Review Blog

Sep 11 2020

Bush school by Peter O'Brien

cover image

Allen & Unwin, 2020. ISBN: 9781760876807.
Written in the first person, this is an interesting detailed memoir of life as a "bonded" primary school teacher at a first country teaching appointment during 1960-61. Teachers would empathize with the challenges of teaching 18 children from all grades in a one room school with minimal materials - and no electricity!
From a 2020 perspective, it is surprising to note the level of control over the content of the curriculum by the NSW Education Department monitored by its inspectors. In contrast, a theme throughout the book is the effort of O'Brien to devise student centred teaching methods and individual programmes for his varied cohort of students. Student centred teaching is an enduring theme and strong belief of the author at a time when rote learning was more the norm.
The memoir is also a social history of the customs and life of a very small, isolated country community encompassing class, poverty, racial discrimination, and the value placed on education. O'Brien often expands these issues to Australian society in general.
The mental toll on the author (only 20 years of age and with limited teaching experience) separated from family, friends, girlfriend and colleagues is apparent.
Having spent time in several country appointments, I found the reminiscences interesting. Something called "a jelly tray" was used to replicate written materials from a master copy!
The book is an easy read and would be of use for students studying life in Australia during the early sixties.
Ann Griffin

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