Returning: Back Roads

Australian Story will again be taking a break from screens as new episodes of Back Roads return.

The winter season travels from one of the world’s most remote cattle stations in desert country to spectacular landscapes in the heart of central Australia.

Suplejack Downs, on the edge of the Australia’s third largest desert, the Tanami in the NT, is home to the Cook family, whose backyard spans more than 400,000 hectares. The nearest petrol station is a five-hour drive on a red-dirt track and it’s an 18-hour roundtrip just to go to the shops.

While it’s an exciting place to grow up, presenter Heather Ewart learns how the extended family’s two teenagers and five children under the age of 12, access an education that will allow them to take their place in a fast-changing contemporary society.

It’s a very different education from the vast majority of Australian kids. From a very young age, the children learn how to change a tyre and look after their horses and cattle, as well as 21 dogs, chooks, a camel and even an orphaned joey. They learn to juggle that with a normal school day, through classes beamed in via satellite from the School of the Air in Alice Springs.

During Heather’s visit, the Cook family prepares for a week-long bush ride, initiated by the children’s inspiring mum and aunt, Tiani Cook. The aim of the ride is to raise awareness of the challenges of getting an outback education. Before the ride, the Cooks travel to Alice Springs, 9-hours south, where the kids get a rare chance to hang out with their classmates from other remote areas. From Alice, they travel west through Tjoritja, the magnificent West MacDonnell Ranges, to the Glen Helen Gorge where their week-long ride back to Alice Springs begins.

On the way to Glen Helen, Heather meets another family who’ve embarked on an extraordinary tree change. Former primary school teacher Nadia Gardner, senior ranger Paul Gardner, and their three young kids, have swapped suburbia for the spectacular Ormiston Gorge National Park. They’re not only living the dream, but their kids are also growing up in one of the most beautiful backyards in the world.

Like their School of the Air classmates, the Cook kids on Suplejack, nature is an essential element of their outback classroom.

8pm Monday June 17 on ABC.

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