It’s a long way from Beetaloo station, near Katherine, NT, to St Joseph’s College in Sydney, but year 7 student Josh Armstrong seems to be settling in just fine.

Story Ken Eastwood  

The microphone was adjusted downwards, and 12-year-old Josh Armstrong stepped up to it, looking out over the lectern across a vast sea of faces. The farm boy was used to a schoolroom of just two people, on 10,000sq km Beetaloo station, 500km south of Darwin, but here he was, in his first few weeks of high school, speaking at an assembly at St Joseph’s College in Hunters Hill, Sydney, where there are 140 year 7 students in his year alone.

In an excellent speech of just a few minutes, Josh kept the crowd laughing as he described the difference between primary school – attending Katherine School of the Air at home on Beetaloo – and coming to the “big smoke” for high school. Rather than Joeys’ smart blue and cerise uniform with tie and blazer, at home he’d go to the designated schoolroom in casual clothes after feeding the five dogs. “After school I’d go for a walk or a swim, but not near the crocs,” Josh said. “I have never been swimming with them, but Dad did one night after a couple of beers with his mates.”

Josh said he was missing riding his horse and motorbike, but now, instead, was enjoying basketball and playing flanker in a rugby team, having never played team sports before. But not all city experiences have been great. “I had KFC for the first time. It made me sick for three days,” he said. “I think I prefer steak!”

There are plenty of other differences, too. “Home is a lot hotter than here in Sydney. Forty-five degrees is a normal day,” he says. Back on Beetaloo, one of Josh’s nearest neighbours is his cousin Sam Brown, four hours’ drive away. Now he says Sam and he sleep in the same dorm, just 4m apart. 

Josh was warmly congratulated by fellow students after his speech, including big brother Sam, who is in year 11 at Joeys. “He settled in pretty fast. I went up to see him and he was fine,” Sam says.

This story excerpt is from Issue #137

Outback Magazine: June/July 2021