After missing out, due to border closures, in 2020 we were keen to get away this year. We had responded to a request from Caerphilly Station, 130km south of Charters Towers, in North Queensland for the first half of term 3. Most BushED placements are for 6 weeks. We left our home in country Victoria with 2 weeks to travel to the property armed with all the necessary border permits. We have a small off-road caravan that we tow with a 4WD vehicle. While most properties are accessible to conventional vehicles, some properties are a bit challenging to get to and we recommend checking with the family before heading off the bitumen and into the property. BushED assists with some travel costs if a claim is made.
At Caerphilly the Mum had been assisting to teach distance education to her kids for 10 years. Two of the children now attend boarding school with the remaining 9-year-old boy needing lots of encouragement and help to cope with the curriculum. For example, he had to compose a song about something he loved to a tune chosen by his teacher. This involved responding, in writing, to various different pieces of music (Beethoven to Queen), writing the song, rehearsing, making and sending a video of him singing the song to his teacher. The Caerphilly Mum was teaching, running the home and the business side of the property, helping Dad with farming tasks and dealing with many things like scientific research and a number of projects involving women in remote locations. Any wonder she needed a break! All students have sessions, via computer, with their teacher and classmates. At higher grade levels students spend more time with their teacher and class. The remainder of the curriculum is set out, in print form, for the home tutor and send-in tasks are identified. A level of computer skills is useful to tutors but the Mums will always help out.
Barry was a school principal and I a social welfare worker before we retired. We have been volunteering as tutors for 12 years now. During those years we have been to properties in many areas and experienced life there. While we’re on our placement we keep in mind that we’re only there for 6 weeks so it’s about fitting in, not changing the world. We enjoy seeing how life is lived on different properties and feel good about helping out. There are properties out there that are as beautiful as national parks and we’re often shown lovely gorges and have seen rock wallabies, jabirus and many other amazing sights during our stay. We also learn things like how difficult it is to not have rubbish collection or recycling and how things like these are dealt with. The families’ acceptance of travelling long distances never fails to amaze us. They will travel 100kms or more each way every week for a child to go to footy training or ballet classes.
At Caerphilly Barry did most of teaching while I listened to reading, engaged in a writing challenge, to encourage the student to aim for better writing, did some craft activities after school and we all went for walks. This time we only had one student but sometimes there are 2 or 3. Barry works with the older grade students and I really enjoy teaching prep or grade 1 under his supervision. We include craft and fun activities, as well as games and sports, if the students want us to, as these are areas of interest to us. All volunteers bring different experiences and skills which enrich the Distance Education curriculum that families work through.
Before going to a property, we talk with the Mum about accommodation and meals. This time we had breakfast and lunch in the quarters and ate our evening meal with the family during the week. We catered for ourselves over the weekends. This was our choice and we could have been fully catered for if needed. Accommodation varies; we have lived in our caravan (with access to a toilet and shower), shearing quarters, cottages and really nice quarters like at Caerphilly – we felt a bit spoilt there. Some Mums aren’t confident about cooking for others. We’re always happy to cater for ourselves and are usually given access to meat from the freezer and anything else we need or the family has to offer.
Because of COVID we left Caerphilly armed with permits to travel, via the Innamincka Track, through South Australia back into Victoria at Pinnaroo. We also had a permit for the Northern Territory in case we needed it. As it turned out, we had no trouble crossing the borders and were never challenged. As always, the Innamincka Track was fascinating. Leaving Caerphilly was bitter sweet. We were ready to come home but knew we would miss the 9-year-old especially and all the family. We were invited to stay until Christmas but a grandchild, expected in September, meant we had to go. We love being volunteers and gain, we think, much more than we give.
We send our very best wishes to you if you decide to give it a go. Get on the BushED website at www.bushed.org.au to find out all about it, or contact their friendly help line on 1800287433. Covid willing we hope to be out there again next year.
Meryl and Barry Heywood