Saturday, 20 October 2012


5am departure from Goondiwindi for St George

My work this week had me in Goondiwindi.

This town has a special place in my heart.

I started teaching near there in 1968, at Inglewood. I had 25 year threes – a very small class in those days. The other year three teacher was also in her first year. She was Italian, her dad was one of the wealthiest tobacco farmers in the district, and she was easy on the eye.

It was too good to be true. Overnight I was transferred to Goondiwindi, where I was given a class of fifty-five year fives.

It was sink or swim. I swam.

I boarded with a family in Callandoon Street. I found the house the other day. It looks much the same.

Out the back is the laundry in which the father of the family (a drover) would slaughter a sheep on the comparatively rare occasions he was home. There were two adolescent boys who were always in trouble. Sometimes their mum prevailed on me to try to talk some sense into them.

I failed – they took absolutely no notice. They were, however, scared stiff of their dad, and there was often a reckoning when he came home.

Their mum decided I was too skinny and tried to fatten me up by providing enormous helpings of mutton most meals together with other bits of sheep anatomy not usually eaten.

It didn’t work – I stayed skinny.

I owned two Volkswagens whilst I was there – two, because the first one blew up. It put a valve through a piston at 68km/hour, which was its top speed.

The second one did the same, but at 72km/hour and on my way to Singleton after call-up. It was a later model, hence the slightly higher top speed. I realised after a while, that it wasn’t necessary to drive everywhere absolutely flat out.

My stay at Goondiwindi was brief. At the beginning of next year I was marched into 3TB Singleton, and then in June 7RAR. I didn’t darken the door of a classroom again until 1971.

I was walking down the main street this trip, when a woman in her forties with two kids, bailed me up.

I had taught her in 1968. She has a good memory.

Hanky Panky

You can blog anything.

To prove the point, I’m blogging a soiled handkerchief.

Handkerchiefs (I think that’s the plural, although spellcheck doesn’t like it) are a vanishing artifact – or at least those who pocket them are.

I’m a member of that endangered species – handkerchief pocketers.

Since I was a wee lad, I’ve always carried one. My mum would have died of shame (now where have I heard that turn of phrase before?) had I headed off to school without a neatly pressed and hemmed piece of square cloth in my pocket.

When I travelled the 1600kms to boarding school at age 14, I carried in my luggage half a dozen white handkerchiefs embossed with the school crest, and with my laundry number (994) written in marking pen in the corner of each.

In the army, we carried knitted sweat rags which were very useful for a range of things. You could tear them into strips and employ them to clean weapons, wipe a sweaty brow, or clean up a dixie (never, of course, in that order).

Last week on a series of school visits, my ever reliable hanky came in for a variety of uses.

One small lad had scratched his arm, which threatened to bleed all over his clothes and the church pew (we were in a church school rehearsing for a service). I went looking for tissues in the sacristy. There was lots of useful stuff including altar wine but no tissues.

Somehow, church sacristies have side-stepped the conventional march of time, and they don’t feature tissues. These days classrooms are full of tissue boxes.

There was nothing for it but to offer him my clean and ironed hanky, telling him to hold it on his arm until the bleeding stopped. He did and it did.

When we got back to school, I was able to raid the first aid box and apply a band aid, but the hanky was well blooded.

I re-pocketed it.

At the next school, I was working with a ten-year old girl who was using one of those laminated sheets on which you write, and then clean the textra off with a tissue as you go along.

There were tissues in this classroom, but because I was in the middle of a busy classroom where the teacher was in full flow, I didn’t feel like disrupting the proceedings to fetch a box of tissues.

Handkerchief was employed again.

Next morning, I had to leave at sparrowfart and drive into the rising sun. The windscreen was covered in dead insects. Once again, handkerchief was used.

The result is at the top of the post.

It’s all good – or will be until my bride does the washing.

Monday, 15 October 2012

Sunday, 14 October 2012

Strange Times

The job I’ve been doing since “retirement” has me working substantially in state schools, but about 10% of my caseload has been in Catholic and Independent schools.

As of the end of the 2012 school year, I’ll no longer be able to support these non-state school kids and teachers.

This is apparently a consequence of the Newman’s government’s cost cutting, but to be frank the decision and the reasons for it don't make sense.

First I knew about it was by way of an email telling me I would have to work hard in term 4 “building capacity” in the non-state schools where these kids with disabilities were enrolled, and I’d have to come up with some way of helping them plan to do without my support and the equipment they have on loan from Disability Services Support Unit. This is because AVT services to non-state schools in Queensland will be withdrawn at the end of 2012.

Apart from the lack of availability of specialist support (my job) into the future, there are a bunch of other implications for these schools.

How a small school is going to raise the dosh for an expensive piece of equipment previously available free on loan, is right now, another mystery. Given that I work exclusively in small bush schools with very small budgets, this has the whiff of making wine from water. I guess that the Catholic schools may have special abilities in this area. I hope so, because it stumps me as to how they're going to do it.

The only reason put forward (by the minister, John-Paul Langbroek when he was cornered by the ABC after a complaint from the parent of a lad in Brisbane with Cerebral Palsy) was that the non-state schools were “double-dipping”.

This makes no sense at all.

There is a funding agreement between the Federal government and the non-state system which allocates money to non-state schools on the basis of enrolments of kids with disabilities. This has been in place (in various forms) since the eighties. I’m thoroughly aware of it, as in another life in Mt Isa; I was responsible for administering the grants for North West Queensland.

As far as I know, this federal-state agreement continues. What apparently will not continue is the agreement between the Catholics and the state government.  Last year's agreement is available on line - this year's was much the same. It appears, therefore, that the Newman administration believes that because the feds are looking after kids with disabilities in non-state schools, they're relieved of any responsibility.

The trouble is that these federal grants are used to buy teacher aide time and teacher time, based on the level of need of individual students. This is calculated using a complex process called Verification, which is essentially the same for state and non-state schools. The higher the level of need – the more resources. Unfortunately (because it's dead boring), one aspect of my job is guiding this process, something closer to financial auditing, rather than teaching. Teaching kids and working with teachers is what I’d rather be doing, but if I don't ensure the Verifications go through, the kids (and schools) don’t get any help. So I have to do it.

Be that as it may, the Verification process supplies the resources, and the service I provide operationalizes these resources. From the beginning of next year, for non-state schools, the second part of this support will cease.

It’s a bit like being given a new car to drive, but being told there’s no petrol available.

I doubt that there’s been any thought, planning or consultation behind this.

The weird thing is, you’d be hard put to identify where any savings are going to come from. The AVT service is continuing for non-state schools, and these are by far the majority.

How much extra does it really cost to work in the non-state school in a small town, when the job is already being done in the state school a few hundred metres down the road?

My habit has been (in a town like St George for example) to divide the school day into thirds, and spend a third of each day in the state school, the high school and the Catholic school. I’ll still have to drive the 400kms (5 hrs) to St George, but won’t be allowed to set foot in the convent school.


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