Vivienne McLauchlan was the governess for the Schlink family on Pinegrove. Daryl (6) and Julie (5) were her students in Grade 1. Kym (3) Karen (2) and Deirdre (1) also lived on the property.
Vivienne McLauchlan was the governess for the Schlink family on Pinegrove. Daryl (6) and Julie (5) were her students in Grade 1. Kym (3) Karen (2) and Deirdre (1) also lived on the property. Contributed

City girl's governess role a dream come true

AS A governess, she landed safely on a condemned outback airstrip, survived three-day-long dust storms and managed to keep in touch with her family through a once-a-week mail drop.

Quite the effort from an Adelaide city girl.

In the past four weeks, the Rural Weekly has profiled governesses working on remote properties, but this week we have taken a step back in time to speak with Vivienne McLauchlan, who reflected on her experience as a govie in the 1960s.

Now retired and living at Emu Park in central Queensland, Vivienne said she found it humorous knowing her modern-day counterparts stayed in touch through phones, social media and the internet - all things that were non-existent in her day.

Her journey to the bush started when she was 17.

"Growing up in the city, even though I had a wonderful childhood, I always hankered to go to the country,” she said.

"I always felt I was in the wrong place.

"I just loved books about the country and I thought the only way I could go there was if I became a governess.”

After an interview with a country agency's agent in Adelaide, then being matched with a family, Viv found herself boarding her first ever flight to Port Lincoln.

"My family were all dubious about where I was going and what I was going to be doing,” she said.

"My mum actually thought I would have to take some tea, she thought they wouldn't even have a cup of tea for me.”

Meeting her new employees, George and Betty Schlink, Viv soon found her feet in the role and settled into teaching the eldest of the family's five children, Daryl and Julie.

"The children did their school work certain times of the day and then were allowed to go out and play,” she said.

"Then I would help the mum with the washing and looking after the other children.

"There was a six-year-old, five-year-old, three-year-old, two-year-old and a baby, so it was a real handful for her.”

Vivienne McLauchlan, a former governess, caught up with her previous host family in September last year. Kym, Karen Baldisserra, Vivienne and Daryl all posed for a picture at the reunion.
Vivienne McLauchlan, a former governess, caught up with her previous host family in September last year. Kym, Karen Baldisserra, Vivienne and Daryl all posed for a picture at the reunion.

Viv still has rich memories from this time.

"It was a real eye opener into country life,” she said.

"I was there for shearing time, and we would have tuna fishermen came to swap bags of crayfish for sheep.

"They told me to go and drown the crayfish, and I thought 'this is a city girl getting caught out, you can't drown crayfish, they live in the ocean'.

"But turns out you could drown them if you turn them upside down in fresh water.

"After that they put them in a great big copper full of boiling water to cook. That was my introduction to crayfish, which I then loved of course.”

Viv remembers her students as enjoying their study and said she adjusted to her new lifestyle.

She loved it there.

However, only a few months into her stay the family was shaken by a tragedy.

George, the father of the children, sadly drowned in a boating accident when out fishing with friends.

"Obviously it was a very traumatic time for them all. Betty then moved to her parents' place at Warrow, where there was a school down the road,” she said.

"I stayed with the family until they were settled and then moved back to Adelaide. I often wondered what had happened to the children.”

Years later, in 2015, when on a caravanning trip with her husband around the Eyre Peninsula, Viv stopped in to Elliston and asked at the local hotel if there were any Schlinks still living in the area.

After telling her story Viv was encouraged to drive to the town's road house, where the man who was running it happened to be the cousin of the Schlink children.

"I tracked them down and made contact with them in Port Lincoln,” she said.

"It was just so emotional. They had so many questions about what had happened on that day their mum hadn't talked about. They wanted to know who had told her, how she had taken it and what had happened afterwards.”

The eldest children could remember a "Vivienne” and the youngest had heard about her through other family members.

"We will be in touch from now on,” she said.

"It was just wonderful seeing them.”

By 1965 Viv had moved on from the Schlinks and found herself on another small plane heading to a new governess job at Nockatunga Station, a vast property situated about 650km north of Broken Hill, just over the Queensland border.

"When we looked out of the window and we could see these people waving madly, so we waved back and the pilot landed,” she said.

"Then they all rushed over and said 'you aren't supposed to land here - this strip has been condemned!'

"The new strip was about four miles out further,” she laughed.

Nockatunga, which was being managed by the Hughes family, was extremely different to her previous property.

"It was just unbelievable to me that anyone could own that much land,” she said.

"It was so dry and arid compared to the South Australian property, I was there at the end of the seven-year drought.

"Every week 14 semi-trailers with four dogs on the back would come up to Nockatunga to take whatever cattle had been mustered down to Kars and Kinchega, south of Broken Hill at Menindee.

"They had not had rain for so long, except up in one corner of the property, I believe there was still 5000-7000 head in that corner where there was rain.”

Viv describes the station as a small village.

"They had a book keeper and his wife, a mechanic and his wife, a gardener, they had cowboys around the homestead, a full-time fencer, a dogger, camps of stockmen and a cook.”

Then there were two Aboriginal couples, who would come down from Doomadgee to do the house work.

"One man would be the cowboy around the house, chopping wood and milking the cow, and the other one was in the stock camp.”

The dogger, who Viv believes was employed by the local council, was paid one pound for each wild dog scalp he collected.

"Dingos were very destructive to the calves at that time.”

It was a completely different world to her city roots.

"The mail truck would come once a week,” she said.

"The mail man would go over and have a meal in the camp kitchen and while he was eating his meal everyone would go through their mail and answer any letters. I used to write to mum and dad every week. Wait for their letter to arrive then add a few points on the end of mine, that really was our only means of contact.

"We did have a party line phone, but nine times out of 10 it didn't work because a tree or something would fall over it.”

Viv was teaching the Hughes family's youngest children, Phillip and Wendy. The three elder children were away at boarding school.

"Their mother was very strict about them starting school by 8am every morning, and we had our smoko every day when the bell rang,” she said.

"They didn't like school, especially Phillip, the eldest lad, he would rather be out on the horses with the men,” she said.

School of the Air was only introduced in the mid 1960s, so the Hughes kids were some of the first in the country to participate. So the school day soon evolved to having a one-hour lesson with their teacher Anne Anders, from the Charleville School of the Air. Before the property received its first good rainfall at the end of 1965 and early 66, Viv remembers ferocious dust storms.

"The dust storms blew for days, you had to shovel sand off your verandas,” she said.

"I used to put wet newspapers in the louvres and roll it up underneath the doors to try and keep it out.”

Without fans or air-con, Viv resorted to refrigerating her linen.

"I would take the sheets and pillow cases off the bed and put them in a plastic bag in our kerosene fridge to try and keep them fresh and cold.

"So you hopped into bed on the cold sheets and hoped to get to sleep before they warmed up.” 

In 2012, on another caravanning holiday, Viv returned to Nockatunga. She was amazed to see the little cottage where she once lived was still standing, however, it had since been fitted with air-conditioning.

"And the kitchen has got rid of the big wood stove and now has every modern con you could think of, lovely big steamer ovens and so forth.

"And they have big generators going so you have power all the time. The power we had was out at 10pm every night, you went to bed whether you wanted to or not. Now they have internet access too, it was just a totally different.”

The Hughes family stayed in touch with Viv for many years by writing Christmas letters. Pam, the eldest daughter, later tracked Viv down after her parents passed away through an old letter she had found of her father's. The pair are now good friends.

Former governess Vivienne McLauchlan and Pam Handley, née Hughes from Nockatunga, are now good friends.
Former governess Vivienne McLauchlan and Pam Handley, née Hughes from Nockatunga, are now good friends. Contributed

"We met in Brisbane and hit it off, we are in touch all of the time,” she said.

Viv also reflected on getting bogged in thick bull dust along the dirt roads as well as making the trip to Broken Hill, and then on to Adelaide when she hadn't received a letter from her folks in three weeks.

However, the isolation was never a challenge to her.

"It's just so different now with the ability to be in touch,” she said.

"But because it wasn't available then, we didn't know any difference.

"We made our own fun and still enjoyed ourselves.”

Tennis matches, busy race meetings and the local dance hall packed with people who had travelled from all over make up some of Viv's best memories.

However, she did admit she longed for certain foods.

"I craved sausages and apples,” she laughed. "That's what I wanted when we got back to civilisation ... and you never saw a tomato out there.”

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