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With Dr. Margaret Steinberg

by Sam Regi
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In a story session with Dr. Margaret Steinberg at her home in Taringa, Brisbane, we primarily discussed her professional legacy. We delved into her transition from physiotherapy to academia and subsequently into several top leadership roles. Her narrative showcases the transformative influence of education, advocacy, and perseverance in effecting meaningful change in public health and beyond. This interview was conducted in collaboration with the Churchill Trust.

00:00 / 09:28

Press play to listen to an extract from the conversation with Dr. Margaret.

"My expectations were somewhat different due to my mother's education. I was always ambitious, wanting to do something useful and not be buried in domesticity."  - Dr Margaret Steinberg.
 

Sam Regi
Thank you very much. Good morning. Today, I'm talking to Dr. Margaret Steinberg. With all my interviews. I like to start with a question which is rather simple, but feel free to explore it as long as you want to explore it. My question is, can you tell me your origin story?



Dr Margaret Steinberg
Telling my origin story? Well, I am the oldest child of John and Marjorie Perry-Keene. You can see from the name that it's a very English background. And my grandfather came out here as a young man, but we still have family connections back to England. And I was the oldest of four children and a girl. And both families were very traditional in primogeniture.

Dr Margaret Steinberg
So the soul boy, lovely as he is, was the most important person in the family when I was growing up. And so that dictated a lot of, I suppose, the outcomes of what my expectations might have been. But I was fortunate growing up in Queensland, to have a mother who had been educated at university. She was born in 1910 and she went down to Sydney to school by boat and only came home during the long holidays.

Dr Margaret Steinberg
So my expectations were somewhat different to those of my peers. And so I was always, I think, ambitious. To do something useful probably would be the key word. But just not to be buried in a house domestically. I never wanted that. So that led me to wish to go to university. I desperately wanted to do medicine, but again, in a primogeniture household, my father would not have that.

Dr Margaret Steinberg
And so I did physiotherapy and I graduated. I was not a spectacularly happy physio, I don't think. And I always wanted to explore other more social communities and into the public health area. So I always had a hankering, I suppose, after medicine. And so I ended up doing a Ph.D. in the neurophysiology area and I had some beloved professors who really, I suppose, challenged me, but also encouraged me.

Dr Margaret Steinberg
And I've had a very satisfying intellectual and personal life, I think as a result of those early mentors. They were all, they were all lovely men.

Sam Regi
Could you tell me a little bit more about when you grew up and where you mention you grew up in outback Australia. Can you tell me a little bit about that place?

Dr Margaret Steinberg
Not entirely. Outback, I think you would call it more central Queensland coast. I was born in Rockhampton but my family moved to Bundaberg when I was two and I lived in Bundaberg until I went to university. And so it was largely a cane and agricultural town with some cattle and other properties into the interior. My family had a couple of family properties which gave us a link into that sort of life, although it wasn't the life we lived.

Dr Margaret Steinberg
My father was in the bank and my mother was a practicing physiotherapist. She always had a private practice, which was very unusual again in those days.

Sam Regi
And what was it like growing up in Rockhampton for you?

Dr Margaret Steinberg
I left Rockhampton when I was two. All right. So I grew up in Bundaberg.

Sam Regi
In Bundaberg, yes. So what was it like growing up?

Dr Margaret Steinberg
It was very pleasant. We rode our bicycles everywhere and there were not a great deal of cars. But of course my early life was challenged by the war. Yes. We actually vacated Bundaberg and went to Toowoomba and my family home is actually now Concordia, in Toowoomba. So I spent much of my childhood there as a result of the so-called Brisbane Line.

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Dr. Margaret Steinberg at home.

 

Dr Margaret Steinberg
So we had a mixed childhood, largely because of the war.


Sam Regi
Could you tell me about that, that time in your life? The war period. What was life like?

Dr Margaret Steinberg
Well, for me, because I was so very young, it was like any other person's life, because we weren't really ever in danger. I don't suppose we thought we might be, but I don't think we actually were. And I think everybody had a shortage of chances. And I certainly remember a lot of the transport problems and butter and eggs and rationing, but we really didn't suffer anything at all.

Dr Margaret Steinberg
I didn't have any family in the war. I had a godfather who was in the Air Force maintenance area, but he didn't actually go off shore. We had English relatives who were very involved, so we knew something about that. And actually I had aunts at that stage who were studying in England and Europe, particularly music, and they had come home.

Dr Margaret Steinberg
So the war affected us, but only in a very minimal way compared to the disruption that so many other people around the world faced. Very minor rationing.

Sam Regi
Now, you mentioned the expectations of you as a child, although you were allowed that freedom to pursue education. But what were those expectations? Could you tell me a little bit more about those expectations?

Dr Margaret Steinberg
Because I think for most of my peers, their expectations were very much I say minimal in that - they didn't have any models, I had models, I had aunts who studied music in London and Budapest. I had a mother who'd been at university and so on. I had aunts who lived in England. So I had a broader, I suppose, exposure than most and for most girls in Bundaberg at that stage, the options were nursing or teaching if that.

Dr Margaret Steinberg
Most left school after junior and and really had no other options visible to them. So it was a very different world and I think we've forgotten that it was very different in terms of people's knowledge and expectation. So when you just had the radio and the local library, you didn't have much exposure to other options that children today have before them all the time.

Dr Margaret Steinberg
So it was a fairly isolated environment and I was very happy, I think. I think we were spectacularly happy, just riding bikes and wandering around and free compared to today's children. It was a different world.


 

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