Friday, 10 September 2010

Living in "the bush"

or "outback" or just in a "rural" area of Australia is not necessarily nice or romantic. I was born in a very small country town. It was just large enough to have a small hospital. My brother and one of my sisters were also born in the same hospital. Being the eldest I have more memories of the place. We have been back to visit although not to stay. If I had to live in a country town it would be pleasant enough. There is still a hospital. There are still the other essential services although the train does not run to the city any more. It should. They may one day come to their senses and reopen the line to passenger transport.
The town has grown considerably since we were there. It is almost commuter territory. The same is true of another rural area we lived in some years later. That was not much more than a few houses and the school along the main road to the South Coast.
Neither place qualified as "the bush". We also lived in "the bush" or a tiny settlement a long way from anywhere else. Beyond that there was "the outback" which was even more remote. We were almost civilisation - and the place was growing. There were nineteen houses when we arrived and twenty-three when we left. (Four had been built for the families of the men who came to work in the wheat silos when they brought in bulk handling.) There were two teachers in the school - my parents. My father remembers it as having fifty-seven children. (If the numbers went below fifty they would have been back to one teacher.) There was a school about fifty miles away that had just eight children - and one teacher.
There were also other schools of varying size up and down the railway line that linked them to "the big smoke" or the capital city. Most of the children had never been that far - or even to the town considered to be the regional capital. Most of them had never seen the sea. My father fixed that by arranging a day trip in the two tiny vans that did the school "bus run" and a couple of other vehicles. Nobody worried about seat belts back then and the "big ones" had the "little ones" sitting on their knees. After a visit to the regional "airport" (a field with a landing strip and a tin shed) we looked at the room which housed the "school of the air" (where a teacher talked to the children who lived "outback") and "the flying doctor". Later we went to look at the building of the new bulk handling terminal.
I remember we had lunch sitting on the sand, the usual (kanga) 'roo or (in our case) mutton sandwiches. Most of us had bananas that week because that was the train had brought. We drank water from plastic cups filled from the containers kept in the vehicles we were travelling in. Everyone travelled with water supplies.
When it was all over and we were just about to leave we all visited the, to us, amazing general store in the main street. Each of us - even the adults - left with an icecream cone, one scoop of plain vanilla. I think my father must have given the store owner advance warning because there was enough for everyone.
Over the next few days at school my father reinforced what we had seen in other lessons. At the end of the week he asked, "What was the most important thing?" No doubt he meant the flying doctor service on which "the bush" and "the outback" still depend.
There was silence and then the deep voice of the oldest boy in the school came from the back of the room, "The icecream sir, the icecream."


Joanna St. James said...

there is nothing as amazing as a child's point of view

Anonymous said...

I bet he still remembers the icecream!

Judy B

Tony said...

I know that non-Aussies aren't used to these words, but putting outback and the bush in quotation marks just cracks me up! :)

catdownunder said...

Ah Tony, I just "had" to do it!
I would not be surprised if he still remembered the icecream too because, believe it or not Joanna, this was the first time some of them had actually tasted icecream!

Donna Hosie said...

I do love reading your posts, cat. They are soothing to my mind and eyes.

catdownunder said...

Oh, thankyou for the compliment Donna!

Talei said...

Ah thanks for sharing such a lovely story. The ice cream is by far the most important thing on days out with our little one too!

Rachel Fenton said...

Kids are ace! I have a notebook full of funny things my daughter has said.

I live near a patch of bush - not in the bush - but I doubt I could write about it to sound the way yours does!