Class of 1966
Shipping containers and front verandahs become my classroom!
Julie Fleming is an educator who spent 36 years teaching in Government Primary Schools. She spent 16 years in metropolitan Melbourne, before moving to a farming community in northeast Victoria, where she taught for 20 years, as well as worked on the land – running a dry cropping and sheep property.
Julie retired from teaching in 2006 but it didn’t take long before she found herself back in the classroom. For the past 10 years, she has been traveling and living in remote areas of Australia, working on outback stations as a teacher.
Julie applied to become a volunteer teacher with VISE (Volunteers for Isolated Students Education). Given her experience both in the classroom and working on the land, she was a perfect candidate, and her application to teach was accepted quite quickly.
VISE has been offering educational assistance to students in remote areas of Australia since 1990. The support is mainly for students studying through the Schools of the Air or Schools of Distance Education programs.
“Families can apply for a retired teacher to stay on their property, usually for six to eight weeks. We help the students with their course work and assignments. Even though each remote classroom is linked to the nearest School Of The Air, schooling is very disjointed and inconsistent,” says Julie.
Without a volunteer teacher onsite, the teaching usually becomes the responsibility of the mother.
“Sometimes there might be a young ‘govie’ (Year 12 graduate on a gap year) or even some foreign backpackers passing through who assist. However none of them are qualified to teach,” says Julie.
Julie found her calling as a teacher but one could say she is even more at home in the remote classroom. Whilst most VISE positions are usually for a period of two months, Julie often stays for many extra months and even spent four years on one property.
“You really become a part of the family. They are so appreciative of your help, and it is so intrinsically rewarding to work with mothers who are often floundering with the enormity of the task of teaching several children on different class levels and with curriculum topics that they themselves may not know or understand,” she says.
It’s hard to imagine just how different teaching nowadays is for Julie. The physical classroom varies from property to property. She’s taught in a shipping container, in the corner of a lounge room and even on the front veranda of a roadhouse.
She teaches a curriculum that is often delivered by radio. Some programs are even delivered by the mail plane. If the plane can’t land, Julie is required to drive 60kms over a rough corrugated dirt track to collect the parcel. Resources can often be low and Julie remembers a time when there was no paper, so her students completed all of their work on the back of “cut up XXXX Beer boxes”.
The day is broken into periods, which include lessons as well as the usual station activities of riding horses to muster cattle, feeding animals, ear tagging cattle and even bringing in the house cow and hand milking it each morning.
Julie says you really become involved with station life, not just with the teaching.
“I have been mustering countless times – on horseback, motorbikes and helicopters. I have learnt how to ‘tail bang’ and ear tag cattle. I have stood in the dark at midnight counting cattle off six decker Mack trucks. I have cooked meals with young students to feed their parents and station hands that were fighting a fire that raged across the station for five weeks. I have attended a wedding in a dry creek bed and I have been taken to sacred aboriginal stone circles by aboriginal stockean,” she says.
Teaching in the Northern Territory, outback Queensland and New South Wales, Julie says it’s the lifestyle and the people that keep her going back for more. While the days are long and the weather extreme, the families, she says are amazing.
“The people are so resilient. They have to rely completely on themselves to survive in such harsh, remote areas. They are so welcoming and inclusive. They are amazing,” says Julie.
And… so are you Julie!