WHEN Geraldine Holland left Warialda with her husband Peter, two daughters, two “geriatric” chooks and a rooster, she was looking forward to the Tenterfield climate.
Now, on the brink of her first New England winter, she is still enjoying it.
“Warialda is exceedingly hot,” Mrs Holland said. “It goes from 40 degrees to minus five. The range is huge.
“I looked at Tenterfield and looked at the weather range and thought how beautiful. Tenterfield has been glorious.”
Mrs Holland started as principal of St Joseph’s Primary School at the beginning of this year.
While she has taught at a number of different schools, it was the first move for the family in seven years, and a challenge for her daughters Zoe, 8, and Lucy, 10.
Mrs Holland said the transition had been eased by technology. Her daughters can catch up with old friends fairly easily, and have been busy making new ones.
The family has bought a home – with sheds as specified by her husband Peter – and has already become part of school life in Tenterfield.
It is not Mrs Holland’s first role as principal. She was principal of a school with 40 students in Warialda, and another school in Bingara with just 15 students for four years before that.
St Joseph’s is, however, her biggest principal’s role to date, with 155 students. Instead of teaching four days out of the five, as she did in Warialda, she now teaches one day a week, with the other four devoted to administration.
“It is a big change,” she said. “And while you go into teaching because you like teaching, it is nice to have extra time to do the administration.”
It’s an even bigger change from her role at Bingara where she had a full-time teacher’s aide as her only staff member.
Mrs Holland said she was not daunted by the jump in student numbers, having worked in big schools before.
“I’ve been in the diocese for a long time and I knew many of the staff already,” she said.
“I was not walking into a new school and a new system.”
Before tackling the challenges of being jill-of-all-trades to a school of just 15 students, Mrs Holland was an assistant principal in Narrabri, where there were 250 students.
She has also taught at a larger school in Campbelltown, also in NSW, with 360 students.
Mrs Holland grew up the fifth of six girls in Kempsey, an experience she said was “good fun – most of the time”.
When she finished high school, she was selected as being a suitable candidate to become a teacher.
“I didn’t really know what I wanted to do at that stage – it’s really hard to know at 18 or 16,” she said. “I fell into it and have enjoyed it ever since.”
She went to Australian National University in Canberra where she discovered two loves – a love of learning and her husband Peter, who was also studying to become a teacher.
“When I finished my teaching degree, I was told it would take 10 years before I would get a job because there were so many teachers,” Mrs Holland recalled.
“I thought, I have to get a job somewhere. I saw a job advertised in Papua New Guinea and applied and got the position.
“I had never been anywhere before. It was a bit of a shock.”
Mrs Holland found herself working in New Ireland in the north-east of Papua New Guinea. The region is still described as “one of the last natural frontiers" on its tourism website. She was teaching kindergarten.
“It was absolutely beautiful, but very remote. You lived and talked with the local people,” she said. “I had to take out a loan to come home for a visit.”
The move – in her early 20s – also caused some concern for her parents, but Mrs Holland said her mother came to visit and had “a lovely time”.
The visit from her future husband, Peter, however, was not as successful.
“He came to visit and caught malaria,” she said. “He came out for a few weeks and went home very ill. I had not caught malaria in all the time I was there.”
After 18 months, Mrs Holland returned to Australia.
She has continued her enthusiasm for education, completing both a Masters in Educational Administration and travelling to Sydney recently to graduate in a Masters in Religious Education at Australian National University.
She stopped short of calling herself either driven or organised, but said it had taken some hard work and determination to run a school, be a mum and complete university degrees.
“Once I’d started studying I realised it was quite interesting and I enjoyed it,” she said.
For her, teaching children continues to hold the same appeal it did when she was teaching the alphabet in New Ireland.
“I love the kids,” she said. “They are really funny. They tell you the funniest things and they are just beautiful.
“Every day is a whole new adventure.”