Reviewed by Frank Barnes

Gonski the Musical

Around the state, In a daze
By Frank Barnes and Mike Trotter
Produced by the NSW Teachers Federation

Today, the van — we call him/her Boyd after the numberplate — clicked over 5000 kilometres. We arrived in Glen Innes after travelling across from Narrabri via Moree, Warialda and Inverell. We had not been able to do any school visits in Narrabri so we set up in the street with council permission and spruiked the gospel of Gonski to any passing member of the public who wanted to engage with us.

When we arrive in each town we find our agreed place and set up our stage, which consists of an excellent portable folding table with a specially designed Gonski table cover. Sign-on-to-support folders are placed on the table with stickers, balloons and badges. Leaflets are also placed but these are now out of date so they have been sent to the rubbish bins of the outback.

When we got the call to come out of retirement to help with the campaign it was a no-brainer. It is essential that we try to make education funding the issue. When we started, Tony Abbott was against the funding altogether and that was our aim to push him towards total funding. We have had to change our script on a regular basis as the cart-wheeling has begun. Each day brings new adventure, new scripts, new characters and new challenges.

The start was easy as; after two days of rehearsal in head office, we set off to Raymond Terrace and had a terrific meeting with the teachers at the school gate. We found the teachers and staff excited at what Federation is doing. They liked the T-shirts, loved the caps and the van. Our first press meeting went well and this has continued each day we have been on the road.

The regional office coordinators have worked with their Organisers to plan our activities. School meetings, stalls in the streets and markets, and stalls in shopping centres are all organised with permission from councils and shopping centre proprietors. If the Organiser is around, they spend some time with us.

We have not needed to do much to attract attention as the van and our outfits do that for us. It is hard not to attract attention when driving a green van saying “Guarantee Gonski”. Initially people thought that it was a non-issue after Abbott said he would agree to it. But after explaining the true situation almost everyone happily signed on.

We have been stopped by retired teachers, nomads from other states and many members of the local communities. Sometimes local colourful characters want to engage you in histories both interesting and boring. In Barraba, we were engaged in a conversation with a codger who kept us talking for 40 minutes and told us the cloud in the sky was always there and going nowhere. For the rest of the trip, whenever we see a cloud, it is this same one.

The trip is becoming a blur as we move, almost on a daily basis, from one town to another. We have visited Woolbrook Public School where Barnaby Joyce spent his childhood; we were unable to see Mr Joyce in his Tamworth office so we left reading material for him. At the Camden Haven meeting of the candidates, we had photos on the empty seats of the National and Christian Democrat parties, as well as the pleasure of Rob Oakeshott opening the meeting. We have been abused by just a few people who never stay to discuss what their objections are. We have had congenial discussions with supporters of all parties. In order to convince people of the need to support school funding I have “agreed” with the views of every possible party and belief. And we have been able to get articles in every local paper and TV news.

So far we have been to Raymond Terrace, Nelson Bay, Forster, Tamworth, Manilla, Barraba, Bingara, Inverell, Armidale, Quirindi, Bendemeer, Port Macquarie, Uralla, Walcha, Dubbo, Nyngan, Cobar, Bourke, Narrabri, Glen Innes and Coonabarabran, where Boyd really enjoyed the observatory at Siding Springs — it was scary to see where the fires had been but pleasing to see the regeneration. In each and every place we have been warmly greeted. There are still almost four weeks to go. There have been many highlights and almost no down moments. The teachers and parents are delighted to see us and what we are doing.

There was a moment in Raymond Terrace when we could not get the van started. Everything locked up. Three of us attempted to get the van started. The proprietor who sold us the van was called, as was the NRMA. Then one of us commented that the keys seemed to have lots of extras attached. At this point I realised they were the keys to my Corolla. Yes, the van is also a Toyota and the keys fitted.

Sometimes we have difficulty knowing where we are or where we have been. However, we know we are helping to spread the word, whether it is to new people or those already onside. With our already committed supporters, it is about reinforcing their belief and encouraging them to wear the t-shirts and caps to help get discussion started around the issue.

The trip covers the full range of theatre genres. At times it is full-blown drama. At other times it is farce, comedy, opera, revue, and maybe even cabaret and burlesque. Whichever, I feel honoured to be starring in it.

Three vans are each creating their own different and personal shows.

Frank Barnes has been unable to write anything about shows as he has not been near a theatre.