Governess on a Sheep Station in the Outback - Episode 3
by Chris Chalmers
  Article # 492 Article Type: Literature

The school room was a separate room, at the end of the very long verandah. Yes, that verandah, where the after five happenings happened. The verandah was at least fifteen foot wide and completely enclosed by insect screening. At one end was the school room, and at the other end the boss’s office where he kept his own private stuff – the stuff the Manager didn’t deal with. He also kept his favourite 410 shotgun there for ease of access by everyone.

Outside the boss’s office was a huge grapevine covered Pergola, and at the time I arrived it was covered in fruit. Luscious bunches of black grapes – the favourite food of the Bower Bird. Bower Birds are beautiful, iridescently coloured and with some amazing habits, apart from loving the taste of grapes. They are attracted to anything shiny or blue, and the tales of sparkly jewellery and other small objects disappearing are legendary. The Bower Bird builds a bower of tall grass to woo his potential mate, and lines the floor of this with the pretty things it finds. When people come across the bower they are truly amazed at what is there, shining in the sunlight. Of course these birds are the pride and joy of the Australian people and are totally protected – except when they eat the boss’s grapes – and then out comes the 410, but before you can touch the gun, the two little house dogs, Fox Terriers who yap their heads off, have to be coaxed into the schoolroom and the door firmly shut – then go get the shotgun and then scare the birds. There is great jubilation if a bird is actually shot – and I must admit at the age of 17 I joined in. In fact I was rather glad the drought didn’t break whilst I was at Boatman, because I peppered the tin roof something awful one day, and it was sure to have leaked when the rains did come.

My little charge was in dire need of a teacher who would get her to actually knuckle down and do some work. Her record from the Correspondence School showed real promise, and very good marks, yet she didn’t even know her times tables. I soon learned that the previous governess, who had been the daughter of the cook, and one of the indigenous workers on the place, had been doing the school work for her, just so that she would not throw tantrums.

Now, I am the eldest of five, and the daughter of parents who brooked no argument about anything, who expected work to be done, and done properly – and I am now amazed at how my Iron Tendency showed even at that tender age!!!

We started at the beginning, we took no notice of tears, we wrote to the correspondence school superintendent, because every child is by law bound to attend school, wherever they live, and prove that they are doing so, and the basics were soon underway. Of course coping with her mother at the same time – the mother who was obviously guilty about her maternal skills, or lack of them – was a bigger problem than the child, but the boss could see what I was trying to do, and backed me all the way, and nobody argues with the boss……..

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