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Hittin' the road - Episode 11: Bourke

It's too easy for us in the cities to forget about what's happening in the bush. Until we actually get out here

From Walgett I left the Castlereagh Highway and headed westwards on the Kamilaroi Highway. My destination was Bourke.

The 230kms that separate Walgett from Bourke are long, dry and dusty - quite a slog, even in a smooth-gunning, air-conditioned Volkswagen Golf. I broke the journey with a brief stopover in Brewarrina. This was mostly to refuel, something I totally forgot to do when I left Walgett. I don't think the remaining 100ml in the tank would've taken me much further. The TAFE Campus was closed when I passed through town, so I had a cup of tea and a bickie on my lonesome before jumping back into the car to complete the journey.

We've all heard the phrase "the back of Bourke" to describe anywhere that's pretty remote. Well, it's a good description. Bourke seems to be about as far away from anywhere else as it's possible to get. The town has a population of a little over 2,000, about 37% of whom identity as indigenous Australians.

Bourke TAFE is on the site of the old Public School, built in 1876 #tafewestern #taferoadtrip

A photo posted by tafensw (@tafensw) on Oct 27, 2014 at 8:48pm PDT

Bourke TAFE is housed on the site of the original public school, first built in 1876. Bourke TAFE offers many courses in many different industry areas, but one of its main ones is Childcare. The training facilities for Early Childhood at Bourke are brilliant. And so is the air conditioning! On a day that was "only 38 degrees" and "a bit of a cool one" according to the locals, I sure did appreciate some (literal) chill time in the Childcare training room. Childcare is a thriving industry in Bourke, standing shoulder to shoulder with mining. An unlikely couple indeed, but it makes sense.

Also at Bourke Campus I met Connah, a young indigenous woman who's a walking example of exactly how crucial TAFE can be in turning around the lives of people who would otherwise have fallen through the cracks in the floorboards. Only a short time ago, Connah was languishing in the school system, unhappy, disengaged and looking set to become another school "drop out" statistic.

However, she decided to take a more proactive approach with her own life, and is in the midst of completing her HSC through TAFE. After this she plans to continue with Social Work. It's Connah's ambition to work in community outreach, offering support and guidance for young people who are on the same road to nowhere she was once travelling herself. And surely the most qualified person to help these people is someone who has actually been there herself and knows exactly how it feels.

Connah's classmates come together digitally from a number of remote locations via the TAFE Western Connects program. Places like Nyngan, Dubbo, Warren and Coonamble. Her teacher is continually moving locations so she can work one on one with all of the students. Except for Bourke where Connah has an aide to assist her with her studies.

There's a common thread that seems to be weaving this road trip together - the consistent and seemingly endless supply of inspiration that I find in every town. It's too easy for us in the cities to forget about what's happening in the bush. Until we actually get out here. And in doing so, we discover the true grit and determination that makes our rural communities strong. No surprises, that sitting at the heart of it all is TAFE NSW.