Somewhere Out There Part 2

Somewhere Out There Part 2

The life of a rural school teacher.

In most cases, teachers of one-teacher schools board at the homes of parents of the school children. The problems you might expect from this set-up surprisingly rarely occurred. Children seem to easily adapt from one relationship to another.
At one stage when living at Tutye, I boarded with a farmer who doubled as the school bus driver. During busy periods like cropping or harvesting, I would drive the school bus, so I became three personas, teacher, bus driver and family member. At school the family’s children performed exactly as did other children, giving me total respect and never receiving, nor expecting to receive, any different treatment from any other child. During the bus rides they meticulously obeyed my bus rules of bums always on seats and modulated voices. At the end of the day, when the last of the other children stepped off the bus, they would ask my permission to come to the front of the bus and we would chat for the rest of the trip home. On arriving home, I immediately became a family member, open to any prank such as rounding a corner of the house and colliding with a brown paper-bag water bomb.

From my arrival on 7th October 1951 until the year’s end, I was to board with the gypsum lease manager and his wife and three children, two at my school, and a lively three-year old boy. Ted, a dragline operator at the lease also boarded with them. As they had restricted room in the house, Ted and I lived in a hut set amongst nearby mallee gums about 20 paces from their back door, and ate with the family. Having had limited sleep during my trip the previous night and had a tough first day of teaching, even my little stretcher appeared most inviting, but the family wanted to chat until after 11pm. At midnight I managed finally crawled into bed. Imagine my reaction when suddenly awoken from a deep sleep before 6.00am by a stentorian tenor voice beefing out “Si si si si senorita, does she not have a dainty bray?” from the song, The Donkey Serenade. Admittedly, it was an excellent voice, but hard to appreciate at that hour. Staggering out the door, my bleary eyes were greeted by the sight of Ted’s short, stocky body, clad only with a towel around his middle, attempting rather unsuccessfully to lather himself with a cake of soap and hard bore water from a tin dish on a stool.
“You don’t happen to have a volume switch on you, do you Ted?” I asked.
He paused long enough to retort, “Don’t you like singing, Don?”
I love singing, Ted, But not before”
“Best time of the day,” he insisted. “By the way, this is our bathroom for a few more days, then we move to the town bore up the hill. Its water is freezing, but should be bearable soon.”
On investigation I discovered that we would be showering under a six-inch wide stream of water, gushing down from a great height. Only the large flat rock on which we stood saved us from being pounded half way through to China.
In his spare time, Ted was a horse breaker, and a member of the rough riders association, riding at rodeos. He would begin breaking a horse in on a lead in the horse yard and, when it was ready, he would ride it through paddocks and bushland until fully broken in.
While working at the school one Sunday afternoon, I heard a “Hoy!” There, at the gate, on a huge horse, sat Ted.
“I’m taking her on her first run,” he explained.
“One day I would like to ride her. She’s quite magnificent,” I admired, stroking her nervous neck.
“No time like the present,” said Ted, dismounting and handing me the reins.
My riding experience was limited to riding bareback, a mate’s ¾ size horse as an 8 and 9 year-old. This was a slightly broken in giant, but I could never refuse a challenge. Immediately after I sat in the saddle, the great beast pig-rooted six times, then took off at a flat out gallop down my narrow bush track. A short distance along this track was a sharp S-bend with one of a mallee gum’s multiple trunks spreading across it. We could not possibly negotiate it at this breakneck speed, so I pulled the horse left into the scrub. There was no way, to dodge the many branches that belted me constantly. I would not survive this for long. Suddenly, into my mind came a flash of inspiration. As a lad, when the horse would not stop, I would lean forward, grab the horse’s bit, and jump off. It would immediately come to a dead stop. Would this work now? As it seemed my only chance, I gave it a go. It worked. As I was attempting to remount Ted arrived at a flat out run, and took over.

Hospitality in these more remote country districts is almost overwhelming. On the first seven nights I went to some function on five of them. They included a Saturday night dance, a square dance, a Wednesday night ball, and a meal and social get together at a farm, so I could meet people. All this, some events up to forty miles away, and I didn’t even have a car.
I also played tennis in Tutye’s top pairing and won all the matches. This helped, as if you were not a sportsperson you were a bit unsatisfactory as the local teacher. Winning the tennis proved to be a plus and a minus. The minus was due to the fact that, at the Saturday night dance, a group of Cowangie (the town seven miles away) cricketers suggested I play for their cricket team. Cricket was by far my preferred summer sport, so I happily agreed. The Tutye population never really forgave me until I played football for their team.
“I’ll call for you at 8.30 Saturday morning,” said captain, Lance.
I didn’t question the early time, nor did I say anything until we had travelled at breakneck speed for half an hour.
Unable to control my curiosity any longer, I asked, “How much further?”
Instead of glancing at the mileage, he consulted his watch. “Roughly another hour,” he answered.
That’s when I learned that country people never quote distance in miles or kilometres. Instead they say how long it will take to arrive there. He was fairly accurate – Willcawatt, well into South Australia, and our destination, was one hundred and twenty miles distant. My city mind was blown away. I had always been able to ride to a match on my bike after lunch. The standard of play varied – some were highly talented cricketers, but a few were there just because they had always played. I greatly enjoyed the match and shook hands with my opponents, ready to leave.
Wrong. Cars began to arrive, boots were opened and copious amounts of food and drink unloaded. It was the time to socialise. Cricket here was going to be fun.

The ‘Bush Telgraph’ is not just a fact, but is incredibly effective. A few weeks after my arrival I managed a lift back to Mildura, where I looked up the girlfriend I’d had to leave behind. Both realising that the flame of passion had not survived the distance barrier, we sealed the parting amicably. Not once had I mentioned her in my new situation, so imagine my stunned reaction when Mollie, my Tutye landlady, greeted me home with, “How was Ann?”
Apparently some local had also been in Mildura, had seen me with Ann, had gleaned her name from a passer by and reported to Mollie, amongst others.
As I was driving through the Mallee in a hurry sixty years later, I took time to drive up the now unused track to where the school used to stand until its closure fifty plus years ago. A farmer noticed the car tracks, surmised that I was the most likely to have made them, and reported this to one of my old pupils now living one hundred miles away. I rang this ex-pupil two days later.
“I was expecting a call from you,” he said, laughing.
That ‘Bush Telegraph’ again.

Many young teachers marry someone they meet at their first teaching position. Old Hughie had driven a group of us to the first dance after the harvest and hot summer break. On entering the hall I was greeted by the sight of the most beautiful girl I had ever seen wasting a glorious smile on her middle aged, balding, giant sized dancing partner.
“Who is she?” I fired at Dave just behind me.
“Name’s Elaine. Father works at Pete Peers’ Garage, owns and drives a school bus.”
“Forget the father. I’m not in love with him,” I interrupted impatiently. “What about her?”
“Just come home from school in Melbourne, clever, artistic, plays tennis.”
“Guess what. I’m suddenly keen on tennis again,” I announced.
“The Cowangie cricketers will kill you,” he warned me.
“Oh! It will still be cricket on Saturdays, but tennis wherever she plays at all other times.”
I had the next and several more dances with her. Thus began a romance that has survived for sixty-two years so far.

By the end of my first year, two months after arriving, it became obvious to me that I had to have a car in this remote district or my activities would become severely restricted.
Money was the difficulty – I didn’t have any.
While attending CMF camp, part of my compulsory army training, in January, I met two interesting characters.
I mentioned to my transport sergeant, that I needed to buy a car.
“I happen to have one for sale,” he said.
“How much?” I quickly asked.
“How much do you have?” he returned.
“Sixty-nine pounds,” I replied honestly.
“That happens to be the exact price of this car, and you’re getting a real bargain,” he assured me.
“Done!” I said, before he changed his mind.
I knew full well he was a conman, but didn’t care, nor did I query what I would get for that price.
“Come up to Moe the day before you leave for the Mallee. I’ll have it going by then.
That sounded ominous, but I shook hands on the deal.
The other character was Ron Peacock, a warrant officer in charge of stores. He had been appointed as teacher of Linga, fourteen miles from Tutye and wanted to drive up with me.
There in the middle of a paddock near Moe stood my car, a 1918 Riley tourer. It was love at first sight. Yes, it was covered in mud, had four flat tyres, the footbrake was useless and the handbrake minimally more effective, the windscreen wiper rubbers had rotted, the clutch was totally dysfunctional, making it a tough task to change the gears of the crash gearbox, it was unregistered, and Moggie was desperately working on it, trying to get it started. To me, however, it was a thing of extraordinary beauty.
It was raining heavily and nearing 5.00pm on Friday when Moggie finally managed to start it with a powerful roar, due to the fact that the exhaust pipe had fallen off and lay on the back seat. I eventually arrived at the Moe police station, where the policeman refused to come outside in the inclement weather to check my car. He was about to close up shop. Fortunately he accepted my word that it actually went, so, spending my last penny, I registered it and rattled and roared the seventy miles back to Melbourne.
With money borrowed from Dad, I filled the petrol tank and arrived next morning at Peacock’s house in Richmond, ready to drive the 360 miles in convoy with his apology for a car, a small 1936 Standard 8. His mother was relieved that an experienced teacher was going with her son on his first appointment and would look after him.
She cried when she saw me coming down their street, standing up in the front seat, and waving, as I drove my now roofless battered wreck towards them.
After having to leave Ron’s car at about the halfway mark to be fitted with a new crown wheel and pinion, we persevered in the old Riley. Our rear tyre passing us and four more tyre blowouts, plus one of us having to sit on the front mudguard holding the tail light on a lead to guide our way, as the flat 6-volt battery failed to suffice in lighting up the headlights of the car, which actually had a 12-volt system, we eventually staggered to our destination on three of the 4 cylinders.
Many are the adventures that followed in that amazing old car. It became a legend for many miles around.

Football season finally arrived to the delight of all. The whole district lived for Australian Rules Football. It dominated conversation before, during, and after the season. Disaster struck - our fullback had mistaken the season starting date and was to marry on the day of the first match. He was almost run out of town, as his brother, our star full forward was best man and eight key players had to attend. The bride dug in her heals and refused to change the date.
Thus our team contained a number of old ex-players, whose minds remembered but whose bodies failed them, and a few frisky hopeful kids. Being immediately after cropping finished, we had not even had a training night. Everything ceases for cropping and harvesting. The ground surface was rock hard and the weather unseasonably warm to add to our discomfort.
Totally outclassed by our opposition we had scored 1 goal 13 behinds to over 20 goals by our opposition by three-quarter time. My contribution to our score was eleven of the behinds. Without training and having played on the ball all match, my legs were killing me and would not obey my mind. Even my usually dependable snap shots for goal failed me. To make matters worse, eighty-year old Mrs Jonasson, our most ardent and vociferous supporter heckled me unmercifully from the boundary.
“’Ave a go, ya mug!”
“The goals are between the big sticks, ya mug!”
“Ya couldn’t hit a barn wall ya mug!”
“I could do better myself, ya mug!”
“Aim for the behinds. Ya might fluke a goal, ya mug!”
She was really giving me the pip.
At three-quarter time, the captain called me over.
”Frosty is killing us in the centre. Run with him, Don and push him around a bit.”
I loved the notion.
The ball bounced. Frosty and I took off shoulder to shoulder. Frosty guessed my plan, so expected some rough treatment. No problem there. I was lying on the ground, groaning with cramp in both legs. Ignominiously I was despatched to full forward where the ball had no chance of going. Freakishly, towards the end, that ball somehow did arrive and landed in my arms in the goal square. I turned and dribbled it across the line for a goal.
Some inner force made me stagger over to old Mrs Jonnasson on the boundary line raised both arms, and triumphantly flexed my weary muscles at her. She rewarded me by blowing me a kiss and giving me a hug as I left the ground after the siren.
Many an eventful match I experienced over the ensuing seasons.

Every Wednesday there was a ball somewhere along the line, and every Saturday a dance. On most Saturdays films were shown in halls either at Cowangie, or Pinnaroo. One weekend I was due to stay at Elaine’s home and take her to the pictures on Saturday night. My car needed repair, so I stopped at Bill Thompson’s garage that morning. The repairs proved to be extensive, so I worked with Bill all day, arriving at Murrayville too late. Elaine had already left with my mate, Ron.
Old Ern, who boarded there, had a heart to heart chat about the wisdom of phoning.
“I get the feeling that I may not be the golden haired boy, Ern,” I reflected.
“That’s putting it far too mildly, Donny,” he replied, mournfully shaking his head, then added, “I think you should borrow my warm comfortable car, and eat very humble pie when you meet Elaine.”
The film hall was dark when I arrived, so I sat at the back, waiting for interval. So amusing was the film that I apparently laughed heartily.
Suddenly Ron stood up in the third front row and shouted, ”We’re down here Robbo!”
He sat quickly due to repeated howls of, “Sit down, ya mug!” Now having found my bearings I sank into the seat next to Elaine. Ern’s prediction of the reception I would receive proved all too correct, but my penitence, aided by Ern’s warm comfortable car, finally won the day.
It was well known that, as a city-bred lad, I was nervous of snakes.
One morning I was approaching my school on foot. The movement of a head with its expression of eager anticipation being quickly withdrawn behind the corner of the school, caught my eye.
“Some mischief is afoot,” I warned myself, and went onto alert mode.
Sure enough, with its head only in view, lay a snake on the concrete slab in front of the door.
Crouching and letting out a wild battle cry, I charged at the snake, which I had correctly guessed was dead, and kicked it in the head. Moving on with door-key in hand and not even glancing at the gobsmacked face that had re-appeared around the tank stand, I casually said, “Bury that snake, Ken.”
“Aw, Sir, you knew, didn’t you.”

At my final dance before leaving the district, I tried to auction the Old Riley. As the highest bid was the car plus ten pounds to tow it away, I sadly drove it to the Murrayville workshop tip.
Recently, 60 years later, I received a surprise phone call.
“This is Malcolm Bennett from Merbein. I wish to order five of your books and by the way, I’m partway through fully restoring your old Riley.”