From humble beginnings…
Casuarina Steiner School began life as the Casuarina Community School, operating out of the Sawtell Reserve Hall in 1986. A small group of parents started a playgroup a year or so earlier with the idea of starting up a community school. A conference on educational philosophies took place in Coffs Harbour that year and Alan Whitehead, author and Steiner Education expert, spoke about the Steiner Education approach. This conference, and particularly Alan’s talk, prompted this small group of parents to base their community school on the educational philosophies of Rudolf Steiner.
The original kindergarten was made up of just 5 children and Casuarina’s founding teacher, Audrey Asham. Unfortunately, the following year three families withdrew their children and with only four students remaining the school closed.
Later that year one of the original parents revived interest in the school. With several new families involved, the focus shifted from being a Community school to being a Steiner school, and Casuarina Steiner School was born.
A new location was found at the old Gardens Motel on the corner of Pacific Highway and Bray Street (now the cinema complex). After many hours of cleaning, tip running, repairing broken windows and gardening the space was ready to use. Without power or telephones the school started up again – the kindergarten now had thirteen children and a new teacher in Maree Do, who had joined us from Sophia Mundi in Melbourne. Parents took it in turns (groups of two) to raise $200 a week to maintain the running costs of the school – achieved through raffling seafood.
Less than six months later the sale of the property the school was leasing led to a further planned move into the council owned site that is now the Community Village. 3 full weeks of cleaning and repairing the building saw the new site ready for use. One original parent, Bronwyn Bellemore, remembers “On the morning of the first day, mid 1988, the police awaited our arrival at school. We were informed if anyone over the age of 5 entered the building they would be arrested. It appeared we were squatters taking over an empty building without authority. The Council, as owners, had no authority to offer us the building. We walked with our children to the Council Chambers, but they failed to find a solution! For the next two months we operated out of alternate houses whilst looking for another venue.” The old Life Saving Club building at Park Beach was used for a further few weeks.
The parents worked closely with Council to find a new site, attending all Council meetings. On one occasion the developer of Opal Cove Resort was so horrified at the way in which Council were dealing with the group that he donated $1,000 towards their rent. This lucky break meant that a focus on fundraising could be switched to a focus on registration, incorporation, funding applications and other paperwork necessary to become a ‘proper’ school. The school finally moved into a new site in town – their seventh to date, and six of those were in one year!
The school now had a Kindergarten class and a combined 1/2 class. After several changes in teaching staff they had a period of some stability, and numbers grew close to the magical 20 – the number required to gain government funding. The initial paperwork for registration was completed and the first inspection scheduled. A curriculum was drawn up along with other documentation. The school sailed through their first inspection and with the enrolment of their 20th child they awaited the arrival of their first government cheque.
Six months later the first cheque arrived, along with the next instalment – they felt rich! Enrolments reached 25 and a new home was required if they were to house any more children. The money was saved for the acquisition of land; seafood raffles remained their regular weekly fundraising activity.
An earlier application for a capital grant was approved – they only had the right piece of land left to find. A new, and very energetic, parent lobbied the Lands Department for the Crown Land in Gentle Street. “It was not only the name that made the land perfect. Its location in the centre of town while being surrounded by bush would give us the ideal location for a school.” Said Bronwyn.
A visionary architect from Melbourne, David Oppenheim, moved to Coffs in 1989, with three primary age children. He enrolled his children at Casuarina and helped create the master plan for the school on the Gentle Street site. The land was purchased and the Main Hall was designed as a temporary first stage to house three classes. James White, an original parent and builder, supervised the construction.
The building was completed just in time for the start of the school year in 1991. Bronwyn recants “The doors and windows were just frames, but it was summer and luckily it was unseasonably dry.”
By 1996 stage two was complete, with two purpose built classrooms. Enrolments were around 60, with three composite classes covering years 1/2, 3/4 and 5/6/7.
Since that time the structural development of the school has continued to where we are today, with 7 primary school classrooms, 2 kindergarten classrooms, a playgroup room, woodwork room, sewing room, music room, library and administrative building. Our numbers vary, but are usually between 125 and 160 students across Kindergarten to Class 6.