Last month I spent two days in the company of 200 fabulous rural
Queenslanders, as part of the 40th anniversary conference of the Isolated Children’s and Parents’ Association (ICPA) QLD, where I was a guest speaker.
If you’re living in an Australian city and sometimes feel that your kids’ educational options are half-baked, then spare a thought for the 4,500-odd families connected to the ICPA nationally. These are people whose children attend the School of the Air, are home-schooled, or face all manner of logistical and financial obstacles in attempting to obtain a decent education.
ICPA members spend countless hours lobbying Federal and State departments to ensure that all rural and remote children have access to the kinds of educational opportunities that citysiders take for granted… like a school bus. Or a committed School Principal. Or universal access to early childhood education.
I loved being part of this conference – it was democracy in action. Delegates from more than 30 branches thrashed out a raft of motions to put to policymakers. The discussion was orderly and polite, yet deeply passionate and personal.
At the conference dinner at Paradise Lagoons – a spectacular camp drafting facility just outside Rocky - the beer was flowing, the company engaging… when suddenly, a storm of epic proportions blew in from nowhere.
It’s not often that the weather can halt a party in rural Queensland, but this one did. As the rain lashed down, my fellow conference-goers told me some storm stories that made ‘Love in the Age of Drought’ seem like cakewalk. Like the hail stones that knocked cockatoos dead out of trees. Or the deluge that made a creek run backwards. Or the lightning strike that burnt a shed to the ground.It wasn’t until the concrete floor was wet under our feet that I started to worry, just a little. After all, my youngest (5 months) was being cared for by a local babysitter, in my hotel room approximately 30 kilometres away. And, without putting too fine a point on it, I’m still breastfeeding. I simply HAD to get back by ten o’clock.
When Mrs Marshall, wife of the local mayor, started glancing around and saying ‘You know, we might get stuck out here for the night… I think they’ve got enough swags’, Mother Nature kicked in with a vengeance. My heart began racing, an image of my baby’s face swam before my eyes. Very shortly afterwards, it wasn’t just the concrete floor that was wet. Damn those let-downs.
Thank goodness for Ian Herbert, a White Night from the QLD Department of Transport, who braved the big wet to drive me back to attend to my biological duties. And someone else who hitched a ride, serendipitously, was Jason Caruso, Head of Campus at Dalby State High School. We swapped Dalby and Jimbour stories as a distraction from my more, er, pressing matters.
A special thank you to Paula Heelan, Trudy Wyse, Di Selby, Lorraine McGinnis, Claire Mactaggart, Ainsley and Rob McArthur, and everyone else who made me feel so welcome. It was a privilege being your guest speaker. Best of luck with your important work.