As Gwydir Mobile Children’s Services celebrates four decades of its travelling outback preschool, director Wendy Baldwin racks up 25 years’ service. 

Story by Ken Eastwood

For forty years, through floods and droughts, a vehicle packed to the brim with train sets, books, toys, paints, puzzles and other cherished children’s activities has travelled from Moree, northern New South Wales, to provide a weekly preschool service to tiny nearby communities. For more than half that time, Wendy Baldwin has been the driver, director and much-loved teacher of the service. She’s now even teaching the children of former students.

Wendy’s preschool day starts at about 8am when the fully laden vehicle gets on the road, travelling an average of 120 kilometres to get to the day’s venue. Originally the service used a “clapped-out Kombi”, Wendy says, but now has two new painted Toyota Landcruisers that service eight different communities throughout the week, including Boomi, Bellata, Gravesend and Pallamallawa. Upon reaching the venue – often a school building – everything is unpacked and the day begins. “We pretty much carry everything that a normal preschool would have – except wooden blocks, because they’re a bit heavy,” Wendy says. Bikes, chairs and tables are usually kept at each location.

“Every venue is different, every child is different,” Wendy says. “You can get there some days and all they want to do is run, and another day all they want to do is sit in the sun and play in the sand … Because we’ve got a lot of boys and farm boys, they need a lot of rough and tumble play.” 

As well as lots of physical activities, there’s story time, morning tea, science and cooking, but Wendy particularly likes watching the farm kids play in the sand or with the farm sets. “They all plant their crops and then harvest them,” she says. “We’ve got kangaroos in the playground and snakes in the yard. It’s just a very different way of living your life. There’s a sensation of rolling with the seasons and being part of the land. It’s a blessing to watch the kids.”

This story excerpt is from Issue #110

Outback Magazine: Dec/Jan 2017