When I took the phone call from District Office asking me if I would like to accept a teaching position in St George, I was devastated. I had asked for 'Part Time Casual, Brisbane' and was offered 'Full Time Permanent, St George.' Fate... or destiny? Whatever... I was off to the middle of nowhere, or else my name would be put on the bottom of the teaching list... never to be heard of in any school ever again!
After accepting the position (which initially I had only hoped to keep for 6 months, so that I could save enough money to go back to Europe), I spoke to the lady in charge of teacher housing in St George. I must have been crying at the time. Maybe I wasn't, but I'm sure my voice betrayed any feelings of angst I had carefully hidden away. The housing lady reassured me of this move, by telling me that St George boasted the 'largest shopping centre in South Western Queensland.' Instantly, I pictured underground parking, ramps, and at least 20 shops inside. I breathed a sigh of relief, and considered myself lucky not to have been sent to a town without, God forbid, a shopping centre.
The drive out west was one I shared with both my parents. We had the car packed to the brim with whatever bits and pieces I deemed essential at the time. Eg: black dress pants, synthetic clothing, no hats, heels etc. Looking back, nothing I had packed was appropriate. I had been told that my teacher accommodation was partially furnished, so I hadn't considered moving big ticket items until once I was officially settled (something I couldn't see happening in the 6 months I initially intended on staying for).
Things were good for the first 2 hours of the drive. By that stage, Toowoomba was the smallest town I had seen, and it was decent! Things were looking good. West of Toowoomba, fields of wheat, fruit and vegetables peppered the horizon. The earth grew more and more flat, and I saw real clouds for the first time in years.
Eventually we reached Dalby. With a McDonalds, Hungry Jacks and KFC, this town still passed my 'decency' standards. I checked the map for 'writing size' comparisons. St George was written in writing smaller than Dalby, so I knew the worst was yet to come. As the hours grew longer, we paused in Moonie. Moonie is LITERALLY a crossroads, with a handful of houses, a tiny school, and a road house. That's it. Or at least, that's what it was. By now we had lost radio. All radio. Or maybe there was still the ABC somewhere out there in the land of frequency, but it didn't matter. I would have rathered running over hot coals than listening to an hour of power featuring Slim Dusty, and any number of 'stars' who have ever been associated with Nashville. Remember this was over ten years ago and I was fresh out of the concrete jungle.
In between the river of tears I shed consistently between Moonie and St George, some of the things I noticed were the tumble weeds (or windmill grass or roly polys). Were these things for real? Amazing. I thought you only ever saw these in country and westerns or Road Runner cartoons! The earth had turned a deep red-orange colour, the scrub had thinned, trees seemed shorter, and grass was almost non-existent. The roads themselves had narrowed. There were no markings, the bitumen itself was a more earthy colour, and not the coal black tar you see anywhere else. The roads here truly reflect the stones that go into them. There are deep ridges lining the sides of the road, so that if you steer slightly off centre, there is every chance you could roll your vehicle or spin out of contol - or both - depending on the speed at which you are travelling at the time. Which would be fast because the roads are so straight out here!
All this explains why Dad was driving close to the centre of the road. It is quite literally the safest place to be. Aside from the actual physical state of the road, there are kangaroos and other assorted wildlife that have a tendency to hurtle absent-mindedly onto the road.
The last town before St George is Westmar. A combined shop/pub/fuel stop, and a one-building school is all this 'town' has to offer. My breath caught in my throat and I wiped away even more tears. Being the hardened city slicker I was at that time, I was finding this all a bit much. I wondered frantically what St George would hold for me?
Driving into St George, I tried memorizing property names branded proudly on gates for the half an hour before we arrived. For whatever use I thought it would be. In my 'city head' I figured that children from these properties would attend the local high school. Ten years later, (with my 'country head' firmly in place) I realise that children from properties like those I passed on the drive into town, are more than likely enrolled at a boarding school far closer to my stomping ground, as opposed to the local high school. But I'll blog about that another time.
St George seemed pretty enough. Compared to the scenery I had been subject to for hours earlier, St George was virtually an oasis. Green centre strips with flowering trees, gardens in full bloom, and quaint country houses.
The inland fishing capital of Australia. Nice. As we drove down the 'main' street, I scanned furiously for the shopping centre I had heard so much about. And yet there was no sign of it. How could I miss that? On our second lap, my parents pointed it out to me. There, directly opposite the BP service station was the 4-Square supermarket.
|This isn't it... but it's the closest picture I could find to the one in St George.|
There were more tears.
I moved into a small teacher accommodation next to my school. I learned quickly not to hang washing on the line on a school day for fear of students
And two weeks after promising never, ever, ever, to spend more than 6 months here, I met CP.
Life is funny like that.