Teacher D reminisces

Dorothy Pereira-Gale, now lives in Australia
Dorothy Pereira-Gale, 68, a retired teacher and lecturer, and former governess of the Agong’s two children, now resides in Townsville, Queensland, Australia.

I was born in Johor Baru, the only girl among three brothers, and was educated at Johor Baru’s HIJ Convent.  My favourite subjects were History and English Literature and I remember how Sister Xavier and Mrs Ramakrishnan made these subjects come alive and relevant. 

Their approach encouraged me to develop an understanding and appreciation of the world of William Shakespeare and I met scheming politicians and star-crossed lovers, and got involved with nations in turmoil, high drama and comedy. 

Dorothy [Left] as Tony Lumpkin, in 1958 play,
"She stoops to conquer" in HIJ Convent JB
There was total acceptance among all nationalities in school and we were never asked to “work at it.”  Sister Xavier was the principal when I joined the staff at the JB Convent and because she believed that musical activities improved students’ social skills and helped them be more adept at forming friendships, extra curricular activities took on with astonishing speed and vigor. 

The JB Convent had tremendous support from the Johor Royal Family, particularly the late Sultan Ismail and Tunku Shahariah, and it was the first school in Johor to start Guidance and Counselling services for students, with parents and teacher interviews, twice a year.

For 35 years I lived a carefree single life but when I got married to Geof Gale and moved to Australia, I had to juggle work and housework, adapt to a new culture and learn to live in close proximity with another person (my husband). 

Dorothy and husband, Geof, and their daughters,
Joanne [Left] and Marianne [Right]

Back home in JB, I had maids who pampered me but in Australia, when I opened my eyes in the morning it was all systems go.  With two babies, my life was hectic because I was expected to act like a lady, look like a girl, think like a man and work like a dog!

In 2000, I was one of eleven people chosen to teach English to trainees at the Qatar Petroleum Training Centre in Doha and I was struck by the honesty of the Qatari people. 

It was a wonderful two-year experience as I also gave private English lessons to a prince in a palace.  Every tea-time the best chocolates and Middle Eastern sweets were served so I guess the Person-Up-Above had a wicked sense of humour because I’m an Insulin dependent diabetic.

Dorothy [Left] with the royal couple, His Highness
the Agong [King] and Her Highness, the Queen

After 27 years, I retired as a Principal Lecturer from Tafe College, Perth, and accepted an interesting and challenging position as governess to the children of the Yang DiPertuan Agong or King of Malaysia, who were then studying in Perth. 

I was struck by the Agong’s insistence that the children put their heart and soul into their school work and allowed me to discipline them and inculcate good study habits in them.  I believe His Highness, a graduate from Sheffield University, UK, knows that education is a birthright and a quality education is the only tool that a child has to turn dreams into reality. 

I remember one day as we were having lunch, the Crown Prince who was then aged 9, said, “Teacher D, today I was called up at assembly because I had the 1st prize for Maths in all the Standard H’s.”  Before I could say anything, he went on, “I was so nervous walking up and I couldn’t believe it, but you know what Teacher D, I said “Shukor to Allah!”  I was so happy and proud of him that my eyes brimmed with tears. 

Dorothy Pereira, winner of the 1966 National
level Sharahan or Oratory Competiion in KL

I have been coming back to Johor Baru every year for the last 28 years and in those days when I cross the causeway and taste the pungent wafts from Sungai Segget – then I know I’m home. 

Every time I’m in JB, I have lunch and tea appointments with my former students and my daughters can’t quite understand this and they ask, “How come your students still bother to look you up?”  I think it is because I have always tried to keep their best interests at heart and nurture their particular talents, whatever they might have been.

Johor Baru was once a clean town but with many developments in and around the city, this has changed.  My late father, Mark S. Pereira, who retired as a Senior Health Inspector with the JB Town Council, would turn in his grave at the appalling condition and filth of Jalan Wong Ah Fook and the streets around Jalan Siu Nam. 

I know the MPJB authorities are doing their best but their best is still not good enough – not in this day and age where planning, knowledge and expertise are available. 

In school, I couldn’t take up ballet because of my belly but now in retirement, some friends and I do belly dancing and we have lots of laughs.  I also volunteer to visit Indonesian prisoners in jails because few people in Australia speak the Indonesian language and those who do, want nothing to do with them.  

I’m so Malaysian that every 31 August, I fly our national flag and invite friends over for a National Day celebration and enjoy some Malaysian food.  I tried to be Australian yet I still eat Malaysian food to comfort me, read Indian literature to inspire me and listen to Malay ghazal music, old Chinese love songs and Indian evening ragas, to reach me deep down.  As I let go of my remembered youth and acknowledge my age, I realise that the memories that surface (there are many) need to be gathered and harvested with gratitude and compassion.

This interview was published in The New Straits Times, Johor Streets in April 2011

1 comment:

  1. Anonymous3/30/2012


    I was a student of this great school from 1957 until i left in 1967. I remember every teacher of mine from Standard 1 to Form 5 - so great was their impact on my life.

    I would like all my teachers to know that I who learned to read and write in English at the Convent, am one of the writers of the Form 4 English Textbook used in govt schools, because of their dedication, their commitment and their sheer brilliance as educators.

    I remember Ms Pereira so very well although she was never my teacher.

    My teachers I salute you.

    with love and grateful thanks

    siva prasanna krishnan