School of the Air in the 60’s

Last week the WA government announced a decision to have all 5 Schools of the Air remain open. This has been a huge win for rural and regional families across the state. The following was written before the government announced the reversal on their decision to close all 5 schools at the end of 2018.

Written by Philip Schubert

A bit of background might put this issue into perspective. I was educated in a normal country primary school in the wheat-belt from Grade One to Grade Four. During that time I used to catch the school bus each day and learnt to read and write and was educated just like any other normal kid. In 1962 my parents moved to the then very isolated Pardoo Station in the Pilbara. I was enrolled in the WA Correspondence School which was based at what is now Perth Modern School. What a shock!

School consisted of a bundle of instructions, and a program of work that was supposed to last two weeks. At the end of that two weeks all your “written” work (that was all you could send) was bundled up and mailed off to Perth on the fortnightly mail plane which of course would deliver another two weeks worth work. A fortnight later your previously submitted work would be returned with red scrawls, and to a child, sarcastic and hurtful comments about all the mistakes. We learnt to dread the mail plane day as it became a sad “put down” day. It was a big call for a child of nine years old to have perfect grammar and spelling, but that was how it and you were judged.

Mental arithmetic was of course “administered” by your mother or father, and when they became frustrated, not a good “number.” Hence usually a 16 year old governess would be employed with little life’s experience and certainly no teaching qualifications to get round this onerous task. We had no idea how many other children were in our class, or in fact if a class even existed. I believe WA Correspondence School morphed into SIDE or whatever other acronym some bureaucrat thought of.

In 1964 along came the Port Hedland School of the Air. Suddenly we became aware of other children in our school as we could hear them. Peer recognition, support, and competition became a reality, and feedback for mistakes or good effort was instant and shared. It was also “very interesting” when we had singing lessons. Our first school camp was at Munda Station in the shearer’s quarters. 11 children attended. Being the eldest and in Grade Seven I became the School Captain. What a defining moment in my life for a lonely outback kid. We even had live singing and dancing. It was a huge crowd, and some have remained in contact over 50 years later.

SOTA’s evolved into REAL schools for outback and isolated kids, not just a method of trying to teach the 3R’s as cheaply as possible. Just imagine the outcry if the government arbitrarily decided to shutdown six schools in the Metro area. Those kids of course could easily attend another nearby school as a real alternative, but this not an option for the SOTA kids, as SIDE is not a school. Give our kids a fair go, and forget spending millions of education dollars on city-centric schools on top of high rise buildings in the CBD. What a joke! Shame on you, now shut down your funding for the RFDS, it will save a few more dollars, even if a few extra outback people die as a result.

Photos below are from the 1964 Port Hedland SOTA Camp School. The first in the Pilbara.

Camp School Dance, Mundabullangana Station – 1964.

Morning Tea Muster at Munda Camp School.

There was only 10 of us, but at the time it seemed like a huge crowd.

In the School Bus, Mundabullangana Station – 1964.

Here we all are in the back of the “School Bus” which in reality was the itinerant teachers Landrover for the Port Hedland School of the Air Camp School excursion.

We had a wonderful excursion into Port Hedland, where we toured the near new MMA F27 RMA Swan, and the State Ship “Koolama.”

I was very impressed with both, and had to give the “thank you” speech to the captain’s, a very important task!

We also were given “free” lemon squashes on the Koolama. That was a real treat.

Only Grade Four and up were allowed to attend the camp.

In the picture is Rex from Hillside Station, Janice Richardson from Pippingarra, the Miller girls from Strelley, Peter Thorn from Abydos?, and a girl from Muccan Station.

Camp School Dance, Mundabullangana Station – 1964.

In October 1964, shortly after the opening of the School of the Air, a camp school was held in the shearer ‘s quarters at Munda station. This was attended by 10 pupils from Grade Four to Grade Seven.

Being the oldest pupil and in Grade Seven, I became the Head Boy by default.

Here we are having a School Dance in the shearing shed under the watchful eyes of our Governesses.

I of course can be seen “eyeing” off the girls in this picture. I fell in love with one of them, and she had no idea.

The Governess, Pardoo Station – 1964.

Betty Magee (nee Rowe) dressed formally for the occasion of the opening of the Port Hedland School of the Air, in September 1964. The ceremony was held in Port Hedland. We participated by RFDS radio.