Almanac Poetry: ‘Barakula State School’ – Gary Zadkovich



I am delighted to introduce poet, writer, educator, and activist Gary Zadkovich to the Almanac. I have never met Gary in person but, after he discovered the Almanac site, we began corresponding via email, then chatting on the phone.


One of the many connections we have – apart from education, politics, sport and writing – is our respective associations with Oakey on Queensland’s Darling Downs. Gary played in Oakey’s premiership in 1979, a year I remember so well, my final high school year and the first year (I think) of his literature degree at what was then the DDIAE (now Southern Cross University).


He has many stories to tell about that year – and all of his years. And I am not going to steal any of his thunder by even hinting at them. I look forward to reading his memoirs,


Gary is a published poet. His collection Barakula Spirit is a tremendous wander through his life, starting with his 1960s and 70s childhood in the Barakula timber area which is somewhere between Kingaroy and Dalby (get the map out!) and taking us through uni time, family time and observation generally.


Welcome Gary.





Barakula State School



Looping around east of the mill;
we’d walk over sawdust mounds,
across overgrown cricket field grass,
sometimes with long sticks held high,
weapons against plovers in nesting season,
bombing us with cacka-cacka swoops,
then across the gravel north road,
to our little school in the bush.


Twenty-one kids, one teacher,
seven grades, one classroom,
the teacher’s challenge kept from us
in the well-spaced steps of the learning.


In our first years there,
Mr. Beasley taught us gladly,
tall and young and kind,
he played guitar, sang songs from ‘The Seekers’,
Among them ‘Five Hundred Miles’.


Dad heard that he got drafted further than that,
to a war in Vietnam.


Mr Moles cruised in for our second year,
the sweeping blue of his Zephyr sedan
hooking our attention from the start.


He rewarded good work with our release
from classroom to playground sand,
the clearing in the scrubby regrowth
that spread to the fence at the forest edge.


To play games of rounder
with vigoro bat and tennis ball –
All involved, youngest to eldest,
everyone a turn to field, bat, pitch.


Thrill of the thwack to the outfield trees,
the running, yelling, sliding, cheering.


Our umpire smiling,
standing outside department rules
but well inside our hearts.


A delight remembered for the rest of our lives.




Copies of Barakula Spirit are available by emailing Gary Here.




More poetry from Almanac Poetry can be read HERE


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  1. Colin Ritchie says

    Welcome to the Almanac Gary, fab poem. Brought back memories of my stint teaching at a small bush school in the Otways, probably the best time I had teaching. Sad that many of those smaller schools are now closed but we can relive those days with poetry such as yours. Thank you.

  2. Hi Gary

    Great to have you on the Almanac site.

    As I read this poem I was reminded of so much – playing cricket against Jondaryan and Bowenville. But I was also thinking, that this poem would be great to teach at any year level of high school English.

    Cacka-cacka is so ploverish.

    That’s the physical, Then there’s the mind and the soul. I love these lines:

    Our umpire smiling,
    standing outside department rules
    but well inside our hearts.

    Looking forward to other poems, and memories.


  3. Gary, welcome to the Almanac. This, your first offering, is a great start and I look forward to your footy stories.

    The timeline places you about 10 years younger than me but the primary school images are almost identical to the one teacher, one room, seven grades State School I attended at Blenheim in the Lockyer Valley. My teachers (consecutively Mr Kelly, Mr Bovey and Mr Whelan), along with the encouragement of my parents, inspired me to want to be a teacher which I eventually became. If I was half as good as them I’d be content. And you’re right – what they did outside the classroom was just as important as what they imparted indoors.

    Wonderful memories of what I recall as simpler and more innocent times.

  4. Grand stuff. Translates across the continent to rural SA in the 60’s. Bigger towns than yours, but the sentiments remain.
    Mr Anderson in Grade 5 lived just down the street in Renmark. When he went back to city for summer holidays I watered his garden every day. He brought me back a cricket book as payment. Nothing you ever do for a child……….

  5. Gary Zadkovich says

    Hello Colin, John, Ian & Peter
    Apologies for my late thanks for your welcome to the Almanac site and for your positive responses.
    It’s good to see how the poem resonates with readers who fondly remember those young years at small schools in the bush, and for you Colin, with your teaching experience in the Otways.

    Dad cut railway sleepers six days a week at the sawmill in Barakula State Forest in 1967/68. Our family of six lived in a plywood railway hut with three rooms, no electricity, no glass windows, no town water. We had a thunderbox dunny down the back under a huge ironbark tree. They were tough days for a working class family trying ‘to get ahead’, as Mum used to say. However, at our family gatherings in all the years since, we always look back on our Barakula days as the best of our lives as a family. Indeed, when Mum and Dad ‘made it’ many years later and moved into their new brick home in Victoria Point, Queensland, Mum ordered one of those house signs for the front entrance. It read ‘Barakula’.

    That little school was at the heart of it. If there’s such a thing as ‘a home away from home’, then a small school like that is ‘a family away from family’. Like you Ian, the great teachers I had through my schooling (and at university) inspired me to become a teacher too. I’m glad I was fortunate enough to do for other children what those teachers in public education did for me. As for working class kids across the country, the local public school gave me my chance, that crucially important equal opportunity, to achieve my potential in education and in life. Great memories indeed.

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