Era School History - Koornong


Following in the footsteps of others...
In December 1999 I recieved an interesting letter from Douglas Probert,
who had stumbled across the old Era website hosted on my brother Lee Naish's
account at Melbourne Uni. He recounted some memories of his time at a much
earlier alternative school called Koornong, set on bushland very close to Era,
that closed way back in 1952! With Doug's permission I publish part of his letter,
and have included his contact details on the Era database, which is available by request
to members of the Era community.

1943.  My mother unloaded me at Koornong, about 5 miles north of
Warrandyte. The school was set on a large area, possibly 20 to 30 acres
of land, very close to the Yarra.
The buildings were varied and the Head Master, Clive Neild, lived in a
house overlooking the school buildings. These were dormitories, class
rooms and the stage/art area, all in a single line.
To one side of the main house was the dining/cooking building and
residence for the large German lady who ruled her domain with some
ferocity. For the life of me I remember very little about the eating
side of the place.
There were extra dorms over the hill at the back of the main house.
They consisted of four cable tram carriages (now that puts a date on
it!) arranged in a rectangle with a roof over the centre, with a
teacher having one carriage to himself. I had a wheel hole under my
bunk, an excellent escape hatch, used often.
My first day saw involvment in a late night pantry raid "initiation",
which resulted in no goodies but some moments of terror and high speed
flight, as it appeared we had been sprung by the above-mentioned ogre.
In the first week I attended a meeting of the school "parliament",
where a quite spirited debate took place regarding compulsory
classes.... "yes" won this time.  I was not allowed a vote, being a bit
new. But at later meetings when non-compulsory was in, I do remember
reading a lot and mucking about, all without any visible supervision.
I do not remember many of the teaching female, surname Lee,
who had a daughter at the school, and Dannila Vasiliev (not sure about
the spelling of his name) the art teacher, who had a daughter (who was
an artist and may still be in the area.)
I remember only one case of physical punishment, meted out by Dannila,
who applied his hand (a major belting) to the backside of an
unfortunate in the dorm next to me. All because he and I were trying to
get to sleep in the company of two girls on the roof of the girl's
dorm, (totally innocent!)
I was smarter... I jumped into bed fully clothed and successfully
feigned sleep, while the other twit tried to get into his pyjamas,
incidently not worn that often. There were prefects appointed to check
that we were not wearing day clothes to bed, but most time you could
talk your way into keeping them on. It was very cold on those winter
I remember...
Swimming nude in the Yarra, day and night. The moonlight swims were
Not much about "normal" classes, but printing using type and presses,
folk dancing and enameling.
Riding, standing on the running board of Clive's Rolls Royce tourer,
getting a lift back from Warrandyte..... oh! workplace health and
safety and "duty of care", where were you then?
A super tomato fight which destroyed about half an acre of tomatoes.
Some of the students breaking all of the windows in two of the
classrooms using chairs... their parents got the bill.
A teacher pregnant to one of the senior students, us juniors weren't
allowed that sort of thing!
Mixed sex boxing matches, vividly, as I had the crap beaten out of me
by an Amazon named Joan Barry. They did try to even it up... BIG
girl/small boy!
Hearing magpies in the morning, unknown to me then, coming from Elwood.
It was a sound I still love. (Analyse that) We have wild/pet magpies
here and hearing them does remind me of Koornong. Ah, childhood

More on Koornong...

I also received corespondence in 2017 from John Welsh, a co founder and principal of Sydney progressive senior secondary school, Chiron College.

He is happy to be contacted by anyone interested in alternative education and especially anyone who wishes to contribute articles or comments to the Chiron website. There is a 'Contact Us' form on the website.

John mentioned that in 1974 Trevor Wilson (Era teacher) visited Chiron twice to join in discussions about innovation in education.

The link with Koornong comes because Clive and Janet Neild from Koornong were also associated with Chiron from approximately 1973. Indeed, they donated a grand piano to the school!

Chiron College also had a benefactor who had previously set up an experimental school for boys called Turramurra College as far back as the 1920s. John Welsh found some material including a recording of him at the college in the NSW State Library.

Another thing John sent me, apart from the photos of Koornong on this page, was a link to an hilarious You Tube video from 1947 about Koornong.