A Window in the Dark
Edited and Introduced by Debra Adelaide
"From the author of Come in Spinner, A Window in the Dark is Dymphna Cusack's account of her career as a teacher in New South Wales.
"A Window in the Dark is characterised by Cusack's critical observations of people and systems, her directness, humanity and above all her sense of humour. The account of her career begins in the early 1920s when she was a student at Sydney Univesrsity and ends in Newcastle during the war. A 'window in the dark' was a metaphor she used to describe the teaching process: opening up a window in the minds of her students to develop their thinking.
"The original manuscript, held in the National Library of Australia, is itself a 'window in the dark' of Cusack's own life and has been painstakingly transcribed by Debra Adelaide. It is published now for the first time and is accompanied by an illuminating introduction."
First Paragraph from the Introduction:
A Window in the Dark is an account of Dymphna Cusack's career as a high school teacher in New South Wales from the late 1920s to 1944. It is and it isn't autobiography, for here, finally, Cusack found the urge to describe her years as a teacher irresistible, even though she had constantly scorned the idea of writing about her own life. Despite the omissions of more conventional autobiographical matter, this is a narrative wonderfully rich with detail. The working life of the teacher is memorably captured, as is the formulation of Cusack's own social and political conscience in a world she found was riddled with injustice. Each place she describes is equally vivid, each school and their characters deftly portrayed with the sure hand of the practised storyteller.
Chapter by chapter, we are taken through her placements as a teacher: Neutral Bay, Broken Hill, Goulburn, Parramatta, back to Sydney, and so on, and each place is enlivened by her discovery of value, meaning or continuity. Each place she lived and worked in excited or stimulated her, spoke to her from its past and its present. Invariably, too, each place disappointed her in that the schools in which she taught were oblivious to their surroundings and their history. Again and again she found the system she was part of, the curricula she was obliged to perpetuate, totally irrelevant to the lives and futures of her pupils; the ignorance of local history which she constant encountered was symptomatic of this.
It was on a bright day in March 1922 that I took my first steps into the career which was to be mine for nearly a score of years, and to which 1 have remained bound by ties of interest and affection for the rest of my life.
Huddled in a corner of a Coogee-Railway train, I trembled at the ordeal ahead of me. Here was I - product of a country convent boarding school going to face that hot-bed of irreligious instruction, the Teachers' Training College at university. As an ultra-pious teenager I had tremors that I was hell-bent for damnation. Those were the days of deep-rooted sectarianism and I had imbibed the belief that she who is not for me is against me. Time and the Church have changed.
A girl got in and sat opposite me. We eyed each other warily. I thought, Surely no-one but a convent-reared girl would have so slavishly obeyed the rules of the prospectus sent to me by the Department of Education. We were dowdily clad in the worst clothes for a hot, humid day: navy-blue serge skirts ten inches from the ground, white blouses and a wide-brimmed black hat borrowed from my aunt. I looked like a perambulating black mushroom. Hers was a smart straw sailor. To this we added flat black tie-up shoes suitable for mountaineering and black lisle stockings. We had both baulked at the woollen ones prescribed. Only two girls trained in the conformist atmosphere of convent boarding schools would have followed so faithfully the rules laid down for us by some female sadist reared in the Victorian era. We smiled at each other timidly.
From the National Library of Australia paperback edition, 1991.
This page and its contents are copyright © 2002 by Perry Middlemiss, Melbourne, Victoria, Australia.Return to Dymphna Cusack Page.
Last modified: February 14, 2002.