No time for fishing

Published 15 August 2007

After more than 30 years teaching in places as diverse Nhulunbuy, on the edge of Arnhem Land and Giang Zhou in China, Pat Ellis was just about ready to retire and go fishing.

That is until he came across a job as director of the Southern Cross University English Language Centre at Coffs Harbour – a position he is perfectly positioned to tackle.

Pat grew up in Nambucca Heads and with his wife Wendy, also a teacher and Coffs Harbour local, taught at various schools on the coast in the early 1970s.

“By that stage we had one son and thought we just wanted to do something different so we decided to go to the Northern Territory. I went to the interview and the fellow said ‘what about Katherine?’ I hadn’t even heard of it, but he said we’d get a house and there was a bitumen road!” Pat said.

“We had seven years in Katherine and loved it. The climate was so different. It was baking hot in the wet season, but beautiful in the dry season. We went everywhere on weekends. It was a wonderful lifestyle and it was nothing to drive 300-400 km to go camping.”

After seven years in Katherine the family, now with four boys, moved to Jervis Bay (part of the Australian Capital Territory).

“By that time I was a principal, but it was too cold and there were no fish so we went back to the Northern Territory,” Pat said.

They moved to Nhulunbuy, a mining community of about 3000 people on the edge of Arnhem Land on the Gove Peninsula, where the fishing was ‘absolutely unbelievable’. They later moved to Jabiru in Kakadu National park, then to Darwin and back to Nhulunbuy.

By that time their four sons had left home and the couple decided to take the opportunity to teach overseas.

“We had done a lot of travelling in Asia and quite liked it. We’d often talked about the fact that could live and work in China or Vietnam. We saw these jobs in China and that just fitted in perfectly,” Pat said.

“We took a job for six months and ended up staying six years.”

The couple moved to Giang Zhou, north of Hong Kong, where they lived on an estate with a population of about 160,000.

“There were 52,000 apartments and two schools, each with more than 2000 students, and a 20-storey hospital just for the estate,” he said.

“We really enjoyed living in China. The Chinese are generally very friendly – if they see you need help they will try and assist and they love it when you try to speak Chinese. They’ll do anything for you.”

Pat said they had planned to return to Australia to retire, but then he came across the job for the English Language Centre on the internet.

“I was quite ready to retire to our place at Repton to grow a few vegies and go fishing, but I thought I’d throw my hat in the ring. Now Wendy’s retired and my retirement’s history,” Pat said.

“There is terrific potential for growth here at the Centre and it’s an excellent model. It offers short and longer term English courses and can prepare students for years 11 and 12, TAFE and university.

“In China many students will choose to go and live in the west from Year 10, particularly if they want to go to a western University. They are quite used to living away from their families.”

The Centre currently has about 300 international students a year from countries including China, Japan, Liberia, Sudan and Vietnam. It works closely with many families in the Coffs Harbour community who provide home-stay accommodation on a short and long-term basis.

“We have got almost 200 families and we’re always looking for more.”

Photo: Pat Ellis, the new director of the Southern Cross University English Language Centre at Coffs Harbour, with Chinese students (from left) Fu Fan Na, Tan Young (Lance) Xiang and Liang (Eric) Xuhua.

Media contact: Brigid Veale Southern Cross University communications manager, 02 66593006 or 0439 680 748.