Due to recent events I feel as though I should acknowledge the little school that was once at the heart of the community I call home. Tallangatta Valley Primary school has now reached a low of three students, for no fault of its own, simply due to its vicinity. Although the school was half an hour away from where I lived my parents insisted on sending me to the school and now that I am old enough to understand I can’t thank them enough for that decision they made.
My father moved over in 1992 to dairy farm in Tallangatta Valley with two of his children, to which my mother soon followed in 1994 with her four children. At this time the primary school was at a low of five, my mother likes to recounts Bruce Mason, the principle at the time calling her and ‘insisting’ the children start school there, rather than in town. My siblings adored their new school, the foundation of a community driven relationship between Bruce Mason and my parents formed. This resulted in the Tallangatta Valley Stockman’s ride, a weekend of trail riding for horse enthusiasts across New South Wales and Victoria, all brought together to raise money to keep this school alive. Now the ride being the biggest in the district and all funds still contributing to the Valley school, it’s no longer enough as three students simply cannot be obtainable.
I like to claim that I was a “whoops” baby, ten years between myself and the sibling above me. So when I arrived at the school none of my siblings were there, however the school was at 15 students. My parents had also moved into town so I made the haul 30 minutes to and from school every day, even when there was a school two minutes down the road, my parents still insisted I was sent to the Valley and wow am I thankful! The stories I could tell would not only amaze you but would paint a picture of kids running around, blackberries smeared over their faces, mud on their clothes, friends beside them that would last a lifetime and a future in front of them brighter than one could imagine.
The emotional turmoil of a parents split hits you when you are at the mere age of seven and I can honestly say I don’t know if I could have had such an understanding and humours approach if it wasn’t for Bruce Mason. That haul 30 minutes to and from school each day was my safe space for so long, those friends I made were there day in and day out to provide comfort. Being in a school with nothing around you but mountains and fresh air was the only thing that made the experience somewhat easy. I’ve always been an emotional sponge, affected by people’s words and claustrophobic to an extent, always wanting to be in the open space, away from civilisation. To a degree I think everyone feels that way, or if you don’t I challenge you to go and be in the middle of nowhere, take a deep breath in and then see if you crave the presence of buzzing cars and protruding building around you, I can almost guarantee you won’t. This was the highlight of Tallangatta Valley Primary school, being surrounded by nothing but a community of likeminded peers, striving for space.
The older I grew the more I valued community support, every year the school held the Biggest Morning Tea and other events in order to bring the locals in and socialise with us teeny weeny pupils. Mandy Gay reminding us to use our please and thank you, to hug and laugh. To enjoy the company around us, for we are all there for the same reason. I remember every morning Gayle Murry would encourage us to tell everyone something that was happening in our lives, interested and caring she would acknowledge us individually and change her teaching styles to fit us, maybe a major contributing factor to having consecutive students following on to be DUX students of Tallangatta Secondary College, and chasing nothing but ambitious and amazing career paths. I remember staying behind some days to improve my reading, Mrs Murray patiently sounding out every word to help me, taking valuable time out of her day to see me succeed. This being the foundation of my love for reading and writing. Now that we are all mature adults I feel as though it is also time to apologise for the many times Joel O’Rielly and I would pinch your chewing gum you had hidden in the couch crevice when you left the room, however thanks to you we have healthy chompers and great dental practices.
We all now seem to live in a world that cotton wool our children, something my parents deemed to be ridiculous. My friends and I were forever scratching our knees running to fast, breaking bones from the cubby houses we made too big and certainly not too sturdy. However why is that an issue? Why shouldn’t I raise my children the same? Why would one wish to be locked away from the dangers of this world, we should be pushed to face them, experience them and embrace them, guns blazing! So thank you to the Tallangatta Valley Primary school for allowing me to be nothing but happy, not scared of pain, for enjoying every bit of my childhood. I love that I can tell stories to people I meet at university who went to metropolitan or “town” schools and them be in ore at the fun I had and relationships I still have with my peers. For parents out there now debating where to send their children to school I beg of you to think of their future, to teach them manners and teach them to relish in every bit of innocence that childhood entails, before society overpowers them in high school.
To Leanne who is now the current principle of the Valley school you have put blood sweat and tears into trying to see it carry on, I can only hope that our community get behind you and we see the numbers increase in the upcoming months. For someone who loves teaching so much, who would give anything to see the smile on a child’s face as they learn. You give so much and my family vows to give you just as much back. Although I did not get to experience you as teacher or principle, I am under the understanding you will continue to follow your beliefs and understand the decline in numbers is not to any fault of yours.
I am not writing this post to pursue parents to send their children to bush schools, I’m writing this to tell people about the benefits of a bush school and the rich community values they hold and the amazing childhood I had. From catching rabbits at lunch time to learning good manners in the class room. For me the school has allowed me to go on to be a Victorian Rural Youth Ambassador- an activist for rural education and take my love of open spaces and farming to study agricultural science at Charles Sturt University. One day I will return to the place I call home and give back to a community that once gave me so much and I can only hope my children experience Tallangatta Valley Primary school as raw and homely as I did.
To the people I have not mentioned in this post, I simply cannot recount how amazing you were and what roles you performed in my life. It would simply be too long, but to Mandy Gay, Gayle Murry and Bruce Mason. Thank you for moulding me into the person I am today, I will forever hold you close to my heart. Tallangatta Valley Primary School, I will not give up on you, nor will the ones who believe in quality education and the delicate minds of young individuals.