Reflections while hurtling through rural space

(an unedited diary of a journey – November 2011) 

Day 1 UC-Albury 341KM

Day 1: What am I missing as I hurtle through the landscape on an ambivalent highway?

A rushed drive today to get here in daylight.  Not that that means illegal extra speed, just no time to stop and enjoy the drive. Quite apt though, as I was hurtling down the dual carriageway connecting the two economic centres of the south-east in the bubble of my European made car listening to radio national podcasts. How odd these carved expanses, designed to bypass all the little towns on the old highway and minimize the transit time between Sydney & Melbourne.

It makes me think about my old themes of space and place, in that we are connecting two places by bypassing others, and as technology has improved the space has shrunk between them and the small towns squeezed out.  Time is the issue then, time defines space.  What took a day now takes an hour or so. There is also the issue of scale then as well, as time changes the scale as well.

Thoughts then turned to the land around.  It was a lovely clear afternoon with a soft light, the land was in water colour; the sun in acrylic. It was lovely to see the Murrumbidgee in full flow and water in the overflow channels.  Green hills: blue sky.

Why does the land and sky bring so much peace? Even hurtling along denying the places I pass it’s as though I’m in a trance receiving the energy of the sky and the land.  What does this highway mean for the little farm houses and towns along the way.  Yes there is the decline that comes with being bypassed and the decline that comes with the shrinking space, but beyond that, Is it a symbol that ‘they don’t matter’ and what matters is at either end of the highway?  Then again this town could be a typical suburb of either (except maybe the ethnic mix). But then this is the south west, there is no highway out the far north-west where the teacher I talked to a couple of days ago is.  Sure there is a road so the usual issues of space, time and scale, but not the same symbolism of the highway.  I could however talk to him from my study via skype – the ultimate in space, time and scale compression.


Day 2 311 Km Albury – Barham

Day 2: The contrast of colours. 

Watet water everywhere. I just love getting together with new teachers in country towns. Today we had 30 new teachers at an event organized by the Border History Teachers Association (I’m the Regional Support Exec member of the NSW History Teachers Assoc), they’re great as they have lots of passion and experience, all I had to do was write some cheques.  The new CSU Campus in Albury is lovely, really it’s lovely on the edge of town, well designed, nice buildings etc. except for the sign ‘snake sighted in area’ along one path.  One bloke has even made his way from Nyngan, a 3 flight trip! Stayed till morning tea and chatted with a number of participants, managed to get a few to interview as well. There is something so familiar in their stories and experiences as new teachers and something so different as well – the social context features highly.

In the first session an experienced colleague was talking about what interests year 10 kids and wanting to talk about popular culture (a subject in the NSW History Syllabus) a few teachers were perplexed, ‘they just wanna go piggin’ ahhh, the role of the curriculum.  The examples of 1960’s Australia and American influence in music and cinema might be great in a curriculum but does it relate to kids that want to go ‘piggin’? how does a national curriculum help here?

Heading west there was water everywhere, irrigation canals that is (turns out the Murray has been in minor flood 3 times since July).  But wow what a volume of water. Not sure how I’d pint this, the sky was still a water colour but the land, well that must have been acrylic, with a green in oil… no wonder no-one has captured the Australian landscape in it’s vividness.  Saw Fred Williams last weekend at the NGA, how great is his work, how much does his canvas evoke the feeling of the land. But eth scale, the scale of his works wouldn’t capture this.  How does one capture a lush vivid green emergent rice crop, with red soil irrigation channel banks topped with dry brown grasses,  and how does the brain cope with horizons of rice paddocks this far inland!

What is the relationship between water and scale? Often water leads to greater population growth and concentration, here though there’s heaps of water but it is as sparsely populated as the north west.  A hell of a lot more ‘developed’ in terms of earthworks.  But regardless what does a kid from here see and imagine, what is their world? It’s open, it’s large, it has a certain organic nature that can’t be pinned down.  Is it different now that t is ‘developed’ is it’s meaning different?

Barham, what a little gem. This is 1950’s Australia well maintained and kept town, with a certain affluence.  Seems like a number of retirees from Melbourne are here.  But seriously it is a nice town.  Wayne (who I’m staying with) says the kids are amasing, no discipline issues at all, most teachers are or have become long term residents.  I can see why.  Walked down the street and saw the odd car but the club, well it’s nearly as big as the Lightning Ridge RSL.  Apparently when only NSW had pokies they’d cross the river for them (it’s a twin town on the border). There’s affluence here, just below the surface.

Why do I feel so good? Why do I enjoy the trip so much? Some would find the expansive plains a cause of fright.  Is it the lack of people? The lack of visual interruption? The freedom…

Right now the sky is in pastels.

 Day 3 (round trip 153KM)

Day 3: Water water everywhere.

Went for a bit of a wander today.  Lots of water on the Victorian side since the floods earler in the year.  Beautiful sky mid morning, probably an acrylic blue, now it’s tending to watercolour due to the light brushing of white clouds.  The light makes some of the greens an acrylic or oil – how it all changes with the light.

I’ve been wondering why I respond so internally to this sort of land, why the sky seems different.  It’s as though you can see more of the sky and see further. While this may be true it can’t be because of the topography – flat plains.  There are still trees along the river obscuring depth, but still I seem to see further.  I think there is certain honesty in the country, and I don’t mean that country folk are straight up and down, maybe I do.

I think the honesty is due to clarity.  I realized wandering along the river today that the reason I can see more is precisely because I can see more – the air is clean.  Usually in larger centres I’m looking through some degree of pollution that ensures the vision fades sooner or is obscured.  Without this we get depth but we also get honesty, honesty of colours. This is what blue is, green is, red is and all the pastels of sunset.  I can see clearly to the horizon, itself further away.

There might also be the pace. No doubt country life is different pace, and that itself allows one to spend the time to actually see. With that also comes that some country people only see through the classes they are wearing regardless of the time they may have.  How does this work in a small town bypassed by the highway, a dual time speed geography.

Returning to the theme of scale, it seems that the society that shrinks scale through its technology, transport and culture also reduces our ability to see the land through its pollution – thus limiting the scale of the land we see.

Is it the same at night? Why does vision alter the psyche so?

Do we capture this in education, or do we only see through someone else’s glasses?  

Day 4 (only a few KM’s on foot)

Day 4: The history of a place between two states.

Did an interview today that really ticked many of the box’s of typical new teachers experience in rural communities. School wise the issue of the need for appropriate and strong leadership in rural schools came up, the problem being all these leaders that are young and in their first position at that level. For many of these pursuit of the career seems more valuable than the students or even the subject it was suggested.

The issue I want to dwell on though is that of the social mix.  Issues like a strong racism for anyone not Australian, a parochialism of Australian subjects and what may be seen as a teachers struggle with kids whose world is local and a new teacher who values cosmopolitan globalized knowledge and culture. The issue is that students seem to know their futures, a future shaped by place and experience, which tends to be farm futures or vocational trades.  A few may aspire to uni but to many that’s not relevant.  Students were (again) described as having a form of naivety about the world and that they are shocked when they go to the city of coast and see what kids do and wear (or don’t as the case may be).  But how do we respond? Do we need to ‘broaden’ horizons or is this just imposing our cultural values.  What is education for? To enable people to live out their lives happily in their community or is it about making them global citizens with global aspirations? Another new teacher was telling me the other day how after she started teaching and encouraging kids to work hard so they can have options such as Uni etc she had a number of parents complain to her with sentences such as ‘I’ve got a good job, stop filling their head with that rubbish’. How do we respond? Should we? The curriculum and national testing certainly has a view on all this, is that just and fair?

Does the curriculum and ‘the system’ value the rural? Should it? Has Australia changed? I imagine the consensus would be that we no longer value the rural, and instead let it maintain a mythical role slightly to the left of reality.  I’m recalling Judith Brett’s recent Quarterly ‘Fair Share: Country and City in Australia’ which gives a comprehensive account of the issues impacting on rural areas in Australia and the challenges rural areas face.  Using Paul Kelly’s five pillars of the Australian Settlement; White Australia, Industry Protection, Wage Arbitration, State Paternalism, and Imperial Benevolence.  Brett proposes a sixth pillar, namely the trade off between country and city.  This tradeoff involved an acceptance that the state compensated people for the costs of remoteness and sparse settlement in return for the contribution of agriculture to the national economy. This broad acceptance however that rural residents should be given a fair share of Australia’s resources has been undermined by neoliberal the economic policies of the last 20 years and the relative decline of agriculture to the national economy (mining isn’t agriculture and since fly in fly our operations doesn’t build communities anymore). Consequently ‘regions’ have needed to pull their own weight, something the rural has generally been unable to do.   To counter this Brett argues for a renewed understanding of the benefits the city gets from the country (such things as agriculture, pleasure & recreation, national identity and stewardship).

Brett’s essay is unfortunately also notable for its blindness to education. Education is scantly mentioned and when it is it only appears as a mention within another concern, nowhere is it considered.  This should not be surprising however as rural policy, sociology and economic commentary rarely considers the issues pertaining to education.  This ignorance is perhaps symptomatic of the prevalence of economic considerations that the essay, and much social policy, ironically criticises.  It would appear that there still exists a bias to view these regions within a subtle economic frame, perhaps because this is the dominant discourse of our times.  Regardless, the social institution of the local school is a microcosm of exactly all the concerns much of the literature canvases.   To use one example from Brett’s essay, writing about the decline of services in rural areas Brett makes the case of the significance of the loss of the local bank manager in rural towns and the loss of social capital of their wives and children who assist in community organizations and add to local sports teams and the like.  In every town with a bank there at least is a public school, and for each town with a bank there are many smaller localities that do have a public school and not a bank, then there are the towns large enough to have schools with secondary departments or separate secondary schools.  Each of these employs a number of teachers, many more than the bank manager.

I think the model of rural social space being written about by the group involved in the TerraNova project and associated projects ( and manly written by Jo-Anne Reid and Bill Green fits well.  It comes out of a lot of American and Canadian work on rural literacies, place and space theory and rural research.  What works is that it links economy, geography and demography.  You can see it’s relevance in these attitudes schooling and career the new teachers are struggling against.  There is an industry that is based on geography, as well as being undermined by it as well, that is the basis of the economy that influences student’s understandings and expectations.  I’m not sure this is a policy example, but then I guess curriculum and education is a policy issue in some respects.  This all impacts demography as a change in the rainfall or water allocation leads to a change in work (economy) and people leave.  How do we fit education in this, clearly schools shrink as a result as well. But what about the stuff we do in then? As one teacher said in relation to the background knowledge kids bring ‘all they know is the history their dad told them’ or ‘the town has a bridge and an old pub, but that’s not much’.  If only we could see… how long in a place till a teacher can see? How do we teach them to see?

Speaking of seeing, still a watercolour day. Sky white with cloud cover, even had a few rain drops as we went for a walk.  The Barham Lakes, well that’s another surprise. A veritable oasis, like sydney’s centennial park with gardens, BBQ’s and lakes, playgrounds, even a little beach…

Can we open a campus here? 

Day 5 Barham – Dubbo 783KM

Day 5: An irrigated dryland & where two levels of though meet.

  1. I’m writing in the morning, having a beer instead.


It’s fascinating how the land changes as you travel north, from the flat expansive irrigated regions between the Murray and the Murrumbidgee, to the gently undulating hills north of Narrandrea and finally to the wooded hills and plains between Parkes and Dubbo with the constant shadow of the western escarpment of the dividing range.   This northern end is lush with thick paddocks and crops.  Plenty for the sheep.  There was a slight thin cloud layer leaving the land in watercolour, except for the red soil and some of the trees, they were leaning towards oils and acrylic respectively.   The pastures were at once the light hay colour of long meadows and green of healthy pasture. How do you paint two colours at once?

How odd it is to be passing large irrigation canals 80KM from the river in the early stages of the drive. No wonder the water issue is so dominant. One town the other day even had a side of a large shed in town painted with the slogan ‘Australia has a water problem. The solution isn’t taking it from the food producers’ in metre high letters. This concern to me seems to account for the focus of kids in the school on their lives being farming lives. Everything in these towns relies upon the water allocation, especially as the entire region is artificially created as an irrigated landscape with veins of water carved into the plains.   But, not meaning to see urban or cosmopolitan, isn’t there something a bit odd about irrigating semi arid regions and growing rice out here: then we have done it now and that is what people know.  Does this mean that rurality may in some instances be a physical construct or urban societies as well as an emotional and cultural one? It also shows what’s important in peoples lives, the farm and farming, something that doesn’t align well with the modern curriculum with cosmopolitan values, globalization and environmentalism.

In an interview a  teacher was describing how in geography instead of studying environmental management (a mandatory topic) locally they study coastal management to avoid community hostility, it doesn’t work they still get complaints. A place conscious pedagogy in reverse. What an intractable problem… I wonder though how the generally conservative cultural values of these communities (now there’s a stereotype) impacts upon pedagogy.  If you are in a challenging community the idea of doing things differently in relation to the situation makes sense, maybe even to transform the situation. Clearly there are some critical pedagogy thoughts lurking behind this but I’m deliberately not debating them. However in a conservative community is pedagogy more influenced by the ‘old school’ teaching of teacher centred traditional approaches? Perhaps that is what an interviewee the other day may have meant when they complained about teachers who live in the town, have farms, have been there 30 years and don’t need to communicate.  It was said they didn’t have programs, taught whatever they wanted, refused to embrace change – they controlled the class rather than worked with the kids.  Maybe in some towns this is what burns out or disenchants new teachers? Maybe rural teacher retention is both a function of personal isolation and difficult communities AND battling conservatism in more settled communities? Then again we may observe that many trainee teachers are themselves conservative in their views on teaching and pedagogy… perhaps they are but they don’t take rural postings, only those with a bit more of a sense of adventure and reform mindedness accept the challenge of the rural?

This trip is of course along the Newell highway, New South Wales longest.  The Newell is marketed as ‘more than a highway’ and as a journey through rural Australia – going by the number of caravans I had to pass and trucks that’s certainly true.   What does it mean that the Newell goes through identifiable rural areas? Why are they identifiable?  Donehower, Hogg & Schell ‘define ‘rural’ as a quantitative measure, involving statistics on population and region as described by the U. S. Census; as a geographic term, denoting particular regions and areas or spaces and places; and as a cultural term, one that involves the interaction of people in groups and communities.’ (2007:2). I guess these areas meet that definition, with perhaps the exception of Dubbo. It’s more a city that both sustains itself as it is of sufficient size while also serving the broader rural region.  How though is the meaning of the Neell different from the Hume from the other day, that artery between Australia’s heart and Lungs.  Are the little towns along this highway more legitimately rural than those along the Hume?

There are lots of little schools along the route I took as well.  How does all of the above help get staff to them and help them get their kids where they want/need to be, and who decides?  We can’t just assume that all little country schools will be staffed by locals, clearly that there is a constant shortage of staff indicated that rural areas canot sustain their own supply anyway. Furthermore this would only see local ideas in the school, surely other ideas are needed, or is this a value statement?

The big issue for me in staffing is that it is not just an industrial situation of conditions.  It has to also be about what the staff do when they are there – a curriculum issue.  However present ‘debates’ in education (debates? Imposed and created problems and imposed solutions…) are not really conditions either.  Standards, pedagogy models and a national curriculum to standardise schools are not working conditions issues.  But they create a whole new dimension of working conditions for deprofessioanlised para-professional zombies.  Neoliberalism has successfully redefined the territory of old industrial battles onto one with clear rules and expectations.   They define who and what a teacher is supposed to, a deliverer of standardized content according to the sanctioned standards and through approved pedagogy.  However teacher unions seem determined to keep balling on the conditions front. How can we have a battle for professional pay when professionalism is being removed, ironically under the auspices of raising just that.   But this focus on conditions may account for the teacher-ed phenomenon we have  with students wanting the recipe, the tools, and wanting to know exactly what they need to do in their assignment and how it will be marked.   What’s worse all this is about what we teach and how – where are the students we are meant to be teaching? Why are unions absent from the field that matters, the what teachers teach.  In the end conditions are important but wouldn’t the very fabric of what they do each day be more important? 

Day 6 Dubbo

Day 6: Australian Theory?

I’ve been watching the light change on a large tree of the back verandah of my motel room since dusk yesterday. Some art theorist will have a fancy word for it but it is fascinating how the changing light constantly reinvents the tree – such that its true nature is brought into question or perhaps interpreted as a canvas for everything else. I think what’s needed here is photography rather than paint, a series in time and light rather than one instant.

Todays interview reinforced a constant theme, the most important thing is to relate to kids in this school / community or what I’ll call place.  In many ways this is not surprising, after all the first professional standard is ‘know their students and how they learn’. However we tend to pursue this in the (what’s the ‘school’ model Simon uses?) form of educational psychology and knowing students social, emotional and moral development, and subject content knowledge and subject pedagogical content knowledge.   Where, and how, do we teach those skills of actually getting to know the child, the human being, the developing identity, that is there before thee? We train teachers to identify, categorise, label, diagnose and plan an ‘intervention’. What’s worse can we train this and if we do is it professional or a true vocational issue?  I tend to the we can train broad Emotional Intelligence and that this is only part of the existing array of psychological knowledge’s teachers need, and that they cannot properly ‘diagnose etc’ if that is what they do without first coming to know the student.  Seligman talks about ‘learned optimism’ and learning ‘happiness’ so it can be done. However a bit like this tree, it’s only ever temporal.

There is also that issue of teachers in small schools not having the required subject knowledge. Often they teach outside their field just because there isn’t a full load for anyone.  I remember when I began at the Ridge we were the second year of developing the High School section and there were just three of us.  I had Science, PE and my HSIE.  The History Teachers I’ve been speaking to in small schools are variously teaching Math, Science, Ag, D&T, English & languages.  This flexibility is part of the job, but it takes a certain disposition.  However it also undermines the knowledge base of the subject and the knowledge base as per Shulmans Pedagogical Content Knowledge.   How can we expect teachers to engage the kids with a place conscious pedagogy when they don’t have the subject knowledge to begin that process with?

It seems that with the vagrancies of school staffing which undermine subject and pedagogy knowledge, the tension around conservative and reformist pedagogy and the general marginalistion of including the rural in knowledge systems that Judith Brett is right, the rural is now overlooked.  Her solutions about re-engaging it are problematic though as many are just using the rural as a recreation site, it’s ruralness is only relevant in its openness and sparse population.  The other, the stewardship of the land, is romantic at best and relates to the agrarianism she criticizes. Nothing seems to engage the rural on its own terms, nothing is immersed.

My observations about land and colour are just that, surface observations.  Can I know the rural and what it means through such observations or do I need to bury myself in the soil, lay amongst the pasture, become the tree.  I’m not sure, certainly looking without obstruction and feeling without interpretation helps one become better able to understand such things.  Thinking back to the honesty of colours and the clarity of vision, I think these are what influence thinking and theory development, as long as we take them for what they are, and not position them in opposition to what they are not – for example a known urban or imagined rural idyll.

On this I was looking at an old Eucalypt the other day by the river.  It was your typical old Gum with beautiful pristine bark poking through the cracked and darkened old bark that is shredding and shedding, its branches were twisted and knotted, some mid branch other at the junction of two.  I realised that I’ve seen this old knotted tree before.  I’ve seen it everywhere in the Australian landscape.  Over the last decade the notion of the Rhizome as suggested by Deleuze & Guttari has become the dominant metaphor for theory and theory development.  The tree, the previous fad, has become cliché’ and incomplete, way to structured and overused many argue.  I wonder if it is though.  These old knotted trees of the Australian landscape, these trees that act as a canvas for the changing lights of the bush, are I some ways more rhizomic than structured European trees.  Are they a post colonial theory of themselves, where old European knowledges and traditions are taken and twisted, bits broken off, new bits emerging, where somehow they withstand the harshness of the dry bush, the devastating fire only to regenerate in floods and good seasons.  Maybe they symbolize the emergence of Australian theory, a sub-branch of Connells southern theory perhaps? In that they are not trees or rhizomes, both imported notions, but instead Australian. Genuine.

Day 7   320 KM Dubbo – Cobar

Day 7: A bloody big hole

How can one not keep returning to the colours, especially as you head to the red earth interior and the coppor mining regions around cobar.  The contrast of the red soil and green scrub of the rolling downs, apparently it is its own bioregion with unique vegetation

Cultivated land extends a long way west to Nyngan, where it becomes intermittent cultivated or grazing land, before you arrive in Cobar faced with wall of an open cut mine.  Then you go around to a look out above the mine and are confronted with a massive hole in the earth, mines are abundant here, I wonder what future the kids plan? Do you need to know about the world when digging holes provides everything? But what about the technology and innovation of the industry, and the geo-economic and political issues that underpin the industry – you need to know at least these.  Perhaps other cosmopolitan ways are not necessary, but then a person isn’t the sum of their occupation. There is the life of the mind, emotion, art & dreams.

Speaking of art, it truly is the light, the ability to see, that makes the difference. Drizzling all day today so the grey wash gave the land a matt acrylic appearance. Still vivid but not vibrant, somewhat subdued. It’s interesting how on the flat roads where you can see the distant horizon how the mind blends the junction of land and sky, they become one over a contact zone.  Is this what happens when we immerse ourselves in the rural, we go through a period of metamorphosis.  How do teachers do it, how long does it take, is it’s occurrence linked to their satisfaction and retention? What’s more is this what happens with curriculum, it may have one appearance but with a place consciousness it’s knowledge code is blurred and redefined? At least in some instances where you can see the horizon perhaps. Returning to the idea of immersing in the soil, if we need to see and feel in order to understand, how can we promote place conscious pedagogies from the rural.  How can we teach with this knowledge if we haven’t felt this knowledge first?

Then again, between Nyngan and Cobar I drove past a billboard advertising a exclusive boarding school for girls.  Why not boys, why is it necessary? What does it say about the values of the community?

Day 8 Cobar – Parkes 398 KM

Day 8: When we look we see.

Took the road less travelled through grazing and crop country, the landscape was familiar from the previous days travels and again it was mat acrylic land given to the overcast day and dark clouds.  Headers worked furiously to collect the crop just in case.

There is a certain parallel between the occasional rise on the road and how it affords the ability to look down on the land and the clarity and distance visible away from the polluting city.  (is this also a pollution of the mind due to cosmopolitan capital concerns, the relentless bombardment of ideas, entertainment, advertising etc).  Rather than being part of the land and starting to understand its meaning you begin to be separated from it as you look down in a semi detached consciousness.  I’m not sure which helps the better development of theory, being down close and closer to it in its particularities, or looking down over larger areas and developing a holistic view. I guess neither is a true representation, each is just a perspective as is always the dilemma.   We need both as the close land level view will itself lead to a form of parochialism, agrarianism perhaps. The view from the rise may be a meeting of landed parochialism and the cosmopolitan view.

What is the role of the rural in contemporary Australia? I know I earlier mused on his in response to Judith Brett, but it keeps coming back to mind. I’m challenged about a few important issues of existence and the meaning of things.  Talking today a lot of people in this town are fly-in fly-out mine workers, the work in the mines results in a community unemployment rate less than 2% (totally against rural trends).  There is great difficulty in engaging students in school as they see jobs outside the window.  A few aspire to university but most can go from year 10 to apprenticeships and be making big money in a few years.  Maybe some will go on to an engineering degree and a small business.  In short the kids can in a few years earn more than their teachers and school principal.  Exacerbating this is low literacy as, employing social reproduction theories, the kids parents have year 10 education, so don’t see the point given their earnings. Thus earnings are the key motivator.  Similarly in many ways the farming draw of earlier days and other regions, the work of life is there so why do school.  This beings me face to face with my fear – maybe life and meaning are just about earning a living and our dominant political discourses of today are correct.  If that so what am I doing? Is it some elitist pursuit of greater meaning? Am I imposing a value on these lives? Why does someone choose to farm? How am I placed to understand this motivation and life choice, is it in fact a choice at all or a way of being  -in Bourdieuian terms a habitus.  Perhaps we don’t need an intellectual life after all?

Another interesting phenonema came to mind today as well. I had previously considered the compression of time and distance due to transport technology.  But there is also new technologies for communication. The fact that I can interview a teacher in a far western school thanks to the internet technology is astounding, he’s in his ‘place’ with his concerns and struggles and I’m in my ‘place’ without any of those – how would this project be different if I didn’t physically ‘go’ to these towns (or have been previously to, does that count?). Maybe that is part of our policy problems, policy makers don’t know place.  Anyway, the issue that arose was of teachers who don’t connect to place, the ones who never feel happy in their school or town and get out at the first moment and get back at the last.  They were described as being able to do so due to new technologies.  In the past you had to get out in town and meet people, get to know the ‘place’. Nowadays they go strait home log into facebook and talk to friends on skype – they live in their other world virtually never really engaging in the one they are in – absolutely fascinating and something to explore further, the notion of living in two places and the distance between them being compressed.  A form of simulated life..

Day 9 Parkes – Moss Vale 378 KM

Day 9: The Journey end, or perhaps begins…

I think I need to buy a farm between Cowra & Borowa – what lovely countryside. It was a dull watercolour, again dark clouds with hints of sunshine illuminating distance treasures.  It could be the tinge of sadness as I know this is the journey home and soon I’ll re-join the Hume, with its ambivalence to place and its familiarity as a road oft travelled by myself.

The place of the rural and rural lives in a troubling one.  As Brett argues they were the defining ideals and images of the nations. The rural ‘image’ is still strong although in contradictory ways.  But how things have changed.  In the lead up to federation a number of the key speeches and conventions were held in rural towns, the rural helped form the nation: today a century after federation we have the show of ‘community cabinets’ but very little reference to the rural, hence the power and rise of the rural independents.

It’s also quite interesting how rural schools are often described as being difficult. This ranges from some in challenging social contexts where there is no economic opportunity and therefore little motivation, to others in more secure rural industries where employment is waiting. Obviously the local economy is a big factor here.  But it is the opposite to the rhetoric about the troubles of disengagement and social dislocation of ‘urban’ schools in America and Europe.   I wonder to what extent the literature on urban schools could be applied to some rural schools.

I also remember passing a caravan on the long paddock which runs along the newell. I’m not sure why it was necessary as there appeared plenty of pasture but that’s besides the point.  There is something meaningful about the long paddock, some sort of collective social recognition of the rural life.  What’s more the caravan travelling it is deeply attuned to the journey, they know not one place and but various places as they travel with the journey being the point of meaning. There is something I can’t articulate here, but I felt some sort of parallel with them and what I was doing.

I must be carful not to romanticize the rural.  I think at times my search for description and meaning may be a form of romanticized agrarianism. But its really about trying to understand how to describe place, and how to develop a disposition to see and sense place: a way beyond describing the enconomy, landscape and people with statistics and other descriptions.  There is something internal that is troubling me in my inability to articulate it.  The TerraNova project talks about ‘community ready’ but how do we do this, there is more than finding out, there is indeed a way of being in these schools. A way we need to see and be aware of, for if we are not we are positioning them as disadvantaged versions of the school we imagine.