That's the Spirit: Joan Jeffrey - Hermidale
At 80, Joan Jeffrey decided it was time to hang up the keys to the school bus she’d been driving for the Hermidale school for 48 years. But after half a century behind the wheel, the spritely octogenarian misses the children and still fills in from time to time.
Joan: I’m only just doing this for a couple of days for my son, I don’t drive it much anymore.
Jen: But you did…
Joan: I did for 48 years.
Jen: You must have seen so many young people come and go and then have their own kids.
Joan: I drove two generations.
Jen: Do you live in Hermidale?
Joan: We live on a farm 15kms out.
Jen: What’s the best thing about living and working in Hermidale?
Joan: The people. This is a pretty close-knit place – everyone is ready to help everyone.
Jen: Why is it important to be part of a strong community?
Joan: Well, when you’re in a small community you have to be involved. Everyone has to pull together to keep the community going.
Jen: What sort of things do you do?
Joan Jeffrey, Hermidale
Joan: I’ve always been involved with the school. I had two children and two grandchildren that passed through the school. I still go to assemblies and other things that happen at the school. I’m involved with the combined sports ground, and I used to be in the tennis club. I’m too old for that now but anything that comes up that needs a hand, we usually join in.
Jen: How has the community has changed and why you think it’s still strong?
Joan: Originally when I first started driving the school bus, just about every property had a worker, and a family lived on the property. As times have changed and things have become harder, many of those families have disappeared and also properties have been bought out by the neighbours. Some people own three properties now so that’s meant there were two families that went out of the community. That means it gets smaller and smaller and so you have to pull together to get things done.
It’s very hard to maintain numbers because at one time, every property owner had either one or two workers and they had kids. But now, there are not as many workers on the properties so there are fewer children attending the school
At the moment we have about ten children we bring to school with morning pick-ups to Hermidale, but we did at one stage have 25 on the bus run and there were 50 kids at the school.
Jen: So it’s even more important now to pull together?
Joan: Yes. I can’t see a long future for the bus because we are running out of children, and there are no properties changing hands to bring in another lot of families and the families that are on them, well, those kids are growing up.
That's the Spirit Co-ordinator, Jen Cowley OAM, catching up with Joan Jeffrey in Hermidale, NSW.
Jen: What’s the best thing about driving the bus?
Joan: The kids. There are all different sorts of personalities and they are just wonderful – you get what you see. There’s no worrying about what we shouldn’t say and what we should say. It all just comes out.
Jen: Are you a hard task master or do they behave themselves?
Joan: They’re good, they’re all good. There’s been times when I’ve known I had children on the bus run that had problems, but you just help them with their problems if you can or just be kind to them and hope for the best.
Jen: You enjoy doing it?
Joan: I miss it a lot now, but I decided that when I got to 80 I would be too old. I reckoned I’d never have let my children go with an 80-year-old (driver)! My son always knew he would have to take over it when I got to 80. I turned 80 in March 2019. I knew there would be times I’d have to fill in, so I kept my license. I had to go and do a test so until we find another bus driver, I’m the back-up.
I do it for the kids.
*This interview was conducted prior to the COVID-19 pandemic and the introduction of social distancing measures.
NALAG's 'That's the Spirit' hardcover book features a selection of excerpts from the stories gathered from Western NSW during 2018-2020.
Joan Jeffrey, Hermidale