Tuesday 18th December 2018

Telling My Story. Chapter Seven. 2018.124.

Telling My Story. Chapter Seven. 2018.124.

Dear Readers,

This is the seventh instalment in Telling My Story. I hope that you are enjoying the blasts from my pasts. I am finding your comments very supportive. This chapter takes us through the beginning of  two years, namely, 1976-1977. You might consider what you were doing then or even if you were alive. I know! It IS over 4o years ago. Are you ready?

But first, let me remind you….I started telling this story almost 2 years ago. Then there was a slight long break while I dealt with the matter of oral cancer. By the few times I wrote though I was smile-added back again!

Photo (#1) For Telling My Story.

Photo (#2) post major cancer surgeries.

Photo #3 for Telling My Story. Post Upper Teeth Prosthesis.

A Teaching Career Means a Move or Three.

By the end of 1975, my clever husband had earned what was called “First List” in the then promotion systems of N.S.W. Department of Education and along with starting a part-time degree, HE was on his way, up the career ladder and I was more than happy to support him as I needed to. This meant the following….

He was offered an Acting Principal’s position in one of the most remote schools in New South Wales. By remote, I mean very and would still be regard that way. Here’s where it gets interesting and would not be part of a job-ad these days. He found out about the vacancy in this school via the travelling N.S.W. Teachers’ Federation Organiser who said “why don’t you take up the offer to go and see it?”. We thought, ‘why not?’. I was happy(ish) teaching, our daughter was now 4 and we could make a change BUT I was still longing for a second child. More about that later.

He Went, He Saw, He Said “We will take it”.

We were ambitious but also professionally-centred and once my husband had driven the many miles to this school, stayed with the then-teaching team, and driven home again to our little one teacher-school and home, he said “let’s do it”. By WE I should add, the pre-requisite that there be a married couple take the two jobs on offer. Teaching Principal and Classroom Teacher. That was because of the extreme isolation and only one place to comfortably live. I saw photos of the place and loved the idea of the new challenge. Our daughter, though under school starting age, would be able to come to school as there was a pre-school year attached to the school which was part of the Principal’s responsibilty.

Special School Indeed.

This school, a two-storey building, had a library underneath and shelter for play, a toilet and shower block and a flat in the school grounds for visitor accommodation. Across the sandy playground was the School Residence, up on stilts too with a garage and laundry underneath. The previous husband and wife teaching team had added in the window air conditioners to the school and to the residence. It was needed. Back of Bourke this is!

The student population, aged from 4 years to around 12 years was, in the majority, from the Aboriginal community which was located on the banks of the Culgoa River, some walking distance from the school. There were ‘white kids too’ including our daughter, the children of the local land lessee and the son of the shopkeeper (one shop which stocked limited supplies but was also the telephone exchange).

Adventures BEFORE Starting School.

By adventures, I really mean ADVENTURES. So, between us, we had organised the movement of our furniture to the new school and house – some 6-8 hours drive from where we had lived. We went back from Mum and Dad’s in Sydney to oversee the packing up and then we followed them in late January 1976 for our belongings would arrive, and we unpacked in the HEAT and went back to Sydney…only a 12 hour drive…which we did in one stint this time. A small respire time in Sydney, then with a very packed station wagon – 4WD were only farm-type jeeps then and we got a new Ford Wagon because we were going to a remote place and needed to have one of the more commonly known vehicles “just in case” (and there was one of those!).

With our daughter safely sat between us with a proper seatbelt harness, and a very, very full wagon, we took off for Dubbo. First stop and where we were most welcomed by the District Inspector (who would be a visitor from time to time) and his family to have a meal and stayed in a motel. All good! Not really. You see, we are talking many decades ago, no mobile phones and so communication was by radio announcements and talking to locals about road conditions. We were due to go to the school via a series of dirt roads after coming off the main road to Bourke…until we knew there had been heavy rains and flooding was expected. My husband got the news to “take the detour via Warren and you should get in to your place”. OK…I admit I had no idea it was a wee bit troubling that this was necessary. Packed (even more!) with some fresh food and more groceries…we got to the school and residence…after a MUCH longer drive and pretty wet conditions.

But WAIT…there is MORE.

So this school of ours was located away from the Culgoa River on a flat tract of land..in fact is all flat. The house and school were on a dirt road (heck everything was dirt) and the Aboriginal camp was next to the river. Just up the road from us was the store and over the road was a tennis court, an airstrip and further over, by the river, on the other side of the bridge over the Culgoa, was the land leased by the family who would give us both support and grief!

The rains came…and came and never left. The River was already flooding from the rains in nearby Queensland (only 14 miles away) and we were in for a LONG stay. School starting day came and two students turned up. Our daughter and the boy whose parents ran the shop. We began the day at school but due to the conditions came back to our place, and the mum of the boy said “if anyone calls from the Dept I will put them through to your place.” The system was helpful as it was a party line but certainly there was no privacy AND the phones only operated 9.00 am – 9.00 pm.

STUCK in the MUD.

Isolation is a new environment but with lots of advice and help from the locals was made better. In fact, we got school started once the pouring rain stopped and the lessee of the property collected the kids from the camp to bring them to school. His own kids and wife had left when they knew the floods would be arriving and went down south. We did not have them come to our school until Term 2. In the end, we got to know the support services very well. The Doctor in the nearest town who had never met us, could consult on the phone when we had a couple of health issues, the Chemist in the town would fill the scripts AND I could also ring the small town grocery store to order food and all of what we could get would be flown to us via the RAAF helicopter or a RAAF carrier plane. Other times, the supplies might land via a large drop off by the helicopter. The store got its supplies which helped us and the Aboriginal community. Sometimes too, someone may be taken to hospital that way.

In the initial days of the flood, we had no power for a few days BUT fortunately keeping the freezer closed and packed meant no food spoilage. We had a portable gas stove for a meal or two. And, the man who had the tractor had us to his house once a week for a cooked meal. He had more options on his property. He would come and get us in the tractor (see my husband in the second shot, with the friendly farmer, walking ahead to check levels and ditches and then on this occasion it was for us to see what things looked like along the way.

In the first photo this is the road to the school and our house is obscured by the school is in the distance. To the left of the photo, out of sight, is the airstrip and tennis courts.

THIS LASTED FOR TEN WEEKS.

In some ways it was one heck of a learning journey and in others it was very very tiresome. It was the very poor condition of the dirt roads because tractors and 4WD had left tracks and bad scarring on the road so no regular vehicle like ours could go anywhere. Somewhere in this time, my parents who had been very concerned about the situation drove up to Moree and chartered a small plane to come and visit us. The air strip had dried out. It was the roads that were impassable. Armed with all the makings of a fresh baked dinner and more my brave Mum and Dad hopped in the little Cessna and came for the weekend. They flew back the same way but with lots of love and hugs from their much-adored granddaughter. 

GETTING OUT.

I admit I became very stir-crazy and whilst it has been a term and a half of learning much about a new community I was determined, somehow to get to town for wait for it…Easter Eggs! How could our daughter miss the Easter Bunny? So one Saturday, our friend with his tractor, went before us, and gave us newbies to this situation, guidance on where to go to avoid being stuck and eventually we were on a better dirt road to town. We got back OK too.

HIGHLIGHTS and LOWLIGHTS and NO LIGHTS!

Just writing about the transition to the place, then what we went through personally and professionally means I am going to write more about the stay (and it WAS only for two years!) in point form:

  • The second term meant a more settled life. Well, in terms of the weather it was. My husband, who was both teaching principal and my supervisor meant “we” had some interesting and challenging conversation about teaching. You see he had not ever taught with another staff member, I had, and my temperament is totally opposite to his. We sorted this with roles and responsibilities (as every school should!) and subject area responsibilities and his work toward his next promotion, called List Two, was what he needed to achieve within his  stay at the school.

 

  • This was achieved by him and his classroom and school management was policy-central and all very much in keeping with educational standards then, and with the District Inspector (friendly man from Dubbo) staying with us too, it was good to know he had succeeded.

 

  • The unfortunate side of such isolation related to both social matters and health matters. My husband became ill for a number of reasons and was even hospitalised for some time and in the meanwhile I was relieving as Principal (and a worried wife!) and the N.S.W. Department of Education sent a replacement teacher from Bourke (almost 2 hours away) to stay and help out.

 

  • We also did our best to mix with the local and wider community, playing social tennis (the afternoon teas were amazing!) and getting together for meals. However, we would always be, as in many country settings “blow ins”.

 

  • Our daughter was socially isolated but as an only child she was quite content with play and reading at home by herself. We did have one young student board with us for a while to be company and to help our daughter too. That same family had our daughter stay when we went to Dubbo for a weekend.

 

  • Getting OUT was important. School terms were up to 3 x 13 or even some 14/15 week terms. We needed the break and so on the last Friday of term, our car would be packed and ready. I must add, that IF any rain fell, we would be delayed. Because of the road conditions.

 

  • The District Inspector allowed us an early Friday finish mid-term so we could drive to Dubbo (6 hours away) and shop and have respite for the weekend.

 

  • On one of those occasions, in Winter, it was meant to be that  we chose a Ford in the year we left Sydney. As we drove along stone filled road, we would get chips on the windscreen but even worse, as we found one almost dark afternoon getting back onto the BITUMEN at Coolabah, our lights were shot. The garage was still open. Yay. He had replacement bulbs. Yay. MY husband installed them. Yay. BUT, our daughter aged 5 was growing worse from a virus and her temperature was high. NO!

 

  • The next town east was Nyngan and we called into the hospital. She was given something to help and we drove through the Dubbo with great relief. Next day, with her health on our minds, we had a doctor call and she got meds. I also “needed” to go shopping and she had a particular wish to have some new sneakers. I got them. What a weekend. Grocery shopping was done too but I chose parcel pick up. THEN at 11.50 a.m. I remembered shops closed on Saturdays and not open till Monday. One ‘fast’ drive to Coles and I loaded them up.
  • The school was a hub for health professionals from Sydney and other places with specialist teams and most would arrive by air. Some came in 4 WD convoys. The professionals would examine anyone including us and in that time we had the late Dr Fred Hollows arrive with his then girlfriend, Gaby, in the team to check everyone’s eyes. We needed to have food at the ready and I often entertained thanks to cooking multiple dishes and freezing them along with my now-regular little cakes.

 

  • I also travelled to Brewarrina to see an Obstetrician who, upon hearing my story of tests done previously declared I would never have another child. See more about that here. It was such a definite and firm view, I mourned what was not going to happen and gave away all of my baby things to the Aboriginal community.

 

  • ABC TV did a story about folks living where we did and we, along with the children in the school were part of that program as were the locals from far and wide.

 

  • We had a grant from Disadvantaged Schools Program which funded the students from the school aged 7 and over, along with family carers and us to fly to Sydney, stay in lodgings in Kings Cross and experience places like Manly beach and the Zoo. Our daughter came with us but stayed with my parents and met up with us back in Manly.

 

  • But….this place got to us in some ways,  particularly access to health services for us both. We announced that at the end of the two years minimum we would be transferring back to Sydney as we hoped to find our first house and have our daughter attend school with more kids than 25.

This news was not taken well by SOME of the community but many also understood our motives. We left the school, and the area on the last Friday of term and with relief, when we got to the bitumen, this (then) 28 year old wife, mother and teacher sighed with relief.

What next?

Stay tuned: Chapter Eight soon.

Denyse.

Joining Kylie for I Blog On Tuesdays here and Sue & Leanne here for Midlife Share The Love linky on Wednesdays.

 

 

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