I. Living in the Bush
“I am sitting on a bush verandah watching the first storm of the season… I am remembering simple pleasures that the people of the bush have not forgotten-like how the difference between despair and optimism is only two inches of rain” (qtd. in Ryckmans 217). What Heather Brown, whose words these are, says might sound like an overstatement to you, but in the lives of people in the Australian outback this is reality. Most of those people have little, but therefore they cherish every good thing that happens to them more. Even though living in the outback they have to face serious problems like a lack of proper health care and schools, loneliness and alcoholism they learn to deal with all of this and still consider themselves lucky not having to live in the city. So after all there must be something positive about living in a rural area.
II. A First Impression of the Outback
What is the outback? It is an area that covers the biggest part of Australia. There is no universal definition where it starts and where it ends. Outback is just a term to describe the big dry part of Australia where, according to the Australian Bureau of Statistics, less than 2.5% of Australia’s population lives (Regional Population Growth). It is a hard and unforgiving area to live in: with scorching heat, immense distances and dry earth. Bev Maunsell, who lives in the outback, found the most iconic way to put this: “Dust storms, heat, flies and no access to proper shopping facilities…It’s a 426 kilometre round journey to my nearest shopping centre” (182). Few people move to the outback by choice. Most of them have been born in rural Australia or have married a rural person. So why do people live in the outback at all? The most obvious reason to keep living in the bush is to feed a family. People who have learnt nothing but farming want to earn their money that way, too. Especially when two of the biggest industries in Australia are wool and meat production (Coppell 438-43). But there is also something far more important for its inhabitants, which is the love for the outback! This is so strong that it can overcome the problems which will be outlined in the following sections.
In an area where the population density is as low as it is in the outback there is no possibility to provide a public school for every child. Most children would have to travel hundreds of kilometres to get to their nearest school. As this is not a possibility in everyday life, people found other ways to educate their children. But how does this affect the family?
II.A.1. Distance Education
As the Alice Springs School of the Air, an outback school for children in remote places, indicates, students up to grade 7 can be distance educated. They can enlist online and are taught on the internet, via satellite connection and with other working material. Still, the children have to be supervised while learning, leaving the family to hire a governess which not everyone can afford. So in most cases it is the mother’s job to teach the child as well as “to cook, keep the books, clean the house, feed the animals and attend to all sorts of other chores” (146) as Maree Morton, who experienced this herself, describes it. This puts strain on the family. There is no real weekend on an outback farm. The animals still have to be fed and drenched as well as the children might need help with their homework. And usually it is the mum who has to tend to everything. This will affect her mood which in turn may lead the husband to prefer spending time by himself with a bottle of liquor to forget about all the stress.
In spite of its disadvantages, Jeannie Reynolds, an outback mother, prefers distance education for her children:
The School of Distance Education is excellent because it is conducted on a one-to-one basis. The children’s work is set out in papers, in plain English, so that even mum can understand it. It’s combined with School of the Air classes where the child can talk to a teacher and about six or seven classmates over the radio…With distance education, parents are so much more involved with the teachers.