Pearl Logan was never on television, and was hardly known to the media, but she has been described as “one of the most influential contributors to life in Queensland” and as having fought tirelessly for the wellbeing of country people throughout her life.
Born Florence Pearl McGill in Malanda in 1922, the girl who in later life was credited with helping bring the School of the Air system into existence, with the establishment of James Cook University in Townsville, and with a lobby that brought the Living Away From Home Allowance Remote Area Allowance into being, grew up on the Atherton Tablelands at Topaz.
With no education option beyond Scholarship available locally, at the age of 14 Pearl was sent on the precarious journey down the Gillies Highway to Gordonvale to catch the School Special train to Townsville, and then the ‘Midnight Horror’ to Charters Towers to start her secondary education at Blackheath Girls’ College in 1937.
She spent four years there, taking on roles as school vice-captain and with swimming and netball teams, and was preparing to start university in Brisbane in 1941 when the college principal begged her to return and join the teaching staff at Blackheath to fill shortages created by wartime enlistments.
As well as teaching students who were only two years behind her, including two boys who went on to become headmasters, she joined staff in cooking and washing-up duties.
At the end of 1944, former Thornburgh College student-turned-Spitfire pilot Douglas Logan returned from service in England and came to see Pearl straight away.
Her writings document that within two or three days he proposed, offering his mother’s engagement ring, due to strictures brought about by the war.
They were married in the school assembly hall in November 1944, the first wedding ever to take place there, followed by a honeymoon on Magnetic Island.
Before the honeymoon, however, the first night of their marriage was spent in the dressing rooms of “The Arbour”, an open-air stage at the school for Shakespearian plays.
According to family legend, the room wasn’t lockable and held two single beds, presumably from a dormitory, placed side by side.
Pearl and Douglas went to live at Cressy south of Hughenden and then to Richmond Downs, where they spent more than 50 years working to improve the quality of life for people in rural areas.
Their three children, Kelly, Rayleigh and Graham Bruce, were born in the early part of their marriage and it was when Pearl embarked on the correspondence school journey with Kelly that she felt the full force of the difficulties being experienced by women around her district in teaching their own children.
She herself had taught economics at senior level but never grade one, and was unable to judge how fast her son should learn, how long lessons should last, nor his concentration span, and saw the effect that the lack of competition with other children had.
In the tenacious, forthright manner that became her trademark, Pearl and others set about solving the problem, with the result that Queensland’s first School of the Air was opened at Cloncurry in 1959.
“Suddenly children were in a class with a group of kids, with a teacher doing the teaching,” Pearl recalled. “The mothers learned too...and so they gained in confidence themselves.”
This was complemented with the introduction of a training course for home supervisors at Kelvin Grove Teachers’ Training College, very much Pearl’s doing.
As the divisional president for QCWA, Pearl saw keenly the social isolation that women in the bush were experiencing and so she embarked on one of the most difficult tasks she had ever tackled, to convince the Royal Flying Doctors’ Service to allow the CWA to have a one-hour on-air meeting on its airwaves once a month on a Sunday.
It resulted in the first CWA of the Air meeting from Burketown in 1964.
Pearl ended up representing QCWA at several Pacific conferences and two world conferences.
Rural education continued to be one of Pearl’s passions, working for many years alongside others to encourage parents to join together to lobby for rural education issues to be addressed, resulting in the formation of the Isolated Children’s Parents’ Association in 1971.
When the state government began establishing “high tops” at primary schools and discontinuing the Living Away From Home Allowance, awarded previously to those who passed the Scholarship exam, Pearl and others objected strongly that this disadvantaged rural children who could not attend the new secondary schools daily.
Bob Katter, then a member of the Bjelke-Petersen cabinet, remembers that along with other key players, Pearl organised over 5000 telegrams to the Premier, which resulted in an emergency cabinet meeting.
“The decision was reversed - the door to equality of educational opportunity was opened,” Mr Katter recalled. A Remote Area Allowance was created, allowing thousands of rural students to continue their education.
Pearl was later awarded Queensland ICPA life membership.
A growing awareness of the loss of young northerners to the south for university, employment and then marriage got Pearl started on what became the Battle for JCU - the university for north Queensland.
Pearl strenuously opposed the lobby for a second university being established at Toowoomba, slapping down a map of Queensland in front of the Education Minister at the time to demonstrate the size of the state.
The University of Townsville was established in 1961, changing its name to James Cook University in 1970.
Pearl went on to be invited to chair a community steering committee to establish a medical school for the university
Once again, Bob Katter remembers “Pearl’s Posse” - Pearl, himself, Senator Ron Boswell and others - surrounding Queensland Premier Rob Borbidge at a party conference to put their case.
“The first medical school built in Australia in 44 years was on the way,” Mr Katter said.
Pearl joined the Woodleigh College council at Herberton in 1993, working to provide boarding facilities for Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander children, and in 1999 she was appointed co-commissioner to the National Human Rights Enquiry into Rural and Remote Education.
She was honoured in 1975 by being made a Member of the British Empire for her contribution to improving the opportunities for women and children in remote areas.
In 2002, Pearl was awarded an honorary Doctor of Letters by the Faculty of Arts, Education and Social Sciences at JCU.
Mr Katter said Pearl had fought hundreds of other battles - opening the door of empowerment for First Australians, seeing nearly 2000 homes built by indigenous local labour, establishing drought bonds, volumetric loading and cutting the cost of cattle haulage by 20 per cent, and founding and hosting international symposiums on remote area education.
“She was an ordinary Australian whose humble, simple Presbyterian Christianity inspired so many,” he said.
“But her greatest contribution was the fire she ignited, the inspiration and belief that even the most humble and insignificant of us can rise up, walk with pride, and change the world.”
Lady Pearl Logan was pre-deceased by her husband, Sir Douglas Logan in 2003, and by her youngest son Graham Bruce, who only lived for a day due to being RH negative.
She is succeeded by her children Kelly Logan and Rayleigh Winten, six grandchildren, and 16 great-grandchildren.
Positions and honours held by Lady Pearl Logan:
- Chair, Blackheath and Thornburgh Foundation Inc, 2010
- Patron, Malanda Theatre Company, 2008-2009
- Patron, Past Students Association Blackheath & Thornburgh College, 2004
- Hon Doctorate of Letters, James Cook University, 2002
- Co-Commissioner, National Human Rights Enquiry into Rural and Remote Education, 1999
- Foundation president, James Cook University Medical School advisory committee, 1999
- Chair, Community Steering Committee for JCU Medical School, 1998-99
- Member, James Cook University Council,1986-92
- Chair, JCU Community Support and Advisory Committee
- Chair, Woodleigh Residential College, 1996-99
- Committee, Rural Education Research & Development Centre Qld, 1989
- Honorary life member, National Party Qld Division, 1982
- MBE (civil),1975
- State vice-president, Isolated Childrens’ Parents’ Association, 1972-83
- State president, Women’s section National Party, 1979-1981
- State councillor, QCWA, 1960-64
The story Vale Lady Pearl Logan MBE | December 10, 1922 - April 19, 2016 first appeared on North Queensland Register.