2014 has been a year of triumph and some turmoil for Australian tertiary institutions, but amidst all the upheavals, one 93-year-old woman got on with the business of achieving her study dreams. In April this year, Elisabeth Kirkby graduated with a PhD from the University of Sydney Business School.
For Dr Kirkby, studying was not the result of making up for time lost in an unfulfilled life. In fact, she has done more in one life than many of us can ever hope to achieve. Kirkby has been a sheep and wheat farmer, actress, parliamentarian, journalist, mother, and wife of well-known author Derek Llewellyn-Jones.
Her love of learning
Dr Kirkby continues to inspire a new generation of Australian’s with her positive attitude and zest for life. Her enthusiastic longevity can best be summed up by her determination to take on new challenges, along with her obvious love of learning.
“A love of learning is essential. I say that to people, that you really have to have an enthusiasm or passion for something. You can’t believe that when you retire you just play golf or bowls or sit around with your mates. You always have to do something,” Dr Kirkby said.
A larger than life persona
Born in 1921 in Lancashire, England, Kirkby worked in post WW2 Singapore and Malaya as a broadcaster before coming to Australia in 1965 to work for the ABC. In the 1970s she played the role of Lucy Sutcliffe in the famous Australian soapie, Number 96. Her larger than life personality resulted in Kirkby joining the NSW Legislative Council in 1981 as a member of the Australian Democrats party – she held the balance of power in NSW parliament for three years.
At 77 years of age, and still with a sense of adventure, Kirkby decided to become a wheat and sheep farmer as a retirement option – an unheard of move for a so-called elderly woman accustomed to living in the city. Eventually, after many successful years, an extended period of drought forced her to move back to the city.
Still looking forward
Kirkby’s 100,000 word PhD thesis explores social and historical perspectives of the great depression, and true to form, she is not done with it yet. The next project for Dr Kirkby is to have her thesis rewritten and transformed into a book. Inspiration comes in many forms, but none more encouraging than that of a seemingly regular person who doesn’t allow limitations of age or gender to stand in the way of her dreams.