A Governess

Computer for conducting school of the air lessons

Ready for an on-air lesson. Image: H. Parish

The Role Of A Governess

When you hear the term ‘Governess’ you would be forgiven for instantly thinking of old England, middle aged women, wealthy upper- class families and a position of being the nanny or head house maid. In Australia, the job description and responsibilities of a Governess is varied and dependent on the employers needs but generally the main role of a governess is to supervise the education of children on a property.

Most ‘govies’ are employed in rural, outback and isolated areas of Australia where children are schooled via The School of the Air. A governess is employed by the station or family to oversee and guide their children (usually primary aged) through a set curriculum, create a classroom atmosphere which promotes positive learning, organising classwork timetables and mail schedules. As the Governess is living onsite with the family, as part of their employment they may also be expected to carry out tasks such as feeding animals, preparing meals for the children, assisting in housekeeping and travelling with the children off the property to attend events or special days relating to the children’s education.

Girls working in their schoolroom under guidance of their Governess

Girls hard at work in their classroom. Image: H Parish

Station Life As A Governess

Although most governesses live in their own quarters, they are usually viewed as part of the family. The bond they form with the children in their care and the family they live with and work for is very close. Being a governess is a way of life. Access to technology and having large numbers of other workers and people around you at all times helps to narrow any divides that being on an isolated property would include.

I recently spoke with Hannah Parish who is currently working on a sheep and cropping station outside of Cobar, NSW. She looks after 2 young girls aged 10 and 12 (year 4 and 6). Hannah kindly gave me an insight into the life of a Governess in rural Australia.

Remote cattle station classroom for Governess and her students

The station classroom including reading area and computer for on-air lessons. Image H. Parish

How To Become A Governess

Have you always wanted to be a governess?

I knew I always wanted to live in the bush but I had never heard of governessing until I worked on a large cattle station in the Northern Territory when I was 19. I worked as a housekeeper in that job and met the governess at the time and really loved the idea of being able to combine my love for educating children and the outback.

How did you become a governess?

The first governess job that I had I found on a website called Governess Australia which advertises for families looking for a governess or nanny but can also advertise your resume to help you find a job. Lee-Anne who runs the site knows the families that advertise very well and as a result can help talk you through the process. Since then I have been able to get jobs within in the Broken Hill community through families that I have already met.

Qualifications And Experience

What qualifications or experience is needed to become employed in this position?

I have no official qualifications in teaching or from university- to be honest I didn’t even complete year 12 due to personal issues. I have completed my senior first aid in addition to my CPR certificates and need to keep them updated regularly. A working with children’s check as well as an ABN and also my own insurance is also a must. Although it isn’t a qualification, if you are interested in governessing most families like for you to have your own reliable car, consequently it makes your life easier and also means you don’t have to rely on someone else all the time.

The Highs And Lows Of Being A Governess

What are the good and bad points about the career?

I couldn’t even list all of the positives if I tried! I absolutely love my job for so many reasons, Being able to supervise one-on-one in the classroom and therefore really encourage my students learning, experiencing outback life and work outside with the family etc. Every day is different from the day before and you never know what each day will bring and I love that spontaneity. There is a lot of flexibility within the job so you can be creative and independent and encourage the children to do the same and it is so much fun! It’s great that you can adapt the work for each student and make it really enjoyable rather than just sitting at a desk all day.

Not so good:
Having said all that there are definitely negatives. Living at least 1000kms from my family and this is obviously very hard at certain times and probably the biggest negative of my job. Becoming a part of another family can also be difficult at times depending on what the living situation is it can be difficult to slot into another family and their lives. At times this job can be very isolating and it can be hard to make new friends and relationships in a community where you don’t necessarily intend on staying for long.

Working In The Bush

What are some challenges you have faced with working in an isolated location?
There are many challenges that come with working in this position and with this amount of isolation but there is always a way around it! Through Broken Hill School of the Air (BHSOTA) we have access to all teachers at any time so whenever a school issue arises we are able to jump on the phone to school to sort it out straight away. One of the things that you do have to be super organised for is any extra resources that you may need for any of the school work. The weather can also be difficult, depending how isolated you are any rain can really impact how much freedom you have.

What is a memorable moment you had while working as a governess?
I have had so many memorable moments over the years but I think my favourite moment happened only a few weeks ago when I was going for a walk with the 12 year old girl that I look after and she told me that she liked having me as a govie because I am not just her teacher but I can give her advice and be more like a friend or big sister. That’s why I do this job, it’s so much more than just the schoolroom stuff. You are a friend, sister and confidant.

A Governess’ Day

Describe a typical day.

7.30am – I eat breakfast by myself in my cottage and get myself sorted for the day.

8.30am – I head over to the house and we talk about what is going on for the day or how the girls are feeling.

9.00am – We are in the school room. The girls have at least one satellite lesson each per day and I schedule around those lessons all of the other work that they need to complete. We have smoko and lunch breaks at different times each day depending when their online lessons are and for how long we break for also depends on what is going on around the station.

3.30pm – We finish school but some days the girls are finished earlier and can leave when they are done. I often have supervisor online sessions but if I don’t we usually spend time together where we play games outside, do craft activities inside, go for a ride out in the paddock or visit with the horses.

4.30pm – I have a bit of spare time to myself either to organise school for the next day, catch up on some cleaning or do a workout.

6.00pm – I am back over to the house to help out with dinner and eat with the family. Once dinner is over and all cleaned up I head back over to my cottage and call home or relax before bed ready for what the next day might bring.

What is your teaching space like?

I have a really great teaching space that I have been able to move around a lot to keep things interesting for the girls. The girls each have a long timber table that we have along one of the walls with the computer table at the end. A couch is opposite the girls desks for reading time and I have a desk down the opposite end of the room. We have lots of cupboards around the room with oodles of resources. I am very grateful to have a spacious room that we can move around in and have fun with.

Rural Support

Do governesses tend to form a close -knit community and keep in regular contact with each other?

This really changes depending where you are based and from year to year. The first year that I governessed there were only 13 govies working out of BHSOTA so we did spend a lot of outside work hours with each other but this year we have anywhere from 20 to 30 governesses through Broken Hill therefore it makes it a bit harder as we are spread out over such a huge amount of land but we try our best! The bush can be a very social place if you choose to participate in events so it really is what you make it. Most events in the area we will have a group of govies that attend and it just depends who can make that distance at the time.

How often do you get to go off the property and spend time with family and friends?

I have most weekends off so have to opportunity to leave the station every week but that is not always financially or practically viable! Visits home to my family are during school holidays and I have made one mad dash home for a special occasion but other than that visits are usually few and far between. I’m lucky to still have contact with the first family that I worked for and we are really close so I visit them every couple of weeks for a weekend.

What is your living quarters like?

Do you share this with anyone? I have my own fully self contained cottage, with my own kitchen, bathroom and bedroom as well as a small loungeroom. My cottage is still in the house yard so I am close to the schoolroom and the family still but can also have my own space.

Student laying on the ground completing schoolwork

School work in the sunshine for these outback kids. Image H. Parish

If you would like to know more about becoming a governess, view vacant positions, or get a better understanding on what the position entails, contact Lee-Anne from ‘Governess Australia’ at govaust@governessaustralia.com or visit http://www.governessaustralia.com/

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