Getting Educated: An Uncertain Memoir is an account of Maggie West’s life. It is the story of her growing up in a dysfunctional family, her disjointed and patchy education at numerous schools, and her early adult life, culminating in her determination, despite all odds, to educate herself.

It is an enlightening and at times horrifying insight into the 1940s and 50s. Set in various parts of Australia, from Perth to southern Tasmania, to north Darwin, it is the true story of a woman’s journey through life, her triumph over difficulties, and her attempts to ‘better’ herself through education.

Her story will inspire readers, as will her intriguing life. Her tale also includes glimpses of a young Martin Bryant, who was later to become notorious for his deadly killings in the Port Arthur Massacre, and the author’s brief fame as one of Western Australia’s few women pilots.

A compelling story of truth, life and overcoming the odds.

In Store Price: $AU25.95
Online Price:   $AU24.95

ISBN: 1-9210-0558-0
Format: A5 Paperback
Number of pages: 257
Genre:  Non Fiction 




Author: Maggie West 
Imprint: Zeus
Publisher: Zeus Publications
Date Published: 2005
Language: English

Author’s Bio. 

Maggie West was born in Perth, Western Australia, but has lived in all states and territories. As a mature aged student with a large family, she went to university, received a teaching degree in 1978 and finally achieved her doctorate in 2000. She has taught in schools and universities since she first graduated and is at present teaching literature to American university students on their campus here in New South Wales. She has published several of her own short stories, reviews and articles. Her interests are writing, reading and music. Now a grandmother, she lives an idyllic life of semi-retirement in northern New South Wales with her husband, three golden retrievers, two cats and a large garden that needs more of her time and attention than she has at present to devote to it.

Chapter One (part sample)

I have travelled a long way from my origins

Is there anything left of the child...

 Dorothy Hewett  

It’s a sparkling Perth morning and the beautiful Kathleen walks along St George’s Terrace in Western Australia’s capital city, carrying her baby.  She is approached by an American sailor who says, “Hi Honey, let’s drop the baby and go places”.  Despite his officer status, Kathleen ignores him. The baby is me and I’m a month old.

This story of the officer and the virtuous woman is a mantra, told often by Kathleen, so that it becomes a sacred text of my childhood; it gives the listener plenty to think about.  A subliminal lesson is that only someone of the officer class, a gentleman one assumes, would dare to accost a woman of such ladylike mien.  A more obvious lesson is the evidence of Kathleen’s virtue; unlike many others, Kathleen was immune to the lures of American servicemen, officers or not. From this tale I learn that few resisted the temptations offered by Americans during their sojourn in Australia; one of the few was Kathleen, a virtuous woman indeed, despite her obsession with the matter.  The tale illustrates too, that my nuisance factor is evident from my earliest days: a spoiler of good times am I, and I do not improve with age. The millstone I’m later called is also evoked by the tale: the young Kathleen, with her burden, struggling along the hot Perth streets.  More importantly I will gather from this story that there was a brief time when I had been in Kathleen’s care, prior to meeting her again when I was three, by which time she had become a stranger to me.  


At work each day now, many decades later, I look out over a small enclosed garden and remember Perth, and still feel a loss of that beautiful city whilst being aware that the Perth I remember has long gone. Through my window the garden is different from those of Perth: a subtropical garden with poinsettias vibrant against white daisies, budding wisteria clambering over the surrounding fence and flourishing palms of all sizes.  In the background are large trees, mostly eucalypts that add a soft grey to the varied greens and brilliant reds. There’s a birdbath, which a bowerbird has made his own, occasionally allowing his less glamorous partner to share his bath water.  This is my room, my freedom, where I spend my days and live the essence of Woolf’s ‘room of one’s own’; I cannot express fully the gratitude I feel for my husband who created this room from a former shed, for me.  Milan Kundera writes that gratitude is ‘simply another name for weakness, for dependency’.[1]  I disagree.  Aligned with love, which includes friendship, sexual happiness, shared humour and the comfort of acceptance, gratitude strengthens a relationship and is simply one part of the whole.  This is the gratitude I feel, one aspect of something larger, much more complete.

In my room, I will attempt to do what Adrienne Rich has called ‘diving into the wreck’, what John Mortimer calls ‘clinging to the wreckage’, and write of my life truthfully whilst acknowledging that truth is always a variable.  In doing this I will perhaps come to a realisation that there are some wrecks, which can be repaired.  Recalling this life, I must heed too Chilean writer, Isabel Allende’s warning that ‘minotaurs lie in wait in the labyrinths of memory.’[2]  Such minotaurs bring nightmare in their wake but nevertheless must be faced.   


Like Allende, I was born in momentous times when names like Roosevelt, Stalin and Hitler were spoken in hushed tones and were of much interest to all; my birth did not arouse much interest, certainly not on a world scale and not much within the family.  Kathleen said my father had been so disinterested in my imminent arrival that he had not bothered to hang around for the event.  Later I will learn to take this with a grain of salt, after I have become reconciled to the fact that most I heard from Kathleen about my father was untrue.  On her better days, she would tell a story of how, as a sixteen-year-old girl she had met my father at a ball in Kalgoorlie, when he was a British naval officer travelling in the entourage of the Prince of Wales.  The Prince of Wales had picked up Kathleen’s long black plait and admired it; she was introduced to his party, which included my father.  There was romance in this tale and I loved it.

I grew up and, unfortunately, began to take note of dates; I discovered that Kathleen’s dates and those of the royal visit do not coincide.  There is the small matter of the husbands, children too, that Kathleen had prior to marrying my father, but more of that later.  True, my father had been in the British navy, but long before he met Kathleen; when they married, many years after the Wales’ visit, my father was a poultry farmer – something I did not find out until I was about to marry and needed to view my birth certificate.  It was all rather disappointing: a poultry farmer lacks the glamour of a British naval officer.

As a child, I’d imagine my father hovering around the hospital to have a quick look at me.  He has a son already so will be pleased to have a daughter or so I would make believe. Perhaps Kathleen’s insistence that he was disinterested in me was as untruthful as the story of him being so drunk that he knocked over a hurricane lamp and burnt down the chicken shed, killing thousands of mother hens and their baby chicks.  I hate this story, and find later that it too is quite untrue; its mythological nature persuades me that other things I hear about my father might be inaccurate also. Perhaps he was interested in my arrival, though I must admit he seems to have disappeared soon after, along with his contributions to our livelihood.  It is knowledge such as this, that no one really cared about one’s birth or survival, that makes the autobiographical writer understand the truth of scientist, Barbara York Main’s adage that ‘it is as painful to return into the womb of childhood as it is to leave it.’ [3] 

[1]Kundera, Milan, Ignorance, pp. 137-8

[2]Allende, Isabel, My Invented Country, p.xi

[3]Main, B.Y., Twice Trodden Ground, p.6.

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