Monday, 14 April 2014

Parenting Around The Planet: Dorky Mum in Tasmania

Today I'm delighted to welcome the lovely Ruth from Dorky Mum as my guest here at Bod Towers for another in my occasional series of posts about Parenting Around The Planet. Ruth is an award nominated blogger who started Dorky Mum in 2011 – when she was still living in Edinburgh - and has over ten years experience as a writer, editor and campaigner. She's been published in local, national and online press, for titles including Huffington Post UK, the Guardian and Easy Living. Last year she and her family moved to the other side of the world.

I was fascinated to read her commentary on expat parenting in Tasmania. It really does sound like the perfect place to raise a child and their state school system has a lot to teach many other countries in my opinion. Hope you enjoy reading it too - if you do please leave a comment below!

You can find Dorky Mum on Twitter where she tweets as , say hello on her  page, follow her on  and and of course you can read about her family's day to day adventures in Tasmania at her fabulous blog.

If you'd like to contribute a post for Parenting Around The Planet get in touch with me on  or by .


A year ago exactly, I visited Tasmania for the first time.

It was a tough trip. Almost thirty hours of flying with my husband and four year old son, just four days on the ground, and then another thirty hours of flying back to the UK. But it was a necessary trip. It was the only chance we would get to look at that island state, just south of mainland Australia, before deciding whether to live there.

It didn’t start well. I left my credit card in a ticketing machine at Melbourne Airport. The first thing our son did when we got into the hotel room was throw up all over it. And for the first 48 hours I was slightly mad with jetlag, unable to sleep at night but desperate to sleep all day.

Even with all that stacked against us, we fell in love. How could we not? We had the chance to live in a beautiful city, perched on the banks of the River Derwent. The schools were good. The houses were far more affordable than they were back in our corner of the UK. There was a gallery or a museum or a busker around every corner. There were parks, beaches, mountains and wildlife sanctuaries all within twenty minutes drive. There was street art. There were bookshops. There was local produce in the grocery stores, great wines and top restaurants, all right there for the taking.

So we moved.

We packed up our UK life into boxes. Filled a couple of suitcases, and stepped once more onto that thirty hour flight. But this time the ticket was one-way. (And this time I lost an iPad en route rather than a credit card. Ah well…)

One year on, we are happier than we ever imagined possible. We really are. We have to limit our smug blog posts and sunny Facebook updates for fear of annoying our dear sweet friends, who have all been so supportive.

Part of it is that my husband is happy – enjoying the challenge of a new job, meeting new people, working so hard but already starting to see results. Part of it is that I am happy, breathing sea air again, pootling around our little house, trying hard to find our place in the community. Partly it is because we love our house so much, because we have already had friends come to visit, because it is brighter and lighter, warmer and more laid back.

But mostly it is because our son – who turned five last week – is happier than we have ever seen him. What a place Tasmania is to grow up.

The education system is very different to the UK. Had we still been living in Hertfordshire, our son would have been in full time education for six months already. Five days a week, with literacy and numeracy tests looming. I was dreading him starting school in the UK. He would have been exhausted, unhappy and probably pretty ill. At the age of four, the prospect of his education was already a huge source of stress.

Here, he is currently in three days a week of play-based education. Next February, after a long summer holiday when he is about to turn six, he will enter ‘Prep’ – the point in Tasmania where education finally becomes compulsory. He will do Prep, Year 1, and Year 2 in the same small school by the sea that he’s in now – a place that specialises in early years education. When he is eight, along with many of his friends, he will feed in to a larger school, still within walking distance of home.

This system suits him. He is soaking up information like a sponge. Yesterday, he came home prouder than I have ever seen him, because he had cut out an egg shape, on his own with scissors, for the first time ever. In the last few weeks he has had a sports carnival, an Indonesian puppet show, and a visit to a planetarium to learn about the stars. Next week he goes to a local wildlife park. He does weekly swimming lessons and daily exercise, he gets to choose a book every week from the library, and he takes a flask full of water to school every day because juice and smoothies aren’t allowed. They call water ‘cloud juice’ (and all the proud parents just about die of the cute).

He puts on a hat, and Factor 50, and he knows to avoid the corner with the redbacks. He makes friends, mixes paint, and comes home to tell me about symbiosis, beluga whales and icebreakers. He climbs higher in the park than ever before, runs faster in the field than ever before, and when we walk along the road to the grocery store he tells me the number and destination of every bus that passes.

Tasmania is a place that understands childhood. It understands that what children need, more than anything else, is space and freedom and just enough direction to satisfy enquiring minds. The state schools here are the best I have ever seen.

Are there parts of parenting here that are a pain in the ass? Of course there are. Just as there are anywhere. My son is addicted to fresh fruit and vegetables, and they are jaw-droppingly expensive here. When it’s six dollars for a punnet of strawberries (strawberries which are often so big you only get four or five to a punnet) it’s a good incentive to scrape the leftovers into a tub for later, rather than stick them in the trash. The sun is fierce, so the sunscreen and hat are non-negotiable, and it takes a few weeks for that to sink in. And at this time of year (it’s autumn here), when the outside starts to move in, and you have to discretely dispose of mice, spiders and centipedes before breakfast every morning, it is tempting to dream of places a little less wild.

But the good stuff compensates. If that hour between four and five is getting a little too tetchy in the house, we walk across the street to the oval and play cricket for half an hour before dinner. If dinner feels like too much of a challenge, we head to the taco van, or the fish and chip shop, or we have a bits and pieces picnic in the garden.

There will come a point when the novelty wears off, I’m sure. Or maybe not. Maybe postmen on motorbikes, parrots at the play park and free cocktail sausages in every butcher shop will retain their magic forever.

Maybe this really is the best place to be both a parent and a child, in 2014.

Shhhh, can you keep the secret?


How sad to read that; that education in the UK has become such a huge source of stress to parents of kids who haven't even started! But so true, as the system loses its focus on what kids really need in the race for results - which is why so many parents now decide to educate out of school as we did!

  • Christine 14 April 2014 08:26

    Sounds like an idyllic lifestyle, a great place for your son to grow up. I went to Tassie when I was in Australia and loved it, but probably because it reminded me do much of home (UK)!

  • Ruth15 April 2014 06:20

    It is sad, Ross, I completely agree. I just feel very lucky that we had other options - seeing how tired my little guy gets after just three days of school makes me really wonder about children his age who are in for five days. More and more the evidence seems to be stacking up in favour of starting school older, and more and more the UK Government seems to be pushing in the opposite direction.

  • Ruth15 April 2014 06:21

    A lot of people say that it's like the UK in the 1950s and I can definitely see that! Thanks for taking the time to comment :) x

  • Susanne Remic15 April 2014 08:13

    Haha sounds like great fun! Very different to life in the UK eh? x x

  • Looking for Blue Sky15 April 2014 17:34

    Really enjoyed reading this, the education system sounds amazing, the bugs not so much :)

  • Older Mum15 April 2014 18:12

    *sighs*..... what a beautiful place to grow up as a child and to live as a family. So happy for you all. X

  • Susan Mann16 April 2014 23:08

    Wow, what a great piece. What a beautiful place to grow up x