2011 Arch Nelson Address

Pauline O'Maley

The Arch Nelson address is an important feature of the annual ACAL conference. Each year we pay tribute to an individual who made an enormous contribution to the community, both locally and internationally and who reached out to enrich the lives of people from many walks of life. In recognition of the outstanding contribution by Arch Nelson, a leading figure in the field of adult education is invited to give an address in his name.

We are delighted to announce that this year's Arch Nelson address will be presented by Pauline O'Maley who has extensive experience and expertise in Language, Literacy and Numeracy teaching and support, in a broad range of settings with very diverse groups. Her PhD focused on the initial placement assessment of adult literacy and numeracy students and she has written extensively and presented at both VALBEC and ACAL conferences in the past.

Pauline will use the conference theme Literacy on the Map: common visions, different paths as a springboard to reflect on the work of adult literacy teachers over time. She will talk about the roads we have taken in adult literacy over the years, where different paths have led and continue to lead us, as well as speculating about opportunities the road ahead offers.

Pauline has recently joined Victoria University as an Educational Developer, Language, Literacy and Numeracy Strategy within the Arts, Education and Human Development faculty. Previously, Pauline worked with the Salvation Army in a range of teaching and management roles. She was involved in the development, implementation and coordination of two innovative and successful programs: More Intensive Flexible Service (MIFS) and Community Reintegration Program (CRP). Pauline is a long standing VALBEC and ACAL executive committee member, holding terms in the position of secretary for both organisations and a term as ACAL co-president (2004-2005).

Arch Nelson AM
Adult Educator 1911-1998

Arch Nelson played a major role in placing adult education on the government and public agenda and he was inaugural Chairman of the Australian Council for Adult Literacy (ACAL). A pioneer of adult literacy in Australia, Arch is remembered with affection as a modest man who combined in his work, vision with tenacity and gentleness.

Archibald John Alexander Nelson was born at Scott's Creek in the Adelaide Hills. In reminiscing about his childhood in the Adelaide Hills where "in those days I should say about fifty percent of the population of adults were semi-literate". He also recalled how he was "spurred on by the number of people who approached him personally for assistance (with literacy)".

After graduating with honours in political science and history from the University of Adelaide in 1938, the onset of World War II ended his formal post-graduate study. He became a primary school teacher and then joined the Army Education Service where, he recalls that in some units "at least half of them...were quite illiterate or sub-literate". Arch Nelson had always been interested in adult education and became a part-time tutor with the Workers' Educational Association at Port Adelaide and with the Department of Tutorial Classes at the University of Adelaide as part of the university extension scheme. After the war he worked for the Commonwealth Office of Education and witnessed the formation of UNESCO in London and the Colombo Plan in South East Asia. But in 1955 he returned to Australia to direct adult education at the University of New England, Armidale, because he "wanted to work with people not organisations".

In 1971 Arch Nelson was appointed Professorial Fellow in Adult Education at UNE, in recognition of his distinguished contribution to his chosen field. At that time, this was a unique position which freed him from administration so he could concentrate on research and teaching in Adult Education. He established a post-graduate diploma in his discipline and lectured extensively until his official retirement in 1976. Even then he continued to supervise PhD students while he undertook an active commitment to adult literacy

In 1976, AAACE established a working party on adult literacy which recommended the formation of the Australian Council for Adult Literacy and Arch Nelson was invited to become inaugural Chairman. As Alastair Crombie later recalled "ACAL was an orphan child of a rejecting parent". But, under Arch Nelson's leadership that orphan child was successful in "spreading the message", "inviting all political parties to state their policies on literacy" and "getting people in universities interested" - a special reference to the important role that UNE and Darryl Dymock played in adult literacy.

In 1984, Arch Nelson, who had presided over the formation of the Australian Council for Adult Literacy, retired as Chairman of ACAL. Archibald John Alexander Nelson was honoured by UNESCO at an International Literacy Day Ceremony

    ...for having served with devotion for more than thirty years the cause of international literacy as Director of a University Department of Adult Education, founder and first President of the Australian Council for Adult Literacy, Co-editor of the Journal of Asian and South Pacific Bureau of Adult Education, and having argued with determination and effectiveness for national and international initiatives designed to stimulate and support literacy activities.

The then Patron of ACAL, the Honourable K. Beazley (Senior) responded by stating that,

    "It is the force of Arch Nelson's concern for people, his heart power, which has been the alchemy which has transmuted the lead of official and private complacency in this country, such as the myth that 'we are 98% literate', into the gold of effective action. His have been the labours of Sisyphus, but if there has been an adequate appropriation in the Federal Budget for Adult Literacy then Arch Nelson has not been condemned to see the stone roll back down the hill."

Those who work in the adult language, literacy and numeracy fields hold dear the memory of such significant people along their educational journey and it is the motivation to “make a difference” that is celebrated through Arch Nelson's spirit.