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.
My very first day as a governess there was a knock on the door of the schoolroom door. I turned my head to see my boss holding up a massive python for me to see. If you had told me then that my year on Nita Downs would be one of the best of my life I would’ve laughed and called you crazy.
To say I was nervous is an understatement – I was petrified. I was a born and raised city girl. I liked nipping out to cafes and going to the movies, loved going shopping or out to dinner with my friends. And yet when the opportunity presented itself for me to work on a half a million-acre cattle station three hours south of Broome I just knew I had to say yes. I didn’t really have any idea what to expect and don’t think I’d ever seen a real cow before but I was ready for an adventure.
My station life was a little different to many govies'; there was only the family, one station worker and I occupying the massive space. I had to mentally prepare myself for true isolation and find ways to keep occupied when not working. I read hundreds of books that year, and powered through Netflix like nobody's business. But more than anything I had fun. Sure being the govie of just one year-four student was difficult sometimes but I got to embrace my inner child like nothing else. I made more slime and baked more cakes (on a bbq) that year than in the rest of my life combined.
A typical working day started at 7.15 am when L and I would log on for ‘Morning Muster’ where all the KSOTA (Kimberley School of the Air) kids from around the region would chat and update each other on what was happening. My favourite memory of this is when the students all exclaimed in wonder upon seeing a picture of a Los Angeles traffic jam and L said “Wow! I didn’t know that many cars even existed!” I remember being struck by how alien these kids found a traffic jam when to me it was their lives that were alien. We would follow muster by a few hours of lessons; maths, science, English depending on the day and then 'smoko' at 9.30am. I have no idea why smoko is called smoko but it usually involved me convincing L to eat the breakfast he had been to tired to eat before school. We would do schoolwork until 12pm at which point L would head off to have lunch with his parents if they were on the station.
The afternoons were ours. Sometimes we did more schoolwork but usually not. We went on walks that lasted hours, dragging Bob the dog along with us. We experimented making breads and doing science projects. We read books and built lego and rode horses. Those afternoons were the best part of being a govie and easily made all the morning bargaining about schoolwork and occasional tantrums worthwhile.
I had my 20th birthday on Nita and we celebrated with a ‘killer’ and ribs for dinner. I remember how proud I was skyping my family that night and telling them – they thought I was crazy.
Things that would have scared me before began to seem normal and became good stories to whip out at parties – frogs in the toilet, a snake in the washing machine, bushfires on the horizon. I made some amazing memories that year and credit it as being a time that I really embraced myself and became independent. Driving a six-hour road trip into town for your groceries and only realising you forgot peanut butter when you get home is enough to make anyone resilient! I can only recommend being a govie – you will grow and change and make some amazing memories plus meet some of the most honest and hardworking people in the world.
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.
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.