When Epping Boys High School principal Tim O’Brien was asked to become involved in helping NSW schools affected by the drought, he drew on his childhood for inspiration. As a child Mr O’Brien would travel with his father to Tullamore, in central NSW, to help with the shearing on his uncle’s property – land he was awarded as a returned World War II soldier.
“We had raised money at Epping Boys for the drought that we wanted to donate and I thought why don’t we adopt a school and a town as a way to connect and see how we make a difference,” Mr O’Brien said.
“I hadn’t been back to Tullamore since I was a little tacker, but I thought it would be a good fit.”
In September, 21 students from Tullamore Central School came to Sydney as guests of Epping Boys High as part of a new sister-school relationship.
Tullamore principal Rebecca Freeth said the generosity of the Epping Boys High community had blown the school away.
“It’s pretty depressing out here – our students look out the window and all they see is dust and death,” she said.
“Just to have a week away from hand-feeding sheep and cattle and not worrying about mum and dad and how tough they are doing it was really important.
“Even the kids that aren’t on farms are affected because dad might be a shearer and there’s no sheep to shear, or he’s a truck driver and there’s no animals to cart.”
Mr O’Brien said for many of his students, just speaking with the Tullamore students was an eye opener – many Year 7 students didn’t even know what a flannelette shirt was. The two schools hope to continue the relationship, with Epping Boys High students to visit Tullamore and the Sydney school committing to fundraising to feed the school’s show stock over the next 12 months.
The Epping-Tullamore relationship is just one of many forged between rural and remote and city schools that have developed through the drought, encouraged and coordinated by the department’s Regional North Executive Director, School Performance, Tim McCallum; Steve Harris, Director, Educational Leadership (Glenrock Principal Network) and Charles Dwyer Director, Educational Leadership (Mitchell Principal Network).
“A strong sense of collegiality, care and compassion enables school communities at both ends of the geographical divide to learn, prosper and develop as partners through these times of adversity and meaningfully connect into the future,” Mr McCallum said.
For many principals ongoing connections that will survive the drought are more important than the welcomed donations and financial help.
Year 12 students at Cecil Hills High School have used some of the money they raised for their end of school formal to help fund the Western Access Program for Year 11 and 12 students at central schools at Peak Hill, Yeoval, Tottenham, Trangie, Tullamore and Trundle. The money will support students to attend camp, study days, work placements and help finance travel to those events.
Tottenham Central principal Amanda Thorpe said donations, like those from Cecil Hills High, meant the rural students could still undertake important work and study placements despite their families having limited access to funds.
“I keep reminding our students how important it is to remember that no one has to help us; these people don’t even know us and we must always thank people for assisting us,” she said.
“I also remind students that one day, when we get the opportunity to help others, we must take it.”
Cobar Public School principal Jonathan Harvey said his school’s relationship with Ashtonfield Public School was not just about fundraising. Instead, it was focused on helping students at the Newcastle-based school understand the reality of life on the farm.
“For our students the focus is knowing others are thinking about them,” Harvey said. “Our students are sitting out here in splendid isolation and knowing kids their own age are thinking of them is important and exciting for them.”
In the first week of term four the students from both schools will do a video link “meet and greet” where they can ask each other questions about their lives. Trundle Central School principal John Southon said his school of 120 students had received great support from a number of schools including Mathew Pearce Public, Gosford High, Kiama High, Oakville Public and Colo High.
“We have distributed 135 food packages, 140 water deliveries, 270 kilograms of dog food and much more. Blacktown principals have donated enough books, pencils etc for all our children to have book packs,” Mr Southon said.
Mr Southon said while the empathetic gestures would not solve the drought, they did keep morale up as it “lets people know they are not alone”.
It’s pretty depressing out here – our students look out the window and all they see is dust.