A Classroom Built in a Home
Kylie Wallis and Leigh Pickstone have never experienced the outback like they did last week. After travelling to St George and then to Cunnamulla visiting students who will attend Fairholme next year, they hit an old beaten track to a property called Wancobra, near Bourke.
It’s rough, rugged country, with no phone service and hundreds of kilometres of red dirt roads. After some rainfall in the past month, the pair found themselves bogged on the road into Wancobra.
“We looked at how bogged that front wheel was and made the decision to get out and start walking. As it turned out we only walked about 3kms before Mr McGrath came looking for us,” laughed Kylie Wallis.
Dale McGrath and his wife Sandy run a sheep farm. At the moment they have around 2000 but, like most Queensland farms, it hasn’t been a good season.
“They’re so optimistic. Dale said to us ‘Well Kylie it can’t stay like this forever – we’ll have to get some good rain soon.’ They just never give up.”
Then when the rains do come, and the river rises, they have to use kayaks to get around.
Dale and Sandy’s daughter, Katie has only ever attended school classes in her own home, via School of the Air. Next year she’ll leave the comfort of home to Board at Fairholme College.
The Year 6 student showed the Fairholme staff around her classroom and how she learns via the computer, through School of the Air.
“The technology was great, but the discipline and organisation of that family is amazing. To continue education via a link for five or six years is astounding. Mrs McGrath spends most of her days teaching her daughter – I mean she has been her teacher. They’ve got a school room. They treat it like a school.”
Fairholme's visit will mean Katie will recognise at least two people in the sea of faces at Fairholme next year.
“It will be a huge change for her next year. Imagine being in that quiet home with Mum, and coming to a classroom – not to mention the Boarding House.”
“We certainly have a better understanding of how big this change will be for her. She wants so much to be involved in team sports, because she’s never had a chance.”
But it also gave the staff a chance to connect with Katie’s parents, who remain in an isolated area while their daughter is away.
“When these kids come away – the parents lose a worker. The children help with all the duties. But they also lose another person to talk to. It can be tough, particularly when families are struggling through drought periods. The children are acutely aware of what it costs to send them away to Boarding School too.”
Kylie and Leigh spent the night at Wancobra, and their visit was met with an appreciation that made the long journey and the bogged 4WD all worth it.
“We started making these visits so that staff could understand what it’s like for these kids. You know most of them would have never even handed an assignment. In Katie’s instance – she’s never even stepped into a classroom before. The least we can do is let them know their daughter will be looked after and cared for by people who have an understanding of where she’s come from.”
Fairholme is on the road again at the end of this month, heading to Rockhampton, Emerald and Springsure.