From the School of the Air to vast outback stations, small rural schools to remote Indigenous communities around Australia — all across this wide brown land, governesses and teachers drop in, Mary Poppins-like, to take over homestead schoolrooms and the responsibility of educating children.
The governesses are often young women from urban backgrounds, and they become part of the family they work for as well as the local community, and share the trials and tribulations of station life. They fall in and out of love, learn to ride horses and motorbikes, explore spectacular parts of Australia, help with station work, cook and eat with the family, attend rodeos, campdrafts, country races, and the local shows, and other bush events.
There are medical emergencies, seasonal floods, bushfire and drought that all affect station life and the school routine. And then there are the unwelcome visitors to liven things up – snakes, bats, mosquitoes, centipedes, flies, feral pigs, red back spiders and the massive insect explosions following rain.
There is always something happening and you can never be sure what the day will bring. Living and working in isolated areas can mean battling poor access to technology, teaching children who speak English as a second language and learning how to engage and motivate children who might be the only student in the classroom. Days can swing from triumphant, hilarious and joyful, to downright difficult – but it’s clear from the tales in this collection, the rewards of teaching outback far outweigh the disadvantages — there is nothing like a bush education.
About the author
Paula Heelan is a freelance photojournalist based on her family cattle station in central Queensland. She is a prolific writer with articles published in RM Williams Outback, Tracks, MindFood, Great Australians, Australian Country Style, inflight magazines, rural industry publications as well as syndicated in regional and metropolitan newspapers.