Marlene Jewel Kerr’s Bachelor of Arts degree was conferred in May 1958. Remarkable because in those days it was unusual for woman to undertake degrees unless they were rich. It was even more remarkable because she had paid her own way to do nighttime studies after the death of her mother in her final year of school and because for the last two years of study she had a husband and two small children.
We made it more difficult for her to attend lectures and she pleaded with the lecturers to allow her to complete some subjects from home. Marlene had always been surrounded by strong, motivated women: her Aunts Lena, Maude, Kitty, Grace, Edie, sister Airdrie and single mother Julia. Some of that example, faith and encouragement paid off.
She taught briefly after graduating at Dover Heights Girls High School until her mother-in-law died prematurely leaving her without a babysitter – career on hold.
Marlene was born on 23/2/1935 to Frank and Julia Kelf who had both arrived in Australia in early 1910s. She started school at Woollahra Primary School and continued there in an opportunity class throughout primary.
From there was she was able to go to Sydney Girls High School. She was talented and loved to draw and paint like her father. There was quite a break between and her older siblings so to amuse herself she painted in water colour the sketches in her reading books. She liked to play hockey and enjoyed ice-skating with her friends. Like all teenagers she loved listening nightly to her favourite singing stars on the radio. For her it was the handsome dark haired Mario Lanza and Al Jolson “toot toot tooting” on the radio.
She gained good passes in the Leaving Certificate which allowed her to begin a university degree. As her mother was dead and her father was not wealthy she started work not as a typist but as a clerk in the Commonwealth Public Service studying her university course at night. This is where she met her husband to be around 1954. She married Alf in 1955 and after the birth of me and my brother she continued to study until she graduated.
Mum was an avid reader and was inspired to volunteer at my brother’s Marist Bros in the library. After being goaded by me (age 13) for wasting her degree or perhaps it's because she needed to keep her brain busy she sought out a way to do librarianship by distance study and exams.
Determined to gain her qualification and with now three children she read through the required reading list, studied and sat exams. Finally in the mid 60s all her work paid off. Coincidentally a squash buddy of my Dad’s happened to find out about her studies and offered her a job at a Catholic Demonstration school in Dundas where he was the Principal. Again she was a woman before her time when she became “a working mother” Mum coped with everything that came along- expansion of the school to high school then Senior School and transitioning to co-educational.
As the school grew and expanded she oversaw the various renovations and rebuilding of the library resources and facilities. Marlene and was responsible for the design of the Brother David Cunningham Resource Centre which at the time was argued to be the best in the Diocese of Parramatta. She took on leadership roles in the Catholic Librarians Group. She embraced new technology and was the resident Audio Visual expert at the school. A lover of local history she began to archive the school’s Marist History. Marlene was Careers Advisor, sports record keeper and introduced the new OASIS System of library administration at a time when PCs were only being introduced and in early days. Thousands of staff and students benefited from her professional and caring manner and her organisational skills and reliability was much appreciated.
|Marlene at a work function|
On a personal level she threw herself into the community. In 1961 she had moved to Carlingford with the family and became involved with the three schools we kids went to, our new parish of St Gerard’s and neighbourhood social activities.
That led to being an integral part of the Carlingford Camping group at Empire Bay. Many times she was sporting a paintbrush as part of working bees at the historic house. Many weekends and holidays were spent with family and friends. She had inherited the artistic gene and showed her creativity in her sewing, craft, calligraphy and cooking. I might add that she had a devious sense of humour and a video camera to back it up!
The love of history and the Video camera also came into play when my husband introduced her to a genealogy program in the 1980s together with a blank family tree. Archiving and technology were combined and she organized and recorded the family photos, videoed relatives and recorded their stories. What a treasure.
Unfortunately her preparation for retirement to travel the world and paint were cut short when she died of cancer aged 57 in 1992.
She only had enough time to influence and role model to three of the nine grandchildren. Nevertheless her three children Robyn and Paul and Helen had learnt enough to influence the rest of the grandchildren. She would be really chuffed to see her granddaughters working in non-traditional careers and the feminist side of her would love their choices. She’d also love that they and the great grandchildren adopt the newest in technology for working smart and the creativity it inspires.
|Granddaughter Erin overcame the odds to learn to drive forklifts at work|
Happy 2018 International Women's Day Mum xxx