The life of a governess – the valued educators of remote Australian children – can be one of adventure, family and romance.

Story + Photos Mandy McKeesick

On North Quibet, an 8700ha cattle station between Roma and St George in southern Queensland, Sinead, Liobhan and Tayghan Boyle are in their classroom. Sinead, 11, works on a science experiment investigating the growth of mould; Liobhan, 9, has joined a telephone hook-up for an English lesson; and Tayghan, 7, is spinning around on a chair – half-listening to an online mathematics tutor. Overseeing this hub of distance education is governess Kodi Lake.

The governess – fondly known as the govie – is a much-loved outback character who assists in the care and teaching of children on remote stations. The governess lives on the property, delivers the school curriculum in conjunction with distance education teachers, and becomes an integral part of the family, often meeting up with other govies at rural events such as race days and campdrafts. Due to the nature of the work and the isolation of the properties, the role of a governess is not so much a job as a lifestyle.

Some parents choose to educate their own children and this was an option for Brie Boyle. “I was teaching the kids two years ago but I found it strained our relationship,” she says. “We’d finish school, rush off to feed cattle, then rush home again. I found it was too much for the children. Kids need time to be kids, so I wanted to get them a govie so they could do the fun things.” Brie’s husband Tim had other reasons. “We’re a two-person operation on the property and I could employ a worker, but I’d rather have Brie in the paddock,” he says.

Govies are generally young women looking for an outback adventure (male governesses are called governors, though they are few and far between) and they come to the role for a variety of reasons: as a gap year between school and further study, for a rural lifestyle, as a transition from university to a teaching career, or just because a friend has recommended the job. Kodi had completed a Diploma in Childcare and, looking for a change, answered the Boyles’ advertisement on Facebook. This is her third year on North Quibet – an unusually long stint for a governess, as they often only stay one year on a property. “I enjoy teaching, I love the family and I get involved with the property,” she says. “I especially enjoy watching the kids develop and reach their goals in school."

This story excerpt is from Issue #131

Outback Magazine: June/July 2020