from illness after being treated at the Adelaide Children’s Hospital. Some were dying and were therefore placed in palliative care while others were recovering from long-term illness, such as two boys who were suffering from hip disease. Most were bedridden. This was an unexpected and quite challenging start to her career in education. There were two teachers and one Head Teacher (Zona Nelson). Judy colourfully describes her as being “a real cow”.
At the same time as this unusual appointment a number of significant things were happening. Judy and Bill purchased a house that was being built at Dover Gardens. In the middle of the year Judy became pregnant with Carol. There was no maternity leave in those days and she was required to resign at the end of the year and pay back her teaching bond bit by bit. Carol was born in March 1961 and Judy returned to work when the baby was five months old, teaching at Dover Gardens Junior Primary School. This time She had a “fantastic” principal, Selma Musgrave, who remained a dear friend until her death in 2006, aged 101.
By 1962 there was another baby on the way so Judy had to leave again. Her second daughter, Helen, was born in January 1963. Once again she resigned and resumed paying back her teaching bond. She returned to work in July, this time to Oaklands Park Junior Primary School. The cycle of family life continued and in July 1964 she left because she was expecting Robert. He was born in January 1965. This time she did not go back to work. She stayed at home but undertook some relief teaching. Lois, the youngest, was born in December 1967. Judy took 18 months off and returned to teaching at Dover Gardens Primary School in July 1969. A good friend looked after her youngest children.
Finally, in 1969, married women were granted permanency. Judy is most grateful that a very helpful Deputy Principal, Bill Hewett, encouraged her to join the Superannuation Scheme. All this time Bill Gillett was a toolmaker in various factories. Judy was very active politically in both the Women’s Liberation and anti- Vietnam War movements and during this time she formed a close and enduring friendship with Rev. Jeff Drake a Methodist (later Uniting Church) minister.
Early in the next decade, in 1971, Judy and Bill bought a house at Glenelg and Judy took up a position at Glenelg Primary School. Three years later she did a course at the Reading Development Centre in Gilles Street after which the Principal asked her if she was interested in doing post graduate studies in reading in the UK.
The Education Department awarded Judy an Overseas Study Scholarship. However, the only way this could be taken up was if They sold their house. So, they did exactly that, banked two thirds of the money and used the rest to sail on a Russian ship, the Shota Rustaveli, to England. It was on this voyage that they met Dave Ferguson. While they were on the long journey to the U.K. they received a cable to say that Judy’s father had died aged 64.
When they arrived at their destination Judy had not seen her family in England for 23 years. She was fortunate that she was able to see her maternal grandmother, who was 93 and in a nursing home, one last time before she died at the end of that year.
In Sheffield, family members secured the Gillett family a university house. at Totley a suburb of Sheffield. Totley Thornbridge College was the teachers’ college which was part of the Sheffield University campus at which Judy was studying. Another Adelaide woman, Paula Keene, had come over to England with Judy and they did the course together.
The four children were enrolled in local schools and Bill found a job in a nearby factory. Fortunately there were plenty of university/school holidays. This enabled the family to travel all over Britain in a Ford Transit Van. At the end of the course, Judy, Paula and one other woman out of the 30 people enrolled in the course passed with Distinctions. Judy didn’t have to return to Australia until September so the family took the van over to Holland on the ferry from Hull and they travelled around Holland, Norway, Germany and Denmark.
Judy came back to Adelaide with Helen and Lois and was appointed to the Reading Centre as an adviser. Bill returned with Carol and Bob by ship six weeks later because they had too much luggage to fly back. The Gilletts had to solve the problem of where to live when they got home. They lived in a friend’s house in Adelaide until they found a house in Fourth Street, Gawler. At first the bank refused Judy a mortgage but when Bill joined her a mortgage was approved.
Judy went on to become became principal at the Reading Centre until it closed in 1980. From 1981 to 1983 she was deputy principal at Elizabeth West Primary School and in 1984 she started as principal a Brahma Lodge Primary School with Glyn Turner as deputy principal. Brahma Lodge was one of the first South Australian Primary Schools to have both a female principal and deputy principal.
After serving for five years at this school Judy went on an overseas teacher exchange. Incidentally, this was just six weeks after undergoing a hysterectomy. Judy taught at Upperthong Junior School in Holmfirth, West Yorkshire while the principal of that school came over to Gawler to live in the family house in Fourth Street.
The Upperthong school community were everything that Judy could have hoped for and involved Bill in everything. While he was there he made a lot of leadlight windows and furniture for them. In November of that year an Australian friend wrote telling Judy that the principal position at Elizabeth Field Primary School has been advertised as a Class ‘A’ position. She duly applied and at 11p.m. one night in November she received a ‘phone call from Australia to say that she had been short listed. Her interview took place by phone conference link up at midnight a few days later with Judy in her night dress. She won the job.
In 1990 she started at Elizabeth Fields as principal. She quickly realised that the Education Department had to do something to support teachers who were appointed to difficult schools. At the end of 1991 Judy and Bill had a fabulous, memorable 6 week holiday in New Zealand. On her return to work the next year the problems with the new staffing system under Ken Boston, the Department Director at the time, had reached a crescendo.
Judy spoke at many public meetings about the need for equitable staffing in difficult to staff school and the issue made front page news in ‘The Advertiser’ daily paper and on Radio and TV. She suggested a number of initiatives such as special incentives for young teachers and direct application for the Peachy Road Schools. The crusade led to what became known as the Peachey Road staffing system.
Then, a few weeks later tragedy struck. On Sunday March 1st 1992, Bill suffered an aortic aneurism and died within hours. They had just put their house on the market and an open inspection was planned for that day. Judy’s world caved in. She took the house off the market and stayed in the house for another two more years.
She only spent a few more weeks at Elizabeth Fields and was then transferred for three months to the Education Review Unit which reviewed schools all over the state.
In June, Judy’s good friend Helen Menzies, the Deputy Equal Opportunities Commissioner, asked her if she’d like to join her, Trish Kelly, (now a Supreme Court judge) and Wendy Abrahams on a two month holiday through France, Tunisia and Italy. She jumped at the chance and was able to get long service leave. due to her to be able to go.
This did her the world of good and she returned to the Review Unit on her return. She took up a compassionate transfer offer from District Superintendent, Naomi Arnold, as Principal of Williamstown Primary School. Naomi had been hugely supportive after Bill’s death and she ensured that Judy retained her previous salary in her new position.
Judy retired at the end of 1994 aged 55 and married her and Bill’s dear friend, David Ferguson, on New Years Eve at her daughter Carol’s and son in law Erich’s property at Bethany in the Barossa Valley. Judy is now the proud grandmother of seven wonderful grandchildren and has remained an active member of her local and broader community in a variety of roles and areas of interest.
From 1995 to 2008 Judy has been as busy and active as ever.
These are some of the things she has done:
- relief teaching in the Barossa and northern suburbs until 1997,
- sold the house she had bought in 1993 on Lyndoch Road, Gawler and moved into Dave’s house in historic Hemingby Cottages, 16A King Street,in 1995
- studied Year 12 Art at Para West Adult Campus in three separate subjects and received a 20/20 each time,
- taught Year 11 watercolour painting at PWAC in 2004,
- spent four years as a Director on the Board of the Child Youth and Women’s Health Service,
- serves as a community representative on the state wide Controlled Substances Advisory Council - since 2004,
- been an elected member of the Gawler Town Council from 1999-2003,
- sat on the Board of the Gawler Community House for five years,
- served for four years on the Gawler Health Service Board
- is a member of the Gawler Volunteer Advisory Committee,
- is vice-chairperson of the Gawler Branch of the National Trust since 2004,
- remains a member of the Gawler Environment and Heritage Association after 20 years,
- continues as President of the Gawler Community Gallery Management Committee, which she has been since its inception in 2006, and was instrumental in establishing the gallery in Gawler- a task begun in 2000.
- is still a ‘standardised patient’ within the University of Adelaide Medical School Clinical Education Programme which she joined in 1995,
- was a founding member of the Gawler Ladies Hellfire Ensemble (choir) established in 1995,
- remains involved in the Gawler Significant Women’s Project (oral histories) and the Gawler International Women’s Day Committee.
Never one to waste her spare time, Judy enjoys painting, cinema, live theatre, writing poetry and short stories and she is currently writing a novel.
Her creativity has been recognised through (among others) the following awards, which she received in different years:
- the Gawler Poetry Award -2004
- the Gawler Short Story Award - 2007
- the Gawler Art Award.- 2000
Aphra Behn’s observation “Variety is the soul of pleasure” might well have been made about the wonderful diversity of Judy Gillett Ferguson’s achievements.