Review: Bush School by Peter O’Brien


Title: Bush School

Author: Peter O’Brien

Published: August 4th 2020, Allen & Unwin

Status: Read August 2020 courtesy Allen & Unwin


My Thoughts:

In his engaging memoir, Bush School, Peter O’Brien recalls his two years as the teacher of a one-room school in Weabonga, a tiny farming village two days’ travel by train and mail cart from Armidale.

In 1960, aged just twenty years old with barely more than year of teaching experience, Peter was asked to fulfil his rural teaching service requirement and encouraged by the Education Department Inspector, after a false start in Guy Fawkes, to select one of NSW’s remote regions on the western lip of the Great Divide. After an uncomfortable journey, and a worrying introduction to his lodgings, Peter found himself welcoming eighteen students, ranging in age from five years to fifteen, to Weabonga School.

I could not imagine, as a new graduate with limited teaching experience, being placed in sole charge of a schoolhouse, far from everything familiar, with children of varying grades (an experience my mother shared in early 1970’s, but thankfully I escaped in early 1990’s). Peter’s experience may not be unique, but it’s seldom shared and a pi

The first-person narrative is an easy and accessible read, and though I did find the tone slightly formal, there is also a genuine sense of warmth. Peter writes of the challenges and triumphs of his new environment. Professionally he has concerns about his limited experience, his inability to consult with colleagues or a mentor, and the lack of available educational resources, but luckily his pupils prove enthusiastic, and his instinct for a child centered, or ‘open learning’, approach to teaching, serves him well. Personally Peter’s living situation, a spare, paper lined single bedroom in the home of a student where he took his meagre meals alone exacerbated his homesickness, and he was on the verge of giving notice until he received an alternate offer of accomodation. The separation from his sweetheart, who later become his wife, also weighed on his mind.

Bush School is a winsome, interesting and entertaining memoir. As a teacher, I found Peter’s explanation of his pedagogical development interesting, particularly since his theories closely mirror my own, which is why I prefer to work in early childhood education. As someone interested in social history I appreciated his effort to contextualise his experience, and that of his students, amid wider Australian societal events and issues. As a generally curious reader I enjoyed Peter’s affectionate reminisces of unfamiliar people and places.


Available from Allen & Unwin RRP AUD$29.99

Or from your preferred retailer via Booko I Book Depository

5 thoughts on “Review: Bush School by Peter O’Brien

  1. In the early days of my blogging, I read a book called Kids from Nowhere about a teachers in rural Alaska. I still think of that book often and this one sounds similar. I’ll have to check it out.

    Liked by 1 person

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