Dr Louise O’Rance – AVCAT Alumni

I’ll never stop being grateful to the trustees who decided to invest in the education of kids from low-income families. It worked.

By Dr Louise O’Rance

Dr Louise O’Rance

My father, Peter, left the navy before I was born, but he had the tattoos to show for it. I loved showing them off to my friends, especially the mermaid on his forearm who danced when he wiggled his fingers.

He never spoke about the war, except once, but my childhood was filled with navy stories. He loved being part of a crew, being introduced to new cultures, and he loved being at sea. He told me about being on watch duty on deck at night, when there is nothing in the whole world but the black ocean, the sky full of stars, and your ship. He grew up in a country town where the largest body of water for miles was a dam, but his ashes are in the ocean.

After Dad left the Navy, he trained as a psychiatric nurse and worked a lot of night shifts, because penalty rates help pay the rent. I sometimes wonder how many people, in the hardest time of their lives, spent a sleepless night talking with the big gentle nurse with sailor tattoos.

Like many Vietnam Vets, Dad suffered from poor health on and off when I was growing up, and when he was too sick to work for extended periods of time we relied on income support and charity to make ends nearly meet. One of my teachers said it would be a crime for me to not go to university, so the school researched every scholarship, bursary and grant in the state to find out what assistance I might be eligible for. They found and helped me apply to the Vietnam Veterans’ Trust Educational Assistance Scheme (predecessor to the Australian Veterans’ Children Assistance Trust).

The scholarship paid for my textbooks, lab equipment, train fares and other costs we couldn’t otherwise afford. In a reference letter supporting my application, one of my teachers mentioned that our family didn’t have a computer so the trust office gave me one of theirs to type up my assignments at home instead of in the library after midnight. (The scholarship didn’t have the power to address the student tendency to leave assignments to the last minute.) I completed my degree with first class honours and was awarded a government scholarship to do a PhD. When I wrote to the trustees to tell them this, to say thanks again and that I’d be OK now, the response was a call from a woman I’d never met squealing with delight. So many people I don’t know have had my back and held me up.

Education changed my life. I have a great job as a senior executive at the Department of Employment and Workplace Relations, where I’m treated with respect and where I can influence things that matter. My family doesn’t have to worry about the rent any more. Dad didn’t live long enough to see me enter the workforce but he was there when I opened the letter telling me that I had a scholarship for university. He was so happy that his navy service played a part in that. I’ll never stop being grateful to the trustees who decided to invest in the education of kids from low-income families. It worked

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