Mrs Jan Fitch's Recollection of Banksia Park Primary School


Mrs Jan Fitch is a current 2013 staff member.  She was a Foundation Staff Member of Banksia Park Primary School when it opened in 1989 and has seen the school develop over this time. 

This is her personal recollection of twenty five years at Banksia Park Primary School.......

Banksia Park first opened its doors on 1 February 1989 to about 300 students.  The classrooms were all fitted out in readiness and the paving and the grounds were being finished off as the first students arrived.  The school was built by the Keywest Building Company and reputed to have cost $1.8 million.  It consisted of much as we have today: the administration block, a canteen and covered assembly area, a special services block and two teaching blocks. (A third block was on the plans for future development).

The culmination of the school’s smooth opening on this day was a credit to the efforts of many people for a long time prior.  The site had been put aside when the subdivision of Banksia Park was first gazetted and as people moved into the area most students attended Leeming or Oberthur Primary Schools.  As the suburb became more established Leeming Primary School became full to overflowing.  Numbers were slightly reduced by the opening of West Leeming but as Banksia Park grew they increased again.  So it was decided that East Leeming should now be built.

A meeting of prospective parents was held in the library of Leeming Primary School and an estimated 150 people attended. The first issue raised was a desire for a school name change from East Leeming to Banksia Park.  Naming a school after a commercial subdivision is generally not allowed but with persistent lobbying it was eventually given approval by Carmen Lawrence (the then Education Minister).  At this and subsequent meetings many other decisions were made and working groups dispatched to get everything in order prior to opening.  This was a very enthusiastic, generous and hard working team which has proved to be a trait maintained by the parents of Banksia Park students up to this day.

The buildings came with the cricket pitch, practice nets and the double netball / tennis court it has today. The oval area had been cleared but with the efforts of volunteers from that first meeting months before and later the first gardener, Mr Hogg, the area was planted with runners and seed and some areas even reticulated so it established a strong covering of grass for the students to play on during sport sessions and their breaks from the first day.  Few new schools at that time were so lucky.

On the first day there was a one hundred percent turnout in the new school uniform - a fantastic feat!  Mrs Schouller, a parent, can be credited with taking the uniform from the planning stage enabling this to occur. From the colossal task of ordering sufficient uniforms to dress a whole school of students and then selling these items from her carport as she did, it was an amazing task.  From this, the Uniform Shop became basically a set of cupboards in the office area or any spare space, until the Performing Arts Centre was completed and incorporated the current Uniform Shop.  Many parents, for short and long term periods, have taken on the responsibility of managing this aspect of the school voluntarily and for all of them we are most grateful.

The parent group chose a uniform styled on that of Leeming, in the colours of blue and gold, and although it has had some modifications to keep it up to date, it is still primarily the same.  The preference for shorts by many of the girls, rather than skirts is probably the biggest change. Head gear was also a minor addition with the addition of a “no hat no play” policy.  Year 7 students also have special “Leavers” shirts and jackets to commemorate their final year at primary school.  Students in most interschool sporting teams are now loaned a Banksia Park outfit in which to represent the school - courtesy of the P&C.

The pre primary students only attended four half days a week - two mornings and two afternoons, with Friday off.  This enabled two classes of students to use the one facility and requiring one teacher and assistant.  Over time, government legislation has changed and Pre Primary hours have increased gradually to the present compulsory five full days and the option of Kindergarten has become available.  To accommodate these students the original year one classrooms became part of the Pre-Primary / Kindergarten segment of the school with the addition of  kitchen and bathroom requirements and creating a further two teaching areas purpose-built for this age level.  

The year ones in 1989 attended school until midday for the first fortnight to gradually acclimatise them for the full weeks which were to come.  There were surprisingly more tears at 12.20 pm than at the start of the day.  While there were two classes of over thirty Year 1s, there were only six Year 7s in Banksia Park’s first year.  They had to share their classroom with the Year 6 students.  The original Year 7 students who became Banksia Park’s first graduates were Scott Edgar, Chris Giumelli, Tanya Grierson, Ross Mc Kellar, Shannon Miller and Chee Wee Tan.  (Many Year 7 students who lived within the school’s boundaries decided to remain at the primary school they had been attending, having only one year remaining before high school, hence the low numbers).  A Year 7 camp was organized that year and, to make it viable, the Year 5 and 6 students were invited along too.  Ms Mandyczewsky,  the Year 5 teacher, and Mr Hamilton the Year 6/7, accompanied by Mr Brown (who taught the Year 4 students) set off to Payne’s Find - an old gold rush town about 450 kilometres from Perth in the mid west of the State.  Mr Brown recalls sleeping in tin sheds on beds made of old farm gates.  Certainly not the Ritz but it is expected the students enjoyed the experience looking back on it now.  

The first Principal was Mr Bader.  This was his third experience at opening a new school and from this, together with his efficiency as a principal, Banksia Park benefited greatly until his eventual retirement in 1999.  Two deputies were appointed to the school.  Both stayed for several years - Mr Pumphrey retiring from the school and Ms Sinclair transferring to Melville Primary School.  The front office was, and still is, the domain of our Registrar, Mrs Towie.  The office area has been extended, extra staff employed and the workload of the ladies increased considerably to cope with the extra expectations over the years.

The first Pre Primary teacher and assistant were Mrs Wilcocks and Mrs de Lacy who continued to work at Banksia Park for quite a few years. Of the year one and two teachers in that first year, only Mrs Fitch continued at the school in 1990, the other teachers – Miss Ayres, Miss Barker and Miss Debnam leaving teaching altogether for various reasons, none being the students at Banksia Park we’re sure.  They were replaced by Mrs Puglisi who stayed until her retirement this year, Ms Hogben (who left soon after for a few years but returned later) and Mrs Black who stayed for many years, eventually working in Year 7 alongside Mr Ding.  (Mr Ding came in 1992 as the Deputy Principal and only retired permanently in 2012, leaving a void at our assemblies where he always lead the National Anthem so competently).  The first Junior Primary Education Assistant in 1989 was Mrs Morrision.

In Teaching Block 2, Mr Chalwell taught the Year 3 students and continued in that role until he swapped schools with Mrs McNally in 2004. This was also when Mrs Andrews appeared on the scene and she is another staff member who has stayed on.  

Mrs Grice taught the Year 3-4 class and stayed in the school working for some time as our teacher librarian before retiring.  However, from day one, Mrs Hanrahan has worked in our library and she can be credited with putting all the book shelves together, setting up the library and covering all the books (with the help of parents).  She was very happy to finally install 250 covered books on those shelves because it was then Mr Bader said she could open – there then being one book for every child.  There were no computers in the library in the first year and in fact only one per classroom. Students might think the ones we have now are slow, but back then…

As computers became more necessary a computer bank was set up in the library.  To help the students (and possibly the staff) a teacher was given the role of instructing the students for a session each week using the computers to complete a task set by their teachers.  Mr Johnson did this for several years and was replaced by Mr Griffiths in 2000.  As enrolment numbers dropped and skill levels increased he returned to the classroom but he is still generally our “go to man” when computer things go wrong.

Mr Chalwell loved sport, particularly AFL, and in those days played in an amateur league himself on the weekend.  Unfortunately, he spent many a Monday hobbling in pain with an injury after a heavy clash.  Many of our students belonged to the Bull Creek-Leeming Football Club and Banksia Park teams, trained by Mr Chalwell or Mr Brown, won the majority of the interschool competitions for many years.  Since the arrival of our Deputy Principal and Physical Education teacher, Mr Carvajal, interest has declined in AFL and our successes have been in soccer.

Mr Brown taught the Year 4 students in his first year and Year 7 in his second at Banksia Park.  He has continued at Banksia Park making him one of the longest serving teachers at the school.  He now works with Mrs Salisbury who came in 1991 to teach Year1, left to have her own children, but was lured back like so many others by our wonderful school and its students.  Miss Cummins came that year also and several years later, Mrs Clancy.

Ms Edmondson arrived in our second year and is another staff member to remain on staff ever since.  She worked in one of our first transportable classrooms.  She took a break also, to have her daughter, but couldn’t stay away and she now has a room in our newest block – perhaps as a reward.

Our first Music teacher was Miss Brookes who was a talented young harpist.  Unfortunately for us, she left to pursue this further during the first year.  Before she left she entered some of our students into a radio competition under the direction of a well known DJ at the time, Ted Bull, singing “Home Among the Gum Trees.”  This was the song all schools had to sing and it was for a bit of fun rather than to display our talent, or lack of it.  Several years and teachers later came Mr Arnold.  He sold the band concept to the school and established, with enormous help from the parent body, the idea of a concert band.  It was very innovative at the time for a primary school and it quickly became recognized Australia-wide for its skill.  He also introduced the bi-annual Band Tour which initially performed in the South West but now heads to Geraldton.  He also enjoyed writing musicals for the students and took charge of directing the Year 7s in one each year.  During 2007 Mr Humphreys commissioned James Perkins to compose our current school song.  Mrs Clarke, a most talented pianist, has now taken over the music role and Banksia Park has been involved in a lot more choral events as this is her area of interest.

The Band and Musicals inspired the need for a stage and after a lot of planning and fundraising over a long time the Performing Arts Centre we have today was finally finished.  Several P&C presidents oversaw the fundraising on this but Mr Russell probably most of all.  As a result the green room is named the Russell Room in his honour.  Mr Humphreys, our present principal, also played a big role in tying together the efforts of several principals and negotiating tirelessly with Government and building authorities to get through enormous amounts of red tape to enable the project to be completed.  Most of us were unaware of the effort this entailed.

Our first Art teacher, Ms Small, stayed only a year and we had several replacements who were keen to stay but for various reasons had to move on until Mrs Jackson Betham arrived.  As this is a subject students generally enjoy, she quickly became a hit.  Her talent has also raised the quality of the students work considerably and around the school we have examples of student artwork.

Japanese was not a subject in 1989 but soon became one and now even Year 2 students are exposed to this language.  Our first sensei, Ms Whittle, was replaced by Mrs Rankine and finally Ms Hall.  As a result most students have been exposed not only to the written and spoken language, but aspects of the culture such as kite making and flying, tea ceremonies and taiko drumming.

Transportable classrooms filled the site (five at one stage) as the third block was always dismissed as not viable - since it was anticipated that the numbers would eventually peak then fall again so a further teaching block was not necessary.  It was not until 2009 when the Federal Government announced an initiative to stimulate the economy, the Building Education Revolution Program, that the original plans were resurrected.  Some changes were made, overseen by the present principal, Mr Humphreys, to enable more of the remnant bushland to be retained.  Thus, the original design plans for our school were finally completed in 2010.

The proliferation of wildflowers and native bird life in the bushland surrounding the school was outstanding in its early years.  One of the founding teachers, Ms Mandyczewsky, had the foresight to photograph some of the range of individual species of plants flowering in August 1989 and the album is available in the library for anyone to view.  Kangaroo Paws put on an impressive display each spring and when the Banksia was ruled out as a logo for the school (being already used by Leeming Primary) it was not surprising that the Kangaroo Paw became a favourite second choice.  A competition was held for this purpose before the school opened and the winning entry is the one still in use today.  It won hands down when the artist, Mrs Didovich, (mother of a 1989 Year 1 student) pointed out that the ends of the four tubular flowers of the kangaroo paw flower in her design opened to form the letters  BPPS.

Unfortunately, numbers of the kangaroo paws dwindled each year.  A large number of seedlings were purchased from APACE to boost numbers again in later years which worked temporarily but people dumping gardening waste and using the area to walk their dogs hasn’t helped.  An affiliation with the Bannister Creek catchment Group (SERCUL) enabled parent and teacher volunteers to inject Jarrah and Banksia species with a fungicide to fight the dieback at one time to some effect.  Now Marri Canker has affected many trees planted around our oval in the early days and others growing on the site when the school development began.

It was common to see kangaroos grazing on the oval in the mornings, most visiting from their home on the golf course opposite the school, but that is less frequent now.  Snakes feature in our school song but are only rarely sighted.  Occasionally a blue tongued lizard wanders into the playground but overall birds are the most common creature in our school grounds.  The nectar seeking birds come to enjoy the flowers on the native trees and shrubs and the crows and magpies to partake of our lunches.  The crows can unzip a bag and carry off the contents of an opened lunch box with ease and the magpies are happy to vacuum the undercover areas of leftover crumbs after lunch.

After the passing of a Year 6 student, Sarah Cleaver, from Cystic Fibrosis in 1995 her classmates wanted to create a permanent reminder of her in the school grounds.  The two Year 6 classes cleared an area now known as the Memorial Garden.  With donations from a landscape business and the purchase of paving it was completed with the gift of a limestone table and seats from the Year 7s.  It was intended as a place of contemplation but is actually far from it as most days many of the younger children like to play there.  This is actually appropriate though as Sarah always had a smile on her face and enjoyed a joke and having fun.

Early in 1989, Mr Bader set up a School Management Committee in lieu of a P&C.  The elected parent members were Mr Anderson, Mr Barber, Mr Hirst (Treasurer), Mrs Speering and Mr Van Weert (Chairperson).  The staff members were Mr Bader, Mr Chalwell, Ms Sinclair, Mrs Towie and Mrs Fitch (Secretary).  Although parents had been meeting consistently, an official P&C had not been established and this made it easier to implement the new concept.  The SMC members worked with different groups of parents in areas such as grounds, safety, fundraising etc and reported back on a monthly basis to the Committee and the parents each term.  After several years the Education Department Policy changed and, to comply with new Regulations, it was necessary to form two parent bodies to represent the parent community.  We now operate with a Parents and Citizens Association (P&C) who meet monthly and are mainly involved with fundraising and a separate School Council which meets each term to discuss and approve aspects pertaining to school policy, development and planning, and budget issues.

From the very first meeting, the parent group have rallied to support the school fully and worked on fundraisers and busy bees to continue developing the school grounds and purchasing the resources required of a new school.  The P&C is a most important part of our school and we are very grateful to all the parents who have contributed in so many ways over the 25 years.  The Performing Arts Centre, air conditioning in all classrooms, computers, sports and playground equipment are all examples of their great efforts.

The school was officially opened on the 29 November 1989 by the Education Minister, Ms Carmen Lawrence.  This was at an assembly attended by the District Superintendent, the member for the Seat of Jandakot, Mr McKinnon, two Ministers in the State Government, the Executive Director of the Education Department, architect and building supervisor from the Building Management Authority, the Mayor of Melville, the Principals from Leeming SHS, Leeming and West Leeming Primary schools, and the chairperson of the School Management Committee.  It was a modest morning affair in our undercover area with some entertainment provided by the two Year 1 classes.  The adults were given morning tea and the students and teachers returned to their classrooms to use them for the purpose intended – that of providing quality education.

After twenty five years the school continues with just as much enthusiasm as those early days and is fondly remembered by most students, parents and staff who have spent a short or long time here.  I know that this will continue…….....