Powerful stories and a powerful teacher: The Man from Snowy River to the Boer War

I began my blog, Canberra’s Green Spaces to write about gardens and green spaces. However, blogging is often about storytelling, and in the memory of one of my teachers, Mrs O’Brien, I decided to dedicate this post to her teaching, and story-telling.

I was born and brought up in Zambia, and Zimbabwe, I loved reading and talking, and listening to stories. Yet my memory of school was of long boring lessons, mediocre grades, and being told by one teacher that I was ..“nothing but a flibbertigibbet!

In my last year of school I changed from my high school in Zimbabwe to a tutorial college in Cape Town, South Africa. A tiny brown-eyed woman of about fifty introduced herself as Mrs O’Brien, our English and History teacher. As a newcomer to South Africa, I just hoped I would not be asked too many questions..

The Man from Snowy River (National Film and Sound Archives of Australia.)

I did not need to worry, Mrs O’Brien began with the Australian poem by Banjo Patterson,

The Man from Snowy River.

Some of these photos are taken from the movie, The Man from Snowy River… (The movie was shot in Victorian High Country near Mansfield Victoria.)

As Mrs O’Brien read and talked, the class was transfixed. Although I had not been to Australia I could see the horses charging over the gullies and through the rivers and past the stringy barks …Clancy’s gnarled Australian face was easily transported into our African classroom.

When I came to Australia I immediately recognised the landscape that Mrs O’Brien had easily portrayed through her reading of the poem. Yet she had not been out of the Cape Province. The power of the teacher, the power of the poem.

As good fortune would have it, Paul and I live close to the Snowy Mountains, and I often think of her, while we are walking in this rugged but beautiful countryside.

Spring in the Snowy Mountains

Mrs O’Brien’s greatest strength was teaching us South African history. Everything came alive, the Voortrekkers, the Zulus, the massacres, the peace treaties….

The First Boer War

Just looking at these pictures of the Boer wars brought back memories..

The picture below belonged to my mother (who lived in South Africa when she was young). This was her favourite print, called The Great Trek 1838 and it depicts the hardships of people in bygone eras.

The Great Trek painted by Tinus De Jongh

My family immigrated to Australia, and a few years later I married Paul. We went on a trip to South Africa and spent some time in the Drakensberg Mountains which held some of the turbulent history of the time. Needless to say, Mrs O’Brien’s words and stories remained with me.

At the end of the year, I went back home, we immigrated to Australia and I never saw Mrs O’Brien again. I hope she kept on teaching and telling stories, and how lucky I was to spent time listening to her stories.

Many thanks for taking the time to read my blog post today.

May the sun shine and the days be cheerful where ever you are in the world today.

Copyright Geraldine Mackey: All Rights Reserved ..

19 Replies to “Powerful stories and a powerful teacher: The Man from Snowy River to the Boer War”

  1. This has been a delightful read! My pupils used to laugh at my passion for teaching poetry, yet found my style made it easy for them to appreciate the subtleties of the language use and imagery. I’ll bet your history lessons were ‘alive’ too. I used to visit the Drakensberg almost every weekend during the many years I lived in Pietermaritzburg both as a student and later as a teacher. My husband published a Guide to the Natal Drakensberg based on our regular hikes there.

    1. Thank you Anne, and it is lovely to read your story. Mrs O’Brien certainly made history lessons come “alive” and there was never a sound out of the students. You were lucky to live so close the Drakensberg Mountains, when I looked through my photos of that time, I remembered just how beautiful those mountains are. We made many trips while we were in SA. What a shame we didn’t have your husband’s guide book!

  2. This post illustrates in such a beautiful way not only the power of poetry and words but also the power of a wonderful teacher. I did not know that you were born and brought up in Zambia and Zimbabwe. Tha k you for sharing.

  3. This is such a wonderful tribute to your teacher! Sadly, there are very few teachers who have the skill to make much of an impression on their pupils; you are very fortunate to have had such an advantage.

    1. Thanks Clare, I agree, not many have the skills to make an impression…and also the amount of reporting and paper work is exhausting these days.

    1. Thanks Judy. When I was writing this blog post, I felt sorry I hadn’t told Mrs O’Brien what a great impression she made on me. I bet quite a few good teachers weren’t told.
      What a pity! I hope all goes well for you…. nearly spring?

  4. What a fascinating read! I had no idea you were from Zambia and lived in Zimbabwe. You must have had an interesting childhood, Mrs 0’Brien sounds amazing, what a shame more teachers are not like her! I had a really good classical studies teacher, she brought history to life too.xxx

    1. Hi Dina, glad you have had a chance to read all about Mrs O’Brien, and I’m glad you had one good teacher, especially for the classical studies! I was born in Zambia because my Dad had a job in one of the copper mines. My Dad was born in Glasgow, and trained as a electrician on the Clyde. You can’t believe how many jobs he got as a result of being Scottish!
      Mum was born in Belfast, but her family immigrated to S.Africa, and Mum met Dad in Africa. Mum was a nurse and worked in a little ante-natal clinic outside of the town. You would have loved it. It was a good way to grow up.

  5. Since I was old enough to read, books and stories have been as essential to my life as food. As you described, they transport you to entirely different places and times, adding a whole rich layer to life without leaving a chair. I wonder if anyone is teaching Banjo Patterson anymore. I keep hearing that young people aren’t interested in reading these days, and it breaks my heart to think of what they will miss. Let’s hope there are Mrs. O’Briens out there lighting sparks in the dark!

    1. Thanks Brenda, yes, I agree about books being essential to me when I was growing up. I do think quite a few young people these days do read books, although their lives are so busy, they probably don’t read as deeply as we did when young.
      Thanks for the interesting comment.

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