Conversation: Mary and Richard Doig, parents extraordinare - Sharing studies, kids by degrees
Richard and Mary Doig with their children at his graduation ceremony. Richard’s mother, Shirley, is at left
By Chris Lindsay
Raising a family of 10 children would seem like a full time job in itself. But when at the same time the parents are completing university studies - the mother a Master’s degree and the father a PhD - it might be seen as akin to madness.
This would seem especially so when the parents also ‘home school’ some of their children.
Yet, sustained by their Catholic faith and with the support of their family and the local Catholic community, it’s what Richard and Mary Doig (pictured) of Wagga Wagga have done.
And their 10 offspring - then aged from two months to 17 years - were present when they received their degrees at a graduation ceremony at Charles Sturt University in Wagga.
How did they do it?
“It is hard raising 10 kids and doing a degree - but not impossible,” says Mary Doig.
“I did my Masters degree in Education over four years, one subject a semester. It was done as course work with a small thesis.
“I also did relief work at local high schools, but not while studying. If I did a term of teaching I took time off studying.”
Mary did the degree through distance education, which helped her to fit it around looking after the children: Imelda, two months; Angus, two; Harold, four; Brendan, six; Francesca, eight; Andrew, 10; Claire, 12; Bernadette, 13; Patrick, 15; and James, 17.
“They send you a packet of stuff and you do the reading and send it back,” she says.
“I used to do my study mostly at night time when the kids were asleep. It gave me a good break from just thinking about the kids.
“There were times when I just couldn’t get any work done for a while, but I always got my assignments in by the deadline.”
Some of them were partly written while she was waiting outside doctors’ surgeries or in the outpatients, if there was something wrong with the kids.
“I had to work around what the children required,” she says. “If they were having a nap in the afternoon I would lie down and read - it was a time to rest as well as study.
“Last year I had a minor project and I had to do the research myself, co-ordinating it with my supervisor. The internet was a big help and occasionally I had to go to the library and photocopy stuff which I read in my own time.”
At times like this friends from the local Catholic community helped out. “They would come over and mind the kids while I went to the library,” Mary says. “It is good to have friends from the same religion who share your values.”
Husband Richard helped out with the children, entertained them where and when he could, and did some of the cooking so Mary would have some time to study.
“He is good at Chinese cooking,” she said. “He makes lovely gourmet Chinese meals - as good as any Chinese restaurant.”
Mary adds: “Studying is good to do if you have a big family - it gives you another focus. Otherwise you are too absorbed in just the children.
“It is not good not to use your mind, not to think about something serious.”
Mary is not sure what she will do with her degree now she has it.
“I am looking after the kids now,” she says. “If you don’t bring up your children right you don’t achieve anything.
“But when they are older I might do two days a week teaching.
“At the moment the children are my career, really. Later on I wouldn’t mind writing some kids books.”
Son James has won a scholarship to the Canberra School of Music, which is associated with the Australian National University, where he is studying piano.
He is a product of yet another task Mary and her husband have allotted themselves: home schooling.
“We home school some of the children,” she says. “It is mainly to give them a bit of extra time and attention in areas where they need help, such as essay writing or reading, and also in religious education.
“James, the oldest, was home schooled quite a bit, and also went to TAFE in Year 10 which gave him a chance to work at McDonalds.
“It gave him time to practise the piano and increase his love of music so that could have helped him win the scholarship.
“At the moment Brendan, six, is being home-schooled and Bernadette, 13, and
Patrick, 15, are being home-schooled two and a half days a week.
“We are trying to give our values to our children,” she said.
“How do you do a PhD with 10 children? I’m not sure, really, it is all a bit of a blur,” says Richard.
“I suppose it is just a matter of working consistently. There is no such thing as being able to turn out vast amounts of work in one go.
“You have to work consistently, and I suppose it was a marathon effort.
“I was on a scholarship for three years and didn’t have to work during that time, so that was a big help. As well, I did a tremendous amount of work at night.
“In any case, you go a bit mad in the process.”
Before moving to Wagga, Richard and his wife had run a small farm to the north west, so the family was used to him doing study at home.
“The kids are not a burden in themselves,” he says. “In fact they are very flexible.
“But, for the younger ones, all they can remember is me doing the thesis.
“Mary’s support was the key. Not once did she query what I was doing. A supportive spouse can make such a difference.
“It was very much a family effort.”
Richard said there were also a lot of changes to the family’s life during this time.
“We moved out of farming,” he says.
“We were running a mixed farm - sheep, wheat, canola, oats and barley - and that’s where I started the thesis.
“Then we moved to Tumbarumba during the drought to look after our sheep. But once I got the scholarship we sold and moved to Wagga.”
Richard’s thesis was on the National Catholic Rural Movement and a ‘New Deal’ for Australia: the rise and fall of an agrarian movement 1931-1958.
“This was an important period in the history of Catholicism in Australia,’ he says.
“In many ways the agrarian movement was dominated by B A Santamaria. I argue that many people who interpreted it in part as a ‘retreat to European Romanticism’ were mistaken.
“The movement really grew out of the anti-capitalist critiques of the 1930s - the Campion movement.
“It was part of the desire to build an alternative society.
“Its supporters wanted to avoid the ethos of individualism that comes behind capitalism and rather have a society based on community and spiritual values.
“They felt anything based on individualism was divisive and would split society.
“They also saw capitalism and communism as twin evils, but thought capitalism was worse.
“For them the Rural Movement was an opportunity to restore the spiritual dynamic of the land. For them a balanced community involved spiritualism, land and people.
“Their theory was that economics should serve the spiritual needs of people, not people serve economics.
“It was a similar philosophy that inspired President Roosevelt and the New Deal in the US after the Great Depression, in which large amounts of money were given to Catholic settlements.
“In Australia they did not want to create a new peasantry - as some people have claimed - but rather to regulate society, to limit the population of cities.
“The idea was people would have a small amount of land, but would still have jobs in the cities.
“The Rural Movement failed because, after World War II, with the growth of affluence, people lost patience with the social engineering that had been going on, the rationing of foods and goods.
“The movement supported the nationalisation of the banks, which was ultimately rejected by the people.
“As well it was very hard to sell a ‘new society’ once the farming industry was booming and wool was selling for a ‘pound a pound’.
“One of its major opponents was Robert Menzies, the conservative Prime Minister. Among other things, he feared it would bring a non-Anglo Saxon peasantry to Australia.
“However, the movement came close to success.
“The Italian government was faced with serious food shortages and was prepared to pay a lot of the cost to send Italian farmers out to Australia. And it was nearly ready to go in Tasmania when governments pulled the plug financially.”
Richard, who is teaching religious education at Darmalan College, a Missionaries of the Sacred Heart school in Canberra, would love to teach history in an Australian university, but realises the subject is in decline in tertiary institutions here.
“Some are talking about cutting history out altogether,” he says. “Universities are really struggling and the Arts aren’t valued now.”
Richard plans to publish his thesis, but realises it will require some work to produce a “popular” version.
So he plans to take six months off and “have a break”.
No doubt his children will also enjoy a holiday from their parents’ studies.