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.
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…
Here I am at residential school in Emerald for one of the termly “mini-school” weeks with the two children.
I should start by talking about Emerald itself. It’s a city, apparently. It has an airport (my entrance and exit to the bush), a huge mine and really not much else. Yes, in fact there are a number of motels that serve the miners, there are a collection of schools and three shopping centres that house Coles, Target, Big W etc., There are also your regular dumping of fast food places and really to be honest, not a lot more. People who live in the bush travel for miles (sorry, here that would be kilometres, but it doesn’t right does it?) to get here because it’s got the big supermarkets and clothes shops that the little towns (of course!) don’t have. It’s got the banks that they don’t have, doctors and a hospital or two and even a train station, where I could take a train to Brisbane if I wanted, if I am prepared to sit on it for 12 hours.
And that really IS all there is to say about Emerald….
Saturday 9th June
Off to town!
I used to consider myself a country person, and as I grew up in a rural village where you were unable to do much with hopping in the car, that was a fair statement. However, being a country person in England is quite different from being a country person here!
Aside from the obvious about flora and fauna, the sheer distance involved is something I knew about but didn’t really understand. After a day in “town”, I am truly exhausted. The almost two hour trek into the town of Clermont is a bumpy one to say the least. Most of the trip is a single lane dirt road that crosses creeks, rivers and numerous cattle grids. Some of the former are deep puddles, fjords or bridges and most cattle grids are raised due to heavy rains washing the surrounding road away. Then of course there are grooves and dips made my heavy cattle trucks and four-wheel drives. All this makes for a very tiring drive indeed.
The town itself is nothing to write home about, which makes my blog a little bit ironic. There is a smattering of shops with overpriced goods and so little people around, even on a Saturday; it felt like a ghost town.
My first stop was the pharmacy, figuring I would find most of toiletry needs there, but to my dismay they stock plenty of things that nobody wanted. They have a good collection of hair dye and toothpaste, but no face cream and about 2 deodorants to choose from.
After that: the Newsagent’s. This was the most well stocked newsagent I have been to since arriving in Australia. The vast number of magazines was astounding and I learnt that the people of Clermont REALLY like quilting. They have 17 different magazines, and on querying this later; I discovered they have a quilting club which is taken very seriously.
One of the two clothes shops shocked me. The ridiculous prices they were asking for their poor quality clothing was, well, shocking. I don’t know WHO buys these clothes as most of the “residents” of Clermont live a long way out of it, on cattle stations with nowhere to wear such “finery” or they are miners, who live here on short term posts whilst working in the mines.
The supermarket was the next stop. There are two of these, both IGA stores, which my Australian readers will note isn’t the cheapest supermarket in the world. They only have fresh deliveries, or even deliveries, twice a week which meant that the shelves were fairly barren. This was also thanks to the Queen’s Birthday on Monday being a holiday, so people IN HORROR of the supermarket being closed on Monday were shopping for an eternity.
I must remember to take some photos of the busy high street, bustling supermarket and bubbling energy that buzzes around the town of Clermont. I am of course being ironic, as those adjectives are not what I would use to describe Clermont. Not what I would use at all. And, funnily enough, I am told that Clermont is NOT a remote town. It is fairly well connected in comparison to other outback areas.