Humans of the Wheatbelt

Humans of the Wheatbelt is a disability project that celebrates inclusion within the community.

There is always someone in each story that has a disability whether it is the human, interviewer, photographer or writer.

I grew up in a town called Bruce Rock in the Wheatbelt. I went there with my parents and my younger brother in 1952, where I started Year 1. I did my schooling in Bruce Rock until 1962 when I completed my Junior Certificate, and then my family moved to Beaconsfield in Fremantle. I won a teaching bursary which meant that the Education Department paid my fees for Years 11 and 12. I did those two years at John Curtin College and then I went to Claremont Teachers’ College. Those were probably the best two years of my life. There were no fees but there was an obligation that you had to give two years teaching back to the Education Department when you finished your study. Country schools got all the young, vibrant, go-ahead teachers in those days. You could be sent to the Kimberley and this was back in the days when you caught a boat to get to Port Hedland or Broome.

I knew there was going to be a vacancy at Bruce Rock so I applied for it and got it. I’d only been away for four years and now I was teaching my mates’ little brothers and sisters. Everyone knew who I was. 1967 was my first year of teaching and then the following year a young woman was transferred to Bruce Rock who bewildered and bewitched me. We made the decision that she would go to New Guinea to teach for twelve months, and meanwhile I went to teach at a place called Cosmo Newberry which is out near Laverton. We had no communications other than the Flying Doctor radio, which was only used for emergencies, and ABC Radio. I had thirty kids in my class and twenty-nine of them were indigenous. English was a second language for them. I lived in a two-room house made of corrugated iron and I had a fabulous time.

When Eileen got back from New Guinea, I picked her up from the airport and drove her to my parents’ house in Fremantle. We decided it was time to engaged and we were married in 1970. The following year we were sent out to an Aboriginal mission school at Cundeelee, which is 160 kilometres east of Kalgoorlie. We had two fabulous years there. The locals took us out into the bush and we were made part of the various families. Our eldest son Travis was conceived the second year we were there, and Quentin followed soon after.

After three years in Perth, I applied for a promotion at a mining town called Shay Gap in the Pilbara. It was a completely modular town and it even had a vacuum-system toilet. Kids used to get their bums stuck in the seats, but the town was fully air-conditioned and cyclone proof. The town was amazing because the swimming pool, shops and post office were in the middle of town and outside that were all the houses. The cars were on the outside of the houses so the kids could just run everywhere and play. I was the principal and I had a staff of four. We used to go to Broome, Port Hedland and Derby for school holidays.

In 1978 Eileen’s dad became very ill, so we applied for jobs in York to be closer to family. I was the deputy principal of the district high and we stayed for seven years. Travis was in Year 1 when we got here and I received my next promotion when he finished primary school. That was in West Northam where I spent three wonderful years. The Ryder family in particular were a very strong family in the area at that time. By then Travis was ready to start Year 11 and he’d always been fascinated with the idea of travel and studying other languages, so he started at the International School in Joondalup. He was one of five Australian students and the rest were from Asia. I got a transfer to Mullaloo Beach and that was very different. I could sit in my office and open the window and hear the waves on the beach.

In early 1990, we put Travis on a plane to Germany where he was going to study, and Eileen and I headed off for our next teaching adventure. Travis became fluent in German and had an incredible year while the rest of us went to the Goldfields where our youngest, Quentin, became very successful in his studies in Accountancy. After three years I got a transfer from one of the Boulder schools to North Kalgoorlie and I spent my last nine years of teaching there. Eileen also became a principal in her own right.

In 1995 we went to Europe for the first time and did all the right things, such as flying into France without being able to speak a word of French. In 1998-99 we were travelling to Asia quite a lot and one time when we got back the doctors thought I had gardia. In 2000 we went to Malaysia around Easter, but when we got back I wasn’t well at all. The doctor sent me to a surgeon and I had my first colonoscopy, where it was determined I had fairly serious colon cancer. I was fifty-four. It was on June 8th, a day forever etched in my mind. First I had to sit Eileen down and tell her, and the next day I had to tell my staff. I spent the next six months doing chemotherapy and radiation and on September 13th of that year I had a major operation.

I went back to school in 2001 and the Director General phoned me and said I’d be looked after and Eileen too. The Kalgoorlie community were incredible. So many people told me I’d helped them over the years, and then in 2002 we made the decision to retire. We’d built a house in York in 1979 and when we left for Kalgoorlie in ‘91 we intended to sell it but nobody wanted to buy it. Later on we were glad of this as it was the beginning of our new life here. In 2003 we went overseas and decided to do some teaching at Milton Keynes in England. We were administrators and we coached hundreds of teachers there. We shared accommodation with a couple of young blokes and on the weekend we’d jump on a bus or train and go to Cambridge or Oxford. We then did a grand tour through Europe, but we had to come home when Eileen’s mother became ill.

In 2006 I put up my hand for Shire Council here in York. Six of us were elected and the next day I became Shire President. Unfortunately I have to say that some of the most difficult experiences of my life happened in those next nine years, but on the positive side I was able to give back to a community that had raised our sons. There were a few recalcitrant ratepayers for whom it wouldn’t have mattered if I stood on the street handing out hundred dollar notes. I’m proud of the fact that we built the Recreation Centre and that we helped get the Balladong Retirement Village off the ground. I left Council in 2013 and during that time I’d also been the President of the Bowls club. I love this community and it has been very good for me.

I’m an absolute dyed-in-the-wool South Fremantle supporter and I was a keen sportsman when I was younger. I was the coach of the Shay Gap Hawks for one season and we had a theme song that went ‘Nuts and bolts for breakfast, nails in our stew. You won’t know what to feed us, we’re iron through and through.’ Fairly appropriate for a mining town. I love sport and I’ve also been involved with Apex and Rotary. We were heavily involved with the Rotary Youth Exchange Program and we’ve had several students come and stay with us over the years. I’ve been a Fremantle Dockers member since day one. We have been members for nearly thirty years now, even though we no longer have season tickets.

We have three grandchildren whom we spoil rotten before giving them back to their parents. If I could travel again I’d love to go from Venice to Shanghai on the Silk Road. One of my heroes is Emperor Hadrian and I’ve been to places he went to all over Europe. There are so many places I’d like to visit again in Australia and family I’d like to visit. The one thing that’s on my bucket list in Western Australia is to see the orcas at Bremer Bay.

Eileen and I have moved fourteen times in our marriage. I had a philosophy that when I moved into a town the first thing I did was introduce myself to the local sergeant and the second was to introduce myself to the Shire CEO. In country towns you either sink or you swim. It still angers me to an extent to see people who work in this region but want to live in Perth. I lived through an era where we had hundreds of kids in country schools and now we have minuscule numbers. Every town used to have a doctor and police who lived in the town. I think you miss out if you don’t participate in your local community. If I had a piece of advice for people coming out to live in the country, the first thing would be to not try to transplant the city here. Accept the country for what it is and work with the community to change it.

Human – Pat Hooper
Interviewer, photographer, and Writer - Guy Salvidge

Humans of the Wheatbelt is supported by the State Government through the Wheatbelt Development Commission and managed by Wheatbelt Health Network.
#community #inclusion #wheatbelt #humans #Australia #WA #northam #brucerock #york #education

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Wheatbelt Health Centre
25 Holtfreter Avenue, Northam
Phone: 08 9621 4444
Open: 8am-6pm Mon – Fri

Aboriginal Health - Northam
65 Wellington Street, Northam
Phone: 08 9690 2824
Open: 8.30am-4.30pm Mon – Thurs

Therapy Plus
104 Wellington Street, Northam
Phone: 08 9621 4444


Alma Beard Medical Centre
81 Stirling Tce, Toodyay
Phone: 08 9578 2500
Open: 8.30am – 4.30pm Mon – Fri


Aboriginal Health - Narrogin
Williams Road, Narrogin
Phone: 08 9881 0385
Open: 8.30am – 4.30pm Mon – Tues

After hours medical assistance: In an emergency call 000 or present to your nearest Regional Hospital emergency department. If you have a non- emergency and would like to consult with a GP then call Telstra Health on 1800 225 523. The service is free to access for Australian residents who reside in the wheatbelt or who are temporarily residing in the Wheatbelt. This service can be accessed before 8am and after 6pm Monday-Friday, before 8am and after 12pm Saturday and all day Sunday and any Public Holidays. Thank you to Western Australia Primary Health Alliance (WAPHA) for funding this service.

  • 25 Holtfreter Avenue, Northam

  • 81 Stirling Tce, Toodyay

  • 65 Wellington Street, Northam

  • Williams Road, Narrogin

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