Governess jobs hard to fill, as outback parents fear their children not prepared enough for high school

December 17th, 2019 | | backpacker

A profession that laid the foundations for Australia’s first saint, Mary McKillop, is as important today as it was more than a century ago.

Key points:

  • Governesses are employed to help children, who attend School of the Air, with their schoolwork
  • Parents of remote children want a policy change so that people on 417 visas can stay longer or incentives for young graduates to go bush for a year
  • One governess, from New Zealand, says it’s one of the best things she’s ever done

Governesses continue to play an integral role in educating more than 3,200 Australian isolated children.

When people think of the role of a governess, they conjure up images of Mary Poppins, but the reality of the role is a very different one.

Millie Bell lives on Bono Station in Menindee, in far-west NSW. She attends Broken Hill School of the Air, but also relies on the support of a governess to assist with her schoolwork.

“We have school at home because we’re too far away to go to school with any other kids,” she said.

“We have a different governess every year. It’s really good because then we get to learn from different governesses.”

Girl in a striped top sits at a table

PHOTO: Millie Bell likes having different governesses each year. (ABC Mildura-Swan Hill: Jennifer Douglas)

Rebel Bell’s three children — Millie, Poppy, and Ollie — attend Broken Hill School of the Air. However between lessons the supervision of the children’s learning is the responsibility of the governess.

But finding a governess to spend a year on a remote outback station has become extremely difficult for many remote farming families who need a governess with teaching experience to educate their school-aged children.

“It’s integral that our kids have a quality education, so that they’re ready to take that next step to their higher education … so that they’re not disadvantaged due to our isolation,” Ms Bell said.

Child sitting at table with mum

PHOTO: Rebel and Ollie Bell in the classroom at Bono Station. (ABC Mildura-Swan Hill: Jennifer Douglas)

Policy change needed

Nerida Healy, former president of the Broken Hill Isolated Children’s Parents’ Association, said there needed to be a policy change to provide more qualified educators to fill governess positions.

“Attracting experienced educators or governesses to work on these remote properties is already challenging,” she said.

“But government regulations and visa restrictions that specifically exclude the care of children on remote properties means that qualified teachers can’t get a second-year visa working as a governess, but can if they work as an unqualified farmhand.”

These restrictions placed on 417 Visa holders and a lack of government incentives for teachers to come and work in the bush prompted Rebel Bell to write to Education Minister Dan Tehan.

“I wrote to the Minister … about maybe offering incentives to try and get some teachers or newly graduated teachers into our home school rooms,” she said.

“High government agency fees deducted from governesses’ wages leaves no incentive to attract someone with a teaching background to come out and educate our children.

“The wage that we can offer is not anywhere near as much as they’re going to get from our city counterparts.”

Ms Healy said governesses should be paid more because it’s a “really important job”.

“They’re educating our future and it would be so fantastic if we could come up with a system where we could offer incentives for teachers who want a change for a year or graduates to experience what it’s like in a remote school,” she said.

A woman stands in front of rural artwork

PHOTO: Nerida Healy from Naveen Station in NSW is worried children aren’t adequately prepared for high school. (ABC Mildura-Swan Hill: Jennifer Douglas)

Ideas to fill the gap

The Education Department has addressed the need for qualified in-home carers and educators for these isolated children by setting the minimum qualification of a Certificate III in early childhood education for all in-home educators by January 2021.

Rebel Bell said this didn’t go far enough.

“There should be qualifications in having someone in the home school room. I just don’t feel that the childcare qualification is suitable for students who are school aged … it’s more relevant to preschool-aged kids,” she said.

“Parents of school-aged isolated children want qualified teachers, so their children are prepared for higher education, where many of these children must face the daunting prospect of going to boarding school.

“Unfortunately, money also plays a big part in being able to secure someone competent in the school room,” Ms Bell said.

“With many farming families doing it tough, they can’t compete with farmers not in drought, who can pay better rates.”

Ms Bell said, in a competitive market, it depended on what each family could offer, and that left many families in a difficult position.

“I would love to see the government offering university leavers, studying teaching, offered governess positions teaching students doing distance education,” she said.

“There needs to be incentives to these people to come out to the far west. Maybe they could have a merit selection when applying for their next job.”

Child sitting at computer

PHOTO: Governess Emily Smith has enjoyed her time working with Poppy (pictured), Millie and Ollie Bell at Bono Station, and recommends to other young people to “give it a go”. (ABC Mildura-Swan Hill: Jennifer Douglas)

Emily Smith is governess to the three Bell children in remote Menindee, NSW, having taken a gap year from study and travelling from her home in New Zealand to spend a year in the bush.

“I’ve come over here knowing it would be a challenge for me and I’ve really enjoyed it and embraced this lifestyle, which has been awesome,” Ms Smith said.

“As a 23-year-old, I think it’s a pretty important impact I’ve had on these children’s lives and for that I’m really proud.

“If you’re thinking about becoming a governess, I definitely recommend giving it a go.

“It’s been one of the best things I’ve ever done, and I will be forever grateful for having had this job.”

Source: ABC

Sourced by Mike Barrow