AATE was formed, on the initiative of Peter B. McDonald, past President of the South Australian English Teachers Association, at a meeting in September 1964. Representatives from New South Wales, the Australian Capital Territory, South Australia, Western Australia and Victoria attended this first meeting. Queensland and the Northern Territory joined the Association a few years later.
This meeting formulated the aims of the association as the collecting and discussion of information on syllabuses, current research into English teaching, teaching methods, textbooks and all aspects of English teaching, and the dissemination of this information to affiliated associations. By these means the founding members hoped the association would become, as far as it was necessary and desirable, the authoritative body on English teaching in Australia.
However, in forming a National Association, the affiliated members were concerned to maintain their own autonomy. As the first President, Professor A.D. Hope, wrote in the preface to the first issue of the national journal, English in Australia, which appeared in November 1965:
There is a great virtue in a co-ordinating association…in which the member bodies retain their full autonomy and their independent lines of approach. English is a controversial subject of study and so is the teaching of it. There is bound to be much divergence of views as to the best way to deal with both. This is all to the good and it will depend on the tact and goodwill already shown to make the Association the success it deserves to be.
The new Association held its first National conference in Adelaide in 1966 and there has been a conference in almost every year since. Although the first journal appeared in 1965, the Association’s first book was not produced until the 1970s and formal AATE involvement in research was not realised until the 1980s.
The progression of Presidents reflects the changing English scene in Australia. The first three were professors from older established universities with literature rather than teacher training backgrounds. The appointment of Garth Boomer in 1981 signalled a change: he was a departmental man very concerned with changing not just what was taught but how it was taught. The next two came from teacher training institutions and, finally, with Jennifer Haynes in 1994, the mantle fell on a practising teacher.
The first editor of English in Australia was John Curtain, and subsequent distinguished editors include Warwick Goodenough and Margaret Gill. The journal presents a fascinating mirror on the English literature and English teaching scene in Australia over the last forty years. On the one hand, it reveals a parade of changing ideology and constantly changing focus; on the other hand, nothing seems to have altered. The changing solutions don’t seem to have eliminated the basic problems, which constantly recur. The first issue contained articles on teaching grammar, oral language and poetry in the classroom, all issues which confront the current generation of teachers.
The journal has always been the core of AATE’s existence. A quick scan of the first few years reveals articles by Peter Cowan, Tom Keneally, Arthur Delbridge, Bill Hannan, Leonie Kramer, James McCauley, Barry Oakley, Frank Davidson and Brian Matthews to name just a few. This tradition of presenting the latest thinking from the best minds has been important in keeping the Association alive, for while the journal has not always been seen by the average classroom teacher as essential reading, it has provoked much (some times acrimonious) debate, and remains one of the most important foci of intellectual discussion in the profession.
From the start research was highlighted as an important function of the national body, but it was not until 1973 that Diana Davis was elected as the first Research Officer. A significant breakthrough was made in the early 80s when the financial position of the Association became strong enough to support grants to members to conduct classroom based research and to finance projects considered to be in the national interest. Some very important work and significant publications have arisen from these grants. In recent years the Association has cooperated in major national projects such as the National Professional Development Program and the SPIRT project on teacher standards, STELLA.
While earmarked from the start as one of the Association’s key roles, it was not until 1971 that the first publication, The Bad Deeds Gang, appeared. Garth Boomer was the first Publications Officer and was the driving force in getting a series of short stories anthologies and the first Resources books published. Subsequently a series of poetry books initiated by Peter McFarlane helped to put the Association on such a profitable footing that it was able to employ two part time workers to run an Association Office. More recently, Brenton Doecke, while Publications Officer, started the AATE Interface Series which aims to present current writing on professional development topics.
By the beginning of the 1990s the Association was in need of a serious overhaul. The Association’s constitution was revised, its committee system reorganised and, under the skilled supervision of the Secretary, later Treasurer, Susan Dennett, program budgets and strategic plans were introduced. In 1995 the Association purchased its own premises, English House, in Adelaide, part of which it occupies and part of which is leased. At the turn of the century the Association runs a significant financial organisation which employs a full-time Executive Officer and other part-time staff.
In recent years the importance the Association places on advocacy has been reflected in the production of policy statements on topics such as assessment, censorship and Aboriginal Englishes, and in the engagement with the federal Minister and Department of Education to ensure that English teachers are consulted when new education policy and curriculum are planned. But it still maintains its original focus, to provide guidance and information to practicing English teachers in all parts of Australia
Based on a farewell speech made by John Hutchins, past Treasurer and Business Manager, at the time of his retirement in 1996.