​Woree State High School Early Days

The school opened in January, 1985, however, before that, a lot of preparations had to be made. The Woree State School P&C Association set up a high school steering sub-committee early in 1984. It started fundraising in order to help the new school along with things such as tuckshop and sporting equipment which were not provided by the Education Department. They also made some design proposals for a school uniform. My appointment as Principal was announced in late October of that year. I was Deputy Principal of the Gladstone State High School at the time. The sub-committee chairman, Bob Hudson, rang me about several matters, with which I was very happy. He sent me photos of the proposed uniforms, leaving the choice of colours to me. I was careful to select colours quite distinct from those of other secondary schools in Cairns, hence the maroon and cream. Students were able to buy these in good time for the first day of school in 1985.

The next tasks included opening bank accounts; administrative forms; rubber stamps – all of which I was able to do in Gladstone. At the end of November, the Department brought the teachers and me to Cairns for a week-long “new-school” workshop in the Woree State School staffroom. It was led by Secondary Inspectors Frank Underwood and Jim Henry. This workshop marked the start of a long, happy and mutually beneficial association between the two schools. The fact that the primary school Principal, Peter Casey, and I were both train enthusiasts probably helped!

At this workshop, we sorted out such things as work and assessment programmes for each of the subjects offered. We were fortunate to be starting with Year 8 students only, as this gave us a well-ordered beginning. Basic school rules and policies were also established. A parent-student evening was also held during that week. That included a welcome assurance of support by the Mulgrave Shire Council through its local Councillors, Jeff Pezzutti and Tom Schwabe. Mr Pezzutti still takes an active interest in our school. A textbook hire scheme was also set up.

Five buildings were substantially finished by the end of 1984 and fully ready when classes began. These were the First Year Centre, Amenities block, Manual Arts and Home Economics buildings and the Administration block. The only tradesmen there when lessons started were landscapers and those making minor adjustments to buildings and facilities.In the week prior to the start of the school-year, the staff and I completed student enrolments and sorted out the lists for each of the eight classes. These classes averaged 25 students in each. Finally we were ready to go!

We started off with a formal assembly attended by local Education Department officials, along with Mulgrave Shire councillors and the then Mayor of Cairns, Alderman Ron Davis. Immediately afterwards, students were allocated to their form classes; given their timetables and basic textbooks and then down to work. The tuckshop, supported by the Ladies Auxiliary, opened then also.

My challenge then was to breathe life, inspiration and activity into what had been basically an empty heap of brick, tin and glass! It also meant providing the atmosphere and various activities typical of a high school for our students and which would be comparable to those experienced by their older siblings in the other longer-established schools around Cairns. Sports “Houses” were set up, giving them the names of varieties of sugar-cane once grown in the area. The 32-acre school property itself was once a cane-farm. The names chosen were Apollo, Gemini, Pindar and Trojan.

The first inter-house activity was a swimming carnival, held at the Tobruk Pool at North Cairns. As the year progressed, we also held cross-country and athletics carnivals, as well as taking part in the inter-school carnivals. Students also entered inter-school Rugby League, Soccer, Aussie Rules, Softball, Netball, Basketball and Hockey competitions.

A burning issue was the lack of suitable playing areas, so we had to make our own to start off. We formed emu-parades of all the students across the area which is now the school oval; brought out all the rubbish-bins we had and the students moved forward picking up all the rocks and stones left from the final ploughing of the former cane field. The youngsters were bribed by an ample supply of ice-blocks. Piles of stones were made; put into the bins and carted away, firstly by the groundsman and later, by the Council. Cr Jeff Pezzutti had helped us purchase a good second-hand tractor earlier in the year.

The Parents and Citizens Association devolved from the Primary School’s steering committee. It continued many fund-raising projects. An excellent group of mothers ran sweets stalls and raffles. $10000 was raised in that first year which enabled the P & C to install a full cold-room in the tuckshop. It also decided to designate ten percent of its annual income to a swimming pool fund. A  few years later, the Mulgrave Shire Council built an Olympic-standard pool right next to us, so this fund was able to be directed in other ways.

A student council was set up. We did not designate any students as School Captains until 1989 – the year the school reached its full complement of five Year Levels. Until then, the leaders of the student council carried out the duties normally those of school captains. The local clergy visited the school each week for Religious Education. TB skin tests and vaccinations were given amidst sounds of student pain and anguish! Anzac Day was marked with a simple ceremony on the front lawn. In May, Art students held a camp at Tinaroo and in October, the whole school went up there for an activities camp. In April everybody went down to Innisfail High School for a sports and games day. In July, the school badge came alive – largely designed by Art teacher, Jenny Cartmill. The social scene was not neglected – discos and skate nights also took place. In October, Science in Schools week saw the Fire Brigade’s cherry picker lifting students up into the heavens to drop cushioned eggs – most broke. The “Official Opening” of the school was in November and our first Presentation Night was held later that month in the newly-built multi-purpose shelter. Just before its start, we had to brush water off most of the chairs, after a late-afternoon downpour. The other buildings which had by the been completed for the start of the 1986 school year were the Art block G and the Science block M. Early in 1986, we were hit by the tail-end of cyclone “Winifred”, which blew off 60% of the shelter roof and started to peel off the M block roof.

A school year book, full of photographs and reports of school highlights of our first year, was produced. It has been great to see how the quality and scope of subsequent year books have been developed.

Another group of Year 8 students arrived to start 1986, doubling the school enrolment, as well as staff numbers. Our first Senior Mistress, Mrs Julie Jeffries, was appointed. In 1987, we started off with three year levels, totalling around 620 students and our first Deputy Principal, Mr Bruce More. That year also saw us have our first of many fetes.

As the school continued to grow and develop, the number and variety of activities and projects increased. The school came fully of age in 1989 with 950 students. Billy Courtney and Jodi Anderson were the first school captains.

Music programmes featuring instrumental teaching and a string ensemble began in 1985 and these gradually evolved in later years to include an orchestra, a concert band, marching band and several ad hoc instrumental groups. The provision of a Performing Arts block in 1989 gave great encouragement to students and staff.

This is but a summary of the rich tapestry which became Woree State High School as each year followed. Progress and development in later years is, of course, another story. As the foundation Principal, I have watched with great interest and affection the growth and changes in our school and how it continues to have its unique place in the broad educational fabric of Cairns.

Charles Reich

Principal 1985-1996

Last reviewed 11 December 2019
Last updated 11 December 2019