govie stories

My Govie Life, Courtney Sonter

My Govie Life, Courtney Sonter

I’m not going to say that it’s all rainbows and sparkles, I have my days where I question myself as to why I did this and start counting the hours until the weekend, but then there are the days where I can’t stop smiling and remember how lucky I am that I get to work and explore a beautiful part of the country and work in such a different environment.

Tales from a Long Term Governess

Charmaine Grott has worked on and off as a governess since 1992. In this time she has nurtured many children, guiding them through their daily lessons in and out of the schoolroom and helping them to achieve their potential. 

Charmaine was kind enough to answer some questions about life as a governess and how the role has changed over time. We hope to hear more from Charmaine in the future as she no doubt has hundreds of stories to tell and can offer a great insight into the role of a governess past and present.

On different roles...

I always wanted to be a teacher but didn't have the opportunity to do that.  I've always loved the bush and read about being a governess when I was younger but my Mum wanted me to be a bit older than 17 before I tried it. So when it looked like I would become redundant in 1992 I applied for govie jobs.  I didn't get the first three jobs I applied for but the day I lost my job I was accepted for a governess job so away I went!

My first govie job was in Queensland.  I worked as a governess for the next three years then went to live in England where I worked as a nanny. I came back to Australia in 1996 and took a role as a nanny/station-hand for 12 months and then went back to being a govie until  April 2001.  I’ve worked in Queensland, the Northern Territory and Western Australia. 

I came to Ruby Plains (in the Kimberley) in October 2001 as a cook as I needed a break away from kids but that didn't last long as twins were born in October 2002 and I've been here ever since. 

I continued to work as a cook until the twin boys started Kindy and I went back into the schoolroom.  I had the boys with me a lot in the kitchen where we did lots of things you would do in day care...especially painting (with water) and playdough and lots of cooking.

During this time I did a bit of study.  I obtained an Advanced Certificate from TAFE in Home Tutoring, a Diploma in Children's Writing form The Australian College of Journalism and I started studying my Early Childhood Teaching but I never finished that! 

On daily life...

It's busy!  I have long days as I do other jobs as well as teaching.  Before school I look after the animals, feed the chooks, pigs, goats and other creatures in our menagerie. 

School days vary depending on what's happening.  Most days we start school at 7am and finish at 12pm.  But some days we start at 6.30am and finish at 2.30pm, especially if we've got art or cooking to do.  We do school from the Northern Territory so there is an hour and half time difference which is why we start so early.

After school I spend time with the kids, though there's only one now as the twins have gone to boarding school.  I help out cleaning the visitors quarters, doing the station store and social club and any other jobs that need doing.  I collect the eggs and lock the animals up again of an afternoon.  I usually knock off about 5pm.  I like keeping busy. Sometimes I fill in for the cook as well so I could be in the kitchen cooking tea.

On changing roles..

When I started I had little kids and a baby so a lot of my time was spent with them after school helping out.  I also had a lot more prep to do then as there was lots of cutting out and getting things ready for the next day.

Now that the kids are grown up and there is only one in the schoolroom I'm a bit freer.  I don't need to do as much prep and certainly don't spend hours marking work or uploading it to the school server.  When the boys were doing high school this could take me hours to do.  Also, if they had assignments to do we could spend all afternoon working on them.

On career highlights...

I'd have to say seeing my previous students all grown up and having families of their own,  I've kept in touch with all of them. 

It's also been pretty special being with one family and seeing the kids go from babies to young, achieving adults.  Though I still think the best thing is seeing any child suddenly "getting it" you know that light bulb moment when they first learn to read or spell a hard word or remember their nine times tables.

I love my job.  I love living where I live and I love having the privilege of helping to mould a little person into a bigger person.  It's a big responsibility.  But don't worry there have been some really shitty days where I wanted to chuck my job and just pack up and run away. It's not all roses every day, some days it's pure hell.

On frustrations...

Oh the bloody internet!!! Computers that don't work and teachers who don't return work quickly or give positive feedback.  Also, children who don't want to be in the schoolroom. 

On free time..

I read a lot and also sew patchwork quilts.  I used to go out on a bore run every now and then and sometimes in the holidays go out in the camp cooking or working.  I don't do that much now, I'm too old!!

On advice for future governesses..

Go for it.  But do try and stay a whole year if you can. It's hard on the kids not having the continuity of the same person for the year.

Don't be afraid to ask questions.  The only stupid question is the one you don't ask, communication is important.  Talk to the parents about what's going on in the schoolroom.  Talk to the teachers if you don't understand something or need help.  But remember you're there to do an important job. Having fun and getting out and about is good but your job is to teach the kids first and foremost.

It’s the most rewarding but challenging job I've ever had but I still love it. I don't necessarily love all the technology as I'm a bit ‘old school’ but it’s the way of the future for kids of today though they still have to learn how to read and how to write.

The Call of the Kimberley

In 2012 Kaytlin Courtis was a teacher seeking adventure. She took a year’s unpaid leave from her school in Victoria to spend some time travelling and, towards the end of that year, agreed to a short stint working as a governess on a large cattle station in the Kimberley. Kaytlin returned to Victoria with a strong sense of unfinished business and soon found herself journeying north once more to take on a second governess role, this time remaining with the same family for several years.

In the first of our ‘Govie Stories’ Kaytlin tells us about her experience working as a governess and how it impacted on her teaching career.

I remember those first 24 hours so vividly. It was late October, right in the middle of the build-up to the wet season. It was stiflingly hot and humid. My boss picked me up from the airport in Broome and we drove the two hours out to the station.

As we were driving down the 17km driveway onto the station bush fires blazed all around us. I couldn’t believe how calm my boss was. I was completely terrified!  Where were the local fire authorities? Why weren’t there road blocks? Where were the news helicopters? Had this fire been raging in Victoria, it would be all over the news. Instead, this fire was just one in a string of many the station crew would fight that season. Nothing particularly special or dramatic.

That night, as we watched the fire burn on the horizon, I felt like I had landed on another planet. This was a world of which I knew nothing. I was completely taken aback by the hospitality of everyone of the station. I was made to feel so welcome and, despite the fire, all of my worries were eased on that first night.

I knew the placement was short term and that I had already agreed to return to my school in Victoria for the following school year but by the end of that first week at the station I was already thinking about how I could get back to this line of work.

Upon leaving the station I returned to my job (teaching English and Humanities to secondary students in an independent P-12 school on Phillip Island) with my mind full of memories from the Kimberley. During that year I found another job as a governess on a different station in the Kimberley located just outside of the tiny town of Fitzroy Crossing. I began work there at the beginning of 2014 teaching the station manager’s four daughters. I planned to stay a year and had no intentions of staying any longer. However, I ended up staying nearly two and half years!

I had no idea what to expect of the role initially, growing up in Victoria I didn’t know that this form of work even existed. I was quite apprehensive as I had no experience teaching primary aged students. My hopes, professionally, were that I would come away with an understanding of the School of the Air model and maybe a better understanding of what is covered in primary schools.

I found that working as a governess was incredible rewarding. You not only spend the school day with your students, but also inevitably some mornings, evenings and weekends also and so you end up developing quite a close relationship with your students. Having four students in my school room, as opposed to 30, meant that I could focus my attention on each student and see their progression quite quickly.

However the school room had its own challenges. I would often be juggling a craft activity with the kindy student, a science experiment with the grade 2, a writing task with the grade 5 whilst learning times tables with the grade 4. Some days this worked surprisingly well, but other days could be a disaster.

The contrast with my working life in Victoria was huge. In Victoria, my weekdays were dedicated solely to work. I would spend time each weekend marking and planning and maybe grabbing a coffee with friends, or exploring the suburbs of Melbourne.

When I moved to the Kimberley, suddenly evenings were spent with the crew debriefing on the day as we watched the sun set. Weekends were spent mustering or out in the yards with the crew. Days off were spent down by the river, fishing and exploring. All of a sudden, riding motorbikes, helicopter flights back to the homestead, branding cattle, feeding pigs, chooks and poddies became the norm. My life in Victoria seemed a world away.

I learnt so much about primary teaching in my time working as a governess. My skill set certainly expanded and I now have a greater appreciation for primary school teachers. I am putting these skills in to use in my current teaching role as, thanks to my improved understanding of primary teaching and learning, I now feel more confident working with students who struggle with low literacy and numeracy levels.

I will forever be so grateful for my time living on a remote cattle station. I am, most certainly, a stronger person for the experience. I was lucky enough to do so many things I never dreamed I would do and to meet some incredible people along the way.

A huge thank you to Kaytlin for sharing her story with us. Kaytlin now works as a Year Leader in a secondary school in the Kimberley (the area is yet to release its grip) and continues to be one of the kindest, most patient and all round awesome people I know. I knew Kaytlin during her time as a governess and, aside from the personal qualities that made her great at her job, one of the most inspiring things about her was her willingness to give anything a go and to fully embrace life on a station. She is a wonderful example of ‘the more you put in, the more you get out’ and hopefully we can convince her to share some more of her experiences in the future.