Katrina de Podolinski is a founding parent of the playgroup, kindergarten and school. She presented this speech at the opening of new buildings at Moss Avenue in 2008.
"Imagine you are given the task of opening a new alternative school in a city the size of Ballarat. You are a small group of people with a vision but no money, no resources and no experience."
It is a big ask. There is a lot to learn.
Twenty years ago the vision was sighted. The Ballarat Steiner School began with playgroup in a small rent free room at the old Sebastopol Community Centre. We had two mums, 3 children and one basket of wooden blocks. Both mums put $2 each into a jar. The following week we had 3 mums and 4 children. Add six more dollars and we had $10 in the jar! With that $10 we opened a bank account that is the same account that this school operates with today.
From small things – big things grow.
Playgroup soon grew and moved to a backyard shed in Buninyong. Within a couple of years we opened a kindergarten. Sounds easy but it was a huge task at the time, particularly as we received no funding what-so-ever for the first 8 years, not until the Bracks government came into power in 1999.
A few years later the home with the shed sold and we were homeless. This was a serious threat to our future.
After weeks of searching and lots of persuasion we finally were given permission to share a church hall in Drummond Street with another group. This meant setting up and packing up the class room every week.
During this time we opened a primary school but unfortunately due to circumstances beyond our control we had to close down after only 4 weeks. It was a difficult time but slowly we recovered and managed to continue with kinder and playgroup. Two years later we moved to a house in Brown Hill which we converted to state kindergarten standards. We continued with playgroup and kinder in that location, rent free, for 10 years thanks to the generosity of one particular family.
During this time, in 2000, we once again opened a primary school, the new location being the Bungaree Hall. The re-opening of our school was both the culmination of many years of preparation and the beginning of a new era.
As anyone opening a new school would know, there are many vital ingredients that go into the mix. You need the right combination of a minimum number of children, a registered building, appropriate teaching staff, and a very committed group to orchestrate proceedings. To get all of this to successfully happen at the same time is complicated and can take years.
The school continued for a few years in Bungaree. The hall was however expensive to heat and it took at least 4 hours to clean each week and parents were rostered because in those days we could not afford a cleaner. There were too many other priorities, such as tables, chairs, books etc. We also had a strong desire to have our school kinder and playgroup all together on the one site. Thanks again to the generosity of one family we were able to build a portable classroom at the Brown Hill property and have our community all together.
This venue however became problematic as we had not enough classroom space to accommodate our growing numbers and there were many issued relating to a shared driveway situation that resulted in forced inaccessibility to our school playground, plus countless mediation meetings with council, VCAT hearings and court cases.
Clearly we had to find a more suitable and if possible a permanent home. Difficult to do without funds.
To cut a long story short, this beautiful property was spotted and deemed to have great potential. After months of research, countless meetings etc., the property was purchased after 10 minutes warning at a very nerve racking, emotionally charged 11th hour Dutch auction. Three families bravely loaned us the required initial funds.
There was a lot of celebrating that night I can tell you.
Our elation however was short lived. Despite checking with all relevant bodies prior to buying this place and being told there were no potential problems, we were hit with devastating news. Before being given approval to operate a school, Vic Roads, demanded that we pay approximately half a million dollars to have the intersection outside our property altered.
Some advised us to sell up and look elsewhere, but some of us decided to stay and face the battle. It took a few years of more and more meetings, employing expert traffic consultants etc. all to no avail and in the end it was a small group of our own people who repeatedly negotiated with Vic Roads and eventually we won the battle.
Unfortunately this setback was financially crippling and our spirits were dampened.
We were however able to overcome these hurdles and eventually move here. Our kinder and prep classrooms were kindly donated to us, along with some of the funds required to transport them and set them up.
The school operated in the multi-purpose room with curtains as room dividers until our first school grant enabled our fabulous renovations. A further grant has enabled us to purchase the property in our own right. We have so much to be grateful for.
Finally, we stand here today in what has become a truly special place. A place where children are educated in a very structured, but carefully free environment, with a holistic academic approach that is so rich and so successful. An approach that educates the whole child, the whole community.
We now have the relative luxury of government grants, of being able to employ support staff etc. We even have a bus service that runs between Ballarat and the school.
It is a twenty year story that I have condensed to the best of my ability. It has taken so much work by so many people and this work continues today. It has taken so much trust and courage, many elations and disappointments, so much love, conflict and resolution. It has also taken a lot of creative accountancy and compromise when necessary.
We are very proud of the Ballarat Steiner School and all that it offers to many families. Historically, this property is the place where gold was first discovered in this district. It is certainly a place where many golden hopes and dreams are held and carried out and we look forward to a beautiful golden future."