The van at another "big thing".

The view from the van

Frank Barnes

I have just glanced out the window to check the weather as it has played a major role in how we have been able to operate this trip.

Yesterday we had one of our best experiences at Shell Cove Public and just finished our activities as the next storm rolled in. What great activities they were. The Fed Rep, Bruce Blackstock, had organised for staff to form two groups, one at the front bus zone where we set up our table and the other at the drop-off/pick-up zone. The teachers were garbed in Gonski t-shirt and cap and we collected more signatures than at any other event. A good number of the parents were aware of the campaign and came to our table to sign up. We encouraged them to spread the word further with the stickers, badges and apples from the teachers. It was a very satisfying day as earlier we had set up a barbie at the Wollongong Unions where we received support from other unions in the Illawarra.

Our current activities are being directed by the local Organiser, Nicole Calnan, and today we set up in a shopping centre in Nowra, visited the local member of parliament in Nowra with a letter and a gathering of local teachers and then held a public forum back in Kiama. These activities are typical of any day on the road with a Gonski van. Our aims, as we progress down the coast, are to get as much support for the full six-year funding and to inform people of what the advantages of the funding will mean for our kids in our schools.

And thus two weeks ago Jeff Ainsworth and I flew to Coolangatta and picked up our van which had come down from Queensland. After a handover from the Queensland Teachers Union representatives on the border, and a reunion dinner with fellow retiree Dorothy Redfern and fellow Gonski van retiree from last year Bob Seltin we set off on itineraries set up by the local organisers. In Lismore and Grafton we parked the van outside the local MPs’ offices and spoke to the passing locals about why we were there. We visited a number of schools and encouraged the members to wear their t-shirts so the word gets spread. Having the shirt on will often start a discussion: “What’s a Gonski?” is often the opening question.

On we go from Grafton to Coffs Harbour, where on my last visit I took Gonski on a camel ride. Gonski did not visit the Big Banana as we had done this as well as drop in at many other “Big” things on our last trip. After a great rally outside the local parliamentarian’s office attended by a good number of members from surrounding Associations we made the long drive to Raymond Terrace. We were to start our Central Coast activities the next morning. That night, as most nights previously, we were woken by heavy rain which was an omen as we had two outdoor activities planned for the area. The Dam Hotel was organised for after school on Friday and despite the heavy rain we were able to gather on one of the covered veranda areas and then on the next day, Saturday, we set up outside the Farmers Markets.

We should have known when the ducks and the pelicans flew away that we were not going to last. But at 7 o’clock we gamely set up the van and table. The rain was light but soon gathering intensity and so we set up our gazebo for cover. We got some support from wet locals but when the wind increased and the water rose above our feet we decided to beat a retreat. By the time we packed up we were all drenched and cold. Back at the motel we put what we could in the dryer and placed sign-up sheets around the room to dry. The next day in Gosford I dried each of the hundreds of badges we’re carrying to distribute.

In the early morning we were off to a before-school barbie organised at Point Clare Public and set up outside a house across the road from the drop-off areas. (The house owner’s son was a teacher at another school we visited later). The Point Clare PS principal joined us at the barbie which was fun and a successful highlight of our tour. Between visits to other schools we took Gonski to the Australian Reptile Park and Iguana Joe’s, the infamous restaurant (“Don’t you know who I am?”).

It is fun being able to do something so worthwhile. We will now have a week in the Sydney area before heading off on Sunday to Tony Abbott’s electorate with the other vans and then to Canberra.

I hope you are all organising your Senate submissions.

Frank Barnes is retired and delighted to join fellow retirees Jeff Ainsworth, Noel Creenaune and Mike Trotter in what has been dubbed Federation’s Antique Roadshow.