When news that Crowdy Head Public School had closed last December, it became a small jewel eyed by many.
Now it is neglected, it’s future unclear, buried in government red tape. And may remain so for many years to come.
‘The school was closed due to lack of numbers but it was the Education Department’s revised policy which mandated that local children could go to Harrington school but kids from Harrington couldn’t go to Crowdy Head School. So it’s demise was always on the cards,’ said Daintry Gerrand, co-ordinator of the Crowdy Head School working group. ‘There were a handful of students, who were mostly from outside the immediate area, kids who didn’t quite fit in to other schools.’
The school site of over two hectares sits on prime property facing the sea surrounded by Crowdy Bay National Park.
During the “Education Revolution” of the Gillard era, a grant was given to up-grade the school facilities which Daintry Gerrand estimates to have cost “ at least” several hundred thousand dollars. The meeting room would suit small conferences. A sixty thousand dollar Stephanie Alexander kitchen was added with outdoor eating facilities and of course the kitchen garden. A location which could be used by the community.
The community quickly realised developers would be hovering. The majority consensus was that the now retired school should be used for the community not a resort or residential development.
First to act was CEO of the Purfleet Land Council, Glen Renni, who filed a land claim over the site. The Land Council already had a third interest in the site.
Normally the school would revert to the Department of Education and then be turned back to the Crown Lands Department.
‘We are all aware a Land Claim is a slow process,’ said Rennie. ‘Indeed a wait of up to ten years or longer is not unusual. However during that interim time, a licence can be granted from Crown Lands to a non profit organisation to utilise the site in the meantime. We would be quite happy to see it used appropriately by the community once a licence is granted.’
Suggestions for a licence to set up an indigenous cultural museum, or a maritime museum, or conference venue, or a place where Coast Care could continue their work, were discussed. Surfing Australia expressed an interest in the site as a non profit venture for their activities which could include bringing disadvantaged youth, or indigenous and outback kids for holidays at the beach.
However no decision can be made until the site reverts back to Crown Land.
And there rises the spectre the giant Roll of Red Tape.
‘Department of Education don’t want it and yet they are not doing anything about it,’ said Daintry. ‘Everybody has tried. We’ve had public meetings, protest meetings. Our local Member, Leslie Williams came and said she’d contacted the Minister (for Education) and it was currently “being reviewed.” But we feel she has let us down as that was several months ago. We also contacted the Roche Company but have had no response.’
Greens NSW MP and Environment & Lower Mid-North Coast Spokesperson, Dr Mehreen Faruqi MLC, was also invited by the community and issued and said:
“I have recently visited Crowdy Head Public School at the invitation of the local community who have a plan to use the now vacant facility to run environmental education and cultural heritage awareness programs with the community whilst the Aboriginal Land Claim is pending. This would be a great use of a public asset which would otherwise rot away, or worst still sold off by a government which now has a track record of selling off public land to private developers.
“The community is keen to maintain the grounds and buildings, as well as undertake protection and regeneration of native vegetation. They have the volunteers, they have the support of the Purfleet-Taree Local Aboriginal Lands Council and they have a plan. But rather than listening to the community and providing helpful information, the Government is giving them the runaround.
“I understand that there has already been the removal of some facilities on the site. This is deeply concerning when the community hasn’t even been told what is and isn’t possible with the site.
“I have written to the various Ministers responsible for Education, Crown Lands and Government Property to try and get some answers for the community with respect to the ownership and management of the site and to clarify the process of application to use the facilities so that we can make this proposal a reality” she concluded.
In the meantime, Council cannot afford to subsidise the maintenance of the property although the lawns are mowed and Coast care helps out.
‘We are making a submission to the Legislative Council Enquiry into the closure of small schools in early August,’ said Daintry Gerrand. ‘What upsets the community is the lack of any sort of consultation from government,’ she added.
The Manning Community News contacted the NSW Premier’s Department who said they would forward our query to the Department of Education.
The response concerning “The former Crowdy Head Public School site” from the Department of Education was –
“The school closed on December 17 2014, with the prospect of only one local enrolment for 2015. An Aboriginal land claim on the site was lodged on December 22 2014 by the NSWALC on behalf of the Purfleet Taree Local Aboriginal Land Council. The claim has yet to be investigated.
A number of groups have expressed interest to the Department in using the site. No decision has been made about the future of the site.”
The Land Claim sits in the queue of Land Claims.
The sea air is eroding the buildings and weeds are overtaking the garden of the school where an estimated 300 to 400 thousand dollars was spent on facilities for nine and then five students.
‘If it was freehold commercial site it would be worth millions,’ said Daintry Gerrand. ‘No wonder everyone wants it for development!’
Locals are divided over what should happen on this picturesque site.
And politicians assure everyone the matter “is being reviewed” and a decision is “imminent.”
The NSW Legislative Council’s Select Committee on the Closure of Public Schools is examining the closure of Crowdy Head Public School.
At the end of July, a Harrington resident noticed a truck driving away with the Crowdy Head Public School Toilet Block aboard.
The loos are destined for a school in Walgett.
Oh well, it’s only been nine months since the school closed. Is it in the Too Hard Basket or waiting for a better offer??