Family’s future in Onslow up in air after shutdown

Rueben HaleThe West Australian
West Pilbara pastoralists Kristie and Rory de Pledge with their children Mia, 6, Joe, 8, Darcie, 9, and Tom, 1.
Camera IconWest Pilbara pastoralists Kristie and Rory de Pledge with their children Mia, 6, Joe, 8, Darcie, 9, and Tom, 1.

News of School of the Air closures has a Pilbara cattle station family deciding their future.

Onslow pastoralists Kristie and Rory de Pledge have to contemplate if they are going to move closer to Perth so their children Tom, 1, Mia, 6, Joe, 8 and Darcie, 9, can get a quality education.

Last week, Labor announced School of the Air would close in 2019.

After a life of growing up and living on Kimberley and Gascoyne stations, the couple have devoted their lives to rebuilding Koordarrie cattle station, which has been home for them and their children since initially moving into the rejuvenated homestead there in 2010.

During that time, the de Pledges have built a stable business exporting into the bumper overseas cattle market about 1500 head of cattle a year.

They say they are shocked and dismayed about the prospect of having to leave a life they had worked so hard to achieve.

Mrs de Pledge said SOTA could not be replaced.

“The relationships my children have developed using School of the Air are strong and based upon years of over the airways learning and face to face interaction with the other kids during camps that all the Schools of the Air go to,” she said. “The trip had a programs sports development, Scitech, the zoo, a school sports carnival against each other and talent nights/discos for fun.

“You just cannot take away those relationships and replace it with a completely different system and think that there will not be negative consequences for those children in the future.”

Mrs de Pledge said the Christmas break, when the family would normally be relaxing, would instead be a worrying time.

She said some “tough decisions” would need to be made.

“Our children have received an outstanding education from School of the Air and without it, they have few options other than to relocate closer to the city,” Mrs de Pledge said.

“My eldest daughter Darcie has been ranked academically in the top 2.5 per cent in the country and wants to be an author.

“How can we make any other choice other than to put her and the other kids first and leave the station to make sure they get the opportunities they deserve.”

Pastoralists and Graziers Association president Tony Seabrook said the cuts were an attack on rural people.

He said there would be unfair consequences down the track for the children relying on SOTA.

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