Former rouseabout Terri Swartz is the deputy principal of the elite New England Girls’ School.

Story Ken Eastwood  Photo Simon Scott

Dressed in her high heels and business attire, deputy principal Terri Swartz sometimes surprises the families of new students coming to New England Girls’ School (NEGS). She knows some of them from working as a rouseabout or shearer in woolsheds on their properties. “It creates a connection,” Terri says. “There’s that bit of understanding. I understand what it’s like to be living that far out there, and they know I have a work ethic, and I’m not above mucking in and getting my hands dirty.”

Terri’s Dad, Phillip Skewes (issue 117, p100), is a semi-retired shearer who keeps Merinos and ran a shearing team of which Terri was a part for many years, particularly while she was completing her commerce and education degrees via distance education. Her sister, brother and (now) husband were also members of that shearing team. “Dad was always in need of a rouseabout, because someone would ring in sick or he’d put on an extra team, so I’d get the call to help out,” Terri says. “Then Dad would say, ‘We need someone out west for two weeks, can you come out?’ It’s not an easy life – it’s pretty tough living out of shearer’s quarters and never being home.”

Now, the full-time job at NEGS and two young sons tend to keep Terri, 36, out of the woolsheds, but she still likes to occasionally surprise the 300 girls at NEGS with her clandestine bush credentials, such as when she shocked them all by winning the teacher’s open horseriding event, when most of the girls didn’t even know she could ride. “I did keep it a bit of a secret for a while that I could ride a horse,” she says. “I was taking the standard English class at the time, and some of the girls in that class aren’t as academic and it gave me some conversation starters and an opportunity to build some rapport – they see you as a working professional, an academic, but then they also see you as having something surprising that relates to their life. When they hear that I was a rousie they know I have no problem with putting my hand on a fly-blown sheep or whatever else is going on in a shearing shed.

“I think having someone with that rural background goes against the traditional view of the private school persona a bit. I understand both sides of it – you need to have the presence and polish at times, and at other times you can muck in. You don’t have to take your boots and jeans everywhere, but it’s good to pull them out every now and then.”

Terri says that farmers often seem to marry teachers, so quite a few female staff at NEGS live on the land, and she loves the fact that the school is a bridge between the rural and academic worlds. 

“I want to cultivate young women who can mix it in the boardroom or mix it in the paddocks, or mix it with engineers on a building site out west,” she says. “We do that here at NEGS.”

This story excerpt is from Issue #122

Outback Magazine: December/January 2019