Legislative Council: Wednesday, October 18, 2023


World Teachers' Day

The Hon. E.S. BOURKE (15:51): On Friday 27 October, Australia will celebrate World Teachers' Day. We all know what a difference teachers make in the lives of young ones. I am sure we all have memories of a special teacher who inspired and encouraged us and taught us to see the best in ourselves and in others.

In the lead-up to this year's World Teachers' Day, I would like to acknowledge a person who committed her long life to sharing her love for the power of education, a woman who went on to become, in 1956, the first senior mistress at the newly opened Darwin High and later, in 1960, became the headmistress at the newly opened Elizabeth Girls Tech.

This special teacher was also my much-loved great aunty, Myra Lillywhite. Myra was a teacher for over 40 years. Her career started at age 19 in 1943 at Mount Muirhead, near Millicent, in a one-room, one-teacher school with seven students, and ended at Salisbury Teachers College, where she was Dean of Students. In between that time, she taught in the Mallee, at Mount Gambier High School, Thebarton girls' junior and senior technical school, Darwin High School and Elizabeth Girls Tech.

She rose from the ranks of junior schoolteacher to senior mistress and deputy head and headmistress, and finished her career at the compulsory retirement age of 60 as a leader in the tertiary education of teachers. She studied primary teaching at Adelaide Teachers College and later gained a Bachelor of Arts and several diplomas and a Master of Educational Administration.

Needless to say, Myra saw all sorts during her long career. She spent nine years at Elizabeth Girls Tech, during which time it grew from 126 students to more than 1,200 students. As the school grew, Myra had to adapt. They had temporary buildings and had no power, lighting, fencing or even a phone for some time, and apparently a lot of mud, while the new school was being built. As legend has it, after school she would go to the Elizabeth South shopping centre with a purse full of pennies to phone the education department and ask when the next building contractors would be arriving to help fix her school.

Myra was a much-loved teacher by her school communities. In 2019, students from Darwin High, whom Myra had taught 60 years prior, met her in Adelaide just to thank her for the commitment she made to their lives. It takes a special teacher to have that sort of impact on their students.

Myra quickly became part of the community she was living in. Her church community was her extended family. At the age of 90, she was still picking up what she would call 'the oldies' and taking them to church.

Myra had many other skills, too. She was the queen of shortbread. You would always be guaranteed after the arrival of a new baby that Aunty Myra would pop into hospital with a fresh batch of much-needed shortbread. I am sure that a very large batch of shortbread was meant to last several days, but it was usually consumed within hours.

Whether she liked it or not, after Myra's trip to South Africa in the late eighties she became the queen of elephants. In true Myra fashion she would receive each new elephant item for every birthday and every Christmas from her great nieces and nephews with such excitement, from the smallest to the largest of elephants. I think she received at least 100 or so.

Just like an elephant, Aunty Myra had a long and graceful life. She was a respected leader of our family herd. Myra passed away last year at the age of 99. I know that in our house we have two treasured items and one of them is Aunty Myra's cupboard. It is a cupboard where we keep our daily requirements—our plates, our cups and a small herd of elephants, three representing each of our Bourke girls. Whenever we are looking for something, the answer is usually that it is in Aunty Myra's cupboard, stored safely and in great style, just like Aunty Myra.