Queensland Council for Adult literacy Inc, 1982 – 2002

Extracts from

An unsung band of heroes: A history of adult literacy in Queensland 1972 – 1995

Dr Jean Searle

The formation of the Queensland Council for Adult Literacy

In 1981 the Australian Council for Adult Literacy convened a national conference in Brisbane. The organising committee included Allan Bright (the Queensland representative to ACAL), Suzanne Jones, Marian Norton, Jenny Farmer and Norma Bygott. Following the success of the conference it was seen as important for adult literacy in Queensland to replicate the national body at state level. So, in the following year (1982) the Queensland Council for Adult Literacy (QCAL) was formed.

A meeting was called on 25th May 1982 “to focus on the needs of people with literacy and numeracy problems” (Adult Literacy and Numeracy in Queensland, Background Information. Attachment to Press Release 1st September 1982) and to establish a Council in Queensland for adult literacy. Publicity stated that the Council was formed in response to a huge demand, there being an estimated 33000 people needing help in Brisbane, with only  1% getting it. At the 25 May meeting, “a report from the steering committee set up to recommend possible functions of a Queensland Council for Adult Literacy was delivered by Ms. S. Jones” (Minutes of the Inaugural Meeting, May 25 1982). It was recommended that a Queensland Council be formed “to co-ordinate the efforts of all those currently working in the field of basic education for adults, but who up until now, were usually working alone with little contact with other workers in the field” (Minutes, 25 May 1982). Marie Byrne moved “that a council dealing with adult literacy and basic skills be formed (and that the name of such a council be decided upon at the first general meeting)” (Minutes, 25 May 1982). A committee of four was elected.

The foundation President was Dr Laurie Miller1 who remembered,

I was at the University of Queensland at the time and one of my former students happened to be Brian McKeering and Brian said to me that there was this adult literacy movement starting up and they were looking for somebody to help them.  I guess what was required at that time was somebody outside of TAFE and the Department of Education so that there could be a voice for literacy which would not impinge upon the departmental restrictions of the people who were involved… I believed in what was being done, because for many years in Sydney I had taught English to migrants at night, two nights a week at Glebe and then later on I became the Principal of a migrant school at the British Motor Corporation. (Interview, 15.5.95)

Lawrie Ryan (State Librarian) became Vice-President. Lawrie stated that he was interested in “the nature of the professional involvement by librarians in issues related to literacy, an in examining the possible criteria for evaluating library material for tutors and literacy students” (Information for ACAL Conference report, 1981). As Julia Zimmerman recalled, 

We thought a university person would be a very good non TAFE person and Laurie was interested. He maintained an interest in unemployment and those kinds of issues and he was interested in it (adult literacy) and we were wanting a willing figurehead really that could speak for us. And the same with Lawrie Ryan. Lawrie  was very interested because of the libraries… I think that’s one thing about QCAL, it’s always had that strong link with the libraries. (Interview, 5.6.95)

Brian McKeering was elected Treasurer and Suzanne Jones, Secretary2. In addition, a number of sub-committees were formed to focus on: research, aboriginal literacy, migrant literacy, country literacy, libraries, numeracy, publicity, and publications. The meeting was addressed by The Reverend Allan Male who encouraged those present “to help people to become more literate…(as) people learn more from reading than any other way” (Minutes 25 May 1982).

Eventually, the name ‘Queensland Council for Adult Literacy’ was decided upon. According to Julia Zimmerman, “We toyed around with Adult Basic Education and toyed around with Adult Literacy and Numeracy and we stuck with literacy. I think it was in line with ACAL.” (Interview, 5.6.95) As a result, the following press statement was issued to the Courier Mail, ABC News, 4QR and 4BH, announcing the Public Meeting and making use of the new name of the Council. Today is World Literacy Day. It’s purpose is to draw our attention to the need for mass education in all countries. Although we expect all our population to be literate there are likely to be ten percent who have significant problems with reading, writing and basic mathematics. The message for today is ‘Help a Non-Reader’. You can do this by reading, spelling or writing, without criticism, when someone is in difficulty. There will be a public meeting tonight at the Auditorium of the South Brisbane College of TAFE, 91 Merrivale Street, South Brisbane. Mavis Cooper, who has worked with teaching adults basic skills for many years, will discuss current trends in Adult Literacy. She recently visited the United States to gain new information about teaching adults. The Queensland Council for Adult Literacy would welcome any interested people. For more information please contact, Marian Norton, Suzanne Jones, Jenny Farmer.

The new Council was formally constituted at that Public Meeting on September 8th. Also on September 8th the Wilston-Grange Adult Literacy Group organised a display at Newmarket shopping centre “to help the public become aware that ‘non-readers’ need help and consideration” (Farmer, 1982:21).  As a result of lobbying by adult literacy practitioners in Queensland , International Literacy Day 1982 was also marked by a Senate motion moved by Queensland Democrat Senator Michael Macklin,  

That the Senate, noting that 8th September 1982 is International Literacy day, is of the opinion that all possible support should be given to those institutions and organizations which are dealing with the problem of illiteracy in Australia, and that it should be ensured that there are an adequate number of trained teachers to provide the required tutoring for the many Australian adult illiterates. (Macklin, 1982)

The establishment of the Council was welcomed by the field as it was essential to have an independent voluntary organisation, representing the community, able to lobby for social justice and recognition of the field at State policy level. In particular, it was recommended that the Council,   

  1. Bring together people engaged in the field of adult literacy/numeracy to exchange ideas, techniques and materials
  2. Provide and disseminate relevant research articles
  3. Prepare an index of all available funding sources and make his available to all schemes
  4. Promote an awareness of the provisions and needs of adult literacy schemes and classes throughout Queensland using a variety of media
  5. Organise a system of bulk buying to partially alleviate the burden of material purchases. (QCAL, 1982a:9)

In addition, the Council was seen as a vehicle through which professional development, otherwise not available at a systemic level, particularly for volunteer tutors, might be accomplished.

As Jenny Farmer stated,

The Queensland Council for Adult Literacy was involved with the teaching side of it (professional development for volunteer tutors) so there wasn’t that dilemma of people who were not trained being involved…because the volunteer tutors were quite willing to learn as they went along and they were definitely led by people who had experience in teaching…so I think Queensland was lucky. (Interview, 16.3.95)

The first of the QCAL seminars was conducted on 25 July 1982 when Professor George Eyster, keynote speaker at the 6th National ACAL Conference in Hobart , visited Brisbane . The day-long seminar included concurrent sessions led by Trevor Standfast, Margaret Liley, Margaret Bates, Jenny Farmer and Marian Norton.

One of the guiding principles of QCAL has been to represent and also support community groups throughout Queensland , so every effort was made to include practitioners in non-metropolitan areas in professional development activities. This might be through funding individuals to attend workshops or conferences, or sponsoring a guest speaker to visit them. This also ensured a mixture of advice and practical ideas was gained from both experienced practitioners and academics. At this stage, information from whatever source was welcomed, even though the tendency from 1986 onwards was for seminars and workshops to be more structured, for example, ‘Use of Newspapers in Education’, ‘Numeracy’, or ‘Computer Assisted Learning’3. The tension which emerged at this stage was not so much between who provided knowledge and advice, but what knowledge and advice was required. Practitioners who only wanted to focus on the best ways to assist adults with their learning, found that they also had to respond to systemic policy constraints.

As a result, a third type of professional development activity emerged – how to lobby and/or deal with the system. At this stage, workshops took the form of QCAL collaborating with the Queensland Organisation for Adult and Community Education (QOFACE) to discuss ‘Lobbying Skills for Community Providers’. However, as adult literacy provision became more systemic, there was an increase in this type of workshop.   As previously stated, the second role for QCAL was that of lobbying the State Government, and through ACAL, the Commonwealth Government, regarding support for adult literacy provision. It has been shown that Dr Laurie Miller played a vital role in this regard. Laurie presented a submission outlining recommendations for adult literacy in Queensland , to George Berkeley, Chairman of the Board of Adult Education. He was also requested by the national TAFE Council to conduct research into adult literacy provision and policy development4. Laurie Miller was also instrumental in inviting Dr H.C. Coombs ( Australian National University ) to become the first patron of QCAL.

Given the success of QCAL, the importance of its position in being an independent voice lobbying for its constituents, and the need to raise funds to continue its roles, it was decided in 1985 to move towards incorporation. This would also remove the obligations of the trustees as QCAL would have legal status in its own right. A resolution recommending the move to Incorporation was passed by a three fourths majority of the membership and a formal constitution was adopted. Due to the invaluable advice given by Bill May (a retired Justice Department officer and Treasurer of the Caboolture Literacy Group), Incorporation became final in 19875.

Meanwhile QCAL continued its advocacy role in presenting a submission in respect to the establishment of a Working Party to formulate adult literacy policy in Queensland, to Roy Wallace, Director, Division of Technical and Further Education (1984), the TAFE Committee of Review (1986) and in presenting information to the media, resulting in headlines such as “You wouldn’t read about it. The battle to beat a modern problem- adult illiteracy” (Mishinski, 1984:37) and “93,000 illiterate in Queensland” (Hocking, 1985:2). 

Adult literacy programs and contacts – October 1983

Name of program Site Contact
Source: QCAL, 1983: 2-3   

Key: C = classes;  T = volunteer tutors

NB: Distance literacy – Pat Cook

[1] Dr Laurie Miller lectured in Adult Education subjects in the Diploma of Adult Education at the University of Queensland . Brian McKeering, Julia Zimmerman and Ann Kelly were all students of his, together with several TAFE teachers from South Brisbane , so he was also well known to Col Marsh.

[2] Other foundation committee members were: Julia Zimmerman (Assistant Hon. Secretary), Allan Bright, Mavis Cooper, Roen Robinson, Marian Norton and Keith Goodwin. To comply with rules of the Taxation Department, the following were appointed Trustees of the Council: Clifford Farmer, Colin Marsh and Rev. Allan Male.

[3] In addition, memorial seminars were conducted in memory of two QCAL supporters. The first seminar ‘Literacy and the Handicapped’ was presented by Brian Hanlon in memory of Joan Gamble. The second seminar, which was conducted by Dr. Peter Long and Wendy Gallagher, focused on “Community Based Adult Literacy Provision’ and was in memory of Bill May, who assisted QCAL in becoming Incorporated.

[4] Other research projects conducted at this time included: ‘The vocational preparation of students with a hearing impairment in TAFE’ (Jan White); ‘The investigation of the needs of the adult blind’ (Norm Jagger, Jenny Bramley); the production of a ‘Tutor training kit for country and isolated areas’ (Marian Norton); and an ‘Aboriginal and Islander adult literacy kit’ (Kath Langton, Carol Hall).

[5] Later QCAL applied to be registered as an approved association and was granted ‘sanction’ to make appeals to be public for support, including the collection of subscriptions.