Chatswood High School – Duke of Edinburgh scheme; Chatswood High School – Proposal to close the school.
I first became connected with Willoughby in 1972 when my wife (now) Dr. Mary Fogarty started teaching at Chatswood High School. At the time, I was undertaking a Ph.D at Macquarie University and would often drop Mary to school either by gunning it up the Fullers Road West hill from Delhi Road or down and up the dip in Edgar Street. I was driving a 1966 HR Holden sedan at the time.
In the early 1970s at Chatswood High School (CHS), Mary organised a number of holiday student coach excursions to Fraser Island and Central Australia (does not happen in these days of risk aversion). My role was to take up station when the coaches were due to return to make sure they had space to park outside the school. The coach company Mary used was Coachways, run by Russ Neville. Later, Coachways ran a promotional tour to the Mt Seaview cattle property in the Hastings Valley, run by Eric and Ralph Clissold, who were establishing a tourist ranch and field studies centre. This was when Mary was establishing the Duke of Edinburgh (D of E) Award Scheme at Chatswood High.
The D of E comprised voluntary community activities by students over a number of years toward a Bronze, Silver or Gold Award. It also had the option of students participating in an ‘Expedition’ (usually a multi-day bushwalk). Mt Seaview was an ideal location for a base camp allowing for the safe management of students undertaking the expedition. I had just bought my first four wheel drive (an FJ40 Toyota SWB). Mary appointed me a D of E Instructor and Expedition Assessor. I was required to tutor students on a weekly basis on all facets of safe activity in the bush (mapping and navigation, clothing, food, water, etc). In addition, I was required to reconnoiter the tracks and trails in the forests around Mt Seaview to find Bronze, Silver and Gold class trails. During the expeditions, we used Mt Seaview as our staging base. We were required to visit each group at least once a day. Plus, it was often necessary to supplement water provisions and provide medical assistance to students.
One of our most memorable ‘rescues’ involved a bushfire that developed whilst one of our groups was walking in the upper Hasting River water catchment. Along with Ralph Clissold, we mounted our trail bikes and set off to find two girls who were in harm’s way. Fortunately, we reached them before the fire did and were able to run them safely to base camp.
In 1989 we moved from Newtown to 3 Valerie Avenue, Chatswood West. The move was prompted by a number of factors. We had two daughters, Jacqui and Dani, and were beginning to feel that the inner city was not the best environment to raise a young family. Mary was committed to teaching at CHS and my father had gone blind and we wanted to establish an environment where we could provide ongoing care for my parents.
Chatswood High School has had some outstanding Principals. Early Principals included Harris Morris and Ilma Woodward. At one stage the school was set to close and move to the UTS site in Ku-ring-gai. The Principal at this time was “Herbie” Fenton.
The parents were fearful that in opposing the closure their child might be disadvantaged. So they called on me, as President of the Chatswood West Ward Progress Association, to join with the P&C in fighting the proposal. I sought the assistance of Willoughby Council Town Planner, Greg Woodhams. Greg and his team were able to demonstrate that the population statistics the department had used were flawed.
Because of the fracas, the then departmental Cluster Director, Ms. Deanna Heorrmann, became actively involved with the process. Reasonably quickly, Deanna acknowledged the reality of the situation. Mr Fenton moved on, and to the delight of parents Ms Heormann assumed the role of Principal.
This was a great example of Willoughby Council, the school community and CWWPA working together to achieve a positive outcome for the local community - a model that was to be repeated with other schools.
Soon after John Brooks became the principal of CHS, he decided the school would benefit by having a field studies centre in a country setting. The idea being that various groups within the school would use the centre for both curriculum and extra curriculum activities. John identified my wife Mary as someone who could offer value in assessing potential sites for the centre. Mary co-opted me as driver and co-assessor. The area of interest, with the needs of the Duke of Edinburgh Scheme in mind, Mary targeted the area beyond the Wollemi National Park with access via Rylstone. After some time searching, we found a unique little property known as Marnie. It was on a small holding near the corner of the Narrango Road and the Nullo Mountain Road on the banks of the Cudgegong River. Not far away was a beautiful lake known as Dunne’s Swamp.
The building on the property was formerly used as the Olinda Post Office. It was a slab timber construction with an iron roof. It comprised about five rooms and a kitchen and single toilet. To make it usable it needed toilets and showers. The P&C came to the party and showers and toilets to cater for groups of forty were soon constructed. Active in the P&C at the time were Jan and Lyndsay Skinner and Tim and Roz Bowden who worked for the ABC.
Whilst the property was used yearly for Duke of Edinburgh expeditions, other school groups tended to shy away from using it, citing distance and the inadequate condition of the main house as being problematic for them.
In purchasing Marnie, John Brook may have used some money from school funds, but the majority came from the P&C. John was eventually audited but no inappropriate use of school funds could be proven. To future proof the investment, the deeds to the property were in the name of P&C members.
With subsequent Principals the centre was seen to be diverting efforts from other school P&C projects. There was a resurgence of support (to maintain the property) when it was first offered for sale by the school. However, the sale could not proceed because the deeds could not be ‘found’. Ultimately, the P&C must have produced the deeds and the property was sold.
29 April 2018