City girl’s dream time

For­mer gov­erness re­flects on teach­ing coun­try chil­dren through dis­tance ed­u­ca­tion in the 1960s

South Burnett Times - - RURAL WEEKLY -

AS A gov­erness, she landed safely on a con­demned out­back airstrip, sur­vived three-day-long dust storms and man­aged to keep in touch with her fam­ily through a once-a-week mail drop.

Quite the ef­fort from an Ade­laide city girl.

In the past four weeks, the Ru­ral Weekly has pro­filed gov­ernesses work­ing on re­mote prop­er­ties, but this week we have taken a step back in time to speak with Vivi­enne McLauch­lan, who re­flected on her ex­pe­ri­ence as a govie in the 1960s.

Now re­tired and liv­ing at Emu Park in cen­tral Queens­land, Vivi­enne said she found it hu­mor­ous know­ing her mod­ern-day coun­ter­parts stayed in touch through phones, so­cial me­dia and the in­ter­net – all things that were non-ex­is­tent in her day.

Her jour­ney to the bush started when she was 17.

“Grow­ing up in the city, even though I had a won­der­ful child­hood, I al­ways han­kered to go to the coun­try,” she said.

“I al­ways felt I was in the wrong place.

“I just loved books about the coun­try and I thought the only way I could go there was if I be­came a gov­erness.”

Af­ter an in­ter­view with a coun­try agency’s agent in Ade­laide, then be­ing matched with a fam­ily, Viv found her­self board­ing her first ever flight to Port Lin­coln.

“My fam­ily were all du­bi­ous about where I was go­ing and what I was go­ing to be do­ing,” she said.

“My mum ac­tu­ally thought I would have to take some tea, she thought they wouldn’t even have a cup of tea for me.”

Meet­ing her new em­ploy­ees, Ge­orge and Betty Sch­link, Viv soon found her feet in the role and set­tled into teach­ing the el­dest of the fam­ily’s five chil­dren, Daryl and Julie.

“The chil­dren did their school work cer­tain times of the day and then were al­lowed to go out and play,” she said.

“Then I would help the mum with the wash­ing and look­ing af­ter the other chil­dren.

“There was a six-year-old, five-year-old, three-year-old, two-year-old and a baby, so it was a real hand­ful for her.”

Viv still has rich mem­o­ries from this time.

“It was a real eye opener into coun­try life,” she said.

“I was there for shear­ing time, and we would have tuna fish­er­men come to swap bags of cray­fish for sheep.”

Viv re­mem­bers her stu­dents as en­joy­ing their study and said she ad­justed to her new lifestyle. She loved it there. How­ever, only a few months into her stay the fam­ily was shaken by a tragedy.

Ge­orge, the fa­ther of the chil­dren, sadly drowned in a boat­ing ac­ci­dent when out fish­ing with friends.

“Ob­vi­ously it was a very trau­matic time for them all. Betty then moved to her par­ents’ place at War­row, where there was a school down the road,” she said.

“I stayed with the fam­ily un­til they were set­tled and then moved back to Ade­laide. I of­ten won­dered what had hap­pened to the chil­dren.”

Years later, in 2015, when on a car­a­van­ning trip with her hus­band around the Eyre Penin­sula, Viv stopped in to El­lis­ton and asked at the lo­cal ho­tel if there were any Sch­links still liv­ing in the area.

Af­ter telling her story Viv was en­cour­aged to drive to the town’s road house, where the man who was run­ning it hap­pened to be the cousin of the Sch­link chil­dren.

“I tracked them down and made con­tact with them in Port Lin­coln,” she said.

“It was just so emo­tional. They had so many ques­tions about what had hap­pened on that day their mum hadn’t talked about. They wanted to know who had told her, how she had taken it and what had hap­pened af­ter­wards.”

By 1965 Viv had moved on from the Sch­links and found her­self on an­other small plane head­ing to a new gov­erness job at Nock­atunga Sta­tion, a vast prop­erty sit­u­ated about 650km north of Bro­ken Hill, just over the Queens­land bor­der.

“When we looked out of the win­dow and we could see th­ese peo­ple wav­ing madly, so we waved back and the pilot landed,” she said.

“Then they all rushed over and said ‘you aren’t sup­posed to land here – this strip has been con­demned!’

“The new strip was about four miles out fur­ther,” she laughed.

Nock­atunga, which was be­ing man­aged by the Hughes fam­ily, was ex­tremely dif­fer­ent to her pre­vi­ous prop­erty.

“It was so dry and arid com­pared to the South Aus­tralian prop­erty, I was there at the end of the seven-year drought.

“Ev­ery week 14 semi-trail­ers with four dogs on the back would come up to Nock­atunga to take what­ever cat­tle had been mus­tered down to Kars and Kinchega, south of Bro­ken Hill at Menindee.

“They had not had rain for so long, ex­cept up in one cor­ner of the prop­erty, I be­lieve there was still 5000–7000 head in that cor­ner where there was rain.”

Viv de­scribes the sta­tion as a small vil­lage.

“They had a book keeper and his wife, a me­chanic and his wife, a gar­dener, they had cow­boys around the homestead, a full-time fencer, a dog­ger, camps of stock­men and a cook.”

The dog­ger, who Viv be­lieves was em­ployed by the lo­cal coun­cil, was paid one pound for each wild dog scalp he col­lected.

It was a com­pletely dif­fer­ent world to her city roots.

“The mail truck would come once a week,” she said.

“The mail man would go over and have a meal in the camp kitchen and while he was eat­ing his meal every­one would go through their mail and an­swer any let­ters. I used to write to mum and dad ev­ery week. Wait for their let­ter to ar­rive then add a few points on the end of mine, that re­ally was our only means of con­tact.

“We did have a party line phone, but nine times out of 10 it didn’t work be­cause a tree or some­thing would fall over it.”

Viv was teach­ing the Hughes fam­ily’s youngest chil­dren, Phillip and Wendy. The three el­der chil­dren were away at board­ing school.

“They didn’t like school, es­pe­cially Phillip, the el­dest lad, he would rather be out on the horses with the men,” she said.

School of the Air was only in­tro­duced in the mid 1960s, so the Hughes kids were some of the first in the coun­try to par­tic­i­pate. So the school day soon evolved to hav­ing a one-hour lesson with their teacher Anne Anders, from the Charleville School of the Air. Be­fore the prop­erty re­ceived its first good rain­fall at the end of 1965 and early 66, Viv re­mem­bers fe­ro­cious dust storms.

“The dust storms bl blew f for days, you had to shovel sand off your ve­ran­das,” she said.

“I used to put wet news­pa­pers in the lou­vres and roll it up un­der­neath the doors to try and keep it out.”

In 2012, on an­other car­a­van­ning hol­i­day, Viv re­turned to Nock­atunga. She was amazed to see the lit­tle cot­tage where she once lived was still stand­ing, how­ever, it had since been fit­ted with air-con­di­tion­ing.

“And they have big gen­er­a­tors go­ing so you have power all the time. The power we had was out at 10pm ev­ery night, you went to bed whether you wanted to or not. Now they have in­ter­net ac­cess too, it was just a to­tally dif­fer­ent.”

The Hughes fam­ily stayed in touch with Viv for many years by writ­ing Christ­mas let­ters. Pam, the el­dest daugh­ter, later tracked Viv down af­ter her par­ents passed away through an old let­ter she had found of her fa­ther’s. The pair are now good friends.

Ten­nis matches, busy race meet­ings and the lo­cal dance hall packed with peo­ple who had trav­elled from all over make up some of Viv’s best mem­o­ries.

How­ever, she did ad­mit she longed for cer­tain foods.

“I craved sausages and ap­ples,” she laughed. “That’s what I wanted when we got back to civil­i­sa­tion … and you never saw a to­mato out there.”


her pre­vi­ous caught up with and , a for­mer gov­erness, Vivi­enne McLauch­lan Bald­is­serra, Karen Vivi­enne year. Kym, Septem­ber last host fam­ily in at the re­union. for a pic­ture Daryl all posed Vivi­enne McLauch­lan was the gov­erness for the Sch­link fam­ily on Pine­grove. Daryl (6) and Julie (5) were her stu­dents in Grade 1. Kym (3), Karen (2) and Deirdre (1) also lived on the prop­erty.


and Pam For­mer gov­erness Vivi­enne McLauch­lan are now good Han­d­ley, née Hughes from Nock­atunga, friends.

An­drea.davy@ru­ral­ .


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