My Father, The Fulbrighter

My Father, The Fulbrighter

In 1958 my father, Kelton ‘Kel’ McDonald, was awarded a Fulbright Scholarship to spend a year as a teacher at the high school in Springfield, a suburb of Philadelphia – Pennsylvania’s largest city.In 1958 my father, Kelton ‘Kel’ McDonald, was awarded a Fulbright Scholarship to spend a year as a teacher at the high school in Springfield, a suburb of Philadelphia – Pennsylvania’s largest city.

Kel was thirty years old, married with three small children, and taught English and History at the high school in Gilgandra, New South Wales – a small town of 2000 that is 500 km northwest of Sydney. Gilgandra was his first posting after graduating university and qualifying as a teacher. He married Roma, the daughter of a local businessman who was also the Shire President, and had settled into the rural community.

The Fulbright Scholarship offered the chance to experience a wider world, and in August 1958 the five of us were packed into a Qantas Constellation airliner to San Francisco. The flight took something like a day and a half to cross the Pacific, with refuelling stops in Fiji and Hawaii as well as a detour around an atomic bomb test in the mid-Pacific. The day after arriving we boarded a train to Washington DC where Kel went through an induction and briefing for a few days before travelling on to Springfield. This may well have been when he met Senator Fulbright with several other Australian scholarship awardees.

A rental property had been found in Powell Rd, Springfield as well as a ’53 Chevrolet which cost $395. The house was only a couple of blocks from the high school which made it easy for Kel’s job in the English Department and close to the elementary school where I was in first grade. My two younger sisters were at home with our mother.

The Chevrolet got a lot of use over the next year. During the school year there were road-trips to western Pennsylvania, New Orleans via Tennessee and down the Mississippi, Palm Beach, Florida for Christmas, and up the east coast to Boston through New York. At the end of the 1959 school year we drove back across America.

The first section was up to Quebec, Canada which coincided with the Queen’s visit that year. From there it was across the Midwest through Detroit and Chicago, Iowa then South Dakota and Montana to Yellowstone National Park. From there it was back into Canada then down the West Coast through Washington and Oregon to Nevada.

After the Grand Canyon it was on to the Mexican border at Mexicali before heading back to San Francisco by Highway 1 through Los Angeles. Kel was an enthusiastic, if not particularly skilled photographer. He used slide film in a basic 35mm viewfinder camera, and photographed the staff and students at Springfield High School, sporting events, the town itself and activities that were going on.

The road trips can be traced by the slides, which were numbered, captioned and kept in solid wooden boxes. Frustratingly, much of the film has deteriorated over the years but it still a fascinating document of the family’s year in America. That year stimulated a family interest in the wider world and travel in general. His career back in Australia moved to teachers’ colleges rather than schools and that gave the family the opportunity to live in both New Guinea and New Zealand in later years when Kel spent time working in both countries.

Hope you enjoy some of these pictures of our time in the United States almost 60 years ago.

– Graham McDonald, son of Kelton McDonald, 1958 Fulbright Scholar

 

 

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