Year 12 student Michael Purtle says that when he first tells people he’s from Manilla, they follow up with the query, ‘In the Philippines?’. When you arrive in the main street of Manilla, two things are immediately clear: firstly, we are definitely not in the Philippines and secondly, Michael knows a lot of the locals in his hometown.
As we walk down the main street Michael stops to share a short conversation with everyone who walks past; young and old, Michael greets them all. What is striking is that it isn’t merely a courteous greeting out of politeness, but more the continuation of a conversation that carries over from meeting to meeting.
It portrays a country charm, a genuine curiosity and a care for those who chance to pass him by. “I just like the community around here, everybody is so friendly and polite,” Michael says. “You can say g’day to anyone, and nine times out of 10 you will get a response. It’s the people. They are all just outstanding people to know.”
The beautiful country town of Manilla is located 40 minutes’ drive north-west of Tamworth and although home to a population of just over 2050, for the past six years it has seen its fair share of Joeys boys, thanks largely to the warm hospitality of Michael and his family.
Michael’s dad, Patrick Purtle, has thoroughly enjoyed the regular visits of Michael’s mates to Manilla. “We’ve had between 30 to 40 boys stay here over the years, and when they turn up, they are completely polite and respectful. Wherever you take them, to the local saleyard, or into work, everyone embraces them and asks, ‘Where do those blokes come from?’ and I’m pleased to say, ‘Well, they’re Joe Boys from Sydney’. The whole group of them make me very proud.”
Michael’s mum, Sally Purtle, adds: “When the boys come, they are a part of our family; they treat our girls like their sisters. It’s like a three-ring circus but it’s fabulous. You go into the local IGA and they say, ‘Oh the boys are here’, because everyone knows the Joeys boys.”
The Purtles’ sharing of their hometown with other Joeys boys is an essential part of the city-country connection that exists at the College. For Michael, having his mates out to experience all that home has to offer is always an adventure, with the annual ANZAC Day march in Manilla a particular highlight.
“When the boys come, they are a part of our family, our girls, they treat them like their sisters, it’s like a three ring circus but it’s fabulous”.MRS SALLY PURTLE – MICHAEL’S MUM
“Well, I get a group of my mates from Sydney out to march in the Manilla ANZAC Day celebrations. We all get in our uniform and march down the main street. It’s a great feeling. It’s a shame we couldn’t do it one last time this year, but I’m sure there will be a few back here for next year’s march.”
Boys from rural and regional towns make up 45 per cent of the boarders at St Joseph’s College, and for all of them, the switch to off-site learning for March and April 2020 has meant that hometowns like Manilla have transitioned from more than just a place to call home, but a place of learning.
For Joeys families like the Purtles, it is not just the one son returning home to learn. The whole Purtle family is back, continuing their day-to-day lives together. Michael explains: “At the moment we are all working and learning from mum’s work in town because the internet connection is stronger. There is mum and her team continuing the real estate work, then my two sisters are doing their class work in two of the offices, and I am doing my class work in dad’s office. Dad will pop in during the day for a visit, and then he is out again. It can get pretty busy, but it is working.”
With the whole family continuing their education online from the family real estate office, Michael’s mum has seen it all take place. “We’ve loved having Michael home for the extra weeks, but the education and care from the teachers and all of the staff at Joeys has been unbelievable. The children have been working in my office, and you hear them, they have to be there at a certain time, and they know they have to sign on at a specific time, and they do. I just can’t thank Joeys enough for what they have done over the past few weeks; it’s been great.”
The role that teachers, Heads of Departments and Boarding Co-ordinators have played in assisting in the facilitation of learning online has also not been lost on students such as Michael, and although he is in what many would consider his most important year of schooling, he is quick to praise the efforts of those who support him.
“Knowing now that the teachers put in so much preparation before each class, which has been so evident through the online learning, has made not only myself, but all of the boys, far more appreciative of their efforts,” he says
For generations, country families like the Purtles have chosen to educate their sons at Joeys and, although there are wonderful schools across NSW, for many parents the decision to send their son to board has been definitely worthwhile.
Says Sally: “It was a hard decision to send Michael away to Joeys, but it was the best decision for him. There have been so many opportunities, and going to Sydney is such a special thing for a young man to experience. If he comes home to the country next year, that’s all well and good, but he has had that experience, and he has made those mates for life, along with the best grounding from Joeys.”
That ‘understanding’ of life on the land was evident in Michael’s period 5 Agriculture class, when his teacher Mr Bokenham checked in via Zoom for a quick catch-up, and to see how Michael was getting along with his studies. In a brief conversation that dealt with the difficulties of getting a consistent internet signal as well as adjusting timelines around travelling and farm work, it was clear there was a mutual understanding and flexibility between Michael and his teachers.
For Michael, that flexibility around balancing his studies with helping out his father in the station agent business has been greatly appreciated. With his sights set firmly on continuing in the family business, Michael has made the most of being home.
Whilst most Joeys boys are sound asleep dreaming of reruns of that final kick in the 2018 Joeys/Riverview game, Michael is busy helping dad at work. “On Mondays and Tuesdays, and sometimes on a Friday, I usually go to work with dad,” he explains. “I get up around two in the morning, and then I work during the day until three or four in the afternoon. I then trek home and run through the class work that was set for me for that day, whether that was maths homework or some further revision for class.
“I’ll always email my teacher to let them know that I am on top of my work, and I liaise with them about when I will be lending a hand to dad at work. That flexibility and balance in my day has been the best part of being back at home.”
“He has always had some very good personal traits, and his genuine empathy for other people is one of those. I think that is the base that we have given Michael in the early days, but Joeys has been able to foster that style of person”.Mr PaTRICK PURTLE – MICHAEL’s DAD
Michael’s parents aren’t surprised by his motivation and work ethic, and are proud of his determination to continue life back at home in the country when he graduates. “He makes me extremely proud,” his dad says. “He’s been coming to the saleyards with me since he was five, so he knows the space. But because he is the person he is, he gets in and helps, and he’s well regarded around the traps. He has always had some very good personal traits, and his genuine empathy for other people is one of those. I think that is the base that we have given Michael in the early days, but Joeys has been able to foster that style of person.”
His mum adds: “I think Joeys encourages the country, and makes the country people part of the fabric of Joeys. From a mother’s point of view, I can see that Michael is more appreciative of the country, and the work that his father does.”
For all of the added joy Michael is experiencing whilst continuing his learning from home, he is definitely looking forward to resuming his face-to-face learning at Joeys and getting back amongst his mates in week three. One thing is for sure, he will be giving his all. “Knowing how hard mum and dad work for me to go to school, working long hours and sacrificing a lot, is the motivation I need, to do them proud and do the best that I can.”