Extreme Childhood . . .?

Host: Liveringa Station
Written by Karen O’Brien – Manager, Liveringa Station.

6.1The family.

Visitors often come during the dry and stay for a few days/weeks and tell us how lucky we are to be living this life. But I often think that they fail to remember that they are on holidays . . . and that for many months of the year I can’t even get my kids to leave the house because it’s just too hot outside . . . which pretty much restricts me to these four walls too!

For most of the mustering season I feel like a single mother . . . and in my rather less than positive moments, I sometimes feel that if I was going to be a single mother, I would at least elect to live near friends, family, or at the very least a town! I realise that many husbands don’t get home ‘till dark each day – this is not exclusive to the Kimberley station life. However, I don’t know anyone else (in my old life that is) whose husband also works every weekend with perhaps half a day off on a Sunday – during which time he still needs to go and feed out cattle! By the end of each ‘season’ I am generally looking very forward to the annual trek ‘down south’ once again.

Yesterday I talked a bit about nature’s extremes and challenges which segues nicely into what I see as my personal challenges . . . yes, here we go again . . . another whinge session! Apart from the obvious challenges (nowhere to just pop for a coffee; nowhere to wear, let alone buy, current fashion; no opportunity to wear a cupboard full of great knee high boots; old friends live in another time zone; new friends live more than two hours away . . . I’m finding it increasingly difficult to stop this list . . .) I consider raising kids out here as the biggest.

We have four children aged two, four, seven, and eight years – three boys and a girl. This year the boys all do School of the Air through Kimberley School of the Air (KSOTA), based in Derby. We are lucky enough to have Catherine, a trained teacher from the UK, acting as Home Tutor. She does a great job with the kids, and I’m sure that they’ve really benefited by having this “one on three” time in the school room every day. However, I worry about the things they are missing out on by not being able to attend a ‘mainstream’ school. Whilst I feel happy that we can protect their innocence and play a greater role in nurturing in them the values we deem important out here, there are valuable social and resilience skills I fear they will not learn through not being part of that ‘school yard culture’.

6.2Bill and Patrick doing ‘air lessons’.

Occasionally, because we live ‘in the bush’, I actually forget that the kids don’t always know how to behave ‘in town’ . . . what is acceptable and totally normal out here is not always OK in amongst the general populace! About three years ago, I confused my three boys enormously when I was clearly mortified one day at Woolies when I turned around to see two of them relieving themselves from the top of the ramp outside the front doors . . . “but Mum, you said it was OK to wee on dirt!” Well, I guess it was a patch of brown earth they were aiming at . . . obviously bush rules don’t apply in all situations and one must endeavour to be clear about this!

Apart from the obvious concerns regarding potential social ineptness(!) I worry about all sorts of things in relation to them living this life . . . is the schooling system through “the air” good enough? How do they compare to kids in the rest of Australia? Will they ever get to enjoy team sports or learn valuable musical skills? Where will they go for Secondary Education? Will we have to send them to Boarding School? Can we possibly afford to? Will they have the necessary skills to make friends in a mainstream school?

BUT, in reality my concerns aren’t dissimilar to those of parents everywhere. Same worries; just in a slightly different context . . . and let’s face it, I am in the privileged position of being able to be essentially a ‘stay at home mum’ because my work here can be done from home or often within school hours/Vivienne’s sleep times.

Really, life for the kids here is pretty awesome – they are all learning to ride motorbikes and horses. They get to swim most days in the station pool. They have limited access to the abundance of technology that drives so many other parents crazy. They get to compete in the rodeo gymkhanas and have learnt to cope with long car trips without the need for technology. They have mastered patience while I spend over an hour and a half shopping for groceries. They don’t experience peer pressure and remain gorgeously innocent . . . and through this lifestyle they have formed an incredible closeness as siblings.

6.3At the station pool.

6.4Patrick on his motorbike.

6.5Vivienne on ‘Sampson’.

6.6Weekend work with Dad.

So, you know what? Maybe those visitors are right. Apart from the fact that we still have to deal with snakes, perhaps life up here isn’t so bad at all. Once again (it happens annually) I have talked myself into the realisation that life out here on a Kimberley cattle station really isn’t that bad at all . . . and Jed will be super impressed that he didn’t even have to be part of this conversation!

6.7Our back yard . . .