Dust, flies, and a pre-schooler!

Host: Isolated Children’s Parent’s Association
Written by Kirsty Williams – Mount Sarah Station, via Oodnadatta SA.

Kirsty lives with her husband Cameron and three children Lucy (4), George (2), and Jack (5 months) on Mount Sarah Station located about 80km north of Oodnadatta in South Australia’s far-north. Kirsty was a primary school teacher before moving to Mount Sarah where she now works on the station whilst attempting to complete a Psychology degree when there’s time!

It only felt like yesterday that my husband and I were waiting with eagerness for the arrival of our first child and quick as a flash, there I am filling out enrolment forms! My biggest dilemma was, “Where am I going to find another 15 hours every week to do preschool?”

1-1-copyLucy (4), Jack (5 months), and George (2).

We do preschool through the Remote and Isolated Children’s Exercise (RICE) based in Port Augusta. There are three lessons each week over the internet, and the rest of the time it’s your own take on things with guidance from RICE. During the first eight months, our internet was that slow that I would begin logging on 30 minutes before the lessons and more often than not the little blue circle would still be going around and around ‘thinking’ come lesson time, by which point my computer had been given a new name and I had well and truly lost Lucy outside yet again. Thank goodness for the new NBN Sky Muster roll out.

1-2-copyLucy and George Painting.

Lucy starting preschool was a good learning curve for me – it made me sit down one on one with her, as silly as it sounds it was not something I was good at, as it is so easy to become consumed in station life and all the jobs that go with it. You would think the penny would have dropped when one of Lucy’s first sayings was “In a minute!” I wonder where she had heard that . . .

1-3-copyHow lucky are we!

Lucy’s preschool is far from sitting in a classroom the entire time. There are similarities to that of a town preschool but then the differences are significant. It’s a full family affair as there’s no child care down the road for younger siblings, it’s “one in, all in”, sometimes the dog included! A lot of what we on the station each day is what kids do at a town kindy. We count – cows, we cook – a lot, when gardening we find snakes – not worms, and our measure of distance is a bit skewed, down the road could be anything up to 500km.

1-4-copyGeorge gets a check-up.

I have the occasional moment where I feel a pang of guilt that the kids are missing out, mainly on a social level as you don’t know how they are faring in comparison to others the same age but . . . it doesn’t last long. Our day to day lives are full of social interactions out here, they’re just not with kids but I can assure you, they’re definitely from all walks of life. As I listen to the giggles from Lucy out on the lawn playing ‘What’s the time Mr Wolf’ with George, her two year old brother, three dogs, and a poddy calf, you can’t help but smile with the realisation that the kids have endless opportunities and experiences in their own big playground.

1-5-copyNever too young to start – The Annual Oodnadatta Town v. Station 20/20 Cricket Match.

I have had moments where I’ve cringed at some of the things Lucy has shared with her preschool class. Early in the year she was asked “what have you been up to?” and she responded with, “Beef (the family dog) has gone to the doctor to get his balls cut out . . .”. On the third time Lucy was asked to repeat herself as the poor teacher was stumped, Lucy raised her voice, sighed and said, “I said, Beef has gone to Oodnadatta to the doctor to get his BAAALLLS cut out . . . because he barks too much!!” You’ve got to love the innocence of a four year old passing on what she heard at smoko!

1-6-copyLucy practising her medical skills on the dog, Beef.

Lucy might not be able to tell you what happened to the gingerbread man, but she can tell you exactly what happens to the cattle that go South on the truck. She might not know many nursery rhymes (I’m not a good singer . . . ) but she can tell you all about sunrises and sunsets and even why reflector posts have shiny bits on them in the dark. 1100km car trips have a lot to be thanked for as there’s a lot of talking that can be done in this time with a chance for a hell of a lot of ‘Why’s’ to be asked!

1-7-copyLucy assures us she wants to be a doctor when she’s older – it’s looking promising!

Since having our third child in June I have had a girl help with preschool. Yes, this has been nice to free me up to do what you do with a newborn whilst carrying on cooking and having a two year old running around  but this has been a challenge in itself. Letting go of the reins a bit is easier said than done. It comes back to the constant juggle that is station life, if only you could be in three places at once.

1-8-copyLucy and Max.

But at the end of the day, living out here is what you make of it. You can hide away and not get involved, but who does that benefit? My husband and I try to get to as many local events as possible so the kids get as much interaction with other kids as we can give them living out here . . . okay, and also for us. Driving a 600km round trip to attend a kid’s play day, or 200km down the road to go to a barbeque, yes it’s exhausting but it is so important. For me, becoming involved in the community has been invaluable.

1-9-copyUp at the dump – their imagination runs wild!

When we first arrived at Mt Sarah I was asked to join both the RICE Management Committee and the local Isolated Children and Parent’s Association (ICPA) branch and my first thought was, “I’m not old enough for that!” But I did and haven’t looked back. I have met so great many people, including lots of young one, and have learnt so much. It has also been the best way to find out about the ins and outs of distance schooling, especially from those that have already been there and done that.

1-10-copyIt’s a good life.

Living remotely on a cattle station with a four year old, a two year old and a five month old is chaos – exhausting and sometimes relentless but it’s an incredibly fulfilling life. It’s a fantastic lifestyle and often as I sit and watch the kids playing with not a care in the world, I do kick myself as to how lucky I am to live and work in such an amazing part of the world and have my kids around 24/7.

ICPA (Aust) is a voluntary, non-profit, apolitical parent body, dedicated to ensuring all rural and remote students have equity of access to a continuing and appropriate education. We welcome membership and all interested persons are invited to join the Association.  To join click this link. You can also follow us on Facebook and Twitter.