Monday, 8 October 2007

Defining rural

Thunder is muttering all around although the sunshine is bright. The humidity is thick and the frogs seem to think a storm is imminent. I can hardly hear above the sounds of their croaking and the rustling of every leaf and branch. I am dithering over turning the computer off but have been so negligent over the school holidays that I am determined to write.

I picked up a pile of booklets while taking my turn to “person” the historical society’s open afternoon to try to get myself back into the swing of things. I shook my head the other day and not a single idea fell out so I knew that I had to get back to work.

I have been thinking though about definitions and how easy it is to make mistakes when you are working from a different lexicon. When we moved to the country, several of the real estate advertisements mentioned that a property had “rural water.” I assumed that this was real-estate-speak for not having town water. I have since learnt that there are more sources of water than this girl dreamt of. There’s your plain vanilla reticulated water system, that is, you turn on the tap and water comes out that has been piped under pressure to your house from a central system. There’s tank water, which comes under the official category of a “private water supply.” That is you collect or “harvest” rainwater off your roof, store in tanks and use a pressure pump to send it into your house. Then there’s the aforementioned “rural water” which as far as I can tell is low pressure reticulated water. You have a tank that water from a town supply trickles into, you use a pump to get this up to full pressure and you supplement this with rainwater. There are other permutations like bores and springs. And there is an inventor who has designed a system to use a windmill to harvest water from the air. I’m waiting to see if this is ever commercially available.

I seem to have problems with the specific term “rural” either designating it as euphemistic or purely descriptive. My other mistake was to think that the phrase “rural school” simply meant a school in the country. Rural schools were vocational schools run in conjunction with the state school system. They taught girls home economics and some useful skills like typing. Boys learnt farming, blacksmithing, woodwork and other manly crafts. Rural school drew students from around the district for weekly classes. According to Frank Snars “Senior pupils at a rural school could choose to go on [to] the ordinary primary school course leading to Scholarship and secondary school, or spend part of their time doing manual training or domestic science subjects. Rural courses were free to pupils under 16 years…Evening classes were offered for a nominal fee for those who had left school.”

According to an eminent local resident, Marburg Rural School taught him all the useful things he uses in his life everyday and he regrets that these skills aren’t taught to the same degree today. The rural school at Marburg started in 1920 (the second in Queensland) with the goal of “providing educational links with a thriving agricultural community” until it burnt down as the result apparently of a careless cigarette in the sawdust pit.

The lessons I’ve learnt other than not throwing cigarettes into sawdust pits and that tertiary education is over-rated? Not to assume that I’m even on the same page as someone else, let alone using the same language. I should have learnt that one from my years in the States where I can assure you I did speak a foreign language.

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