• Samantha Wortelhock

From Town Mouse to Country Mouse


I’ve been a bit busy, hence the late posting of this blog. I’m enjoying two days’ at home after a magnificent week back in the heart of Goolmangar, a tiny hamlet nestled between Lismore and Nimbin. I felt a burst of joy knowing I was back in the Northern Rivers lush countryside.

Goolmangar has fourteen students and they are all extremely unique. Some of the children are clearly on the spectrum. Here they thrive in safe and loving surrounds.

I painted my first mural at this school almost a year ago. I made friends with every single student. One boy was completely shut down. In one year I’ve seen this boy transform from a mute, shy boy (adopted as a Filipino street kid along with his brother) into a thriving, funny, wise, helpful and popular student. I remembered his name and he shot me a beaming smile.

Then there was the boy who wouldn’t stop talking. As I painted the scene above the bubblers last year he drank insatiably so I suggested to him that he must be very thirsty. He told me that the tank at home is so small that he only drinks water at school. I couldn’t help but ask if his home was called Camel Lot. He remembered that conversation and we took up where we left off.

He is still my friend.

And then there is the boy that started on the same day I did, one year ago. He was hysterical, desperate to leave. This wasn’t his first school, his father told me. Well, this boy is now playing with friends and is singing. His voice is sublime. One girl said ‘have you noticed he’s a bit different, he sings in class sometimes and it annoys us but he’s very clever’ … there is a healthy acceptance and this boy is smart. Goolmangar has given him a safe harbour to grow.

The students helped me move my paints to and from the storage place morning and afternoon. They watched as a giant Richmond Birdwing Butterfly vine loaded with caterpillars and butterflies took shape on a dull brick wall at the base of the school building (the school grows vines for the endangered butterflies). The students’ hand- prints became the caterpillar’s crimson spikes. As we worked, they talked. Their conversations loaded with simple pleasures and humour. Their vocabulary blew me away. I haven’t experienced anything like it. The school may be small but it is powerful.

I completed the week by painting a huge Regent Bower Bird on the girls’ toilet block. Inside the bower, within the toilets but visible from outdoors, I snuck in the female. I used shells I collected as a part of the male bird’s loot. It was a happy week.

And tomorrow it begins again.

A little girl is gravely ill. Her school is fulfilling her wish to have a buddy bench for her friends so they can remember her when she is gone. Today I will receive the list of things she would like painted. “She is a Princess, Sam” her teacher told me, the same teacher who has primed the bench and made her dream come true.

There is no doubt in my mind as I leap from school to school that teachers hold little hearts as well as little hands.

#GoolmangarSchool #RichmondBirdwingButterfly #caterpillars #RegentBowerBird #NorthernRiverslushcountryside #Nimbin #Lismore

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