Home Schooling - Outback Style!
by Rosemary Copley the DLCI Membership Secretary
by Rosemary Copley the DLCI Membership Secretary
During the recent Covid-19 crisis, it’s been interesting for me to hear about children learning from home during the school closures. It brought back strong memories of my experience when, aged 20, I lived on an outback station and taught two children. Living so remotely was an experience like no other, and one that few Australians have had the chance to do.
Mileura Station is a vast outback sheep and cattle property of 640,000 acres in the mid-west of Western Australia, more than eight hours’ drive north east of Perth (see map). To give you an idea of the vastness, WA is more than ten times the size of the UK. Mileura was miles from anywhere and had virtually no contact with the outside world. I stayed with Mary and Matcham Walsh and their baby son, Richard. Matcham had inherited the station from his father and had met Mary on one of his rare visits to Perth. Mary’s parents were friends and neighbours of my parents, and being between jobs, I was offered the opportunity of living a completely different life. As well as Mary and Matcham, the other residents on the station were a young
female cook, June, from Perth and a couple of male jackaroos (trainee stockmen). An overseer and his wife lived in another house on the station with their children, Lisa and Malcolm, and it was these two whom I was employed to teach.
While working there for six months I taught by correspondence through the ‘School of the Air’. Based in Meekatharra (an Aboriginal word meaning very little water) the service covered many thousands of square miles. I received the correspondence lessons via post, and they were well laid out and easy to follow. It was quite a simple task as all I had to do was sit down with the children and work through the correspondence sheets. Then every day we would call in with the teacher on the two-way radio to check the children’s progress. Lisa (six) was inattentive as she just wanted to run around outside and I found it difficult to be a good, patient teacher to her! However, Malcolm (eight) was a model student and I heard afterwards that he excelled academically in the time I was with him. This was very satisfying! However I lost touch with them a long time ago.
There were several Aboriginal workers and their wives who lived and worked on Mileura as farmhands (see below for history). They lived in simple huts and cooked their meals on an open fire. I remember a favourite of the women was peeled tinned tomatoes, considered quite a luxury item. As a young child, I grew up on a sheep farm with 6,500 acres and living and working alongside the Aboriginal people was the norm. It seemed to me that the arrangement was one of mutual benefit and they were treated with great respect. As kids, one of our favourite activities was when Joe and Irene, two of the Indigenous workers, would hitch up the horse and cart and we’d go off together rabbit trapping or mushroom collecting. Their knowledge of outback skills was invaluable and taught us a lot about survival in a harsh environment.
The highlight of the week at Mileura came on Friday afternoons. We would see the red dust rising on the horizon signalling the distant approach of the mail truck. It was very exciting and all other activities would grind to a halt to greet the postman! He would deliver a whole week’s mail, newspapers and any special goods that may have been ordered by post – it was a rare contact with the outside world. All the food was bought in bulk and also came on the mail truck. Every station had a dirt airstrip of hard, red earth with a windsock. Excitement would build up when we heard the sound of a single-engine aircraft approaching in the distance – a plane meant someone may be coming to visit when normally you went months without seeing anyone. The only method of communication was a crackly two-way radio and even doctor’s consultations with the RFDS (Royal Flying Doctor Service, which is a vital lifeline for the outback) could be overheard by anyone else who happened to be connected at the time. So, everyone knew everyone else’s business with absolutely no privacy. Sometimes people tried to send ‘coded’ messages to disguise embarrassing ailments but this was pretty difficult to achieve successfully!
There were literally thousands and thousands of sheep on each station so mustering was done by helicopter. The land is very scrubby (see photo) and each sheep needs many acres to support its grazing. All we ate was two-tooth hogget (a sheep between one and two years old) because no other meat was available, although occasionally we ate kangaroo. Kangaroo tail soup was a real favourite – the tail was cooked on the bone and made a tasty broth. Once we made the day- long journey driving on dirt tracks overland to the Walsh’s other station on the coast at Peron Peninsula, near Monkey Mia. This bay is famous because dolphins swim in the shallows every day so it is very popular with tourists (see map).
At Mileura we were lucky enough to have the luxury of a structure in the garden called a ‘bough shed’ to help cope with the heat, which could reach well into the forties. It was a small-ish room constructed of hollow water pipes and had eucalyptus branches woven through them to make walls. Water would be piped to the top and then drip slowly through the fronds and people would sit inside for some respite. As the breeze blew, it was amazing how effective this was as an air conditioner!
I remember those days fondly, as an adventure into the wild interior of Australia, where we made do with our own company and were well used to the experience of self-isolation that our society has recently been through. (Indigenous History at Mileura: in the 1950s Matcham Walsh, with scientist
Stephen Davies, arranged radio carbon-dating of a hearth in a cave 18km south/west of the homestead. It placed occupation there as far back as 1100 AD. It seems likely that the cave, well positioned near a water hole and having a panoramic view over the surrounding plains was once an Aboriginal resting place, or perhaps a ceremonial site. Scratch markings on the ceiling of the cave could be construed as maps of the area. Source: Wikipedia)
Rosemary Copley July 2020
The Club Statutes
The DORDOGNE LADIES CLUB INTERNATIONAL
hereafter referred to as the DLCI
i) To promote international friendships through social gatherings, lectures, excursions, sponsoring and other promotions and all other lawful activities.
ii) To assist social organisations or charities, financially or otherwise.
Open to women of any nationality. They must possess enough fluency in the English language to enable them to participate in the Association’s meetings and activities.
A full copy of the Statutes is held by the Secretary.
Membership of the Dordogne Ladies Club International is open to ladies of any nationality who have sufficient knowledge of the English language. The cost of membership is 25 euros per year. An annual general meeting (AGM) is held each year in which key decisions are made and ratified by the members. All members are welcome to attend. Those who do so will have the opportunity to vote on key changes and oversee the actions which the committee have performed on their behalf.
Prior to the AGM members are invited to renew their membership of the club and to nominate and vote on the charities which the club will support with charitable donations.
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