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The AEU ACT History Project

As the Australian Education Union ACT Branch approaches the 50th anniversaty of its foundation as a Territory union, it is important to recognise and celebrate its history of achievement and contribution to the profession and to the wider community. 

How does a history help us to face future challenges?

By understanding our history, we can bettter face local and national challenges and better contribute to the continuing improvement of our public education system, the teaching profession, our community and Australia’s broader society. Our history can help us to take a long view of issues which recur over time, to understand why we have been successful and consider how we can learn from our mistakes. 

The AEU in the ACT has, since its beginnings in 1972 and its formal registration as the Commonwealth Teachers Federation¬†(ACT) in 1974, fought continuously for the establishment, maintenance and improvement of the ACT’s own public education system (separate from NSW) and for the advancement of the teaching profession and other education-sector employees.¬†

Pictured: The first Commissioner’s Advisory Committee: Commonwealth Teaching Service 1973, including ACT represetatives: our first full time President, Dick Lee; our first full time General Secretary, Peter O’Conor, and Ian Knight.

The goals of the AEU (in the ACT and nationally) are wider than pay and conditions; we have aspired to create a sense of teaching as a profession, for ourselves and for the community and its leaders. 

Our history from its earliest days has been notable for its educational and industrial leadership in collaboration (more often than not) with parent and professional organisations, universities, education bureaucrats, and not-for-profit and citizen organisations. This is because the union has been seen as a credible, effective voice and as the principal professional organisation in education in the Territory. 

How our history can help build commitment to the work of the union

What are the things a new member needs to appreciate? A history of the kind that is proposed can play an important role in attracting members and building their commitment to debate and action in defence of education and equity.

New members need to feel welcomed by an open and inclusive organisation that cares about them and their views, needs and futures.

At the same time, it is important for all members, new and long-standing, to see themselves as part of a long tradition, working within a movement that has changed its ourlook and agenda for action in response to new issues and changing times. 

They can also recognise that unio membership and action is often an important pathway for individual educators to take leadership roles, to have a voice, and gain an understanding of the education system as a whole. 

Reflecting on our past and looking to the future

One of the goals for this project is to identify the campaigns and approaches that were successful in the past and why they worked, while recognising moments when issues caused division between members or strategies failled to achieve their hoped-for goals. 

So, as we approach the 50th anniversary of the beginnings of our own union in the ACT, this is an opportunity to consolidate and celebrate our history and achievements through a History Project, whereby the major issues, events and personalities of the last 50 years are documented and opened for debate. 


The approach over the next two years will have five elements:

1. Discussions with union and system leaders and activists about the important themes, events and challenges of the past 50 years

2. An in-depth review of the print and digital history of the union that is currently captured in the journal, photo archives, annual reports and minutes of the union

3. Interviews with pioneers and current system leaders, activists, new members, parents and other stakeholders, which will be digitally recorded and transcribed

4. The development of the history and of regular extracts for the ACT Educator 

5. Where appropriate, storing these interiews and articles on the website for members’ access. 

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