When Brunch Becomes Lunch
It’s 7am and we’re already on the road, headed towards Dalby. Today, Head of Boarding, Ms Margie Dunne and Principal, Dr Linda Evans are making another visit to a group of Boarder families.
It’s the fifth time this term staff have travelled to towns outside the Toowoomba district, and it’s unlikely to be the last. So far in 2017, there’ve already been visits to Tenterfield, Warialda, Moree, Goondiwindi, Gayndah, Durong and Nanango.
Today it’s Meandarra. A small town in the Western Downs region, with a population of around 340. Producers in the area are known for their prime production of grain, cattle and sheep. It’s surrounded by similar towns including Moonie, Condamine, Westmar and Surat. To reach Meandarra they travel past The Gums State School, a beautiful country school where former Fairholme students have attended.
Driving into Meandarra, Linda and Margie both comment on how green the area is.
“I’ve never seen it this green before. They’ve obviously had some decent rain,” says Margie.
Pulling up at the tidy local State School, a mother walks up to greet us. Wendy Bennett has three daughters at Fairholme College, her eldest in Year 12, and has offered to be our tour guide for the day. The usual weather conversation starts up.
“Yep it looks good doesn’t it?”, agrees Wendy. “We had about 50ml last weekend.” She’s quick to add the rain has been patchy and not everyone in the district has had good falls. But it hasn’t stopped a great line up at the Meandarra State School sports field, with seven schools turning up for a Sports Trial day.
Other parents come over to greet the Fairholme staff, like old friends stopping by.
“I’ll see you at Fiona’s soon,” they all say as the conversations wind up.
But before Linda and Margie head to the home of Fairholme Mum, Fiona Hill, they stop in on one of the busy little classrooms. There’s a warm exchange and lots of catching up with Paige Devenish, a teacher at Meandarra State School, and former Fairholme parent.
Paige casually says, “You should call over to the Tyre shop. Leigh’s over there – she’d love to see you! Wendy’ll take you there.” Leigh is Paige’s daughter and a Fairholme Old Girl.
So back in the 4WD, we follow Wendy over to the Tyre shop and end up taking Leigh with us to Fiona’s house for a morning tea that’s become brunch, that’s about to be lunch.
As we follow the dusty track of Wendy’s landcuiser to Fiona’s house, 20 kilometres out of Meandarra, again you’re reminded of the many kilometres Boarder parents put in to be at school events, to pick up a sick child, to drive in and out for school holidays.
There’s something about the country hospitality that allows you to feel instantly at home when you walk into the Hill Family home. Linda and Margie don’t seem surprised to find a long table full of women waiting to have a cuppa with us.
Everyone is talking and laughing – it dies down as we walk in – everyone smiles (presumably in relief that we’ve turned up, given some ladies have driven an hour and a half to be here too), and then they all keep on chatting. There’s cake, biscuits, sandwiches, quiches, brownies – enough to take back to the entire Boarding House. Yet when I asked Fiona what we could bring her reply was, “Don’t be silly – we don’t need much. Ladies never eat much.”
The chatter continues, catching up with old families, hearing the stories of daughters who’ve left Fairholme, graduated from University, married and had babies. There’s more serious conversations with current families, about how their daughter has settled in this year, how she’ll handle the pressure of senior year, and how she went in the swimming carnival.
Then there’s conversations with Mums who’ve come because they have daughters in Year 3 or 4, and they know a decision on her future education is looming. They sit amongst the staff and the parents who’ve been there before: staff who understand the enormous decision – both emotionally and financially – in sending a child away to Boarding school.
Brunch which turned into lunch, almost becomes afternoon tea when we finally pack up and farewell the Mums.
“Thanks so much for coming all the way out,” says one.
“We should do this again soon,” says another.
And, “I’ll see you at Be a Fairholme Girl for a Day then,” says the Mum we’ve only just met. And you know there’s a sense of relief, knowing that she’ll know a face, and the Principal will remember her, when they first walk into Fairholme.
We all drive in silence, most probably thinking about all the new information learned about the Old Girls who’ve grown up and had families; the current parents who have left staff with more to consider for their daughter; and the possible new families who asked questions and still have many more.
An hour and a half later we drive down a soggy dirt road to the Burt family home. Their daughters are Fairholme Old Girls, and they too, have had some rain. Graham is out inspecting the crops, and points to where we should park.
“You’ve had a big day hey?” he says as sticks his head in our car window. “Come in and I’ll make you a coffee.”
Who knew Graham would keep us buzzing for the rest of the evening, making a barista style flat white in his country kitchen. But his eyes keep drifting out to the property. He’s got Mung Beans to harvest, and can’t sit and chat. He leaves us in the capable hands of his wife, Sarah, who happens to make the best melting moments to go with Graham’s flat white.
Sarah has a family calling in who are anxious about sending their daughter to Boarding School, and they arrive just as Graham is leaving. We all sit around the Burt family table, and discuss, with some anxiety, the options this family is considering for their daughter. Linda talks to the young girl about school.
“I’m leader this year,” she beams, “and I’m also a very talented singer.”
Afternoon tea nearly turns into dinner, and the sun has well and truly set by the time we roll back in the driveway in Wirra Wirra Street.
It’s been a long day.
Perhaps not long at all though, when you consider the families about to do the rounds for Regional Swimming competitions. Maybe not so long when you consider the days spent waiting to bring the kids home for holidays.
Perhaps not long enough when brunch so easily becomes lunch and almost afternoon tea…