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
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
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!