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