MY FAM­ILY LOVES Christmas hol­i­days at Bal­comba, our cat­tle prop­erty 170 kilo­me­tres west of Rock­hamp­ton in Queens­land, with long sum­mer days spent mus­ter­ing and do­ing cat­tle work with­out a timetable or school rou­tine to ad­here to. The weeks slip by un­til, all too soon, it’s the start of an­other school year. Jan­uary back to school was even more chaotic this year with our two el­dest daugh­ters offff to board­ing school for the fi­first time. It’s true I could have started prepa­ra­tions months ear­lier, say back in Oc­to­ber when 100 neatly stitched name tags ar­rived in the mail, con­fi­firm­ing that life was about to change for our fam­ily, but in­stead I tucked them safely in the sewing box un­til about a week be­fore they were to head to school. I be­gan with fer­vour; the tags were to be sewn on, not ironed, and I was anx­ious to start offff on the right foot. It turns out you need a lot of name tags for two chil­dren go­ing offff in the same year — a lot more than I’d or­dered, and after this star­tling dis­cov­ery I quickly pur­chased ad­di­tional bun­dles on­line, which ar­rived the day be­fore we were due to leave. I sewed late into the night; deftly zip­ping la­bels to socks, blaz­ers, sheets and un­der­gar­ments. We ticked offff lists and I gave Anna, 14, and Eliza, 12, a demon­stra­tion of how to make a bed with hos­pi­tal cor­ners — some­thing I’d ne­glected to show them over the past decade. Fi­nally the big day ar­rived. We care­fully dec­o­rated their new liv­ing space in the dor­mi­tory with cush­ions, pic­ture frames, string lights and pot­ted plants (it turns out plants and banged up iphone 4s aren’t trend­ing in dorms in 2017), and be­fore long it was time to say good­bye. It wasn’t un­til din­ner that night with two empty seats that it re­ally sank in… a new chap­ter be­gins for all of us. Will they thrive? How will we cope with­out them? Then, on a more self­i­fish note, who was go­ing to un­pack the dish­washer and feed the horses each af­ter­noon? Our fam­ily dy­namic changed with ‘the big girls’ away at board­ing

school and the ‘lit­tle girls’ — Sarah, nine, and Grace, two — at home on our 19,500-hectare cat­tle prop­erty. Roles were re­as­signed, cre­at­ing op­por­tu­ni­ties for our younger girls to take on more re­spon­si­bil­ity. Board­ing school be­gins as a long-range con­cept that all too soon be­comes re­al­ity. It helps to in­tro­duce the idea to your chil­dren in con­ver­sa­tion early on and talk about the many pos­i­tive as­pects. As a fam­ily, we toured var­i­ous board­ing schools, both re­gion­ally and in Bris­bane, so ev­ery­one had in­put in the de­ci­sion-mak­ing process. There’s a lot to con­sider along­side ed­u­ca­tion such as val­ues, pas­toral care, com­mu­nity, ex­tra-cur­ric­u­lar op­por­tu­ni­ties and sin­gle sex ver­sus co-ed­u­ca­tion. Dur­ing the Christmas hol­i­days, I was on a loop dis­pens­ing well-mean­ing but of­ten con­flict­ing ad­vice: “Work hard, have fun — but not too much fun — eat salad and veg­eta­bles, go for any sport­ing op­por­tu­nity you can but make sure you are on top of your school­work, be kind, be a good friend but make your own choices.” I had to calm down and ac­cept that we weren’t run­ning out of time to par­ent but giv­ing them a chance to flour­ish in a new en­vi­ron­ment. Their ed­u­ca­tion and well­be­ing was to be­come a shared role with the school. The board­ing staff, board­ers and their fam­i­lies quickly be­came our ex­tended fam­ily and it’s im­por­tant to build and nur­ture those re­la­tion­ships. I’m grate­ful that a high level of com­mu­ni­ca­tion now ex­ists be­tween board­ers and their fam­ily with weekly and some­times daily up­dates. De­spite the prob­lems that come of equip­ping chil­dren with mo­bile phones, it’s won­der­ful to be able to talk when­ever we need. I re­mem­ber ris­ing early when I was at board­ing school to queue out­side to use the pub­lic tele­phone. Con­ver­sa­tion had to be con­cise as the min­utes and coins dropped away and I was care­ful to avoid the stares of oth­ers wait­ing im­pa­tiently be­hind me. Board­ing life pro­vides struc­ture, ca­ma­raderie and in­de­pen­dence, and it helps pre­pare young peo­ple for life be­yond school. My hus­band, An­drew, and I were both board­ers and I am so glad to have had that ex­pe­ri­ence. There were mostly highs and some­times lows, but these peo­ple be­came my fam­ily and life­long friends. It’s early days but we are proud of how Anna and Eliza have adapted. When they’re away, it’s their con­ver­sa­tion and laugh­ter I miss the most. We are learn­ing to lis­ten and let them lead; it’s their jour­ney and our role is to sup­port. I hope they make great friends and that they con­tinue to grow and suc­ceed. I hope it’s okay that six months in, I've packed up the sewing ma­chine and in­vested in a per­ma­nent marker in­stead.

Bon­nie Tru­el­son, Sarah Mac­tag­gart, Meg Tru­el­son and Rob Mcarthur lead­ing Eliza Mcarthur dur­ing a drov­ing trip to Bal­comba.

ABOVE, FROM LEFT Claire rid­ing Cham­pagne and her daugh­ter, Anna, on her mare Cap­puc­cino; a stock sad­dle on the rails at Lau­rinel, where Claire and the other drovers camped overnight on a two-day drov­ing trip be­tween An­gle Creek and Bal­comba. FAC­ING PAGE Eliza, Jes­sica Pearce and Anna at a Lau­rinel camp­site dur­ing the drov­ing trip. “We’ve done this trip a few times and it’s such a mem­o­rable ex­pe­ri­ence for kids,” says Claire.

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