If your children think their daily commute to school is a grind, tell them about the children of Pooncarie, a tiny town on the Lower Darling River in New South Wales.
In 2012, the Pooncarie Public School went into indefinite “recess” on account of there being only two school enrolments for the following year.
Since then, students have had to endure a daily 170-kilometre round trip to attend Palinyewah Public School at Ellerslie in Victoria, but thankfully their long commute will soon come to an end thanks to lobbying by local parents.
Former jillaroo Amanda Moroni is one of the 166 residents of Pooncarie, and one of a group of parents who lobbied for the school to be reopened.
“That’s a really long way for kids, especially at their age. It takes too much out of them.”
Ms Moroni’s sister-in-law, Laura Moroni, has had to negotiate the same difficulty with her two children, aged eight and six.
“My children also travel on the bus and they’re very exhausted kids by the end of the day,” she said.
“The youngest, she sleeps on the bus every afternoon — as to be expected.”
Parents win fight for school to reopen
The women of Pooncarie said they had “fought tooth and nail” for five years to have the school reopened, using much of their already-limited spare time to argue their case with local politicians and the NSW Department of Education.
“It has not been an easy thing for us to go through,” Amanda Moroni said.
“The first couple of years after the school closed we had a little bit of progression, but we didn’t have any answers because we weren’t sure on what was going to happen.
“Then we went through a big lull where no one knew anything and it was put on the back burner.”
Their determination finally paid off earlier this month when Education Minister Rob Stokes announced that Pooncarie Public School would reopen next year as a result of the Government’s $17.3 billion education budget for 2018–19.
“It is going to be a massive thing for us,” Amanda Moroni said.
The school so far has received enrolments for children from seven local families.
Daily commute takes its toll
While the parents and children of Pooncarie are thrilled at the news of the school’s reopening, it is clear the long struggle has taken its toll.
Pooncarie publican and mum-of-two, Lee Sheard, said her eldest child, six-year-old Dakota, has had to adjust to long periods away from home.
“Dakota did preschool in Wentworth, so I would take her down on a Monday, she’d stay at my mum’s in town and then mum would take her Tuesday and I’d meet mum halfway to pick her up,” Ms Sheard said.
“She’s very tired.”
While a decline in education can result in any number of undesirable social consequences for a region, few could have predicted the ongoing school recess would threaten the only pub in town.
“We’d been considering putting the pub up for sale and going to town again so that Dakota could have a good education,” Ms Sheard said.
“We moved here just after the school went into recess and I just assumed that it would open within a couple of years.”
Long distance a struggle for working parents
Ms Sheard and her husband are not the only parents relying on the bus for school transport; all three households have other work to do besides parenthood.
“I work part time at a shop as well as also having Sophia, who hasn’t been at school until this year,” Laura Moroni said.
Laura Moroni’s husband is the local kangaroo shooter who works at night, meaning he is sleeping during the day and unable to transport their daughter to and from school.
“We all work, we all do things,” Amanda Moroni concurred.
“Laura works in the shop, Lee has the pub, I’m doing registered nursing and my husband’s a contractor.
“So it’s … no easy feat, working and travelling with children, especially how far out we are.
“It takes a lot out of your day and it’s mentally stressful.”