Gap year govie

Host: Isolated Children’s Parents’ Association
Written by Mikayla Schwarz, Governess – Gum Creek Station, South Australia.

If people asked me a few years ago in high school what I planned to do in the future, I would have never considered a gap year – let alone being in the outback. My name is Mikayla and I come from a small, seventh-generation cattle farm in Lobethal, South Australia. Late last year, after finishing my first year of university I had this crazy idea of having a break from my studies and becoming a governess.

Just to make things clear, a governess is not a nanny (or set in some old-time Victorian era household. A governess, or ‘govie’ as it is mostly called, has the primary role of educating children of families that live in remote areas. I was lucky enough to score a job at Gum Creek Station in the northern Flinders Ranges, which geographically is a dream for a Natural Science university student like myself. Nevertheless, after having spent the last two months in the coldest time of the year in Germany, moving straight to the station in the hot dust bowl month of March earlier this year within a week of being back in Australia was definitely ashock to the system! I heard of this job through word-of-mouth and also through my auntie who herself was a governess many years ago on Wirrealpa Station nearby.

My job as a governess has been a real eye-opener in terms of how all these kids in remote South Australia learn via School of the Air. Their “real” teachers are based in Port Augusta and interact through a program similar to Skype called Webex. A typical day in the classroom for me starts at around 8:30am and ends at 3:30pm. My daily to-do list consists of printing off worksheets, sending heaps of emails to teachers, setting up lessons and supervising the kids when they do school work. The station is always quite busy with sheep, goats, and tourists, and I personally encourage the kids to get involved with these activities whenever time allows it. These school days run through each term until the opportunity arises to have a get-together week with the kid’s real teachers and other pupils in School of the Air. This is a great opportunity for the kids to spend quality time with their teachers and actually see them face-to-face!

Every term when we have school get-togethers, I am so happy to see my two students beaming with excitement because they are getting to hang out with their classmates. For example, one of my students, James, lives 8 hours away from his best friend and the only way they communicate in between get-togethers is via online games. Every time another get-together comes around, my students get built up with excitement and nerves for some well-deserved catch ups with their friends.

School get-togethers are also a great opportunity for us govies to catch up and exchange ideas about different teaching strategies, as well as methods that work/don’t workin the classroom. Additionally, we are able to watch how our students interact with their teachers and other peers in a real classroom environment. Overall, it is vital that these students receive the same quality of education as students in a ‘real’ school environment. There is a variety of activities beyond the classroom that take place at these get-togethers, such as going to the cinema, the zoo, disco nights and much more. Spending my primary and secondary education in co-ed private ‘normal’ schools, I certainly find the idea that these kids never actually get to see their classmates other than at school get-togethers strange, which is why I think these events are so important.

Seven months into this job and I am not regretting one bit. It is one of those jobs where you wake up every morning excited for the day, and there is certainly never a dull moment here on the station. However, this job hasn’t exactly been just a walk in the park; it has its challenging moments and can be mentally tough, but is also very rewarding. I am constantly thinking of new ways to make activities in the classroom more fun and to not feel like I am nagging the kids (not too much at least!). I am so lucky to live with an amazing family here on the station that treats me very well. I have enjoyed participating and observing how the station finds a balance between nature conservation and agriculture here in the Flinders Ranges, which are two aspects that I am personally very passionate about. I have also had so many amazing opportunities to make new friends with govies and other people here in the outback, as well as travel and attend many social events. I refuse to think that we are nearing the end of the school year, and as much as my students don’t know it yet, I will be shedding a few tears on my last day here!

Myself (left) and another governess from nearby Martin’s Well Station, Brooke.

Sheep yards in March.

From left, James, myself and Emily dressing up for book week.

Bunyeroo Gorge in Ikara-Flinders Ranges National Park next door to Gum Creek Station.