The end of the school year will be especially exciting for the nine students who live in Audley House, the Frontier Services Student Group Home in Atherton.
When these students finish the school year, they will return to their family homes scattered across north Queensland, all of them in remote locations.
Audley House is a home away from home for isolated children during the school terms.
Ross and Rhonda McMaster are the house parents in Audley House, overseeing the needs of the students.
Mr McMaster said the Student Group Home made it possible for isolated families to send their children to school in town, knowing they were being cared for in a supportive environment.
“One thing we try and do is make the place feel like a home,” said Mr McMaster. “For some of our students, Atherton is the biggest town they’ve ever been in. At home, their nearest neighbour might be two hours away.”
The nine students at Audley House range from 11 to 17 years old. They attend a range of schools in Atherton and Mareeba. The oldest student will complete Year 12 this year.
Kaila Fitzgerald, 15, has been a resident of Audley House for 10 years. Her parents live in Palmer River, a very remote gold mining area three hours from Atherton.
Kaila was five when she first came to the Student Group Home.
“It was pretty scary at first,” Kaila said. “It was a big difference to be living without your parents and also living in town. We do not have any shops in Palmer River.”
Kaila is in Year 10 at St Stephens Catholic College in Mareeba. She wants to become a hairdresser when she finishes school. Once a week, she attends a vocational placement with a local hairdressing salon. She also plays touch football and has trained in athletics.
“Living in a Student Group Home means I can get a better education than what I would get living where we are,” Kaila said.
Mr McMaster said all the students got along incredibly well. While they were taught to be independent, there was also a routine to life in Audley House.
All the students do half an hour supervised study each day. There is a set bedtime each night. On Saturdays, the McMasters take the students to various sporting activities while on Sundays they attend church in the morning and spend the afternoon on an outing. Their favourite place to go is Lake Eacham, an extinct volcano crater now a swimming hole, full of fresh water.
The McMasters, who have years of experience working with children, began their role at Audley House in January at the time of the floods. Two weeks later, Cyclone Yasi hit. Despite the rough start, they have found the past year very rewarding.
“It is wonderful when you see little changes in the kids and the positive influences in their lives. They are really good kids with great stories to tell,” said Mr McMaster.