Teacher’s pets


Teacher’s pets

Some people say you should never work with children or animals. No one told Sally Pfeiffer that. For this retired teacher, grandmother, and wildlife carer, they’re two of life’s greatest pleasures.
words mel jaunay
>> Sally Pfeiffer

A discerning peahen by the name of Priscilla struts across the small deck of Whistler Vineyard Retreat in Seppeltsfield, bobbing her finely crested head to pick at whatever delicacies may take a peckish peafowl’s fancy.

Rex, her mate, swathed in iridescent blue finery, fossicks nearby, but it’s the demure Priscilla that has caught Sally Pfeiffer’s attention.

“Don’t you eat that plant, Priscilla, no!” says Sally, poised to jump up from the B&B’s window-facing sofa, which, along with the Pfeiffer’s adjoining main residence, overlooks a tranquil gully of Whistler vineyards.

“Look at this, stickybeak! Don’t you eat my plant,” she sighs with mock-annoyance at the unperturbed peahen, and smiles. “My guests love this. They are just amazing birds.”

Being surrounded by wildlife is natural for the agile 70-year-old, in fact, it’s quite unusual for her not to have a joey or two bounding around her house, having been a wildlife carer, of kangaroos in particular, since the early 1980s.

But the Pfeiffers’ young Border Collie, Buddy, is not quite ready to be trusted with hopping housemates, so for now, Sally is content with her friendly mob of seven ‘roos, who keep visitors to her B&B and Whistler’s cellar door enthralled from within their large outdoor enclosure.

“It’s made my life a lot more fun than it might have been had I not had kangaroos,” says Sally, reminiscing over times she’d take joeys into her classroom at Nuriootpa Primary School, where she taught for a decade of her 30-year teaching career.

It was a thrill for her students, of course, and just one example of why ‘Mrs Pfeiffer’ became one of the most beloved local teachers of her era. Always looking for spontaneous ‘teaching moments’ or ways to draw on life experiences and activities, it’s Sally’s modest hope that she’s in some way contributed to creating a generation of “good people.”

“I’ve always loved kids, whether it was teaching swimming, teaching Sunday School, teaching netball, coaching, whatever. Children and I just click; I don’t know that I’ve ever grown up sometimes!” she says.

“The experiences are the things that enriched learning, and I had fun teaching them. If I was just doing it from the book, how boring.”

- sally pfeiffer

Certainly, the ones that have returned to share a wine with Sally in her latter role as manager of Whistler’s cellar door have fondly recalled memories of her time as their teacher.

“People say to me: ‘oh, I loved our camps’, ‘I loved going out to Kalimna’, ‘I loved our Aboriginal days’, and I think: ‘can you remember anything about the maths I taught you?’ No!” laughs Sally.

“I can’t remember anything about the maths I taught either! The experiences are the things that enriched learning, and I had fun teaching them. If I was just doing it from the book, how boring.”

Daughter of the late Clarry and Shirley Maywald of Nuriootpa, Sally had a good role model in her father, a teacher with a disposition to be involved in the community wherever he could.

Sadly, Clarry died of a heart attack aged just 58, robbing Sally of her “hero,” but the example he set lives on in his daughter.

“He was on every committee possible and coached every sport possible, and I went with him wherever. I was his shadow,” recalls Sally.

“I think I sort of got the feeling of community and volunteerism from him.”

Child and Family Health Service, Meals on Wheels, KESAB, school, sport, and church committees are just a few of the things Sally has been involved with over the years, as well as being a founding member, along with husband of 50 years, Martin, of the Seppeltsfield Road Business Alliance.

“That started very humbly with about seven of us and now there’s probably 37 businesses, so we’re really proud to be a part of that,” says Sally.

She explains that it was the couple’s way of connecting with their new community in Seppeltsfield after building a house on the property of their vineyard and winery venture, Whistler, in 2001, following 20 years of living at Penfolds’ enchanting Kalimna estate in Nuriootpa—a perk of Martin’s tenure as manager of the prestigious vineyard.

As youngsters, Sally and Martin met through local sport. They spent some of their early married life living in Morgan, but had the opportunity, much to Sally’s pleasure, to move back to the Barossa and into Kalimna not long after their first child, Abby, was born in 1982.

Sons, Josh and Sam soon followed, and the Pfeiffers had the good fortune of raising their children on what could arguably have been one of the most idyllic childhood properties in the district, with its inground swimming pool, lawned tennis court, fishpond, labyrinthine gardens, and mysterious ‘mushroom tunnel.’

“Every kid remembers the mushroom tunnel!” laughs Sally, who facilitated many community events and functions at the property as part of the caretaking arrangement.

“It was a child’s paradise and our kids have always said they were so lucky to grow up there.”

As blissful as it might have been for the young family, those years weren’t without challenges. When one of their children was diagnosed with a serious health issue at two months old, the Pfeiffers had to adapt.

“We had some dicey times, but we always got through it okay,” reflects Sally.

“I won’t call it a disability, just a health issue… I didn’t want to label. I think to label someone is basically all encompassing, you’re forgetting that it’s a person who just happens to have that aspect. It’s not the whole picture, is it?

“That held us in good stead, getting through a lot of traumas.”

That strength of character ripples through all areas of Sally’s life. She’s a self-described “dog with a bone” when it comes to matters she cares about, such as her commitment to recycling and caring for the environment.

“I am called the ‘Green Queen’,” she says with a chuckle.

“I pick up rubbish all the time along the road… I like to see it looking good.”

That irrepressible Maywald family ethos, to help and to get involved, has also gifted Sally the ability to make others feel included and at ease.

“I say hello to most people, even if they don’t know me… Something my Mum always said was ‘a smile costs you nothing’, so I’m a bit of a smiler!” she remarks.

>> Sally Pfeiffer with her grandchildren, Bella and Mackenzie Pfeiffer and Thomas and William Pfeiffer.

With her children grown and a new chapter well underway for the family at Whistler, Sally found her people skills to be a huge boon to her post-teaching role as cellar door manager, together with her enduring love of the region.

“I’ve always been passionate about the Barossa and it’s been lovely to share information and stories through the cellar door over a glass of wine, so I found my transition from teaching to that was quite smooth,” she reflects.

“I guess I see myself as an ambassador for the Barossa, really.”

Nowadays, she feels the same thrill sharing those stories with guests at her B&B, and at her recent appointment as a volunteer ‘Barossa Ambassador’ at the Visitor Information Centre at Tanunda.

But by far Sally’s most important role at this time in her life is caring for her eight grandchildren, a task she relishes with all the enthusiasm of a former teacher and a deeply maternal and caring person.

“I have regular babysitting days and I just try and share as much of them when I can, while I can,” says Sally.

“I’ll do my bit in the community, but my little community here is pretty important to me at the moment.

“If they grow up good people, that’s my life achieved.”

Become a partner of The Barossa Mag

Get in Touch

Leave your details here and we will get in touch with you...