Monday, 16 May 2011

When my parents began

their teaching careers they could be sent anywhere in the state. This might mean a nice metropolitan school, a school in a large or small country town, or a school in a remote area.
My father's first school was in fact Oodnadatta. It is a long way north of here. He was the only teacher. There was no accommodation for the teacher so my father lived at "the pub". It was hardly ideal, especially for a teetotaller.
His next appointment was to another one teacher school and he was required to board with a family. He shared a room with one of his students. They put up a curtain of hessian bags between my father and the eleven year old boy in order to give both of them some privacy. Two years later my father was, once again, transferred to a small country town. He boarded there too, sharing a room with another young teacher until he married my mother. (Her experiences had included one metropolitan school and a two teacher country school. ) Following that my parents had rental accommodation belonging to the Education Department and, for the short time we were in the metropolitan area, other rental accommodation. That continued until my parents were finally posted to as principals to large metropolitan schools. By then they had both been teaching for more than thirty years and there was still the possibility they would once again be moved on to somewhere else in the state. It was much less likely and my father could have appealed the decision but the possibility remained. We children had, naturally, to go where our parents were sent too.
Over the years my parents paid the Education Department a set rental for housing they were required to live in. They also paid considerably more for food, transport and power. All these things are more expensive in rural areas. There was no chance of buying a house and paying off a mortgage. They accepted it because it was what you did if you wanted a job. It was the way the Education Department worked. They were, provided they did not do anything drastically stupid or criminal, guaranteed a job for life.
Teachers are no longer guaranteed a job for life but the Education Department still demands they accept an appointment anywhere. Until recently there was also a "ten year rule" meaning that a teacher could not stay in any one school for more than ten years. It did not affect many teachers but it did affect some. There was also a requirement that all teachers did some country service. On the surface it sounds only fair that everyone should spend a couple of years working in rural areas but some people resigned and went into the private sector rather than leave their newly wed spouses or older partners who had other jobs or their children who were settled in schools. The scheme was eventually abandoned in favour of offering other benefits.
Now they made need to offer even more. Rural areas of the state are being hit by price rises that exceed even those in the city. Our last electricity bill showed a 28% increase in price for almost precisely the same amount of electricity consumption. Our water bill showed a similar increase for using considerably less water. Some rural areas are even worse off however. This year there will, in some areas, be a 50% increase in power bills and next year there will be another 50% increase. Petrol is already far higher than it is in the city and food prices are also far higher. Add expensive accommodation to that and some people feel that they simply cannot afford to go to rural areas. Other people are moving away from them.
Now there is a fear that tourists will not visit those areas either. That will affect all of us. Oodnadatta is now a stop on the tourist route north to Darwin, not a cattle mustering point. Some people will always choose to live in such areas. The lifestyle suits them. Others will go there because they must. They will be there because they are supplying essential services. Now however people are not only much more aware of the financial disadvantages but less prepared to accept them.
Other states have a system whereby power prices are equalised across the state. South Australia does not. Perhaps it is time that changed.

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