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.
Life in the bush – 3 weeks in…
I have been here for almost three weeks, and already it feels like an eternity. Not in a bad way, it’s just that despite some fairly surprising elements to life here in the bush, it was relatively easy to slot in.
I now know to flush to loo before I use it, as the frogs tend to tuck themselves under the rim of the toilet, and slip out when it’s flushed. That saves me fishing them out when I’ve done what I needed to do…
I also now shake my hand towel before drying my hands or face after a lizard dropped out of its folds onto the floor the other day.
My washing machine seems to need to be asked to work about 4 times before it reluctantly shunts into gear and has a go at washing my clothes. It does a fairly good job and I have got over the fact that my clothes can never be worn more than once without washing because a dog has jumped up to say hello, I’ve done the burning or gone for a muddy walk. The burning is done everyday. All food scraps go to the chooks (who since I arrived have doubled their daily egg contribution to 10 and upwards every day!) and everything other than glass and metal is burnt. This bothered me at first, but then I wondered who was going to travel out here to collect rubbish or recycling.
My afternoon walks don’t seem to be accompanied by my two legged bushes anymore, but a group of my four-legged friends instead. The Chocolate Labradors are not working dogs, so always around the in the afternoon, and the pregnant Collie is on maternity leave from mustering duties (more about her later) so they have accompanied my on my afternoon stroll and we’ve become a good team. Maggie, Missy, Milo and Kelly came along with me once they smelled the sandwich in my bag.
Kelly, the pregnant Collie was due to be shot last week for being a lazy dog. Did you gasp? Yes, me too. But farm life is ruthless and animals cost money, so if they’re not pulling their weight, or perhaps in her case, pulling too much, they are done away with. We looked at her and M said “Oh, look at Kelly, that’s a puppy tummy! I’ll tell D not to shoot her.” I hadn’t realised she was due for extermination and helped plead her case. She seems to have taken a shine to me, and likewise I have to her. She visits me at least once a day for cuddles, maybe she notes my own motherhood desires…
My regular meetings with ‘roos are always fun. The other day on a solo walk I met a kangaroo and instead of bouncing away from me he bounced closer. We sat and looked at each other for what seemed like ages. He bounced to the left and right a few times, but didn’t seem scared. We just relaxed in each other’s presence. I kicked myself for not taking my camera but enjoyed taking a good look at this absolutely marvellous creature that I’d waited 7 months to meet and now see daily.
Bush life is not bad. Not bad at all. If fresh air, wildlife and isolation are what you want or need, I can’t think of a better place to be right now.