© Irene Dalgety-Timpone

Winner Themed Section ‘Then and Now’ 2021 Oracles of the Bush, Tenterfield, NSW.

You’ve never heard of Jindabill?  No wonder! Nor had I,
until I heard the strangest tale of times now long gone by.
My teacher training mentor who’d spent thirty years, outback,
had heard the yarn in Coen pub along the Cooktown track.

He knew I was quite worried that I might be sent out West,
and said, “What happens, happens. The Department does know best.”
He must have seen my doubtful glance, my nervous, shifting feet,
so, tongue in cheek, he shared with me the story I’ll repeat…

Now, Jindabill was fairly small, as towns out West can be:
a Church, a store, a butcher shop, a German bakery,
a few old houses and, of course, a low-set, one-roomed school.
The teacher left to join the War – folk labelled him a fool.

A girl was sent to take his place in nineteen forty-three,
a city lass, but keen to go and prove how good she’d be.
Louisa Simmonds was her name.  Her age? About nineteen.
Her lovely face? By far the best the local lads had seen.

Those times were harsh, good jobs were scarce, and young men, one by one,
had left to do some soldiering before the War was won –
and won it was; but, sad to say, the lads of Jindabill
did not return in forty-five and never, never will.

As duty called, Miss Simmonds taught her class and did her best
to make life bright and happy for her students in the West;
but, year by year, hope faded: generations came and went,
and seasons passed relentlessly with seeming malintent.

She was a city girl at heart and missed her former life:
she missed her dream of being just a happy, loving wife
with children, all her own, to teach, a caring man beside.
She came to hate the bitter fact her wishes were denied.

Each year, the School Inspectors came to check on how she taught.
They quizzed the kids, compared results, and wrote a fine report.
Each year, Miss Simmonds, filled out forms in hopes of ‘city shift’:
each year, her transfer was denied. Her ‘sentence’ did not lift.

Her birthday fell on Sunday in the year of eighty-three:
she gazed into the mirror and was horrified to see
a faded, fragile woman, bent in form, and gaunt of face.
“My God!” she uttered sadly, “I just have to leave this place!”

She’d tried the legal measures and been shafted, year by year.
With no one left to love her, there was nothing left to fear.
Resigned at last to act, herself, she took her can of fuel:
with bold determination, she ignited her own school.

The local Sergeant viewed the scene and sadly shook his head.
He had surveyed the evidence: he knew to whom it led.
He turned to poor Miss Simmonds, fixed his gaze upon her face,
and read the pain of barren years that nothing could replace.

For forty years, she’d suffered, borne the hell of loneliness:
the powers-that-be in Brisbane had ignored her deep distress.
To save her soul, she’d taken charge, and simply paid them back!
What could they do to punish her? Imprisonment?  The sack?

Her youth was lost. Her friends were gone, her home and parents, too.
She’d tried and failed for forty years – saw nothing left to do
but burn the school that made her feel she’d served hard time in jail.
Her sentence, spent in solitude, had left her aged and frail.

The Sergeant knew just how she felt.  He’d been out West for years.
He understood her motives, empathised with all her fears.
He shared her deepest feelings; knew the battles she had fought…
“The school was struck by lightning.  I’ll write that in my report.”

Louisa’s story moved me then.  It moves me more today:
it guided me through struggles that I’ve met along the way.
Through forty years of teaching that tried hard to rule my life,
I’ve lived the dream Louisa craved – a mother and a wife.

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