Moora defiant over college

Rueben Hale and Jane MarwickThe West Australian
Moora students (back) Henry Lefroy, 9, Samuel Cameron, 13, Jack Crago, 13, James Partridge, 9, Zachary Cameron, 9, (front) Yerecoin student Eilidh Manning, 4, Moora student Lucy Cameron, 6, and Yerecoin student Aaron Manning, 5, protest the closure at the rally.
Camera IconMoora students (back) Henry Lefroy, 9, Samuel Cameron, 13, Jack Crago, 13, James Partridge, 9, Zachary Cameron, 9, (front) Yerecoin student Eilidh Manning, 4, Moora student Lucy Cameron, 6, and Yerecoin student Aaron Manning, 5, protest the closure at the rally. Credit: Cally Dupe

Rural communities from across WA have joined forces to protest against the planned closure of Moora Residential College.

A large rally of about 400 concerned supporters was held in the town on Tuesday, declaring “regional WA won’t back down”.

Also in attendance was a contingent from the Nationals, including leader Mia Davies, local member Shane Love, and party colleagues Martin Aldridge, Colin de Grussa and Vince Catania.

Ms Davies said the State Government had again underestimated regional families, who had shown determined resolve when faced with the closure of the School of the Air earlier this year.

“This Labor Government thought they could get away with these cuts,” she said.

“The message is clear: it should not matter whether your postcode is that of Mount Lawley or Moora — Premier McGowan needs to be a Premier for all West Australians. Right now he is just a Premier for Perth.

“The Nationals stand shoulder-to-shoulder with the people of Moora and the surrounding districts in opposing the heartless decision to shut the residential college.”

Moora Senior High School students Quinn Cocking, 8, Bart Cocking, 5, and Darcy Cocking, 11.
Camera IconMoora Senior High School students Quinn Cocking, 8, Bart Cocking, 5, and Darcy Cocking, 11. Credit: Cally Dupe

Mr Love said the Moora community had a famous fighting spirit, immortalised in the “Moora brick” campaign during the early 2000s when the Gallop Labor Government broke a promise to renovate the flood-damaged local hospital.

“The campaign was so successful that Labor had no choice but to change its decision,” Mr Love said.

“Today the community has launched a new campaign — to save the Moora Residential College — and I know they won’t stop until the funding decision is reversed.”

Moora Residential College houses boarders from the northern half of the State, and was earmarked for an $8.7 million total renovation scheduled to begin in March, with funding from Royalties for Regions.

Central Midlands Senior High School Parents and Citizens president Tracey Errington said a 2012 assessment of the college identified that $162,000 would bring it up to standard.

Ms Errington said the college and high school were critical for the sustainability of the town, and that it was up to the students’ parents to fight for the college’s survival.

“If the MRC is lost, the town’s kindergarten to Year 12 high school may be downgraded,” she said.

“CMSHS is the only senior institution between Perth and Geraldton.

“Other district high schools offer Year 11 and 12, but the students study by School of Isolated and Distance Education. This is not ideal because the students don’t have face-to-face teachers. Because we are a senior high school, we have ATAR teachers working at the school.”

Ms Errington said the loss of the college and downgrade of the high school would be a significant drain on the town.

“The remaining students could only study upper school through SIDE or have to move to Perth or Geraldton,” she said. “That could create a drain on the town where local parents move to Perth or send their kids to boarding school.

“It will degrade the economic diversity of the town making it more difficult than it is already to retain and attract professionals to the town to provide important and essential services. The first thing these people ask is what the health and educational services are like, especially if they’ve got a family.”

Mr Aldridge, an MRC alumni and former head boy, last week issued a Freedom of Information request on the Department of Education to make public the latest report on the cost of upgrading the college.

“The Moora community should have access to the report by Government,” he said.

Central Midlands Senior High School P&C president Tracey Erringtonat the college sign, which has not been updated due to maintenance funding cuts.
Camera IconCentral Midlands Senior High School P&C president Tracey Erringtonat the college sign, which has not been updated due to maintenance funding cuts.

Mrs Errington, who said former Education Minister Peter Collier had presented a cheque for the $8.7 million in 2016 in front of the excited children, said the school could remain open without a full renovation.

“We are talking about hundreds of thousands of dollars, not millions,” she said.

“The kids don’t care what the college looks like, it’s the atmosphere. It’s a really special, small country school. If the college closes, the effect is that the high school will automatically lose 30 students which, with such a small population, is equivalent to about 15 per cent of the high school population.

“Funding is based on student numbers, and the closure would mean the school would lose about $350,000 funding — which is equivalent to about two-plus teachers.”

Shire president Ken Seymour said that closure was a retrograde step in the burgeoning food bowl.

“Moora is about to have a new $16 million piggery, with stage one employing 50 people, and eventually we expect they’ll employ 150,” he said.

“We’re getting more market gardens, citrus orchards, plus a feedlot and chicken farm.

“We have enough water, power and land to double the size of Moora in the next 20 years.”

Helena Lewis, whose daughter Taylah is about to start Year 10, said that unlike city boarding schools, Moora Regional College was a small, affordable country college and another move at the end of this year would be devastating.

“She doesn’t want to go anywhere else, it’s the perfect school for her,” she said.

One of the town’s business operators, Cunninghams Ag Services sales manager Mike Douthie, said he was concerned the axing of the college would lead to local skills shortages and damage to the town’s economy.

He said Cunninghams sourced students keen on a career in farm machinery often from the local high school, but with the potential downgrade, students were likely to leave town after Year 10.

A recent Regional Development Australia report into entrepreneurial innovation in the Wheatbelt identified that small business owners in the region already experience shortfalls in the labour pool.

“We’ve got about eight young staff working for us as technicians and sales staff,” Mr Douthie said.

“It’s important that we can source reliable people with preferably a background in agriculture to work as productive technical workers and be competent parts identifiers in a sales and service capacity.

“We’re concerned those kids finishing their studies and considering a career in agriculture service will no longer be around.

“Without the school offering senior school education, a student who perhaps would have been interested in learning a trade or skills with us would not get that opportunity.

“That makes things harder for everyone in town. It’s harder for the farmer because they can’t get a reasonable level of service and the relationships that are built with that over time.

“Instead, you are consistently turning over staff who come from out of town to work for you and then, at some time or another, usually decide to move on.”

Mr Douthie said he doubted the McGowan Government had a plan to prevent the decline of Wheatbelt communities. “The Eastern States has around 40,000 to 50,000 people in towns a relatively short distance apart, whereas Western Australia doesn’t have that,” he said.

“Personally, I’m a drive-in, drive-out worker and, unfortunately, that’s got to happen to get people to come to places like Moora and the more services that are removed, the more difficult things will continue to get for everyone living and working in rural areas.”

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