Bush School: A memoir by Peter O’Brien
There was a bed, a timber floor, thin tar paper on one side for privacy from the nearby road but nothing else. The flimsiest of ‘walls’, no pegs or nails to hang even a hat, no door, no rug for cold morning bare feet, no bookshelf for a voracious reader, no bedside cupboard for a lamp or a glass of water, no light source – just a bed and a suitcase for the next two years.
In 1960, newly minted teacher Peter O’Brien started work as the only teacher at a bush school in Weabonga, two days’ travel by train and mail car from Armidale. Peter was only 20 years old and had never before lived away from his home in Sydney. He’d had some teaching experience, but nothing to prepare him for the monumental challenge of being solely responsible for the education of 18 students, ranging in age from 5 to 15 years old. With few lesson plans, scant teaching materials, a wide range of curious minds and ages to prepare for, Peter was daunted by the enormity of the task ahead.
Because of Weabonga’s remoteness, the students were already at a disadvantage, but they were keen and receptive and had been blessed with an enthusiastic and committed teacher. Indeed it was the children and their thirst for learning who kept Peter afloat during the early days of shockingly inadequate living conditions, a deficient diet and the terrible loneliness he felt being isolated so far from family, friends and his burgeoning romance.
Bush School is an engaging and fascinating memoir of how a young man rose to a challenge most would shrink from today. It tells movingly of the resilience and spirit of children, the importance of learning and the transformative power of teaching.