PICTURE swimming in the Loddon river, growing and harvesting your own organic produce in a vegetable patch, going on camps and sleepovers, and taking care of chickens and dogs.
That's just part of the curriculum at Bridgewater Primary School, one of the smallest in Victoria, and possibly Australia, if not the world.
"It's absolutely amazing having such a small school with only nine kids," principal and teacher Julie Ladd said.
"We are very fortunate we can really get out and do things in the community because we are so small.
"We know the kids so well (because there are only nine) so we can really cater to everything they need."
Mrs Ladd said the school was a 'little hidden gem a lot of people don't know about'.
Four of the students are siblings, but all nine are friends.
The students are taught by one classroom teacher, while specialist teachers and instructors come to teach subjects like Chinese and swimming, as well as a mobile librarian who visits.
The students have shared learning experiences with Inglewood Primary School on Fridays, and Mrs Ladd also teaches.
Even though the school is small, the experiences and breadth of subjects the students receive are not.
The kids bounce through the gate every morning and Mrs Ladd said the students are sad if they can't come to school.
According to the vibrant principal, it's not difficult to teach different subjects to students of different ages.
"We know them so well, we know their learning styles, and we know everything about them and their family because we're such a close community, and we're such a close school," she said.
What you see here in friendship is not like anything I've ever worked with before, it's amazing, it's absolutely amazing.- Julie Ladd
The students are encouraged to connect with nature and their environment.
"The learning experiences here are really about getting off technology and reconnecting with the environment," Mrs Ladd said.
"It's that connection that not all kids are getting."
The principal/teacher said some students would thrive in a smaller school environment.
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Mrs Ladd said the school had strong support from parents of the students and the community, and were in the process of rebuilding, expanding, and growing community support.
"If we can get the community behind it, the school can be a hub of a community," she said.
"The parents here are passionate about keeping the school open, they love it, and they see really happy, healthy, and connected kids."
Mrs Ladd was hopeful for the future of Bridgewater Primary, and had the kind of optimism that was infectious.
"Watch this space!" Mrs Ladd said enthusiastically with a big grin.
"It's a love story between a man and his horse," children's author Corinne Fenton said.
That's how Ms Fenton described her latest book Subbie and his mate, about champion horse Subzero, and his best friend and former clerk of the course, Graham Salisbury.
Subbie - the affectionate nickname for beloved horse - was one of the most well known and adored horses in Australia.
He won a number of Group One races during his career such as the 1992 Melbourne Cup, and in doing so became a household name and ambassador, visiting local schools, hospitals and retirement villages.
The beloved horse was also trained to go into small spaces, often visiting sick and dying children in hospital.
According to Ms Fenton, the charismatic horse even went to Dubai and met the Sheik, he even bowed to him.
"Their story (Subbie and Graham) is what happened after the racing," she said.
"Subbie was always treated well."
Even Subbie's vet spoke about the strong bond between the horse and trainer.
It was "a very special relationship of a horse and his master," Ms Fenton said.
Subbie and his mate explores the themes of love, kindness, respect, and the importance of taking care of your pet or animal.
"You take care of your animal, and the animal will take of you," Ms Fenton said.
"And I think Subbie and Graham are the finest example of that."
Ms Fenton said Subbie resonated with so many Australians, particularly the racing community and the Greater Bendigo community, because he was such a familiar figure.
While Ms Fenton's book is about the beautiful friendship between horse and man, the author had her own connection and friendship with the pair.
After looking Mr Salisbury up in the white pages in August 2019, she met him and Subbie in person that same month.
It was important for the author to have Mr Salisbury's blessing to write the story, which she received.
With a handkerchief in her hand, the author tearfully recounted a memory of reading the draft of her book to Subbie while he ate a carrot.
Unfortunately, Mr Salisbury died before he could read the final version of Ms Fenton's book.
Eerily, Ms Fenton's publisher accepted the book on Melbourne Cup day, the day Subbie won the race years prior.
"It was a privilege to meet them and write about them," Ms Fenton said.
She was passionate about sharing their story with the world, almost like a final tribute or obituary for the pair.
"What was it like to be an author?" one child asked.
"What got you into writing?" another queried.
It was here at Bridgewater Primary the author, the horse and the hidden gem intersected for the first time - during a reading of Subbie and his mate.
The students' friendship, closeness and camaraderie was not only felt, but shown with simple gestures like sharing a seat.
Two were away, so there was only seven present for the reading, possibly Ms Fenton's smallest reading as an author.
Ms Fenton read her book to the eager and attentive kids, and answered their thoughtful and considered questions about Subbie, writing, publishing, illustration and more with the patience of a practiced children's author.
Ms Fenton, who had been writing for 20 years, spoke honestly about her life as an author, inspiring the children who clearly had an appetite for literature.
"Maths is not my thing," Ms Fenton said.
The children, may have related to some degree, roared with laughter.
And with the reading of Subbie and his mate the memory of Subbie and the legacy of the horse and his companion was kept alive.
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