AN OPEN LETTER FROM ELIZABETH KNOX – CHAIR of the SCHOOL ASSOCIATION
“We still have our school, we only need some buildings.”
Our country school is, always has been and always will be the central focus of our community and the loss of our infrastructure is a devastating blow.
All that remains is our school hall that was built only a couple of years ago, and the toilets. Everything else is gone including the new playground the community worked tirelessly to build last year which was only finished just before Christmas.
It is only over the past day that some of our families have been able to return to Dunalley to realise the devastating impact these fires have reeked on our communities. Our school families come from 10 townships around Dunalley, all of which have been impacted by the fires in one way or another.
We are isolated by lack of communication, lack of power and roadblocks and it is only now that the numbness from dealing with the simple act of survival has worn off and we are able to come to terms with what we have lost.
It is painful to watch the faces of the children as they see the twisted remains of their school buildings and new playgarden. We e are really struggling with the impossible task of reassuring them that they will be reunite with their friends and teachers in a few weeks’ time. “What’s going to happen at the end of the holidays?”, “Where will the school be?”, “We can all go to school in the gym”, “If I cant go to Dunalley, I’m not going to school at all” – this is what we are hearing from our children as they face an uncertain future.
It is trying to provide reassurance to our children, that is really taking its toll. Coupled with the overwhelming loss of houses and local businesses, this trauma will only increase as families return to Dunalley and our outlining towns in the next day or two to face an uncertain future.
However, the community is totally wholeheartedly committed to getting the school up and running before school resumes in February with the assistance and leadership of our governments. We have our school, we only need some buildings. We have total commitment from our community, we just need commitment from our leaders. We recognise that providing this focus over the next few weeks as we come to terms with our personal losses, will be beneficial to the emotional wellbeing of our families and broader community. We have been overwhelmed by offers of assistance from all over the country, including many other Tasmanian schools, schools affected by the Victorian bushfires, community organisations and businesses. We cried when we heard that Fullers was collecting donations of books for our library.
When you are a smaller country school, you recognise that you belong to an extended but very close family. If the children can stay in a safe and familiar environment, their focus can be on their education and they will recover.
There is also the effect on our parents who form a strong bond and connection with the school as a central focus – the dropping off at the school gate, the social networks, the exchange of parenting skills, the meeting place once or twice a day and the community activities. For now those opportunities are lost to our current parents and supporters who have already been through enough trauma. We are committed to having the school operating as part of the recovery process. It will be the hub of our community and normality.
It was a great relief to be able to gain access to the school gym yesterday, which has become the clothing relief centre. It is also a sanctuary from the loss and devastation all about Dunalley. This is where all our students gathered as one school during assemblies and special occasions. The sense of familiarity, calmness and camaraderie there yesterday was palpable and was openly expressed by the parents, ex-students and children that volunteered their assistance. It was like the comfort offered by a church building. It is that feeling and sense of belonging that we must provide to our children immediately.
The children have worried about the loss of artwork, school photos, the memory box, which contained momentos from the past 128 years of Dunalley School’s history as well as a number of recent projects, including:
– The Grade 6 students are part of a boat building program and had not quite completed building two wooden dinghies that they were entering in the upcoming Wooden Boat Festival. They had committed time in the school holidays to finish them so that they would be ready before they started high school. These have been destroyed.
– A community supported and P&F funded redevelopment of our kinder PlayGarden that took six months to plan and complete with volunteers that was only opened a couple of weeks ago. The students had raised some funds of their own to buy tricycles for the new kinder students. The red tricycle that was a surprise presentation to the Principal at the opening was carefully locked in his office and was destroyed.
– The parent body had recently agreed to a revamp of our older style school uniform and funded new tops for each student. The children were looking forward to starting school in a new uniform. Most of that stock arrived just before Christmas and it was all destroyed.
– These losses have great impact on the children, as much as you try to reassure them.
We have been overwhelmed by the passion and commitment of the area to the temporary development of the buildings while our new school is being built which we recognise will take probably the full year. With the support of the community and our governments to provide us with the classrooms and infrastructure, we will come back together stronger than ever.