Colette McAlpine (nee Chinn)

Colette McAlpine (nee Chinn)

My Catholic upbringing was all encompassing. My father was on the parish council and later in his life taught at a Catholic school. My family home was a haven for priests and nuns; there was often a priest at our family table. We said the rosary at home, we went to Benediction, and we went to Mass.

My parents were progressive enough to allow me a choice as to whether I attended church with them when I turned 16. Although I am no longer a practising Catholic, I do consider myself culturally Catholic.  I value the principles I learnt through my education and the church.  My father taught me that Christ was the first socialist; my school taught me about compassion.  I see few of those values practised in political spheres today.

My education at Our Lady of Lourdes and Shaw College was solid, practical and challenging.  My teachers understood my inability to concentrate for any length of time and tailored work to capture me. I remember reading Shakespeare in Year 7, writing poetry in year 8, and entering writing competitions in year 10. Most of all, I remember Sister Francis Mary spending hours of her free time coaching me in public speaking. I still use the tricks she taught me when I give talks today. She inspired me; she taught me confidence.

I taught in high schools and secondary colleges for 35 years and, at times, I modelled my methodology on what I remembered from my teachers, both religious and secular.  My teachers sparked my curiosity. They encouraged me, yet they set strong boundaries. My teachers gave me sound basic skills on which to build at Devonport Matric and later at the University of Tasmania.

They taught me that I had the potential to do anything to which I set my mind. I did not get a broad education at my Catholic schools in the 60s and 70s, but my education had depth.  I was taught to think critically and to argue my point of view. I was taught to stand up for what I believed in.  Later, I worked tirelessly in union and labor politics and served on community boards.

My greatest interest at school was in history. Today it has become what I do and what I enjoy. I am vice president, database manager and volunteer coordinator of the Female Convicts Research Centre.  You can read about our projects at Our research is done by volunteers in Australia and internationally. I do some research for the University of Melbourne and UTAS for the Founders and Survivors and Digital Panopticon projects.

I have written several chapters for books published by Convict Women’s Press and most recently, I contributed to A Pack of Thieves 52 Female Convict Lives, published by the Port Arthur Historic Site Management Authority.  Currently, I am co editing a book and biographical dictionary with Emeritus Professor Lucy Frost. The book is called From the Edges of Empire: Female Convicts born or tried outside the British Isles. Not many Australians know that convicts were also tried in places such as Barbados, Mauritius, India and South Africa.

When I am not deep in convict research, my husband, James, and I love to travel. My two favourite trips were to St Petersburg and to Ephesus. I love spending time with my daughter, Frances, who was named after my father, Frank Chinn.

My strong, supportive family and my solid education developed, nurtured and enhanced my lifelong commitment to issues of social justice. I was lucky.