I went on my first business trip recently. It was pretty standard: tiring, missed my family, very busy, slept in a sleeping bag, constantly cut string and helping people make friendship bracelets…yep, all normal, right?

So how does an operations (non-teaching) employee at a school end up trekking 5 hours down south with two buses of Year 6 students? Because she was optimistic and foolish enough to put her hand up! They needed one extra adult to help, and I was so happy to get picked for the trip. Before my years working in financial planning, nearly every other job has been working with kids: lifeguard, teaching swim lessons, coaching the swim team, camp counsellor, drawing and painting teacher, Pre-K teaching assistant volunteer, substitute/cover teacher, trainee English teacher, and other odd stints at babysitting, tutoring, and volunteering with my little sister’s dog agility class.

In context, working in an office at a computer all day is the weirdest job I’ve ever had.

I have to mention that Year 6 (11ish years old) is one of my favourite ages. Over the years, I’ve heard a lot of people bemoan the “tween”/early teen/middle school years, but I don’t get why. The students are silly, fun, creative, clever, and have a rib-cracking sense of humour – you can banter with them, make jokes, and they have some semblance of danger and hazard perception, which is nice when you’re crossing roads and exploring old whaling ships.

I volunteered because I wanted to become more integrated with the school, get to know more teaching staff, and it was a great way to see a bit more of the state too and learn alongside the students. In preparation for the trip, I bought a huge pack of embroidery thread, 100 safety pins, and tiny scissors. I first offered to the girls sitting next to me on the bus, and word spread like wildfire. I basically spent the entire week cutting string, giving demos, troubleshooting, and telling the girls to take two big steps back when they crowded around me during breaks. It was a great way to keep them occupied on the coach trips between locations, and a wind down activity in the evening before lights out.


I only took a few photos, which are in a gallery at the end with captions, but some highlights we visited were:

  • The site we stayed – it was an old quarantine station built in the late 1800s, a stone’s throw from the harbour. The caretakers of the site were so welcoming and educated us on the site’s history, and plaques on the wall labelled the dormitories: first class/second class, single women, etc. We had to be vigilant in remembering to close gates, because the wild kangaroos loved the lush green grass.
  • The Cultural Tour – where a local Elder, her son, and a friend/colleague educated us on the land, took us for a bush walk to learn about the indigenous plants, and led the students in a team craft project that’s currently on display in the school’s reception.
  • The Albany Whaling Station – this was an intact whale processing facility including an actual whaling ship. I had no idea that commercial whaling was so recent, and only ceased in 1978. I was touched by the students’ responses – many were deeply troubled and saddened from an environmental/animal ethics perspective, but also acknowledged it was an important livelihood for the local community, and it was incredibly dangerous and hard work. Their responses were thoughtful and nuanced.
  • National Anzac Centre – when I consider all the museums I’ve visited, this is in the top tier. I could write a blog post about this location alone. I’ll talk about this more below, and how it ties in with a book event I attended literally two hours after our buses arrived back in Perth.
  • Our evening activity toward the end of the week: we went to this adventure playground that had different stations: a vertical running ramp, fitness climbing ropes and bars, rock climbing, and mini golf. It was wonderful to see the students all cheering for each other, screaming in support, and erupting when one of their classmates finally reached their goal after many tries. The camaraderie, heart, and enthusiasm buoyed all our spirits, and I think everyone slept soundly that night!

The National Anzac Centre

To bring history to life, we were all given a card which represented a real person during the war: soldiers, nurses, journalists, folks back home. You were also given a narration device, and there were several points through the museum to scan your card and hear more about that person’s life. At the end, you could view a digital folder with photos and more information. My soldier survived the war and returned home.

This method is ingenious. It brings history to life and kept the students engaged. They became personally invested in the outcome of their real historical person, and commiserated with each other when (inevitably) some of their people didn’t make it to see the end of the war. I sometimes struggle to comprehend historical facts unless I have something to “grab onto”, so this method of storytelling resonated with me too.

It’s serendipitous that my random card was of a soldier in the 6th Australian Light Horse Regiment. My husband’s novel Where the Line Breaks (Fremantle Press, 2021) tells the story of a fictional soldier in the 10th Light Horse during the First World War. On Friday, we drove back to Perth from Albany, and I had just enough time to drop my camp bags and change clothes before dashing out again to one of Michael’s author talks. Before the talk, I gave him a small gift: a First World War Australian Light Horse commemorative pin, and he wore it to his talk.

Camden the Otter to the Rescue

Otters are my favourite animal. We went to the London Zoo a few months before we knew we’d be moving to Australia, and Michael insisted on getting this little fella for me. The otter didn’t have a name for several months, until our four year-old nephew began playing with him and asked for his name. We said he didn’t have one and asked if he’d like to help. Michael threw out a few suggestions – real people names, silly things like “potato”, random London locations – and our nephew latched on to Camden, which works great because that’s where the London Zoo is located.

Staff were told to follow the students’ packing list and we’d have everything we need. On there, it lists “a cuddly toy”. I’ve always been one to follow directions.

Little did I know, Camden would be called upon to step up as a hero. On the second night, one girl woke us up because she was very upset and homesick. We reassured and comforted her and finally got her back to bed. The second night, same thing. We finally figured out it was less about missing family, and more upset because she’d left her favourite stuffed animal at home because she was terrified of losing him. I asked if having a substitute might help, jogged back to my dorm, and came back to introduce Camden.

Camden worked a treat for the next two nights and he did not bring back smelly fish to put on her pillow (I gave Camden a stern talk about having good manners). Good otter.

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