Finding the Balance- Mums in Profile

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Then and Now - Mums in Profile

Many of the women who eagerly signed up to study at Macquarie University in its early years had a problem – how to balance study with young families.

More than 150 married women were enrolled at the University in 1967, and included women whose studies were interrupted by marriage and babies, and others who wanted to retrain after their children had grown up.

While many mums had school-age children and could study around their kids’ school hours, those with babies had a bigger challenge. There was no childcare available in the early days and some babies and young children even attended lectures with their mums, simultaneously getting to grips with Socrates and solid foods.

One of the first societies formed at the University was the Macquarie University Mothers Group – known as MUMS – started by Commonwealth Scholarship holder Norma Hayman. She had noticed that discussion among students was as much about children as it was about the latest tutorial topic, and arranged for the mums to get together.

The group immediately became popular, and even counted a dad among their earliest members. As well as giving parents a forum to discuss parenting issues, the group was the original driving force behind the development of Macquarie’s first on-campus childcare centre. Gumnut Cottage was eventually built in 1975 by the Student Union to meet the needs of Macquarie University students and community families.

Originally known as University Avenue Childcare Centre, it catered for three- to five- year old children, while younger children were cared for at the nearby Culloden Road Nursery. The centres combined in 1987 in a new, purpose-built environment (the current building) following the best care principles of the time and increasing its enrolments to the current 80 children per day.

Irresistible force

Women’s active role in the new University meant that their voices were heard at the highest levels right from the start.  In the 1970s they started to have wider impact thanks to the growing feminist, equal opportunity and equal rights movements; lobby groups such as Women at Macquarie (WAM) threw their weight behind legislative change such as the Wran Government’s NSW Anti-Discrimination Act, while the first Women and Labour conference was held at Macquarie in 1978, attended by 2000 women and inspiring a raft of similar events around the country.

Encouraged by then Vice-Chancellor Edwin Webb, the university’s support for institutional change also paved the way Macquarie’s groundbreaking EEO program, which expanded beyond equal opportunity for women to encompass Indigenous people, the disabled, and people from multicultural backgrounds, although the University continues to strive for gender balance through its Interdisciplinary Women's Studies, Gender and Sexuality (IWS) program and other initiatives.

Recently, in 2013 Macquarie’s Women, Management and Work Conference marked its 25th anniversary.“Women are more educated and confident [than 25 years ago] but they struggle with work-life balance,” commented Pam Morpeth, Manager of the Centre for Workforce Futures at the time. “We have seen the advent of parental leave and men are more supportive when it comes to childcare, but women still do the lion’s share of caring for kids and elderly family members. While there have been great changes and progress made, there is still work to be done.”

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