Era School History - Clive's speech


Clive Rossiter's speech at the Era 40 year reunion at the site of the Donvale school, November 26th 2011.

(Thanks to Debbie Fowler for reproducing this)

My story begins on October 31st 1968. I was sitting at my desk at Carey when a colleague at the next desk leant over and said, "Are you going to the meeting, tonight?" "What meeting?" "At Preshil. They are discussing the establishment of a secondary school for Preshil."

Henry Schoenheimer, Senior Lecturer in Education at Monash University and regular education writer for "The Australian", was invited to chair the meeting. An Interim Commitee was formed to investigate:

1. Sites: 20 sites were inspected in Doncaster, Heathmont and Mooroolbark. 5-8 acres from $20.000!

2. Financial resources: A Co-operative Society was suggested.

3. What kind of school? A sub-committee consisiting of Henry Schoeheimer, Arthur Sandell (deputy head master of Carey), and Elizabeth Stephens, Senior Lecturer at Mercer House, the Teachers' Training College for the Independent schools, was set up.

They produced a document of 13 points; the school should be co-educational; it should provide six years of secondary education culminating in university entrance requirements; students could have flexible times in which to complete the six year course, etc.

In searching for a site for the school, a controversy arose as to whether an old house should be purchased or an entirely new complex of buildings should be offered, as a greater attraction to prospective parents. This was a move away from the original plans of Margaret Lyttle. She withdrew her support and the majority of the Preshil Community set about establishing their own secondary campus, (27-10-1970) "Blackhall" in Sackville St in Kew, close to primary campus. This setback seriously weakened the enrolment flow to Era.

As to financial plans, at one of our earliest committee meetings an "offering" was taken up to commence our funding. Margaret ruefully produced our worldly treasure, $8.00 in loose change, in a small jam jar. So we went for the doctor, a financial one that is, and asked Frank South to be our Treasurer. Our finances edged upwards due to the sustained work by the Publicity sub-committee.

Now, it so happened that my neighbour, in our block of Cape Cod town houses happened to be Con Papas, with a background in the Printing Trade /graphic arts/public relations. He became interested in the Era project and gave generously of his time and talents to plan and execute an effective publicity campaign at very low cost.

Another issue of State Aid was raised in April 1971, when it was proposed at an A.G.M that per capita government grants be placed in a special fund, but the Council decided to use the grants for running the school.

The Interim Committee called a public meeting at the Kew Town Hall to launch the school project and elect the first Council of the Education Reform Association, led by Dr David Fearon as President and "Yours Truly" as Secretary. David Bennett was offered the position of Principal on November 5th, 1970, with an incredible amount of work facing him to have the school open three months later. Nick Hudson was now the Council Secretary and he strongly assisted the Principal. Staff selections and appointments had to be completed, temporary accomodation secured in the "White House" at Warrandyte, oval, books and equipment ordered, parents and students interviewed, so that the first Era School opened it's doors to 89 students with 6 teachers under very difficult conditions.

Meanwhile, work on the permanent buildings at Donvale continued. On Sunday 19th September, a well attended function was held to celebrate the opening of the new school. Miss Dorothy Ross, our esteemed guest, noted Educationist and former Head Mistress of Merton Hall, declared the school open with the assistance of students in cutting the traditional ribbon, in this case a piece of barbed wire severed by wire cutters!

We have now arrived at the time when you, as students of the school, will remember the building of the Deamer Library by D.E.S.P.O in 28 days; brickwork by Nick Hudson and organisation by Tom Deamer and Jill Fearon. Then, committees galore! Parent assistance facilitated by Pat Pearce (Dobson). Pat had been active in Preshil life and had transferred to Era. She ran fund-raising activities for Era even before the school was built, and you will remember her work as Secretary to the School Council and later as School Bursar until the end of 1985. Other committees were Staff Selection, Buildings and Grounds, and Student Projects.

Regrettably, Era closed at the end of 1986, 16 years of life. You have experienced learning in a very special educational environment. I have come home today, twice, to Era and to Carey!