This week is National Boarding Week. Our School was the first co-educational, Anglican, independent, Primary and Secondary, Day and Boarding School to open in regional Australia.
In the late 1960s when plans for the School were first considered, the concept of a co-educational, Anglican, boarding school in the South West was nothing if not radical. To some it was the way of the future, while for others it was foolhardy experiment. The Provisional Council (precursor to the Board of Governors) was strongly divided on the merits of such a venture, with several believing there should be two separate schools, one for boys and one for girls. An opinion poll amongst prospective parents showed the overwhelming majority favoured a co-educational school for their children, so the first co-educational Boarding School in rural Australia was established!
The beginnings in 1972 were humble with only 14 boarders on day one. However, lasting traditions were laid down including ‘boarding parents’, a family atmosphere, the relative privacy of cubicles, morning fitness opportunities and, most importantly for any teenager, great food! This was far from the ‘norm’ in other boarding schools at this time.
There were plenty of challenges and tough times to be faced. For some years the boys were relegated to the old-fashioned indignity of an open plan dormitory in Wilson House. Eventually, however, an event that was probably considered a disaster at the time led to a ground-breaking project that triggered a virtual revolution in the School’s boarding system.
In 1977, the roof of the partially completed extension to Marie Palmer House collapsed just prior to the boarders’ return from holidays. In order to solve this major accommodation problem, caravans were brought on site as a temporary measure. What no one expected was how popular this ‘make-do’ accommodation would prove to be. It was such an overwhelming success that minds began to ponder the idea of boarding cottages based on the ‘caravan’ concept. The idea emerged of a more normal, home-like environment that would encourage students to behave more maturely and gain life skills.
Plans were prepared and in 1980 boarders began moving into the first boarding cottages. Instantly a success, word spread and people travelled from across the country to look at the new radical concept in boarding. The idea was further refined to incorporate vertical age groupings and the rest is history.
Today the boarding cottages live on as a cornerstone of our wonderful Boarding facilities.
Excerpt from The School in the Bush by Richard Offen (adapted from an article by Margaret Paterson, published in the 2004 Summer Grammarian). Pre-orders of the 50 Anniversary Book, The School in the Bush will be available soon.