It is difficult to believe it was about 25 years ago that I was a part of the Geography Department at the University of Melbourne. In fact, my twin boys are 17 years old today – they were not so upset that I was going to be absent for their birthday dinner but expressed their concern that it could have been for something more important than Geography!!
Perceptions of what studying Geography is are more varied than many other fields of study due to the amazing depth of content within its scope. The aforementioned 17 year olds constantly tease me about my degree in colouring in. Many current secondary school students have the view that Geography does not lead anywhere or do not view it as a valid VCE choice because it is not a prerequisite for anything at Uni or in life!.
However, for those of us who are fortunate enough to know the wealth of opportunities available to Geographers the story is quite different. It is easy to say this in hindsight, of course. Although I took Geography in Year 12, it was definitely not one of my favourite subjects – just something to fill in the gap which I had a bit of an aptitude for. I was fortunate to gain a place in a Commerce Degree following school although I did not have any particular career aspirations to speak of. Again, to fill a gap, I took Geography 101! This was the beginning of a long and rewarding association with the 8th and 9th floors of the Redmond Barry Building which included a transfer into Arts/Commerce, Honours Arts and even the commencement (but not completion) of a Masters in Geography.
It sounds a little emotional but, after spending 4 or so years in the Geography Department, for many of us, we became one big extended family with Victor Prescott, Brian Finlayson, Ruth Fincher, Geoff Missen, and of course Jack Massey as our teachers and mentors in study and life. Michael Webber was an imposing figure when he first came to the Department for many (including myself) but working closely with him as his Research Assistant and getting to know him and also Ruth, helped me to learn skills, both academic, research, socially and even personally – having to be an intermediary between Ruth and Michael on odd occasions including the birth of their son Tom! For this I thank them and the many other mentors I shared within the Department including Mark Ellaway and Wendy Nicol who, as technical staff, played an integral role in the functioning of the department, and of course the tea room!
The field trips provided us with opportunities to become close which are not provided in many faculties. Being away as a student and then a tutor gave me opportunities to learn about many facets of our environment and also how to relate to peers and then students on a professional and social level.
Geography set me on a varied and dynamic employment pathway which I could not have anticipated at the commencement of my degree and one for which I am very grateful. I have worked as a Demographer with a local council and a private town planning company, a research officer with the Commonwealth Department of Immigration and Population Research, completed a Diploma in Education with Geography and Economics as my teaching methods, performed some statistical analysis for Telstra, and more recently following my return to study and the workforce following having my family, I have qualified as a Careers Practitioner for secondary students having worked in co-ed, girls and currently boys school environments. Advising young people about pathways, university courses and careers has become my major passion and I thank Geography for providing me with such a wonderful and richly varied background from which to discuss options for students.
The Geography Department has also given me some lifelong friends and whilst we have mostly gone our own ways (two marriages from our Geography cohort), we still manage to have three or four dinners a year which we call MUGS dinners!
It is with professional and personal interest that I have watched the changing landscape of the University of Melbourne in terms of course structure and offerings. Turning attention to assisting with the development of the secondary school curriculum is a valuable and necessary task to improve the profile of the subject area within their learning environment. I see the challenge for the Melbourne School of Land and Environment, as keeper of such an amazing academic discipline, to be to promote Geography in a way that will encourage undergraduate students to take their units as valued and integral parts of Arts, Science, Environments, Commerce and even Biomedicine courses. In this way students will reap the benefits from their experience as I have.