When I saw the students, all in their uniforms, chasing, somersaulting, play-fighting on the square patch of bright green grass – the only splash of colour in the wide brown landscape – I knew that I had come home. At least I had come back to my former home.
I do a lot of work in schools and frequently see children playing on grassed ovals and playgrounds. But these children, although mostly unrelated, were obviously part of one big family. They ranged in age from Year 3 to Year 6 and came from the tiny towns of Yuna and Chapman Valley in the Geraldton Region. Because I grew up in very similar circumstances and went to school in small country towns (four in all) I instantly recognised that mix of aggressive affection and fierce loyalty that places like that generate. I could have watched the children playing for hours, observing the subtle ambiguities of their relationships and their pure delight at being together, out doors playing, at a time when they would normally have been sitting in class.
However, I was there to talk to them about stories – mine and theirs – and thanks to the lost treasure of Straggler’s Reef we did have a lively and engrossing conversation before they had to get back on their buses for the long ride home. I have since had enthusiastic emails from some of them and look forward to seeing more of their work.