During my last week, I had a couple of days off and thankfully one of them was drier than the rest so I had the opportunity to wander around Perth freely rather that dodging showers.
After a very cheap lunch with a friend (a Thali curry voucher purchased from Groupon in a bid to eat as many different and interesting cuisines as I could before leaving Australia) I wandered over to the State Library for a gander. Both here and in Melbourne, The State Library has been a bit of a refuge for me. It’s a place that’s free, had air conditioning (not that that was a need of it in recent months) internet and in the case of Perth a really great range of second hand books just outside of the gift shop, and of course – nice, clean toilets. The café in Perth is particularly good, if anyone wants to check it out – coffee and a muffin for $6.90 which is pretty good value for Perth! Today I skimmed over the books I knew I couldn’t buy, but managed to find what I was looking for. A copy of the story I had enjoyed reading T & S many times when we rented it from our local library.
I bought it and went for a coffee outside – enjoying people watching, as well as glancing up at the oriental visions on the large screen. It’s akin to Fed Square (Melbourne) I suppose and a place I have often sat in for a ponder between appointments, or in the early days of Perth – just because I did not want to go back to the house I was living in.
Jumping on the tourist bus next I headed up to King’s Park to spend a couple of sunny hours before sunset. I realised I had never been to King’s Park on my own. In fact could only count 5 visits, which seemed a shame, as there was so much I hadn’t yet seen. My first was an unenthusiastic outing with the first family I worked for – then there were two dates (neither went any further) and I’d been there twice with friends who were visiting. I also realised I had always stuck to the same path which never leads anywhere new, so off I headed – quite literally taking the path less trodden, camera in hand for an almost meditative walk through the Spring offerings of the Botanical Gardens. I stopped to take photographs whenever I wanted, doubled back as many times as I felt necessary, sat down to enjoy the view a number of times to ponder over my time in Perth. I did feel, as one often does, sad to be leaving at that point. Perth has suddenly burst into bloom, and thanks to the awful amounts of rain we’d been having – moments of sunshine were really to be cherished. The perfumes and colours that were splashed across the park were stunning.
Although I was happy not to have to make awkward conversation (unsuccessful dates) and pleased I had nothing else to concentrate on other than myself, there is always that little part of me that wishes I were holding someone special’s hand.
Anyway, enough of that drivel – a good couple of hours were spent wandering around at my own pace (some of you will know how slow this is) enjoying the moment – stopping to smell the flowers and capture the moment whenever I wanted to.
Here’s a few snaps of the day.
My day officially starts at 7:30am when I leave my “house”, that is my granny flat in the garden, and I walk about 12 steps to the back door of the house.
On a good day I will have had time for a peaceful breakfast and might even be strolling over with a cup of tea in my hand. Yorkshire Tea, purchased recently, which makes my day start an awful lot better than Bushells.
Breakfast time consists of teamwork to get T & S dressed and fed, so T can get out of the door for school on time with Dad. It doesn’t always go smoothly – Fridays are particularly painful mornings. When the TV is switched off – my preference – the morning is a breeze. When it’s on, which it usually is – it’s anyone’s guess what will happen.
After T goes to school, S and I can start our day. My morning tasks are getting S to have some breakfast, as it’s unlikely this was successful earlier, and a second attempt at dressing her. When she is pottering about with the dog, or today’s teddy, I unpack and repack the dishwasher, tidy the kitchen and make a start on the laundry, make the beds and have a think about today’s plan.
If I haven’t already had a conversation about tonight’s dinner, it will be written down somewhere. Making dinner is an important and enjoyable task for me, so it needs to be factored into the day’s plan.
Very often S and I will pop to the local shop to top up on ingredients. She will go in the pushchair, and my bag will be loaded with snacks and supplies and off we go. Sometimes we pick something up and turn around and go back. Sometimes we have coffee together in the cafe. And less recently due to bad weather, we will come home via the park.
Most sunny days lunch is a picnic at the park. We sit on the picnic benches together making crow noises and discussing what dogs are doing. We lie on the grass and find shapes in the clouds, sing songs on the swings or we go on an adventure to the wooded area of the huge park we live near to “see what we can see”. This is a general term I use for any journey we embark upon, as it seems to give it some purpose.
After lunch S usually has another energy spurt, so whizzes around the back yard on her bike if we are at home, and I use the opportunity to lock the dog away and make dinner. Not locking the dog away, as I very quickly learnt but surprisingly often forget, very often results in something or everything being stolen by the pesky Labrador.
S often helps me make dinner: I give her a bowl and she does “mixing” which consists of her collecting all the peelings and leftovers in her bowl – we often season it, add water and “taste” it to see what she has created.
On these recent boring rainy days I have been doing a number of little baking activities – scones, or cupcakes perhaps, which we later eat at a teddy bears’ picnic in my granny flat, sometimes under the table if it’s raining really heavily! Getting a 3 year old interested in baking isn’t difficult. I measure things out, she pours them in: complimented all the time on her great pouring skills. We can’t wait until it’s in the oven, so we can both be naughty and lick the bowl.
After a few stories and cup of tea it’s time to locate shoes (never an easy task, as they never stay on for long) and a cardigan, a book or two, some snacks for the ride, water and anything else I can think of before we head to school to collect T. Very often I have to do “fast walking” because the previous tasks took longer than I wanted them to and we race to school, nattering all the way, looking for things to point out, so S doesn’t fall asleep.
T gets a high 5 if he’s eaten all his lunch. If he hasn’t, “nasty nanny” makes him eat his sandwich before he plays footy. We hang out at school for as long as the weather and the caretakers allow, or we head to a park and we kick and pass the ball or have running races before heading home. Apparently I am “awesome” at this. I have tried to teach him “English football” (I refuse to call it soccer) but I can’t get him to stop picking the ball up!
Dinner comes round pretty quick, as I’m doing a few last minute adjustments and bringing in the washing, it all happens at once. Countdown is on: tidy up music is playing on my computer, play area is tidied, hands are washed, table is set and bottoms are on seats for a 5pm sit down. The 3 of us sit together and enjoy our dinner with silly conversations and mostly good manners. Politeness and table manners are greatly rewarded and seeing empty plates and smiling faces makes me happier than I can express. Dinner done, everything is put away and we might just have time for a story before mum gets home. Or if she’s stuck in traffic we run the bath and they hop in. To pass the time we sing songs about frogs, or tell stories.
When mum gets home, we have a debrief and the children turn from calm collected creatures to manic little monsters on their second, third of fourth wind of energy, so I bid my farewell and head to my room.
I later meet with a fellow au pair and friend and we go for a good stomp and a vent… often all the way to the shopping centre for frozen yoghurt.
Doesn’t sound bad? No, very often it’s wonderful. I adore T and S and on GOOD days they are my two best friends…
Perhaps I need to write a post on the trials and tribulations of life as an Au pair…
“What has happened to your blog?” My mum asked me a while ago.
“I logged onto your blog, but you don’t seem to have written in it for some time” wrote
my aunt this morning.
What HAS happened to my blog? I am asking myself whilst sitting in my little cabin in the garden on a chilly Perth evening. It’s certainly not as though I have nothing to write about – I have a number of blog posts circulating in my head continuously but they never make through my fingers to my keyboard. I even took a notebook to work today, hoping to find a moment to scribe my thoughts, but alas it didn’t happen.
It seems the last time I wrote I was enjoying reflecting on life in Australia – opportunities and obstatunities that were presented to me throughout the year – this was MONTHS ago! Back then I was living in the tranquility of a farm in northern New South Wales and desperately looking for work to ease my finances, but secretly wanting to not work very much at all and soak up everything Australia has to offer on the final stretch of my visa.
So that’s how I find myself in Perth, where I currently live in “donga” in the garden of the family whose children I care for. I am now a Nanny, or an Au Pair, or Mary Poppins? I think I like that one best. Is it easy? Sometimes. Can anyone do it? No way. Why am I doing it? Because why not?
I escaped another cyclone warning in NSW to get to Perth for a full time nanny position back in February. That job may well have been the reason I had writer’s block for so long. I think I was physically, emotionally and most importantly, creatively drained working for a family who wanted a service, not me. I gave 100 %, which wasn’t enough and although I couldn’t admit it at the time I was incredibly unhappy. After one too many unkind words, I started to look elsewhere, in search of a family who wanted Grace and not just someone who was great with their kids, could cook and didn’t mind cleaning. I now look back on that experience and only wish I had swallowed my pride sooner and not wasted some two months feeling trapped and not enjoying what Perth had to offer me.
Long story short, I am now working for as family whose ideals are closer to mine, who don’t have me as an accessory, and whose children’s challenges and warm smiles make everyday a wonderful day.
So I live in a self-contained container in the garden. Having my own space, I now realise, is paramount to my sanity and enjoyment. I was spending every moment I wasn’t working out of the house: throwing away money I didn’t have in order to avoid being there or I was locked away in my room hiding from awkward, uncomfortable conversations.
I now work half the hours I used to and earn almost the same. I have freedom, trust and no checklists. I have never been told off, nor checked up on. Not been giving rules or written instructions or lists to sign. I’ve never had to detail where I take the car, nor justify how I spent my cleaning day. It’s wonderful!
Every day is different – some more challenging than others – as anyone who has ever spent time around young children will understand. I enjoy picnics and adventures in the park, stories in the garden, football in the playground, baking in the kitchen, trips to the beach, swims in the pool, crafts, trips to the library, road trips in the car and everything I thought I would enjoy about being an Au Pair. At the end of the day, I bid my farewell, walk over to my little house and enjoy doing whatever I please until the next morning. No questions asked. I can teach and entertain in my own space whilst enjoying comfort in the proximity of my neighbours, yet gratitude for the space between our two buildings.
I now realise how much more I have to write and show as I get to know a new part of Australia and live in perhaps its most expensive city on the lowest wage I have had since arriving here.
Watch this space for hopefully some more regular thoughts…
Lessons from the Bush – a reflection.
Some time after leaving the bush, having had another stint in the city, I am sitting on a rainy afternoon in Northern New South Wales, taking a moment to reflect on what was gained and learnt out there.
It seems obvious to say that I learned a lot from that experience, but when you take yourself away from an existence you understand and place yourself in that of another family, another way of life, another way of seeing things: it stands to reason that you’ll start to think and feel differently about a number of things.
My attitude to that number of things has, of course, changed since being on a cattle station. My aversion to animals I don’t know, particularly dogs has changed drastically. I have never really liked dogs, perhaps because I never had one, nor really knew anyone that did when I was growing up. We were a cat family through and through. Dogs have a horrible smell, need their poo picked up and often dribble. Then there are bush dogs, who roll around in dead things, shit everywhere, live outside and eat anything. Yuk. Yet today, when I was cuddling the cattle dog where I am staying, who was sitting on my lap, frightened of the impending storm, smelling like a dog, I realised how far I had come. I never used to like touching a dog unless I knew I could wash my hands immediately afterwards. I never wanted my clothes to smell of a dog, nor to have a single hair on me that wasn’t mine. But as I was sitting in the paddock, with my arms around this dog as if she were a small child I laughed at the girl who used to hate them.
Living out in the bush, miles away from anything and anyone but the people you work for, you soon learnt to adapt your way of doing things to make life easier. I quickly had to get over the fact that I couldn’t always wash my hands when I wanted. I had to get past my food anxieties regarding use-by dates. I had to rapidly defeat my fear of what might be outside my room at nightfall.
I also stopped wearing make up, sometimes didn’t brush my hair and never did any ironing. I had to swallow my thoughts regarding safety and logic on a number of issues and try letting go of my need for logic and planning on a number of activities.
I swam in a damn that had cow shit around the edge and a number of interesting insects in or around it. I walked and jogged through the bush knowing there were snakes ready to visit. I played with dogs who smelt of dead things, or hunted pigs.
I had to learn to feel ok about a ten year old driving a car, and then that ten year old driving me in that car, and better still, that ten year old driving the 5 of us from a party in the early hours of the morning. I had to learn to let go of the idea that shoes should be warn, helmets on heads and rules should be followed.
Above all I had to learn who I was, so I could effectively live in a place that challenged some of my ideas and compromised some of my beliefs. I had to reassess what was important to me, what was necessary for me and what was acceptable for me. I adapted my eating habits, sleeping patterns and exercise routine to fit in with my surroundings. I learnt to laugh when things annoyed me. I learnt to make things simpler if they were too complicated. I learnt to trust people younger than me, and learnt what it was to be trusted too. I learnt to teach everything I know and make it a learning process. I learnt to take myself away from certain situations and give myself time out. I learnt to look at the sky and see it differently every day.
I learnt that I can make a situation that is wildly unfamiliar for me familiar and that I can make anywhere my home if I need to. I also left that cattle station for the second time, knowing that I had done my best with what I had and can absolutely definitely say that despite moments of sheer frustration at times, or confusion, or just bewilderment, I absolutely definitely wouldn’t change a moment of it.
This was written some time ago…
“Do you have any plans for Sunday?” I was asked last week. Plans?? Hmmm… well, I have to do some laundry, sweep my room, maybe catch up on some sleep, but those can all wait. “Nope” I said with a grin. “I thought we might take you for a ride then”. This was MUSIC to my ears! I had been anxiously hoping, that on my final weekend here in the bush I would do what I have hoping I would do all this time!
Ever since my very unexciting ride back o
I was instructed to come to the house at 8am (on a Sunday!) and wear jeans, long sleeves and plenty of sunscreen. After a not so good sleep, and a chilly early start I skipped over to the house in my most convenient horse riding attire. Thank goodness my jeans are stretch!
After making lunch (should I blog about my cooking too?) which was a pumpkin and carrot frittata and gathering up yesterday’s baking marathon: a fruit and muesli slice, raisin brownies, apricot and orange muffins and double chocolate chunk cookies: I was put into a pair of boot and fitted for a hat. (Not a riding hat, like us Europeans are used to, but a cowboy hat!)
At about 9 am E, K and I got into the Ute and drove off the other yards to collect some saddles, whilst D and C went off to round up the horses. My first shock, perhaps, was that the horses had to be found, and then saddled. I could barely lift the heavy thing out of the Ute (not a good station hand am I?) About 8 horses galloped into the yard: All excited, all frisky, all not looking very calm.
So Oaky was saddled and bridled up and I walked him around a little bit before trying to find a place to climb up so I could get on. Apparently he has an odd body shape, so his saddle rolls a bit as you try to get on. Poor D seemed a little bit unsure of whether to put his hand on my arse to shove me onto the horse, so I had to climb onto a water trough and transfer myself to the horse.
We set off, the children in front, and myself and K at the rear, making sure to keep out father and son horses a safe distance apart as they don’t share much love between them. I needn’t have worried about Oaky’s friskiness, as he was in their words “too old, lazy and unfit” to give me any bother. He was In fact a very gently horse, who when kicked slipped into a reluctant, but smooth trot, which my audience were impressed with. My last official riding lessons were about 20 years, but I still remembered my “rise and trot”, “heels down” and how to gather the reins. Those puzzled me at first, as I had never used an open rein and of course held those all wrong.
Once back in the saddle, the memories I have of always wanting to have my own horse as a child came flooding back, and the enjoyment I have always felt when sitting on one surrounded me as we walked through the paddock under the crisp blue spring sky. We stopped once we found a tree that provided shade and good stump (for me to climb back on the horse) for morning smoko. We ate our fruit, fed E’s horse the cores and the children shared stories of funny horsey happenings in the bush. On we went through the trees for some time until we reached Tiger’s Hole. A damn/creek in a picturesque spot: perfect for our bush picnic.
My saddle bag had a quart pot in it, which we filled with water, and put in the fire the children made for Quart pot tea. Having cleared the ground of ants and sat cross legged in the dirt eating our lunch, whilst the children did running jumps into the creek: I realised I had (had to) let go of a lot of my hang ups which had manifested in adult years. Sitting on the ground where I can SEE ants is one, eating without washing my hands is another, trusting a horse I don’t know, wearing someone else’s shoes, peeing in the bush… all of which might not seem much, but I hadn’t realised how much they had made me restricted.
Before heading back, we mounted the horses (with the help of another water trough) and Oaky and I had a photo shoot, as well as a few little trots for the camera. Everyone wanted me to experience Oaky’s “beautiful” canter, and game though I was after my initial hesitation, it was short lived due to my stirrups being just a tad too long to feel comfortable.
On the ride home, the sun was blazing and all of us here breaking a sweat. I found it hard to imagine mustering all day in much sharper heat, for much longer and at a much more demanding pace than Oaky’s totally chilled out gait. We trotted quite a bit on the way home, and once or twice, sniffing the air of the home stretch, Oaky broke into an unexpected canter, which I wish I could have enjoyed, but my reservations about stirrup lengths and inexperience made me pull him up sharp and we continued at a healthier, slower pace.
Arriving home, I felt an overwhelming sense of pleasure in finally experience something that these bush people clearly love. The conditions were perfect, nothing went wrong, and apart from having to walk around in a John Wayne stance for two days, it was an invigoratingly positive experience.
I was told this an uncountable number of times in my first two delicate weeks here and it puzzled me each time as I never thought I was being particularly weak!
However, life in the bush IS tough, it IS harsh and it’s not for the fainthearted.
I have never considered myself to be a girly girl: although I do like to paint my nails occasionally, I am not afraid to get my hands dirty. I also enjoy wearing a pretty dress and heels occasionally, but I am just as happy in jeans and trainers.
The family obviously consider to me to be more delicate than daring and simply because I wasn’t brought up in the bush, I have the disadvantage of being much more sensitive and affected by the ways of life out here.
My second day here was a good introduction to what was to come, when the cut up carcass of the cow we have been eating for the last three months was dragged through the kitchen, leaving a trail of blood and hung in the cold room for several days before it was butchered.
When C put an axe through his foot and didn’t go to hospital because “it’ll be alright”, I was shocked. When K’s horse tripped, threw her and rolled over her, she didn’t go to hospital for scans or x-ray, cos “she’ll be alright”.
When the puppies were born to a work dog and fathered by the randy Labrador, I was told we’d be lucky if any survived. The previous three litters didn’t have a very high survival rate, thanks to bush harshness. In this litter, one of them escaped watchful eyes, and was savaged by its father at 6 weeks old. The puppies had a deadline too, and i did my best to help rehome them, having been told that their fate would be sealed with a pair of pliers if they couldn’t find homes to go to.
Their mother, apparently a useless dog, was “dealt” with once the puppies were weaned. Thank goodness it was done whilst I wasn’t on the property. The Cats here have a pretty harsh life too, and I have learnt that no animals get buried if they don’t make it.
The work dogs have a very short life: It’s rare that they reach retirement. If they don’t get killed by something, they are done away with once they no longer serve their purpose. If they hurt themselves they either have to get on with it, or they are shot. There are two right now running around with open wounds. When I asked if there was anything that could be done (thinking that despite the idea of touching it making me heave, perhaps I could sneakily give them some care), of course I was told that could lick it so they’re fine.
Then there are us humans, who are not allowed to feel pain or emotion sometimes. Only the other day I was eating lunch when a particularly strong onion in my potato salad made my eyes water and my nose run, when I remarked upon it at the table, simply because I was surprised, I was told to “suck it up” and “move on”. Thanks
And that’s not to mention the other dangers here like spiders and snakes that could kill you. Or dingos that can rip young cows to pieces. Naturally I was worried about all of the above and asking the relevant questions regarding my safety. Some of the responses I got were that dingos can’t pick locks (goodness, there I was thinking they were the local locksmiths) and that I was obsessed with snakes! Well, I said in my head, Obsessed no: well-read, concerned, aware: yes!
Every time we go for a drive I pray we don’t see a Dingo or a wild pig, as I know there is a loaded rifle in the Ute, and every time I go for a walk I desperately hope I won’t see a snake.
And if I dare to mention something that hurts or upsets me I know that I will be told to Toughen Up, which on them the irony is lost when I think about just how silent I have been …
Jogging for biscuits
Before I came out to the bush the vision I had of myself was riding horses regularly, spending plenty of time outdoors, eating prime cuts of meat and fabulous home cooking and just watching my muscles build and the weight fall off.
That is not the case of course. My day involves walking the 12 or so steps from my bedroom door to the classroom and then an additional 12 steps to the house, and I never walk back out of there without having eaten something.
Then there is the food: the volumes of it, which I readily accepted so not to be impolite on first arrival. The Smoko (cakes/biscuits/pikelets/tea/coffee etc) at 10am, and then again at 4pm, (more of the same) and dinner is a mountain of food very often followed by a dessert. Lunch is starchy and meaty unless I make it myself.
So to summarise: I have grown. I am not the svelte shape I hoped I would be, but a larger, much less fitter version of the one I was aiming for.
In my first two weeks I was in the kitchen readily baking for eager mouths, loving the novelty of having people to bake for, but I soon started to notice an ugly pattern. The two bushies decided to get me jogging one day, which was absolute hell. I pounded along a dirt track, one behind me hitting my bottom and the other in front encouraging me on like an old cow going in for milking.
We coined the term “jogging for biscuits” which became my incentive and much fun for them as they turned my plodding efforts into biscuit rewards!
Now, some weeks on, having had many many relapses, I am now going for a stiff walk, and breaking occasionally into a jog or a shuffle, as we call it, every day! Since almost two weeks ago, I have not missed a day despite the pain and undesirable state it leaves me in.
We agreed that at 5pm every day we will go for a walk. We put on trainers (yes I have been lent a pair!), enlist a few Labradors, I don my leggings (because if I feel sporty, that’s half the task done!) and off we go into the late afternoon sun. Sometimes it’s just me and the bushies, sometimes me and their mum, sometimes me and my new pig-hunting-dog friend, but it’s always me!
We walk/jog/shuffle up the hill, down the track, around the paddock: It doesn’t matter where. I know if I break a sweat (not hard!) and get my breath going (equally easy) I have earned at least half a biscuit. Sometimes I can manage a whole 100 metres of jogging, which those of you who know I can barely run for a bus will understand is no mean feat!
One day I even walked the LONG way to the mailbox and back, which was over 10km. Some days I have longer energy spurts, some days a pain appears from nowhere and makes me wince, but every day (since two weeks ago!) I go.
I jog for biscuits in the late afternoon sun of the Australian Outback.
A lesson in forgiveness
It’s something we often find hard to do, or maybe even forget to do, but can unwittingly affect us for the rest of our lives.
The not-so-simple act of forgiveness.
It could be anything from a family feud to heartbreak or from a sibling squabble to a disagreement at work. Holding onto anger and pain is poisonous and the only person it damages is the person holding those feelings, rather than the person who caused the pain. That’s why we don’t forgive, isn’t it? Because we have been hurt by someone or something and we choose to hold onto the pain and not to let go due to feeling that person doesn’t deserve to be forgiven.
But what do you gain from that? How does that help you move on? How does that help you enjoy future experiences by allowing previous ones to still hurt you? What good can that negative energy do you?
There are relatively few extremely evil people in this world whose life intention is set out to cause others discomfort. In life many of us make mistakes, and the majority of us learn a hard lesson from those. Forgiving someone doesn’t mean you are condoning their behaviour, or making room for it to happen again: it’s releasing yourself from the restrictions it had over you.
Walking in the bush the other day with my two bushies C pushed E over, she hurt herself and cried. I made him apologise, which he did without meaning it. She sulked for a few minutes and then continued to skip along beside him, giving him a shove now and again. I was amazed at how quickly her tears dried up and she let that go. I doubt he meant to really hurt her, or even injure her. And she got over it pretty quickly, moved on and enjoyed the rest of our walk.
Forgiveness can come in all shapes and sizes. I recently let go of something much much bigger than C & E’s afternoon fall out. Once I felt forgiveness, the clouds began to part, and something was released inside and out. I realised, to my horror, that I had let those feelings of anger poison any other feelings surrounding that. And not just that either. I sat down and thought about all the wrong doings I had received in the past and all the people who had pissed me off or worse: done something that had resulted in me no longer enjoying a memory of something, or cutting someone out of my life due to a stubborn intention to no let them ‘get away with it’. I asked myself what good that had done me and realised that the only person that had affected was me. The doer of those actions probably got over it long ago.
I don’t sit here on my blogging high horse suggesting that we all rapidly forgive anyone who steps out of line, breaks the law or intentionally disrupts your life. I only write to suggest that we all take a lesson in forgiveness. That we ask ourselves if holding onto pain helps us heal and move on. And that we take a lesson from the innocence of two children: forgive, let go, move on. Learn what hurts you: avoid it. But don’t hurt yourself by living in pain caused by others.
A day in the life of a governess on a cattle station…
The alarm goes off at 6:50, and as usual I feel I have been robbed of some sleep because the crows have started cackling at least half an hour earlier, and the dogs would have had something to bark about at least once in the night, so I hit snooze.
It goes off again, this time I reach down for the remote and switch on the tv, letting breakfast television into my life, and starting my day. I resist another snooze, get up, stretch, open the blinds to see another sunny day in the bush. Sometimes Tiger, one of the old milking cows is in the paddock outside my window or one of the horses has come up for a different patch of grass. The crows are there, sitting where I can’t see them, but taunting me with their child-like cries.
Flip-flops on, I head into the house yard, to my “bathroom”, which is a glorified shed. It’s got a toilet in one room, washing machine in another and then a shower, which is like a walk-in wet room. Sometimes there is a frog there to greet me, or one of the dogs comes for a sniff on my way.
The shower is fed by the dam, which I am now used to, but the smell used to put me off getting washed in the early days. I nip back to my room, have a cuppa, shovel down some breakfast, get dressed and pack my bag for work.
I have to walk approximately 15 paces to the classroom, which is where I spend the next 8 hours. On a chilly morning, I have my gloves and scarf on, switch on the heater and wait for the burst of energy that comes over from the house at 8am. Now internet is part of our lives, I plug in my laptop, and wait for any school notices of sickness, timetable issues, or last minute requests for phone lessons to appear. I also get some funky music on if it’s a Tuesday, cos that’s when we have an early morning boogie.
First class of the day is at 8:30am. One goes off to the phone room, and I stay and have a concentrated hour with the other one. This time it’s maths, which isn’t always easy! 9:30 we have a quick brain break, which is a new invention, and helps marvellously. We chuck some soft balls around between the three of us, improving our catching techniques and taking our mind off the previous lesson.
Just enough time after that for a spelling lesson, or some maths revision before Smoko at 10am. That was a new word for me, originating from Smokehouse, which perhaps is where morning tea used to take place? In we troop to the house, although the kids usually have some energy to burn outside first, and it can be a battle to get them back inside. If I have had a good morning, I go for a piece of fruit, but if we’ve had a bad one, I seem to hit the cake.
The next two hour session is broken into chunks, which depending on the day, consists of reading time, handwriting practise, journal writing, or a simultaneous spelling lesson: which can be quite complicated running at the same time, with two kids on different levels. It goes something like this: “Ok, C, exercise A, write this down, E spell NOISE. C, what’s the spelling rule for those words? E, spell SIGHT, C, do exercise B, No E, that’s not how you spell that, C, what are you doing?”
11:30 there is another phone lesson for the other student, so one-on-one time for E and I, again it’s maths. We have a quick brain break between activities, and if things are going particularly bad, we have to put pens down and they do laps around the house. It works, trust me!
Pissing me off, answering back, getting into class late or fighting results in a yellow card. I am a referee in so many ways. Two yellow cards and they get a red card and are sent off ( we like football here), and have to make up the time after school. This has only happened once, and I made sure the other student was doing something REALLY fun, so we haven’t had a sending off since!
After lunch we have science or history, and this lesson is conducted to both at the same time. Again, it goes something like this: “Ok, C, start on task 6, read that for me, and tell me what you have to do. E, go to task 4 on the disc. Ok C, what do you need to do? E, click on that, C write down the answer please, E let’s try this activity. One Sec C, I’m explaining this, do your maths sheet whilst you are waiting. Ok, have you read that? Let’s try the next one. E, draw a picture of what you just saw….” It’s exhausting!
Half past two rolls around and if we are on schedule, we have an hour of craft or project. Paints come out, we get messy! Then it’s tidy up time, there is always a squabble about whose turn it is to sweep. Jelly babies are given out for good behaviour, classroom is tidy and they literally burst out of the room.
I have a few minutes to myself, go to the house for a debrief with mum and a cup of tea. At 5pm, sometimes earlier it’s time for a walk or a jog. This is sometimes accompanied by children and/or dogs and the length and destination change according to mood. 6pm, shower time, minute to catch my breath.
6:30 over to the house to help dish up dinner: this is the only way to ensure you don’t have to eat a bushman’s portion of meat (which is a lot for us non-bushies!) it’s meat and veg of course. Then the station hand and I clean up the kitchen, knowing we both have stories to share, and few moans to have, we clink and clang in the kitchen as the family sit down to the tv.
Off to the classroom to get first lessons ready for the morning, make sure exercises are cut up, books are ready and read up just in case! And then I go back to my shipping container after checking my emails in the classroom. Now it’s getting hotter and there is a station hand to share my evenings with, we sit in my hut, with the fans on, crack open a beer, have a whinge, let off some steam and chill out, before getting an early night for it all the start again the next day.
I am sitting on my stretcher bed, in the outstation where I sleep with about 50 other people all in their swags. That’s like a heavy duty sleeping bag to you non-aussies. It’s made of canvas and is like a bed/sleeping bag/possibly even tent all in one.
The snoring is horrendous. The babies crying is even worse. And then there are the mental ones who get up before 5 am with no regard for the sleep of others. The first morning I woke up at 6:50am and really was made to feel as if I was wildly oversleeping! People kept saying things like: “oh you’re not a morning person then” or “what time do you usually get up?!” It was a little confronting to say the least.
Throughout the week, breakfast is served from 6:30 am. Having worked at many camps and residential schools before, THAT was a shock to me. Can anyone who has done a summer school in Spain imagine them getting up at that hour? In fact, I have never worked with kids who did NOT need to be woken up, and quite often dragged to breakfast!
School starts at 8:30am, and this is also odd for me too. I am not teaching this week. Their teachers are doing it. So the home teachers and mums sit around all day drinking cups of tea and getting bored. Very bored. I am the only foreigner here. Most of the govvies have been doing this for some time, and know the drill. Then there are the mums. Most of them have been to the shops and bought brand new water bottles, hats, duvets, blankets, anything for their kids just for this week. There are mummies with babies, and with kids who have been friends for years. I say friends, when I refer to the friends these children only see for 1 week, four times a year at this residential school.
These children live far too far away from neighbours to have sleepovers, do homework together. But this week they are best friends. There are no fights, no bickering, no discipline issues… it’s all just too easy! Never have a worked such an easy week with children.
As the week slowly drags on, we eat more and more to compensate for having nothing to do and I go to all the “teacher development” workshops to learn things i already know and listen to every single mum who thinks her child and her problems are unique and they are something we all wish to hear about. Poor little Johnny finds this hard, and angellic jane found question 4 on lesson 8 just impossible. Really thrilling stuff!
Still half way through, on the home straight and you never what might be on the shelves in Big W that i might have missed yesterday, so it’s always worth the trip into town later on…