What is it like to lose a school? This school community is learning the hard way

Michael Williams
Michael Williams

What is it like to lose your school?

Members of the East Brisbane State School community have been forced to live with that reality since 2021, when the Queensland State Government announced it would demolish and rebuild the iconic Brisbane Cricket Ground, known as the Gabba, ahead of the 2032 Brisbane Olympics.

The reconstruction will be a part of a new vision for the area to be dubbed ‘East Bank’. This vision, unfortunately, will not include the 124-year-old public school.

Greens Candidate for Cooparoo Ward and a school parent, Kath Angus, says it’s been an emotional process for her.

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“It is a difficult thing to imagine; I already get emotional at all sorts of school events because it’s a tiny little school that achieves massive things – and watching teachers excel at their jobs and love their jobs is great,” she told EducationDaily.

“From a nostalgic perspective, losing the site where that’s been happening hurts my heart. I have certainly loved taking my children to the site of my school where I went. My kids won’t have that option — the school will be demolished the second they walk out the door – that’s heartbreaking.”

Catchment area confusion

The State Government confirmed in October that the school will be moved to Cooparoo.
One key question many parents and teachers want answered with clarity centres around what will happen to the current catchment areas.

“Plonking the school in Cooparoo from East Brisbane, and the Education Department has published a list of six or seven schools that could be affected,” says parent Austin Gibbs.

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“What we have been told is the catchment boundaries won’t be redrawn until much closer to 2026, which is just about when the school studio opens. For teachers, right around the area, it’s going to create a lot of uncertainty for them.”

“Your Cooparoos, your Dutton Parks; they really don’t know, at this stage, what’s going to happen to them in terms of enrolments. Will they lose a whole bunch of kids to the new school, maybe? Or maybe it would go the other way – maybe they’ll get an influx of all the East Brisbane kids. When you have uncertainty around enrolments, it’s very hard to plan. At the moment, they don’t know if they need to hire a bunch of teachers or get rid of a bunch of teachers.”

Travel time worries

How current East Brisbane school students will travel to the new school site is another important question for affected families.

“Kids are going to struggle to get to school with the relocation – it’s a long way on little legs,” says Ms Angus.

One of the parents, she says, has calculated that going to and from the new site will add 120 hours of travel time a year to the lives of the students and families forced to make the move.

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“That’s a lot, and that’s unfair,” she told EducationDaily.

Mr Gibbs says parents and advocates argued with the State Government about the importance of active student travel.

He says they are frustrated – the move to Cooparoo means more cars on the road in an already highly congested part of the river city.

“What the community said was, ‘Look, if we absolutely have to move, we would want to stay within the current catchment so people can continue to walk and ride to school’,” he told EducationDaily.

“The other reason is a lot of the kids in our catchment don’t have cars, and we have many high-rise buildings and more high-rises going in [to Woolloongabba]. Having something local was tremendously important.”

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Active transport not an option

The Queensland Government released a report in 2019 outlining its own goals to increase walking within the state’s communities. The Federal Government outlines the benefits walking to school has in its Climate Choices program,” says Mr Gibbs.“It’s good for the kids’ health and well-being to be able to walk or ride to school.”

But the idea of having more cars and greater traffic congestion on the road in peak times is just part of the frustration, he says.

“There were a lot of reasons why we wanted to stay where we were.”

While Mr Gibbs says the state government’s commitment to public transport options is positive, it’s “only one piece of the puzzle”.

“Active transport was key to us. We want better footpaths, better bike paths, or better yet, to keep the school where it is, and you don’t have to worry about any of that kind of stuff.”

Hard work lost

Demolition will begin in 2025 after the Ashes Test that year, but for many stressed parents, securing places for children sad to leave the school they love has seen many families leaving already.

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“I’ve sold a lot of cupcakes at cake stalls and flipped a lot of sausages at sizzles to get the whole school airconditioned in 2016 with other dedicated parents in the P&C,” says Ms Angus. “I find it insulting that that’s all going to be torn down when we worked so hard to save money for the Education Department and give our students the best start.”

A school-based survey that saw double the responses of the State Government’s shows 81.5 per cent of respondents felt unsatisfied with the Queensland Government’s communication regarding the proposed closure of East Brisbane State School.

“The question of should we close the school was not discussed – we found out in the media the same way everyone else did,” she says.

75 per cent say they will continue to fight to keep their school alive.

“That school has been there for 124 years; it has served generations,” Ms Angus says. “When you walk into the stairwell, there’s this incredible smell of education history that is just so rich and so beautiful.”

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Michael R Williams has been writing for regional newspapers for the past 3 years, including delivering the Longreach Leader to its 100th year. He is passionate about the opportunity journalism offers him to interview and tell the stories of Australians with a broad and diverse range of backgrounds. He is an obsessive reader and podcast listener.