The Mallee

I got a phonecall that there was work for me in a small town in the Mallee for six weeks to replace another pharmacist on annual leave.  We were to be given accomodation in the house next door to the pharmacy – great timing as the campervan was due to go back to the builders to get an extra two solar panels and another battery installed.

It was late on the Sunday night when we pulled in to the town, about 11pm as we just hadn’t felt like leaving Murray-Kulkyne National Park. I’d be starting work at 9am the next morning.  We were all excited, and looking forward to our first longer stay in a rural town.

We walked in to the house, planning to sleep inside.  That wasn’t going to happen!  The house was filthy, so filthy that we couldn’t believe that a human could live there.  We stared around the place in disgust, before we walked straight back out and into the campervan to put the kids to bed.  Once they were settled, Jarrad and I walked back into the house to look around.

We were fuming as we walked around the house with our torches, complaining to each other.  Why with torches?  Most of the light bulbs were blown.  Some of them had clearly blown as the shattered glass was still on the floor. The smell of the house was enough to make us feel quezy.

The accomodation had been such a big part of it for us since we needed to get the campervan fixed.  “We aren’t staying if this isn’t fixed straight away,” we told each other.  When they said accomodation included, we weren’t expecting a 5-star luxury resort, but we did expect livable.  We couldn’t possibly stay when we had a 16 month old baby, not to mention the rest of us.

We wrote the this list that night to give to the pharmacy in the morning:


  • snot on the walls throughout house (inc two bedrooms and the kitchen and lounge room)
  • half the light globes are blown
  • pieces of glass from one of the said globes on the ground (in carpet)
  • dust a few millimeters thick over most surfaces
  • mouse poo in kitchen cupboards and on the floors throughout house
  • possum wee marks on the ceilings and walls
  • electrical work visibly unsafe
  • carpets and floors filthy with dust and mice poo
  • smells of cigarette smoke and animal excrement



Luckily, as soon as we mentioned it to the pharmacy assistant in the morning, she began to arrange for the situation to be improved.  Jarrad showed her around the house pointing out the problems.  Apparently this scenario had happened before — actually, each time he has his annual leave.  The carpets were steam cleaned (with the comment that he had never seen such filthy carpets), and a cleaner was hired for a day.  An exterminator was also called to deal with the critters in the house, a new shower curtain was purchased from the hardware shop as it was mouldy and falling apart, and Jarrad was supplied with light globes to replace all the broken ones.


We’d only been in there for a few days when the husband of one of the pharmacy assistants came in and she said to him, “Did you know Amy’s husband is an electrician?”  His eyes lit up and he turned to me,  ”Where is he?  I need to talk to him.”  A quick phone call, and he came into the pharmacy carrying Edmund.  Introductions were quickly made, and he then said, “I’m the manager of the local electrician business here.  When can you start?”

Jarrad protested that he couldn’t as he had to look after the four kids while I worked.  This was taken care of, and pretty soon one girl had been found who could look after the kids three days a week, and another one for the other two days.

We made Peter and Susan attend the local schools, while Lucy and Edmund stayed with a babysitter. The kids thought this was a terrible time and all, but especially Susan, hated it.


The first girl (T) turned up the next morning for me to go to work.  It turned out that Jarrad hadn’t mentioned how many kids she was actually going to be looking after, or how old they were.  Anyone who heard that T was babysitting said, “Nice girl, really big boobs, but so dumb.”  At the end of the first day she asked if instead of getting $x per hour, that maybe she could get $y per day.  Only thing was, she actually asked us to halve what we’d agreed to pay her!  We just couldn’t take advantage of this, and explained to her what she’d asked for.  She was great with Edmund and Lucy, and whenever Jarrad or I walked in unexpectedly she was always down on the ground playing with them.

The other lady wasn’t as great.  She was a lovely person, but we felt she was rather lazy.  It was still not possible to get much information out of Lucy, but Peter and Susan were of the opinion that she just relaxed and smoked most of the day rather than doing anything with the kids.  There were a few things we were unhappy about, but we figured for just a few weeks that they were able to be ignored.


“What’s the point of school?” Susan asked Mum impatiently. “There are all these other kids but we’re not allowed to play most of the time, and even worse I’m not allowed to read all day! It’s terrible!” She lasted a week before she simply refused to attend again. I kept trying, but she kept refusing.

The incident that caused her to stubbornly refuse to go back had happened on the monkey bars.  She was hanging upside down by her knees on the monkey bars.  She was wearing a dress, so it was hanging down, and a lovely little boy who was on the autism spectrum tried to help her.  He pulled the dress up to cover her.  Susan got so upset about this as she felt that he was uncovering her.  It wasn’t explained to her at the school, either, until I approached them about what had happened.


Peter liked this school. The other children made an effort to include him, and he found that the grade 4 – 6 class had work that he enjoyed doing. It was April so the school was, typically focusing on the Anzacs and Easter.  As Peter finds history to be fascinating, this suited him well.  He enjoyed having a room to spread his Lego out in at the house that came with Mum’s job, and the playground directly opposite the house. The highlight was the day all the kids went on the bus to Hopetoun to join in a football skills clinic that was being run by players from the Geelong Football Team. Peter had an advantage playing footy at lunch that the other kids said that since his finger was shattered he only had to touch the ball for it to be considered a mark.

Lucy went to the local kindergarten for a full day twice a week and thought it to be a wonderful treat. To have so many children to play with was a novelty for her, and the teacher told me, “She’s very good socially. She can play happily alone, joins in effortlessly with the other children and chats to everyone as though she’s known them all her life.” Lucy got given a drink bottle from the Dental Clinic that had visited earlier and thought that to be wonderful.


The Locust Plague

A major locust plague hit the Mallee while we were there. The air was thick with locusts. The ground was covered and it was amazing to see the green football oval completely black with swarming locusts. The sky went dark for a few days. It is one thing seeing a report of a locust plague on the TV news, but the reality of it was quite different.


On To A Second Town

We went next to an even smaller town in the Mallee.  I was going to work there until the beginning of the snow season, when we’d head straight across to the ski slopes.  The kids had to be walked to school each day, while Jarrad took the car to continue to work with the company in the first town.

We camped at Lake Lascelles that had only been filled with water again last year after having been dry for eight years. The lake’s absence was causing such a ripple effect in the town that so many businesses had died and people had moved away that the town had found the $8000 needed to fund the water.  It was a lovely place to camp, and the town had clearly put a lot of effort into making the campgrounds attractive.

Peter and Susan loved to cycle around the lake each night.  Jarrad made a camp fire most nights and we’d cooked dinner in the dutch oven over the fire and roasted marshmallows. Lucy loved to chat to Yvonne, another lady staying at The Lake, who affectionately referred to bouncy Lucy as “Popcorn”.  Yvonne was a huge advantage to staying at Lake Lascelles, a lady in her 50s who was travelling Australia alone after the Black Friday bushfires had destroyed her hometown.  She was friendly and chatty, and we’d sit and chat with her by the campfire looking out over the lake.  Many nights we’d just lie there on the camp chairs reclining back to stare at the stars by the warmth of the fire and listen to an audiobook on the ipod.


Susan hated the Primary School with a passion.  Each morning she would be half-carried and half-dragged to the school in a battle of wills, screaming and crying the whole way there.  There were four classes, and on the first day Peter and Susan were asked after Mum had dropped us off what class we were in.  We said that Susan was in Grade 3 and Peter in Grade 4.  Really, this wasn’t true.  If we’d started school at the normal age and stayed at a school instead of being home-schooled, we would have been in grades 2 and 3, not 3 and 4.  But we’d been annoyed at the first school how easy the work was and decided to put ourselves up into the next year.

Although Peter didn’t like the school, he didn’t mind it for the first week, but was late each day because of Susan’s protestations.  Near the end of the second week, the principal decided to tell Peter that it wasn’t good enough that he was late each day.  After that, Peter didn’t want to go back to the school, either.  He agreed reluctantly to keep going, but Susan set herself up in the back of the pharmacy with books and maths worksheets and just sat there reading and practicing her maths all day.  She was quiet, and kept out of the pharmacy, but it mustn’t have been particularly fun for her.

Travelling Australia in a campervan since 2009 with our four children aged 4, 7, 10, and 11. We are a family living on the road. Stopping to work in rural and remote towns as we need more money, we love this lifestyle. The four kids are homeschooled as we work our way slowly around Australia.

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About Amy and Jarrad

Travelling Australia in a campervan since 2009 with our four children aged 4, 7, 10, and 11. We are a family living on the road.
Stopping to work in rural and remote towns as we need more money, we love this lifestyle. The four kids are homeschooled as we work our way slowly around Australia.


  1. Justin
    Twitter: familyescape

    I love the part about the Autistic boy. That is something you can only learn in school I think. I work with an autistic boy who attempts to sit on the laps of some pretty street savvy young men. At first, this of course did not go over well. But now, they know him, they have grown to understand his intentions aren’t the same as their assumptions. They now work it out. Difficult experience, but down the road, a valuable one. And the locusts – tell more please. That sounds horrible and yet I so want to see it.
    Justin recently posted..School. Work. And Traveling Forever.My Profile

    • admin
      Twitter: livinontheroad

      There are a lot of social interactions that are unique to school, particularly ones that don’t carry over into the adult world!The locust plague was … I’m not even sure what the right word for it is.

      There had been a few locusts in town, but all of a sudden while I was staring out the pharmacy window it went dark like night. The kids were at the school that day, and they said that the school oval went from green grasss, to being impossible to see at all with so many locusts on it, to not being any locusts or grass — just bare soil.
      Every car had flyscreen or plastic covering the grills as the locusts were commiting suicide in their thousands on the cars, and you’d have to drive so slowly because you couldn’t see properly through the locusts. Locusts getting in to the cars would cause some of them to have problems, we had so many picked out of our radiator within a day of the locusts arriving that we quickly added mesh on ours.

      I’ve seen locust plagues on the news, but it has very little impact. Seeing it was so different.

      Just for the record — a few months after that, the floods came.

  2. Justin
    Twitter: familyescape

    Please put all these on a calendar for us. We will plan a BIG TRIP to see all the biblical, end-of-the-world scenarios you great country has to offer!

    • admin
      Twitter: livinontheroad

      Don’t laugh. So far:
      * Locusts – we’ve experienced the amazing/terrible/incredible plague of locusts.
      * Then we had to leave the campsite where we stayed at the snow for 10 weeks because of floods, but half of Victoria was under flood then. We went up to Central Australia and they were having their wettest year in ages, we had to pull over after we hit such a huge puddle it felt like a tyre had blown. Some of the walking tracks were under water as dry creeks were actually flowing.
      * Plagues – we are inundated by a mouse plague right at the moment. We’ve got a trap Jarrad’s rigged up with a bucket, string and coke bottle that catches 20 – 40 mice a night!
      * When we were camped at the Murray the ground was thick with frogs every night. We loved that one.
      Do they count?

  3. Mike and Sarah Mackay says:

    It is so cool to read about a place we have been! It was about 2 1/2 years ago and the lake was dry!

    • admin
      Twitter: livinontheroad

      Glad you enjoyed it! We were surprized how much the town had spent to fill the lake, but apparently they’d had hardly any tourists when it was empty. There were so many campervans were driving in and out while we were there.

      We were told that when they pumped the water in, all of these snakes slithered out. I’m glad I wasn’t there that day!

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