This Adventurous Age

Adventures travelling and working around Australia.


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2002 Travels August 2 – September 13

OUR TIME AT DOOMADGEE

Friday 6 September – Thursday 12 September

It felt like we were settled into a kind of routine now – as much as one could be. There was still the ever-present sense of alertness, because anything could happen. And still the disturbed nights.

I had decided that, next term, I would definitely get my own private food order sent up from Mt Isa – and wear the freight cost. We really did need meat, chicken and the like. The pre-packaged, vaccuum sealed bacon – which was all I was prepared to buy from the “butcher” was not something we could eat all the time. Neither were baked beans. The store did not run to meat alternatives like tofu or even packets of dried beans.

We took ourselves out of town, with the van, for the weekend – to Escott Lodge, just out of Burketown.

We had to go almost to Burketown, before taking the road to the left, the 17kmsĀ  to Escott, which was a working cattle station, with campground and accommodation as a sideline. It had quite a well set up caravan area, with power.

The Nicholson River flows through the station, not far before emptying into the Gulf.

We left straight after school on Friday, and were there and set up well before dark. We enjoyed a full and peaceful night’s sleep!

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Our camp site at Escott

On Saturday morning, after breakfast, we drove into Burketown – we had not been there before. John filled Truck – at $1.04 cpl, it was 16 cents a litre cheaper than at Doom.

I had thought I would be able to stock up a bit on food, especially fruit, vegies and meats, but there was very little in the one store. I was greatly disappointed. The lack of decent foodstuffs is becoming a bit of an obsession!

There was not much to see in the township at all. It is inland from the coast, because of the salt and mud flats closer to the coast. The Albert River goes past the township – both Lawn Hill Creek and the Gregory River join into the Albert, further upstream. Its main reason for existence seemed to be as the headquarters of the Burke Shire – which covers much of this part of the state. We did not linger.

Back at Escott, we explored some of their driving tracks and wandered about beside the river. Then we relaxed back at the van and chatted with some “proper” travellers staying in the park.

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The Nicholson River at Escott

There was a light plane, with pilot, based at Escott, offering scenic flights. The pilot called around, touting business, and we decided to do a flight on Sunday morning.

After another wonderfully solid night’s sleep, and then breakfast, we wandered down to the airstrip. The flight was great and excellent value, we thought. There was just we two, and the pilot.

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We are going flying!

We flew over the lower reaches of several of the Gulf rivers, gained a much greater appreciation of the extent of the mud flats that line much of the Gulf coast, flew over Burketown, and got some good views of the station. We saw a crocodile sunning itself on the surface of the Nicholson River. The various station dams we could see, had cattle pads radiating out from them in all directions. I loved the flight.

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The Nicholson River & the Escott airstrip

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The lower reaches of the Nicholson River

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Gin Arm and the Gulf of Carpetaria

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Burketown

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The extensive mudflats that fringe the Gulf shores

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Escott campground from the air

Then it was pack up and drive back to reality at Doom.

The usual week changed nature mid way.

The woman who had been taking the large class of – nominally – Grade 2 and 3 misfits and challenges, had departed town a couple of weeks back. Her reason was to go temporarily to see a sick sibling, but we all knew she was at breaking point and would not be back. By gathering in all the problem children from other classes, she had created an unmanageable group – and I think was having difficulty acknowledging that she couldn’t cope.

John had been asked, quite often, to take her class. He’d found hundreds upon hundreds of “busy work” photocopied worksheets that the children had worked on, over a long period of time, piled in cupboards and on tables – not corrected or done anything with. It was a measure of how far things had declined.

Even I had been asked to take this class a few times – and teaching at that level was not my forte, at the best of times. I do not have the temperament for a primary teacher!

The kids were mostly hyper-active, to put it mildly. She had obviously been shoving the copied worksheets at them to try to keep them quiet. One afternoon, they got to view a video, while I was supervising them. Shrek. They loved that, and were quiet, and relatively well behaved.

Thursday, as we walked to school, there was a strange, ominous atmosphere about the place. We noticed a number of empty wine casks lying around, which was unusual – in this supposedly dry town, it was tacitly accepted that beer would be obtained from outside, and drunk, but nothing stronger.

The Wednesday night had been very rowdy.

Some of the older students were clustered in little groups in the school grounds, and seemed apprehensive, and then not able to focus in the classroom. There was clearly something unusual and unsettling going on.

We found out later that a supply truck, taking grog supplies to the Burketown pub, had broken down on the road from Gregory Downs. The driver had left the truck and gone into Burketown – ostensibly to arrange repairs, but he may also have – wisely – decided he didn’t want to spend the night alone out there with all that alcohol.

Somehow the word had spread quickly amongst some of the Doom locals, and the truck had been raided. So there had been wine and spirits flowing copiously through the night in town.

On Thursday, John was asked to take the problem class, in the morning. One of the children was a Grade 1 girl, who was quite unmanageable and had been taken on by the misguided woman. She was, we thought to ourselves, probably affected by foetal alcohol syndrome, and was the very spoiled only child of parents belonging to one of the dominant families. They fancied themselves a cut above the rest of the community and swanned about the place. dressed up to the nines – more suited to a city race meeting than poor old Doom! There was something really “off” about them.

Anyway, the girl quietly made herself a very large ball of bluetack – there must have been several packets of this that she had pilfered from somewhere. The aboriginal teacher’s aide lady just sat and watched her do this – they never intervened, even when the children could have done with some “local” authority. She eventually had a ball about the size of a large cricket ball.

The girl then threw the bluetack ball – with some force – at John. he’d had his back to her and turned, at the wrong moment, and the thing landed right over his heart. It kind of winded him – he said later that it felt that his heart actually skipped a beat or two. He went to the girl, knelt on the floor in front of her, took her by the shoulders to get her to pay attention to him, and said – loudly – that she was not to do things like that. The girl started to cry and the teacher’s aide rushed out and came back with the DP.

Everyone got really serious because John had actually laid hands on the child. No concern that he was hurt – later, quite a significant bruise appeared on his chest. Or consideration, that if the heavy ball had hit another student, they could have been injured, like concussed, or worse.

John was quite shaken by the whole event and the way it had been taken, and the DP took the class for the rest of the session. Then the SM took over for the rest of the day. The Principal was away on business elsewhere for the week. The students were actually quite subdued – and they were also intimidated by the SM’s size and authority, so they behaved fairly well for the rest of the day. The DP actually said to John that he should observe and “see how it is done”! So patronizing to a man who had successfully run a primary school of several hundred students, for many years. There was no punishment at all for the child.

We discussed it all at home, that night. We agreed that the child should not have been in the class at all, and John should not have been asked to take them anyway. He was not hired as a straight classroom teacher – would not have accepted such a job, anywhere, after being out of normal classrooms for over twenty years, as a Principal. He had been hired as a literacy specialist, to work on that side of things, in small groups, and assist teachers in working on same.

John was apprehensive about possible repercussions if some of the locals decided it was a major deal – and we knew that any excuse to make an issue where whites were concerned, prevailed amongst many here. The DP and SM said they would try hard to defuse the situation. In a normal school, of course, the family would have been called in, and the child disciplined and probably excluded for a time.

We discussed going away somewhere for the coming weekend and working things out for ourselves then.


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2002 Travels August 30 – September 5

OUR TIME AT DOOMADGEE

Friday 30 August – Thursday 5 September

We did not go out of the community to stay, this weekend, but pottered about at home instead.

We went for a drive on Sunday, back across the river ford, then back south, down the track we’d come in on. After a little way on this, branched left. We knew there was an alternate route towards Lawn Hill, that crossed the Lawn Hill Creek at a ford, and wanted to see if we could find this. I am not sure that we did, but we found some creeks, and it was pleasant, exploring a little.

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The Doomadgee area

In the late Sunday afternoon, went to a BBQ, along with other staff, at the Principal’s place. I had to take something, from our limited stocks. Made a carrot cake, and even managed to ice it – I’d had some icing sugar in the bus stocks. Too much to hope for that I could get cream cheese at the store. It was enjoyable to have a social occasion – and even more enjoyable to eat meat (they visited Mt Isa regularly enough to have stocks of same in the freezer).

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Doomadgee dusk

 

The visiting chef program came to school this week. She was at the school for two days – commuting from Burketown, of course. She was a very energetic lady. She worked with my VET girls, and a few of the secondary boys who had been selected as a reward for good behaviour. They would work with her for two full days.

The idea apparently was that such a program would show students what work in a commercial kitchen was like and maybe enthuse them for same. It might have been applicable in schools where the local community had such things – and some prospect of employment in same. But in a place like Doom, I fear it was an activity without much point to the students. However, it was a novelty in what passed for a routine up here.

She was to work with them to produce a buffet lunch, to which the community elders would be invited. Fortunately, she had ordered her supplies well in advance, and they had come on the weekly truck and were waiting for her. She brought some equipment with her – like a pasta maker – but was somewhat limited, like me, by lack of general equipment. Welcome to my world!

She made a work plan, just like in a restaurant. She certainly did get the students working, but with no real understanding of what they were doing. There was not time enough for that – and she just talked at them. But they worked well enough through the first day. On the second day, the various dishes (e.g. spag bol, fried rice, iced cakes), came together, though the whirlwind that was the chef did most of the work.

Word had supposedly gone home to the elders on the first night, and about 10 actually turned up for lunch. They seemed rather bemused by it all.

After a big cleanup, it was all over and chef departed for her next gig – Mornington Island.

John was asked to take the feral boys’ group for part of a day, to free the two men who usually took them for some curriculum consultation with the DP. He had a torrid time! They were to be taken in the school’s Coaster bus, to the area where a rodeo ground was being built, and were to get some practical work experience by helping there. They did not take well to the idea of any work! John tried to get them shifting some lengths of metal, but after a few steps one or other would drop their end – usually without any warning to the one on the other end. “Too heavy mister”.

An elderly man was driven into the work area by a younger one, who was very solidly built. The elder asked who John was. Then he said that one of the boys had his smokes. The rather weedy student denied it, whereupon the other boys hoisted him upside down by the ankles – and the smokes and lighter fell out of his pocket. They were returned to the elder. The solid man angrily informed the boy that, when he got home that night, solid man was going to kick him in the nuts! John decided retreat was in order, and quickly ushered the boys back onto the bus to make their escape – while the boys made rude gestures out of the bus windows at the men! When they got back to school, it was too early for big lunch, so John took them to the oval. They refused to do any sport, but danced what they said was a corroboree, in a tight ring around him. He felt rather threatened by this, but held his ground.

After lunch, he had to take them back to the rodeo ground. Some inspector type from Mt Isa was at the school and had to go along. He spent the whole time with his head buried under his arms, cringing – fear? Horror? Carting that lot around was like transporting a bus full of evil monkeys.

When they got back to the school again, John pulled the bus up close to one of the walkway stanchions. Before he could turn off the engine, one of the boys shoved the lever back into gear – and the bus jumped forward into the pole!

I had been experiencing some issues where a patch of skin on the inside of one ankle had gradually become white, over some period of time. Hitherto trouble free, it had now become very itchy. I thought it was probably from fleas in the tatty carpeting that covered most classroom floors, but thought I might be able to get something to alleviate the itching, if I saw a doctor. So off I went to the hospital, after school. I drew the African doctor, who was very hard to understand. He was determined to do a blood test on me – for HIV! He was not all that interested in the leg and offered no diagnosis, nor medication. I told him my blood was hard to draw. He was determined, though. After some 20 minutes of him trying assorted places, and getting a very slow flow from one, I was on the verge of passing out. I was less than impressed with the whole episode. Never did bother going back for the test result!

The new tyre John ordered from Mt Isa finally arrived and he got it fitted at the works depot, then at home put the wheel with new tyre onto Truck.

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John changing the wheel on Truck. The party house is behind him.

The party house was particularly noisy this week. Loud bouts of yelling and swearing late at night – from both women and men. The language and some of the suggestions about what they could do to each other were definitely not printable!

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2002 Travels August 2 – September 13

Our time at Doomadgee

Friday 23 August – Thursday 29 August

We had Truck packed, and ready to leave straight after school. Set off to go camping at the Wollogorang coast, for the weekend.

Drove the 140kms to Wollogorang Roadhouse, over the road that was sometimes corrugated and rough, especially after Hells Gate.

When we reached the Roadhouse, they said that they did not allow travellers on the track to the coast after 4pm, (and it was now about 4.30pm) because it took 4 hours to do the 80km drive to the coast. We managed to persuade them to relent, after describing our circumstances.

Paid $50, on top of the camp fee of $12 a night. We would get the $50 back, when we returned the rubbish bag they gave us, containing our rubbish from the weekend. Good idea, that.

We received a mud map. of sorts. It had a lot of creek crossings, marked by straight lines across the track. Some distances were given: 28.5kms to turn off to the right; 16kms to Sandy Crossing (but there were a few of those!); 30kms to Well; 5.5kms to beach.

They were not wrong about the 4 hours! The sun went down and the moon rose above the trees. The track twisted about – and assorted station side tracks left it. We began to have very serious doubts about whether we were going the right way, as the moon moved around all points of the compass.

But just when we were considering stopping by the track for the night, and sorting it out in the morning, we came to the Beach House – an old tin station house – and knew we were ok.

We came out onto the beach just beyond that, through a stand of she-oaks. By then, we just wanted to get camped, as it was after 9pm, so drove only a short distance to the west, along the sand, then went up into the trees and set up camp.

We put up the dome tent. The rustling of the breeze in the she-oaks was lovely.

By the time camp was established enough for the night, it was nearly 10pm. We had a quick, light tea, of biscuits, and went to bed. It was just wonderful to go to sleep to the sound of the sea and the trees – and no community noises!

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Our camp by the Gulf of Carpetaria, on Wollogorang Station

On Saturday morning, we could see where we were. Couldn’t have done better if we’d chosen the camp in broad daylight! The beach stretched each way. The section we were on was 20kms long. From the entrance to the beach, it was 12kms west to Tully Inlet, and 8kms east to Massacre Inlet.

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Outlook to the west, from our camp

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Outlook east from our camp – with our tyre tracks from the previous night

We knew that Tully Inlet was the place to try fishing – and we really wanted to catch some edible protein! So we drove along the beach in that direction, on fairly firm sand, even with the tide a fair way in. Did have to let down the tyres part way along.

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Letting some air out of the tyres, on the beach drive to Tully Inlet

Tully Inlet was a broad opening, with bright aqua water and fringing mangroves, in places.

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Tully Inlet

We set up and fished. I caught a fair sized threadfin salmon – it would be lovely eating. John got some too.

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Threadfin salmon – great eating

After cleaning – a Brahminy Kite and a white breasted sea eagle benefitted from the innards – the fish went into the Chescold fridge to take back to Doom. There were several meals worth.

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Brahminy Kite coming in for some fish offal

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Late afternoon – tide out

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Late in the afternoon, back at camp, we saw kangaroos come down to the water – apparently to drink. I didn’t know they drank sea water.

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Kangaroos on the beach at dusk

The dusk and sunset were beautiful. The place was so relaxing. We had another peaceful, unbroken, full night of sleep.

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On Sunday morning we did a little exploring after John topped up the fuel tank with the 25 litre container of diesel. We had a look around the old Beach House. It would have been a great place for the station people to come for a break from the heat further inland – but, of course, not accessible in the wet.

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Our camp from the beach

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The old Beach House

We followed a track to the east, towards Massacre Inlet, but it petered out.

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Standing room only out there!

We had to pack up and be on the track back, by late morning, in order to be back at Doom before dark. We really did not want to be driving after dark again!

The return trip along the track to the Roadhouse was much improved by being able to see the scenery that we’d missed in the dark, before. It was interesting.

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The Settlement Creek crossing on the Tully Inlet track

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Back at the Roadhouse, on Friday, we’d been told of a group that was going to try to follow the old, original Gulf Track, to the west, to the Calvert River. Basically this had been the route of Leichardt’s Expedition in the 1840’s. That track was not maintained, nor much marked. The current road to the west goes much further inland, where there are fewer nasty stream crossings and swamps.

We turned in our bag of rubbish – there wasn’t much – and got our $50 back.

We bought 10 litres of fuel at Hells Gate Roadhouse, and some more beer.

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Seen beside the Gulf Track – once was boat and trailer. Sign propped on it read “Bugger”.

Got back to Doomadgee in reasonable time. I was quite relieved to see that our van had survived our absence unscathed – that had been the only concern of the weekend.

I put a couple of packs of fish in the freezer of the fridge – had to spread out our protein treats over the next few weeks!

It had been a wonderful, too brief, weekend. Coming back to Doom was not easy. It would have been so good to be able to have stayed camped at the coast for a week or more.

The rest of the week was what passed now for routine, here. I filled in for S, with the secondary girls, one morning. I had the usual run-in with the not-so-charming F who was determined to do what she wanted – which was wandering around the classroom annoying the others.

John and I usually walked to and from school together. It was only a couple of blocks, through a fairly quiet area. One morning this week, John went earlier than me, to set something up. As he walked up the street, there were two teenage girls, fighting in the middle of the road. Their mothers were leaning over their fences, opposite each other, urging the protagonists on. As John drew near, they stopped fighting, and it was “Good mornin’ mister” from all, as he passed, whereupon they resumed the fight. There were the occasional funny moments in this place!

Two women from Mt Isa TAFE were visiting for a couple of days this week, to check out the VET courses. Like so many visitors, they would not stay overnight in the community, but drove in from Burketown each day, almost 100kms each way on the rather rough-ish road. And back in the afternoon. Such is the reputation of Doom.

They were not much help to me. I’d hoped for some clues on methods of delivery of the modules of work, especially the practical work, but they basically just indicated I should keep on with what I was doing. Which I’d only really just started doing! It didn’t seem to worry them that none of the course had been delivered in the first half of the year, or that it obviously wasn’t going to get finished in the time left for the year. All very casual. I wondered if anyone had even checked the VET work that my predecessor had supposedly been doing?

The school had, this week, to do the annual LAP tests, for Grades 1,3 and 5. John had been quite horrified, back when he was hunting furniture, to find last year’s results of same still packed away and not ever opened! So much for their possible use as a diagnostic tool. They showed that Doom had been the worst performing school in Qld, even amongst the other comparable aboriginal schools. No surprise there.

It was decided, when he talked with DP about this, that the students should be prepared for this year’s tests with a little practice first. Likewise the teachers, in the administration of the tests. The maths tests required some to use calculators – which were totally foreign to the students. But the school had a set of calculators locked away, so the grade in question was given some training in the use of calculators.

The tests were duly sat, with both John and I doing some supervision of same. John followed up to ensure that all the students who should have sat, did so when next they came to school. It was a thankless task.

Obviously, the preparation of students, and taking the tests seriously, had an effect. We heard, the following year, that the literacy results had jumped up from the abysmal results of 2001 – so much so that the DP got an award for services to literacy teaching!

I was established by now with the one-on-one literacy work that I’d been assigned to do with the one girl. She was nominally a Year 9 student, but her reading age was about what I would see as Prep level. But she was a nice lass, and co-operative about coming to our sessions – held in the staff room area where my desk was – with the door open, even if it risked interruption by marauding males! I had been given some flash cards with simple words on, and prepared more as I saw they were needed. Our short sessions every morning were divided between work with the flash cards, on word identification, and work on actually reading from simple readers. I really didn’t think that just 20 minutes a day was going to make a great deal of difference – she really needed to take readers home to practice with, but of course that does not happen here.


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2002 Travels August 2 – September 13

Our time at Doomadgee

Friday 16 August – Thursday 22 August

The 16th was Reporting Day. The students’ progress reports were given orally to those parents who could be bothered coming to the school to get them. Nothing went home in print here. The reporting process did not affect us, as we had not yet taught.

By the end of the week, I had the same bug that John had last weekend, and had Friday home in bed, anyway. Temperature, shivers. cough, headache, sore throat. With his prior example I did not bother trying to get medications from the Hospital, but used what was left of what he’d had.

We had been told that everyone who came new to town, got sick, and that we should, when better, arrange to get Hepatitis B shots. Very Third World…..

I was already making a list of things to buy in Mt Isa or Townsville, in the next school holidays. Panadol – lots of it. Chicken noodle soup packets – for some reason this was not stocked in the store. Lots of chicken, meat and fish – even if I had to buy dry ice to transport it back.

We spent a lot of time in the evenings, and over the weekend, trying to work out teaching programs. I decided to do the simple cooking things with the boys. The girls doing the VET course would do some cooking too, mixed in with their theory sessions, and to illustrate the basic points of those, like food handling hygiene! I would start the Mothercraft with pregnancy care, maybe with the signs of pregnancy. The store did not stock testing kits! I was sure, though, that these girls had friends who were not attending school, who were already mothers, so they would not be ignorant about it all.

On Sunday, we did some exploring around the area. I was feeling up to this by then, and willing to grab any chance to get out of the community.

John had gained permission from one of the elders to drive out to the site of the Old Doomadgee mission, on the Gulf coast, near Bayly Point. We knew that the local people went out there regularly, fishing and hunting for turtles, at the coast. It was about 100kms away.

We set out on the road from Doomadgee, to the north, but turned back before we got near the coast, because there were starting to be lots of side tracks and we had no idea of the right way to go. There were no signposts, of course – the locals know the tracks, and tourists are not permitted to travel the local roads. The road was surprisingly good, though – regularly graded, it was clear. The country was just the same old flat savannah scrubland.

Back in town, we drove out to look at the weir on the Nicholson River, and the ford. The river was really attractive here – although it would contain crocodiles.

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Nicholson River

This week saw us commence taking classes. My first cooking session with the secondary boys went better than I expected. It was unusual to be teaching with another teaching watching on, though. I presumed that the SM thought he was needed to keep the boys under control, but it may have been a cultural thing, to have the male presence. Then again, the SM may just not have wanted to give him free time!

I did not appreciate having to do the shopping for the classes. It was a real hassle, and hot, walking to the store and back, carrying the shopping. The office lady made me feel I was imposing on her, needing to do the Requisition Form.

I encountered some unexpected issues in my first lessons. I’d assumed the students would have a basic knowledge of measurement – hadn’t even really thought about it. Not so – no concept of fractions like half a measuring cup! So we had to do some learning, with measure cups and water, at the sinks.

Another concept was time. We had a morning session and I asked – if we wanted the food for big lunch, at 1.30pm – and it took 40 minutes to cook, what time did it need to go in the oven? 10 o’clock, missus? 8 o’clock, missus? All answers wildly out. These were kids aged 14+. What hope would they have in the normal, outside world? What on earth had teachers been doing with them for 8 or 9 years?

I sat in on the meeting led by the DP, with the teachers, to plan their main teaching unit, or theme, for the term – nearly three weeks into same! This is something I would have thought should have been done last term, in preparation, but who was I to know? S decided to do a newspaper theme with the secondary girls, and produce one at the end of term. With no newspapers available in the community, rather an abstract idea, to my way of thinking.

John and I talked about what came next, as we began to settle in. We decided we’d take the van out, in the September school holidays, and try to arrange storage for it and Truck – maybe at the Ringrose Transport yards, in Mt Isa. We would fly back to Doomadgee. Then, at the end of Term 4 – on 6th December – we would be able to fly to Mt Isa on the daily plane, collect the van, and head south for Xmas. If we did not get it out in September, early wet season rains could close the Nicholson River ford and we would not be able to get the rig out. We did not want it stuck in Doomadgee, with the risk of floods and cyclones either.

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Approach to the Nicholson River ford – flooded in the Wet Season

The Principal already seemed to be trying to get John to think about taking over as Principal when he finished his two year stint here, at the end of the year! He definitely wanted me to take over the SM’s job! But I thought we were too inexperienced in local ways, not to mention those of Qld Education, to do so.

The SM did seem to have one role he did well, and which I could not do – yelling at the older boys when they misbehaved. He seemed to be able to intimidate them into some form of obedience, just by bulk and loudness.

John liked the respectable wages we received here. He was talking already about perhaps returning in 2003 – or applying to work up on Cape York! I had my reservations about all this.

John had talked with the man who ran the Council workshop about how to get a tyre to replace the one we’d ruined on the drive up here. He phoned and ordered one from a tyre place in Mt Isa, to be brought up on the next Ringrose transport truck. The workshop man would help John fit it. This was going to be an expensive new tyre! Because the spare from the caravan was interchangeable with the Truck, we could use that as a spare, so we could still go places while waiting for the new one.

John started a vegetable garden in the back yard. He used the spade we carry, to dig some beds, and had brought some packets of seed with him from Adels Grove.

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John’s new vegie patch

I was finding the interruptions to our sleep, every night, quite wearing. On top of the party house across the road, and the dog packs fighting amongst themselves and chasing the mob of horses around the streets, there was the noise associated with the emergency night time visits of the Flying Doctor, to evacuate someone to Mt Isa. The plane would come low overhead and depart the same way. There would be a number of cars escorting the unfortunate patient, screeching round the corner in front of our bedroom window, then returning after the plane left. We needed to get out of the place, just to get a couple of solid nights of sleep!


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2002 Travels August 2 – September 13

OUR TIME AT DOOMADGEE

Friday 9 August – Thursday 15 August

On Friday there were only about ten students at school! The weekend was the annual Mt Isa Rodeo, which meant that the Monday was a public holiday in these parts. Rodeos are major entertainment in the Qld country areas, so there was a mass exodus from the town.

We had thought about spending the long weekend camping at the coastal camp area run by Wollogorang Station, to the NW of here, against the NT border. The thought of being by the sea was an attractive one, and there were very limited places on the Gulf coast where one could access this.

However, on Friday John developed flu symptoms and he spent the whole weekend feeling thoroughly miserable. It seemed a nasty bug. It was most unlike John to be sick. Through the ensuing week he went to the hospital to try to get some medicine to alleviate his symptoms. The doctor prescribed Panadol, Vitamin C and a cough mix. The hospital pharmacy was out of Panadol and cough mix, so he was given an anti-histamine instead! Not quite the same.

On Sunday we drove to Hells Gate Roadhouse, on the Gulf Track, some 80kms to the NW. Apart from getting out of the community, the purpose of this expedition was to buy a couple of cartons of beer, having been told by some of the other teachers that having same for our private consumption, was alright.

The drive was a dusty one, through flat scrub and grassland country.

There is an escarpment of the edge of the range country, outcropping at Hells Gate. Back when the pastoralists were starting to occupy the lands to the west, with strong resistance from some of the native tribes, mounted police would escort droving parties as far as the escarpment, on the then rough track. After that, they were on their own, often facing hostile attacks. Hence the name.

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Hells Gate airstrip, beside the Gulf Track

 

At the Roadhouse, there were a couple of other vehicles, from Doomadgee, stocking up on beer.

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Bower bird creation at Hells Gate Roadhouse

Apart from the Roadhouse and its attendant little camp ground and a kind-of small motel, there was an air strip. We noticed an advertising sign for the fairly new Kingfisher Camp tourist venture, to the south of there – another place we could go for a weekend away.

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By the end of the second week at the school, it had been established that I would teach Home Eco to some of the secondary boys – so that was one of the late morning time slots. The SM figured that, since I had been cooking at Adels Grove, this could be my teaching role. I figured out that being trained to teach History, Geography and Politics had really not equipped me for this!

There would be a male teacher in the room with me when I had the boys’ class.

I would deliver the TAFE VET course in Kitchen Operations for three of those time slots a week. More on that later! I would take a Mothercraft course with the secondary girls’ class for one slot a week. I would do some one-on-one remedial reading work with one of the secondary girls for about 15 or 20 minutes every morning, under the direction of the literacy lady. For the rest of my time I would act as an assistant to the SM and Deputy Principal, though they were yet to agree to the exact time division between them.

It soon became obvious that I would also fill in – for the morning literacy and numeracy sessions until little lunch – for the secondary girls’ teacher, when she was away. I was quickly to discover that she was always away for one day a week, and sometimes two.

It was also soon obvious that assisting the DP meant chasing up the classroom teachers for documentation of their courses and associated paperwork that she had not to date been able to extract from them. They generally seemed to see her emphasis on planning and the like as a nuisance and were not inclined to do what she wanted! However, given the realities of trying to operate in these classrooms, I could sympathize with them not feeling like they had the time, or need, to do her paperwork. I was certainly pretty sure that what happened in the classrooms did not match the theory she had planned!

I was allocated desk space in a staff/storage area, of sorts, close to the secondary girls’ room. No-one else seemed to use it much, so it became rather lonely, working in there.

As well as the above duties, there was also the usual yard duty at the breaks, and before school – several sessions of this a week. These were not particularly comfortable times – the students were often very unruly on breaks and it was hard for me to know just what was acceptable, here.

The SM gave me a key to the Home Eco centre, which was to be my domain. This was kept locked when not in use. There was not much point to this, I soon found, as all sorts of other people must have had keys too. The woman who ran the intermittent breakfast program certainly did – although she was not supposed to use the kitchen for that, but had a separate little room nearby. But she obviously raided the gear – and food supplies – if she got a chance. She did not return anything thus “borrowed” – or wash it up! It fell to me to go hunting for my missing equipment, and clean it.

Other locals obviously had access too. I would find that groups had come in when I wasn’t there, or on weekends, and done things like make up lots of containers of cordial for special occasions – and they would have left the floor a sticky, dirty mess – for me to clean, since there was no other cleaner.

I investigated my new teaching domain. There was a large kitchen, with benches, stoves – only some of which worked, and sinks. The drawers and cupboards at the work stations had the gear one would expect – measures, implements, saucepans – but not one had a full set of what should have been there.

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The Home Eco room during the Visiting Chef program. Note the mesh over the windows

The two fridges had been turned off for some time, but left closed, so they smelled awful, and had gone mildewed on most surfaces. I attempted to clean these.

There was a laundry area off the kitchen, with a washing machine that worked.

There was a large, locked, pantry and storage area for foodstuffs and portable equipment. This also contained a number of portable sewing machines and associated gear. There was little in the way of stored food staples though.

I was to find out that my departed predecessor had preferred to try to teach sewing rather than cookery, and had the students making beanbags. I doubt any of these that got finished would have lasted long in the sort of homes they mostly lived in! There were a number of unfinished ones in a corner of the store.

Clearly, whatever might have once been in the storeroom in the way of equipment, had “walked”. There were no mixers of any sort. There was one electric frypan, but cords and lids for several more. When I mentioned the total absence of any form of sharp cutting knives, the SM said the school had spent a lot of money at the start of the year on a really good set of chefs knives. There was no sign of these, but he hinted that he may have been looking after them at home!

I soon had to solve the shortage of equipment by taking some of my own to use – knives, electric frypan, kitchen tongs. Anything of mine was carried back and forth from the house, as I needed it – and never left unattended in the kitchen. Even left in the supposedly secure store area at school, it would soon have walked. Several times I had to retrieve the one school frypan from the breakfast lady.

The first task in the Home Eco centre was to give it all a reasonably thorough clean, before it would be fit for use. I think I was probably still in shock at hearing that there was no cleaner. It was a bloody big area, too.

Food supplies for classes were something I would have to shop for, from the Store, complete with Requisition Slip obtained from the Office Secretary. Ho hum – back to bureaucracy. There was no budget, of course. The limitations of the community store would affect what I could do.

There were no curriculum documents either. I was on my own in terms of what got taught in Home Eco and Mothercraft, and found it rather daunting. There were just no records anywhere of previous programs – apart from a few I unearthed in the school library from back in the Mission days. These clearly showed how far the school education had regressed since then!

So, with nothing to guide me, I soon decided that the practical cooking sessions would just feature things the kids might be able to do themselves, at home – i.e. of some real practical value, in combination of what they might like to eat. Apple crumble, fried rice, bacon and eggs, came to immediate mind. The food had to be able to be made and cooked within 80 minutes, too – and with the very limited cooking resources in the kitchen.

By the entrance to the kitchen was a row of hooks with some aprons on – but these were not often worn. There was also the shelf of assorted school shoes, as dictated by OHS requirements.

I did find some course outlines and work booklets for the VET Kitchen Operations course, stuffed in the store cupboard at the back of the kitchen. In theory, some of the girls had been doing this course since the start of the year. In practice, my predecessor preferred to have them sewing! The SM was so well organized that he could not even provide me with a list of the students the school had paid for to do the course! And, of course, there were no results for the first semester. Wonderful! I should just have to start at the beginning, and see how far we got.

I spent some time during this week, trying to get some help/information. I walked to the local AbHealth Office to see some of the local ladies to try to get some idea about what they thought would be acceptable, culturally, in the Mothercraft class. I didn’t want to repeat the mistakes made by S, when she taught some very explicit sex education to the girls, without consulting anyone in the community. I did not get very far. The ladies were polite, but totally vague and non-committal. They probably found the idea that mothercraft needed to be taught, rather mystifying – or even that it was a “craft”. Many of the local children seemed to be bringing themselves up!

John was allocated a room for his literacy work – but with no furniture in it. No-one was much help to him. Eventually he found a store room with a few tables and chairs in, and got the students to help him move them in and set up the room. It was not ideal conditions for teaching, but what was, in this place?