OUTBACK EDUCATION IN THE ‘NOT TOO DISTANT’ PAST Warburton Ranges (WA) in 1970 (4)

There was a certain vast remoteness about the landscapes leading to and from Warburton that somehow left those passing through with a feeling of outback majesty.

The area around Warburton Ranges was semi desert scrubland and Spinifex. However, every vestige of vegetation had vanished from the country to the north, south, east west of the settlement and to a distance of at least 4 to 5 km. And the fact that Warburton sat in the middle of a veritable dustbowl meant that every time a breeze would blow up, the settlement would be shrouded in dust.

Sometimes we only had a light dusting (with zephyr like breezes) but on many of occasions with strong easterly winds, dust filled every nook and crevice of our school and houses. Keeping things clean was a never-ending task.

We didn’t have school cleaners so our task is a small group of teaching staff was to not only look after our homes but also the school when it came to basic cleaning. I windows in both the school and our houses were of the louvred variety; keeping dust out through shutting those windows was impossible. A carpet of red on desk and table tops, chairs, cupboards and other fittings was constant.

On one occasion we had a visitor who was to be a house guest. On arrival, she immediately set to to spruce the house (obviously thinking we had no interest or capability in household cleanliness). When the job was done, there was brief time for any celebration. The wind came up, blew unceasingly for a period – and she came to understand why the house (also aluminium with masonite wall lining) was as it had presented on her arrival.

Winter winds were dusty, cold and bitter. From April to the end of August, overnight temperatures in low, single digits were common. Daytime temperatures were often no more than 15 to 18 degrees Celsius, often accompanied by bitter westerly winds. At recess and lunch time, children would sit along the length of the eastern school wall, (the lee wall) soaking up sunshine that was not impacted by wind.

Trying to convince the WA Education Department of the need for fuel fired heaters for school and home was impossible. After all, we only lived 32 kilometres south of the Tropic of Capricorn, so how could we POSSIBLY be cold!

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