Appointment Northwest by Peter Skrzynecki, Australia, 2014

Appointment Northwest by Peter Skrzynecki, Australia, 2014

This book tells about Peter Skrzynecki’s appointment to a one-teacher school in Jeogla in the New England district of NSW. The year is 1967; it is Peter’s first appointment after finishing teachers’ college; he is twenty-two years of age; and he has never before lived away from his home in Sydney.

Three things stand out for me: Skrzynecki’s honesty; his acute sense of detail and his naïveté. Written years after the events described, the book still manages to retain the innocence and the immaturity that would have been the defining characteristics of a young man on the brink of his adult life – characteristics that were also a definite hallmark of the period in general. The book gains considerably from the fact that Skrzynecki, looking back over decades of life experience, did not seek to update his actions and thoughts from this period. Readers who stumble along with the author through the uncertainty, the anxiety and the bliss of those early adult years should easily be able to draw parallels with the apprehensions and experiences that coloured their own entrance into adulthood.

The author’s honesty regarding his innermost thoughts and feelings is to be commended, and it is this honesty that gives the book both depth and credibility. The book also gains much from Skrzynecki’s ability to bring New England to life. There is history (for example, New England’s attempt to break away from the state of NSW), poetic observations of the area’s natural beauty and balanced descriptions of some of the people who lived there or who simply passed through – among them, the Presbyterian minister and his wife, the school inspector, the Sloggets with whom Skrzynecki boarded and, of course, the children who inhabited the school.

Readers who have taught (or who have been taught) in one-teacher schools or, for that matter, any rural school will be able to relate to many of the author’s experiences; they will also understand the pull Skrzynecki obviously felt between the isolation and the beauty of the rural area and the noise and movement of the city.

In spite of the absence of quotation marks for speech, which was at times a little confusing, Appointment Northwest is definitely worth reading. It is a simple story, beautifully told.


(The photo of Peter Skrzynecki is from SMH)

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