Richmond Christian College principal Geoff Brisby, Deputy PM Julia Gillard, Page MP Janelle Saffin and College board chair Joanna Crost Smith at the school on Tuesday.
Richmond Christian College principal Geoff Brisby, Deputy PM Julia Gillard, Page MP Janelle Saffin and College board chair Joanna Crost Smith at the school on Tuesday.

Deputy PM goes back to school

The Deputy PM and Education Minister Julia Gillard was in Ballina on Tuesday to visit two primary schools and see the infrastructure built with federal government stimulus package money.

On her first stop at Richmond Christian College the Deputy PM officially opened the school’s new multi-purpose auditorium, library, and classrooms, as well as the new purpose-built outdoor education centre.

Then it was onto Ballina Primary School, which is spending its money on a new hall.

“The school was built in 1860 and we haven’t had a hall in all that time so this is really significant for the community,” prinicpal Cate Moore said. “It will make an amazing difference, often we have to hire the RSL auditorium for school functions, then we walk the children on foot to the RSL. If it’s raining or windy then we can’t do functions in the covered outdoor learning area. At school events like concerts or Year 6 graduations we can have up to 800 people on site, so it will be fantasic.”

At Ballina Primary the kindergarten kids gave Ms Gillard and Page MP Janelle Saffin a rousing rendition of Five Little Ducks, which was followed by two dances performed by a group of Indigenous boys. The Ballina High and Ballina Public boys dance group performed a welcome dance, a significant dance to welcome visitors onto Bundjalung land.

Fourth grade class 4S and teacher Miss Stevens showed Ms Gillard a copy of their school calender, which featured Prime Minister Kevin Rudd as Mr February apologising to the Stolen Generations. They presented her with two copies – one for her and one to take to Canberra to give to the PM.

The students also walked Ms Gillard through a copy of their school newspaper Numbahging, an edition about Sorry Day and the Stolen Generations.

Principal Cate Moore said the students had chosen that particular edition, for which they’d interviewed local Indigenous elders who are members of the Stolen Generations, because of the impact it had on the wider community.

Two students, Corey and Lauren, took turns in reading pages from a book a junior class had made, The Moon and the Rainbow, which tells the Bundjalung story of two young girls helping Javreen, the boomerang thrower.

Mrs Moore said she appreciated the visit by the Deputy PM.

“I think it’s a wonderful opportunity for children to talk to our country’s leaders and it gives them a stage to perform on and demonstrate their learning to others outside of the school context,” she said.

At Richmond Christian College principal Geoff Brisby gave thanks to the federal government and to God for the new buildings. He also said the college had made the decision to use a local builder, who had delivered the project ahead of time and on budget.

“We see this as God’s facility as provided through the Commonwealth Government and it is a genuine blessing,” Mr Brisby said. “It’s a key sign of God’s blessing on our school and it’s something the Richmond heritage will be able to pass on.

“Ten per cent of our students are from overseas, which makes us a bit of a counter-culture in Ballina. Only 2% of our students are Aboriginal – we’re very proud of our Aboriginal students – but 10% are from overseas, and came to us with no literacy in English, which was an enourmous challenge.

“We have a sense of being part of a wider school community where we have something special.”

Ms Gillard had earlier been greeted by students speaking in different languages.

“One of the things I’m amazed about when meeting students is that they often have attributes I don’t have myself,” Ms Gillard said. “When I was meeting with the PM at the start of the global recession, and we were looking at ways to stimulate the economy, we decided the single biggest way we could invest was in schools like this one.

“Whenever I’m visiting schools there has never been a principal who didn’t have a draw full of plans of what they’d do if they had the money.

“There is nothing more important to this nation’s future than our schools.

“Sometimes we’ve been asked whether this is money well-spent; the best teachers can teach anywhere, even under a tree, but we want to make their jobs easier and reward them.

“The way teachers teach is different to how it was in the 50s, 60s, 70s. These days teachers want flexibility so they can extend students. That’s why buildings like this are important.

“I’m here with my federal colleague Janelle, and congratulations to the school for using a local builder, creating local jobs and being part of something that will make a difference for a long time to come.

“I’m very proud to be opening this new-smelling building.”

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