BEGINNINGS: Coolangatta State School opening, February, 10 1919.
BEGINNINGS: Coolangatta State School opening, February, 10 1919.

Governor helps Coolangatta school celebrate its centenary

QUEENSLAND Governor Paul de Jersey AC had the unusual honour of unveiling a plaque inscribed with his grandfather's name as Coolangatta State School celebrated its centenary last month.

Claude de Jersey was the first principal (1920-29) of the school on Kirra Hill, which the governor's father Ronald also attended.

Fittingly, the governor requested the Vice-Regal flag fly to mark this historic moment for a very unusual school.

The school was established in 1919 in response to the closure of the Queensland/NSW border gates due to an outbreak of the deadly Spanish flu.

100 Grades 6 and 7 1952.
100 Grades 6 and 7 1952.

It has called three different sites home, and celebrations were divided between the two major sites at Kirra Hill and the current school at Stapylton St.

The original school ran for just a year out of Coolangatta Town Council's Municipal Hall from February 1919-20 until the school on Kirra Hill - with the best view but the worst playground - was established.

However, with no room to grow, by 1970 it was time to think about moving again, with the Stapylton St school opening on November 26, 1977, and Kirra Hill, with its undeniably Queensland-inspired high-set structure and wide verandas to cope with the rain, becoming first a Special School and then (thanks to the protests of the Save Kirra Hill group in 2005) a community centre.

Past students and staff catch up and exchange memories at the Coolangatta State School centenary.
Past students and staff catch up and exchange memories at the Coolangatta State School centenary.

That left the problem in 2019 as to where to hold the centenary celebrations, with a "generational" decision made to hold a fete and reunion of hundreds of teachers and students, also commemorating the six former students killed in World War II and Vietnam, at the 42-year-old Stapylton St school on Saturday, February 9, and the formal centenary plaque unveiling on the hill the following day.

The plaque was funded by the Past Pupils' Group, representing students from Grace Byrnes (nee Power) in 1936 to the last enrollees in 1977, and came with the blessing of another former student, Norma Packer (Adams), now 102, who Claude de Jersey enrolled in 1923.

Organiser Allen Callaghan, a student from 1945-53 and former press secretary to the Queensland Premier, said the 150 chairs set out were all taken, with more attendees standing on the verandas to watch the ceremony.

Tweed Heads principal Peter Nicholl, Queensland Governor Paul de Jersey and Coolangatta principal Sharyn Mahony.
Tweed Heads principal Peter Nicholl, Queensland Governor Paul de Jersey and Coolangatta principal Sharyn Mahony.

Proud of his family's connection with Coolangatta State School and its educational record, the governor said the school served the community in a vital stage of life for young people.

The centrepiece of the afternoon tea that followed the unveiling was a large cake featuring a photo of the school in icing.

The commemorative plaque will be installed in the heritage classroom at the centre - the very room in which Claude de Jersey taught, and where the governor was able to stand and look out over the Pacific Ocean and a very much changed town from the one his grandfather knew.


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