Bibliophile | Sally Gare shares her story in ‘Outback Teacher’

Outback Teacher
by Sally Gare
Allen & Unwin

If you went to teachers’ college in the 1950’s, you were expected to serve time in a country school. The government paid your fees and gave you a pitiful living allowance and if you didn’t spend your first two years teaching at a country posting and accepting a lower rate of pay, you had to pay the money back. So, fresh out of Claremont Teachers’ College, twenty year old Sally Gare found herself at the Forrest River Mission that was run by the Church of England.

The Oombulgurri Mission was a boat ride from Wyndham on the outgoing tide before a 210 km dirt track drive that was prone to washouts in the Wet Season. Near the Western Australian and Northern Territory border, February at the beginning of the school year was stiflingly hot and humid. People said that if you lived in Wyndham, you didn’t need to go to hell when you died as you’d already been there.

Nothing would prepare Sally for the challenges of teaching 45 Aboriginal children ranging in ages from five to thirteen, with many of the children unfamiliar with the English language. It was a dry community but there were fights among the men and the kids seemed more interested in what was happening in the outside world (thanks to what they saw in magazines) than their own culture.

Sally has many adventures and misadventures. She establishes a school for 40 Pindan Aboriginal children in an old locomotive shed (that is still being used!) two miles out of Port Headland. Making do with a few old desks that had to be shared and some paper, crayons and pencils, she worked with less to create more.

Now a lively octogenarian, Sally Gare tells her fascinating and historic story to former student Freda Marnie who has worked as a rural journalist and written three books. Focusing on the positivities and the ‘learning experiences’, the memoir reveals a passionate teacher who found solutions to the problems of isolation, changed many lives and still works in education as part of the Alternative to Violence Project in Western Australia and the Northern Territory.

Lezly Herbert

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