OUTBACK EDUCATION IN THE ‘NOT TOO DISTANT’ PAST (35)

– Warburton Ranges (WA) in 1974-75 (35)

– ENDPOINT

The culmination of our experience and our exit from Warburton was based in large part on what followed a visit to Warburton in April 1975 by a very senior person within the WA Education hierarchy. As a staff cohort, we were given to understand that our tenure at Warburton had several benefits, including enhanced salary, rent free accomodation and a few other so called perks. Paid travel to and from the community to coincide with commencement and end of terms was one of these considerations. One of these benefits for me was being promoted to a headmasters position years before that might happen in a town or urban school. The shortcomings in conditions under which we lived and worked were understood but were offset by the several benefits outlined.

On the basis of the pro’s and con’s attached to our appointments, we should “…sit tight, shut up and not rock the boat.”

The visitors left by plane for Perth after their visit and meeting with us as a staff group. For a long time, the conditions of living and working at Warburton in facilities terms had been substandard. The lack of physical consideration had impacted alike on staff and students.

The lack of empathy by Education Department and system leaders, prompted me to suggest that we compose a telegram to the then Premier of WA Charles (letter Sir Charles) Court outlining our concerns. The telegram took some time to compile and ended up running to over 200 words. We pointed out the deficiencies and the challenges with which we were confronted. Included were details about promises about improvements that had never been actioned. The strong inference conveyed in the message was that words and promises were deemed a sufficient response to requests for action: Action that never eventuated.

There was no privacy about the telegram. It was transmitted by VJY radio during the regular schedule for sending and receiving telegrams and could be heard (and transcribed) by anyone tuned into the session. So the message was sent. It was sent under my name and concluded with the fact that we had been told to do what was impossible. It was not possible to ” sit tight, shut up and not rock the boat.”

Response

The telegram sent obviously touched a chord somewhere in the Premier’s Department. Within a very few weeks, money had been allocated to begin addressing some of the key issues of need. Workers authorised by the Public Works Department were dispatched to Warburton to begin undertaking some of the key work that was so necessary and so long overdue.

The reaction from within the Department of Education head office was as equally as prompt. We were relieved of our teaching duties at Warburton and relocated to an appointment in Perth.

Within four months, we began our teaching careers at Numbulwar (then Rose River) in the Northern Territory. That may be a story for another time.

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