FWL Feature: Boots Off Apron On

Words Ellie Russell / Photos Jane Smith & Boots Off Apron On

When it comes to raising a family on the land in the remote region of the Far West kids don’t miss out on too much. They get to learn some of the best life skills like how to cook their grandmother’s famous biscuits or how to grow their own veggies – but what they don’t get is the traditional style of schooling, instead they attend a special kind of school – the School Of The Air.

Pixie Moses and Bree Wakefield are two local far west women very familiar with School Of The Air (SOTA) and have made it their mission and business to support, promote and grow the Broken Hill SOTA services in their region through the creation of BOOTS OFF apron on, a cookbook celebrating the many tried and tested recipes of families who benefit from the SOTA services.

Pixie and Bree recently spoke with FWL to share a little about how the project came about and why it is so important for us all to get behind this incredible initiative. For those unfamiliar with the concept of SOTA, it is a unique community of outback families who don’t have access to a primary school close by. With Broken Hill SOTA, teachers in Broken Hill send out schoolwork to families for their children to complete with the help of a parent or governess at home. Traditionally SOTA was conducted over the radio where children would communicate with their teachers via radio.

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“Most students have their own schoolroom at home and some even do their work at the kitchen table,” Pixie explains. “We also have a few traveling students whose classroom might be in a different place from week to week. Long gone are the days of lessons via a radio.“”With the advances of modern technology, our students now have air lessons on a computer. The teacher has a live video stream and is able to call on students via video or microphone to speak to the class.”

“Our kids don’t have to ‘learn to adapt’ to this lifestyle, it’s all they know. It’s what they have grown up with.”

Pixie, her husband and two daughters live on and manage Avenel Station located 140km from Broken Hill where their girls have both completed their schooling through the Broken Hill SOTA. Bree, her husband and their three children live on Banoon Station located 75km from Mildura, Victoria (approximately 4 hours from Broken Hill) which makes them the most southern property in SOTA. The two women connected through their roles on the fundraising committee of the Parents and Citizens Association (P&C) for the SOTA in 2014 along with a number of other passionate outback mums. “We made a two-year commitment and raised a significant amount of money for the school. It was suggested at a P&C meeting that the committee update the school cookbook,” the ladies explain.

“The school was celebrating its 60th anniversary in September 2016 and it was decided a new cookbook would be a great way to mark the event.” The creation of the book took about nine months and proved to be a huge workload for Pixie and Bree being located 500km from one another. “We spent a lot of time emailing and speaking on the phone. All of the recipes were submitted to us online, along with the photos from the school community.”

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“Nothing was more satisfying during that period; than when our internet would start a new month and we’d have a few days of high speed, before it was quickly gone from downloading images and uploading them to the spreadsheet we used to create the book…”

The ladies have credited a fellow SOTA mother (and previous FWL feature story), Jane Smith, for her efforts and help during the process. “At the drop of a hat Jane would style and photograph anything we asked of her. She designed our gorgeous book cover and continues to contribute photos, as we need them.” ≠“What we have created is worth every late night, the countless hours and all those stressed phone calls to each other.”

BOOTS OFF apron on has proved to be a huge success for the Broken Hill SOTA having sold approximately 2,500 copies across every state in Australia including some sales internationally, and third print run has just been finalised. The book comprises 194 pages (10 chapters) of beautiful recipes and photography capturing the essence of bush life in the region. From smoko through to dinner time and dessert, the recipes have your household covered!

FWL Feature: The Shady Baker

Words & Photos Jane Smith (The Shady Baker)

Along with my husband, Terry and our two children, Annabelle and George, I live on Scarsdale Station, east of Broken Hill in NSW. Scarsdale is 24800 hectares and is a family owned operation where we run Merino sheep and Hereford cattle.I grew up on a sheep station in the Ivanhoe area of NSW so I have spent almost all of my life in the Far West region.Jane SMith[Photo by Michael Wee]

In 2011 I started to share some recipes and photos on a friend’s website and it then occurred to me that I could start a blog independently and so The Shady Baker was created. My blog started as a way of sharing recipes and photos of my vegetable garden and baking. Today on my blog I share snippets of our life including the wide open spaces, stock work, animals and of course, baking. The Shady Baker provides a little space for me to gather my thoughts and photos and put them together as a way of documenting everything that I am grateful for. It acts as a journal of sorts and I often look back through old posts to find things that I have baked or to see when I planted my tomatoes the previous year.

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My blog is also a contact point which over the years has provided a starting point for many projects and more importantly, many friendships. In the future I hope to continue to share my part of the world and our way of life through my blog. Finding a community of like-minded people through blogging continues to amaze me and I hope this always remains. Blogging has also linked me to many other people who share my love for baking sourdough bread. Living in the far west region we have access to plenty of wide open spaces which I love. From a photography point of view I am always observing the changing light and distant horizons that we are so lucky to experience. Our children are immersed in rural life and they are learning life skills every single day including stock work, horse riding, motorbike riding, raising vegetables and seeing where their meat and other food originates from.

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One of my favourite things to do is to cook outdoors and luckily we have many paddocks where we can light a fire and cook a simple meal, whenever time permits. In our part of the far west region we are lucky to have some unique attractions and businesses and shopping locally is something that I am committed to.


Jane’s top 3 places to visit in the far west region…

When I make my weekly trip to Broken Hill I can always be found kick-starting my day at the Silly Goat located at 360 Argent Street. The hard working crew are serious about their coffee and food and there are plenty of good vibes that overflow onto the street.

Willy Nilly Art is a vibrant art gallery and retail space located at 415 Argent Street. Amanda Johnson creates bold artwork which is unique to our region as well as gifts, cards and interesting wares with a local flavour. This shop is appealing to both locals and visitors: look for the colourful old push bike parked out the front.

Right now, following welcome rainfall, it is possible for me to mention the Menindee Lakes. The lakes are bursting back into life and whether you are into fishing, swimming, camping or just day tripping this area is spectacular right now. As we recently discovered, it is also a great place to introduce inland horses to the water.