Distance no tyrant to Alice author

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A grim reliance on unreliable vehicles bumping along narrow tracks, and fording boggy creeks, was once the monthly experience of Tanya Heaslip’s mother.

For Tanya, the daylong supply trip to Alice Springs was emblematic of an isolation that made distance education a necessity.

But the renowned author , and former correspondence and Alice Springs School of the Air student, said the remoteness of her cattle station home conferred “immense advantages”.

“There was so much creativity and freedom to think in my on-air education,” she said. “The isolation helped me develop as a writer. In the space and solitude my imagination soared, prompting me to write stories, mostly about outback kids having adventures on horseback, chasing cattle, and beating cattle thieves.

“Disadvantages included no sport, no social interaction with other students, and no familiarity with structured classroom learning, and communication difficulties caused by poor signal strength, static, and weather and equipment location.

“But it was otherwise great fun. And although the two teachers were limited in what they could explain over the air, what I learnt was immediately relevant to my outback environment.

“Although Alice Springs School of the Air extended a community of bush kids bound together by our radio call signs, we approached each other shyly in the annual meeting. But by the end of the week we were fast friends, running around the Old Telegraph Station, camping, singing and playing the guitar.”

Ms Heaslip includes the iconic school in her three memoirs — An Alice Girl, Beyond Alice, and Alice to Prague.

An Alice Girl describes my life to 12 years old, my favourite teacher Mrs Hodder, Adelaide Miethke — pivotal in establishing the school, and Royal Flying Doctor Service founder John Flynn — who applied the radio to education.

Beyond Alice addresses my boarding school years, the more regimented study, Mrs Hodder’s influence, and the write to survive strategy that attracted student listeners and prompted a serious desire to write.

“And Alice to Prague focusses on my four years teaching English — as a lawyer — in the post-communist Czech Republic. The kids and I didn’t share a common language, so I employed Mrs Hodder’s song and play teaching technique. There are a lot of students there who can sing Waltzing Matilda.”

Tanya at a lesson.

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