Farmer John Black­burn and his wife Karolyn, a teach­ing prin­ci­pal, open up about their coun­try life.

NOTH­ING BRINGS a cou­ple to­gether more than the birth of a child — es­pe­cially when that child ar­rives in the car on the side of the road, 30 min­utes from the near­est hos­pi­tal. While John and Karolyn Black­burn thought they had plenty of time to get to the ma­ter­nity ward in Bathurst, their sec­ond son had dif­fer­ent ideas. “When Karolyn’s labour started the hos­pi­tal said to just make her com­fort­able at home un­til things move along, but I told them I’d bring her in just in case,” John re­calls. “It was 11.30 at night with fog ev­ery­where. We got as far as Rock­ley and I had to pull over.” De­spite lit­tle hic­cups like this over the years, John, 59, and Karolyn, 47, have no laments about liv­ing in the tiny ham­let of Mount David, about 60 kilo­me­tres south of Bathurst in the NSW Cen­tral Table­lands. There’s no shop or lo­cal pub but their five-year-old kit home perched on a hill pro­vides tran­quil respite from oth­er­wise busy lives. As teach­ing prin­ci­pal of the small pri­mary school at nearby Black Springs, Karolyn of­ten works 12-hour days. Mean­while, John cov­ers bus duty for their son, David, 13, who at­tends high school in Bathurst — Liam, 11, is in Year 5 at Black Springs Pub­lic School — be­fore head­ing out to the pad­docks where he runs dor­per-cross sheep. The cou­ple live at Brae­vale, an eight-hectare prop­erty with un­du­lat­ing hills, but have an­other 1011 hectares at Tuena, about an hour west of Mount David. Karolyn says she’s happy the boys have plenty of space to ride their mo­tor­bikes, catch yab­bies and help dad muster and shear. “We en­cour­age them to be out a lot. I just can’t imag­ine them liv­ing in Syd­ney like I did, where the schools are get­ting big­ger.” The boys have in­her­ited their fa­ther’s love of an­i­mals with aus­tralorp and Rhode Is­land red chick­ens, mus­covy ducks and, more re­cently, fer­rets join­ing John’s col­lec­tion of work­ing dogs. Com­pet­ing in sheep­dog tri­als has been John’s pas­sion for many years and ul­ti­mately gar­nered more than just prizes and rib­bons. “I’m Syd­ney born and bred but my par­ents were in­volved in dog tri­alling, too,” Karolyn ex­plains. “Every now and then I’d go to the dog tri­als with them and that’s where John and I met.” The pair mar­ried 14 years ago and, while they of­ten pass each other go­ing in and out the door, they make it work. “I think I have adapted to ru­ral life quite well,” Karolyn says. “I love the scenery, fresh air, space and the pri­vacy. I’m quite a pri­vate per­son so it suits me — es­pe­cially when you’re scream­ing in the mid­dle of nowhere hav­ing a baby and there are no neigh­bours around to hear,” she says with a smile. >

KAROLYN We had our first date on Aus­tralia Day. It was pretty clear from the start that if we were go­ing to be to­gether I had to live out here be­cause John wouldn’t move to the city. It’s just not what he was in­ter­ested in. When I met John I was teach­ing at Mount Druitt and af­ter we mar­ried I did a bit of ca­sual work in the area un­til a job came up at Black Springs. Be­fore coming here I hadn’t ex­pe­ri­enced a school that small be­fore — it just doesn’t en­ter your mind in Syd­ney. Back then I was one of two teach­ers and had a multi-grade class so it was a real learn­ing curve. Af­ter I had our two boys I got the teach­ing prin­ci­pal po­si­tion. I’m now the full-time teacher for K–6, with a learn­ing sup­port of­fi­cer four days a week, a se­nior ad­min­is­tra­tive man­ager five days a fort­night, and one day a week two other teach­ers do spe­cial pro­grams. This year we have nine stu­dents but there are new kindies start­ing next year so the numbers fluc­tu­ate up and down, just like any other school. Both big and small schools have their ad­van­tages. I love that our stu­dents are like a lit­tle fam­ily and the older kids re­ally look af­ter the younger kids. We’ve also got a pretty com­mit­ted staff and P&C, plus the lo­cal com­mu­nity is very sup­port­ive of the school. I’ve taught both our boys and it’s a unique sit­u­a­tion. It’s nice to have them around and be in­volved in that part of their life but it’s also find­ing that dis­tinc­tion be­tween be­ing a mother and a teacher. At home, John and I work to­gether to balance fam­ily life and other com­mit­ments. There’s al­ways room for im­prove­ment in find­ing time for each other and we’re con­stantly ad­just­ing rou­tines as things change, such as when David started go­ing to high school in Bathurst this year. When he’s not work­ing, John’s the kind of per­son who will al­ways give a help­ing hand if some­one’s in need. He’s pres­i­dent of the Bathurst Sheep­dog Club — it’s not the kind of role he’d nor­mally go look­ing for, but he does it to keep the lo­cal sheep­dog tri­als run­ning. John’s plan is to move to Tuena when we re­tire. There’s an old house on the prop­erty that has lots of pe­riod features but it needs to be done up. That’s prob­a­bly what I’ll put my time and en­ergy into when I fin­ish teach­ing.

“I love the scenery, fresh air, space and the pri­vacy. I’m quite a pri­vate per­son so it suits me.”

JOHN I grew up in York­shire and when I was seven we moved to Rhode­sia in Africa [now Zim­babwe] for six years. My dad was a jour­nal­ist and when things got a bit heated over there we went back to Eng­land. But my mother didn’t like it there; her brothers were liv­ing in Aus­tralia and said to move over, so we did. I left school in fourth form [Year 10]. I just wanted to save up and move out to the coun­try; I like na­ture, the open spa­ces and work­ing with an­i­mals. I worked on dairy farms at first but there wasn’t much money in that so I was a taxi driver for about three years. When I was 24, I moved to Oberon and worked in the pineboard fac­tory for 16 years. I started out with a few sheep and some ag­ist­ment with the forestry and other lo­cal prop­er­ties. Af­ter buy­ing and sell­ing a cou­ple of places I got the de­posit to­gether for Tuena. When I met Karolyn I was liv­ing a bach­e­lor life in a rough tin farm­house and had a beat-up old ute. She liked coming to the coun­try though. I was in the car when Karolyn had Liam, but she did all the work: all I did was catch him and wrap him in a doona! It all hap­pened in a flash. The am­bu­lance met us at Rock­ley and I was just happy they were both OK. I think the coun­try is a good place to raise a fam­ily be­cause of the sense of free­dom and the re­laxed life­style it of­fers. Grow­ing up I al­ways had lots of an­i­mals, but dogs were my favourite. While I was work­ing at the fac­tory in Oberon I started com­pet­ing in yard-dog tri­als, then moved into three-sheep tri­als. I’ve got 13 dogs al­to­gether, in­clud­ing a cou­ple of old pen­sion­ers who just lie around the house. They’re kelpies and col­lies. It’s hard to get the time to train them, but I still go to three or four tri­als each year and I run the lo­cal sheep­dog tri­als at Rock­ley. The boys usu­ally come out [to Tuena] on the week­ends even though they don’t have to. They ride mo­tor­bikes and they know what to do with the sheep. I don’t know if they will take over the prop­erty one day when they’re older but they seem to like it there and they learn a lot — it’s a good life for them.

THIS PAGE, CLOCK­WISE, FROM ABOVE As the teach­ing prin­ci­pal, Karolyn teaches all stages from Kinder­garten to Year 6; David and Liam round up the sheep on mo­tor­bikes, helped by bor­der col­lie Danny; John de­scribes the land­scape as “very hilly basalt”. FAC­ING PAGE, FROM TOP On the back of the ute are Ben, his daugh­ter Moss (a bor­der col­lie–kelpie cross) and Danny; dor­per sheep dot the land­scape.

The view from John and Karolyn’s prop­erty in the NSW Cen­tral Table­lands.

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