If you ever find yourself in Mount Isa, make some time to take a tour of the Mount Isa School of the Air. It is an incredible facility but you learn far more than how the school works.
For a small fee ($2 per adult) you watch a short introductory video about the school before getting to watch a lesson take place. Tours take place every weekday at 10am, but on Friday there are no lessons.
Rather than detail what happens at the school, I’d like to share with you some of what I learnt during our tour that busts many common misconceptions about living in remote parts of our country.
We live in a vast land
The Mount Isa School of the Air services nearly 800,000 square kilometres of land in Western Queensland and the Northern Territory. And, judging by the number of station pins in the landholder maps on the wall, there are plenty of Aussie cattle stations out this way. Many employ plenty of people too. From station hands, diesel mechanics, stockman, governesses, cooks, fencers, gardeners – the list could go on. Some stations are so big that they have several outposts for workers; some even tow caravans around to camp where they end up after a day’s work. One property even won a tidy town award! Imagine having a driveway that was more than 200 kilometres long? Or how about having your own lake and ski club? It really puts the sheer size and scale of these farming properties in perspective.
Farmers are probably the smartest people you can meet
Not only are farmers business operators, they are agriculturalists, horticulturalists, economists, accountants, employers, many are pilots, some have some veternairy skills, or at the least animal husbandry skills, others have mechanical skills or trades too.
And since many farmers are from a great line of farming families, many skills are passed on down the generations. But often the foundations for learning are from education opportunities afforded by School of the Air programs. Almost always, School of the Air students perform above the national average, they go on to learn at boarding schools in the cities and to university before returning to the land and continue the family farming work.
City vs Country
Decisions made east of the Great Divide can have big impacts on country kids and their families. While the decision to move grade 7 into high school seems like a great idea to bring education to a national standard, it does mean that many country kids are forced into boarding school a year earlier. I mean, would you really want to send your 11-year-old child off to boarding school thousands of kilometres from home? Are they emotionally and mentally ready for this family separation? What about the extra cost to the family? At $30,000 per year for tuition and boarding fees, families with three children need to find another $90,000 on top of the $450,000 they would have to pay for the rest of high school.
Country kids don’t miss out on anything
Just because these kids live in isolation and often miss out on the city ‘luxuries’ like shopping, cinemas, fast food, playing Saturday team sport, or going to a mates house for a play, it doesn’t mean they miss out on life’s great opportunities. Far from it. Many of these station kids learn to ride a motorbike by age 5, and soon thereafter are wrestling poddy calves, riding horses, driving a utes, mustering cattle just as well as the adults. Tell me what city slicker can do this?
The opportunities don’t stop there. Through School of the Air kids can learn to play instruments, one student learnt to play the cello for example, participate in sports days, school camps, and excusions to Canberra and the snow.
So, what will you learn on your tour of the Mount Isa School of the Air?