Tales from the green bus

Peter Vernon, Stephen Kelly, Michelle Jarrett, Kate Harland, Anthony Bougatsas, Dianne Pyne

Dianne Pyne, Life Member, Chifley College, Mt Druitt Campus:

The experience of riding on the Gonski bus for a week refreshed this Federation old-timer’s understanding of how important it is to fight for government school students and teachers. Wherever we went, in country or city schools, teachers came out in numbers, keen to support the cause.

From federal Nationals leader Barnaby Joyce’s electorate of New England — an electorate that stands to lose more than any other electorate in the nation, bar one — to Sydney’s west, where I taught for 30 years-plus, it was reassuring to find that schools are still happy places. Sausage sizzles greeted us and green Gonski shirts appeared .

Teachers in country electorates are completely on board with Gonski and demonstrated this despite warnings from nervous school education directors and unsympathetic federal National MPs.

I have discovered a new way of campaigning, for an oldie: we should be using social media — like Donald! In the bus, we were given a crash course in using Twitter. We need to encourage other members to “share” their passion: these are the new, fast, immediate, efficient ways of reaching the whole of the state and country.

Kate Harland, Councillor, Bellingen High School, Women’s Contact, New Activist Contact:

Setting off from Coolangatta Airport, I wasn’t sure at first what to expect on the Gonski bus, coming from a small, rural association with just over 90 members.

Everywhere we went it was good to network with beginning teachers and discuss the often stressful nature of teaching in the first few years. I was able to explain how needs-based funding makes a difference to teachers’ working conditions. Inspiring stories from future leaders about their education experiences reinforced my belief in the public system and the impact teachers have on students.

Michelle Jarrett, Councillor, Lake Macquarie TA President:

“Is this the teachers’ union bus?” Thus commenced the most bizarre conversation I was to have during our Gonski bus tour. We had reached Tamworth, in the Barnaby Joyce seat of New England. I had expected to meet some locals who needed re-educating on school funding and was happy to engage in this opportunity.

By the end of 10 minutes, when we had discussed, in addition to schools funding, Greece, Haiti, Cuba and the fact that “Obama should be tried for treason” I came to the conclusion that some people just can’t be swayed!

It was while we were in New England that Barnaby Joyce, who was attending the opening of a $3 million Performing Arts Centre in an Anglican girls’ college, told the media that money doesn’t matter. Aah, the delicious irony. He had just provided the best ammunition for his political opponents and they did not miss!

Now home, I am enjoying a sausage sizzle-free diet. I have five new colleagues with whom I shared an exciting experience and would readily undertake the trip again.

Stephen Kelly, bus captain, Councillor and Casual/Unemployed Contact at Warners Bay High School:

I am concerned that the government has not embraced the findings of the Gonski Review despite months of deliberation and research.

We desperately need the government to commit the $5 billion to fix the backlog of need and address the growing inequality in our education system. This needs to be done now, not after more deliberations that threaten to stymie action for at least two years. Act now and stop the rot. This will pay for itself in better educational opportunities for disadvantaged students and communities, contribute to higher skills in the workforce and lift productivity and our competitiveness. These are all issues that the government is supposed to be concerned about. Well, here is the opportunity for action rather than rhetoric. Act now!

Anthony Bougatsas, Newcastle TA:

A day-long briefing at Teachers Federation HQ prepared us for our week-long journey on the Gonski bus down the east coast. At Lismore I was struck by the surreal sight of state Green, Labor and National Party representatives voicing enthusiastic support for Gonski. Torrential rain did not deter us at Glen Innes: gathered at the bus shelter was an enthusiastic crowd.

At Armidale, the sun shone for long enough for us to do our thing. We were getting as good as any rock band road crew at unpacking stuff from the bus. A TV crew was there so we were getting noticed.

Then on through Tamworth and Singleton to Newcastle, where we had another great turnout including all the relevant federal and state MPs, a rally in Gosford, where we won a contest with the rain to see who would win (a local Anglican priest in the crowd must have had a word) and then Narara, Penrith and Sydney.

Thank you, all the schools, students, P&Cs and others who welcomed us wherever we went, and to the most patient man in Australia (stop here, park here, turn around here, go here, go there, pick us up this time, drop us off here, can we borrow this?, can you go there?), Dave the Gonski bus driver.

Peter Vernon, Life Member, retired principal:

Spending a week on the Gonski bus was invigorating and the public gave us the thumbs-up at every opportunity. I come from the safe National seat of Cowper so it was a real high for me to interact with two Labor MPs at Singleton and then four more later that day at Newcastle — they care about kids.

By far the most reassuring part was to meet so many young and enthusiastic teacher unionists. It gave me the feeling that whatever the conservatives throw at us there will be a fight but that public school kids are in safe hands.