December 6, 2019
A farewell is being held on Sunday afternoon for much-loved Coolabunia State School principal Murray Johnston who is retiring next week after 33 years at the school.
The community farewell will begin at 2:00pm at the school, located alongside the D’Aguilar Highway.
All past and present, staff, students, their families and community members have been invited to bring along a plate for a shared afternoon tea.
There’ll be plenty of memories to share, too …
Murray reflected on his time at the school in a recent chat with southburnett.com.au
‘I have spent over half my life as a part of the Coolabunia community,” he said.
But when he arrived in January 1986, he already had a wealth of teaching experience under his belt.
His first placement after teacher’s college was at Nobby, followed by Dirranbandi, Hebel and Formartin (a one-teacher school in the Toowoomba region).
There were 43 students at Coolabunia when he arrived at what was then a two-teacher school.
“I always remember seeing the trees and the bush, and the green grass, and being really excited,” he said.
He also had vague memories of the area from his childhood.
“Dad was really excited when he heard I was going to Coolabunia as he used to buy jerseys (cattle) from the Semgreens,” Murray said.
“We’d come up here as kids.”
There are now 104 students at the school in five classes, a large growth from 1986 but down on the peak of 121 which occurred about a decade ago.
Other changes over the years include new classrooms, a library and meeting room.
A $160,000 project is also under way to put a roof over the tennis courts to develop a multi-function sports area, and South Burnett Regional Council is building a new car park.
Murray said he had loved his time at Coolabunia.
“I worked out a long time ago that running a large school was not my cup of tea,” he said.
“I don’t regret a day of being at Coolabunia. I love being with the kids and teaching them … that’s the best part of the job.
“There is a lovely banter. It’s important to have a strong relationship with the kids and their families.”
He’s now teaching “second generation” students, ie. children of some of his first students at the school.
“If you can develop a strong culture in a school, everything else falls into place,” Murray said.
“Coolabunia is a great place to come to work every day.”
Murray said the two things that drove Coolabunia State School were consistency of practise and student engagement.
“And a lot of the old-fashioned traditions are really important,” he said.
“Small schools allow the kids to have a go at a lot of things; for example, we change our school leaders every term.
“It builds their independence and their ability to get things done.”
Murray said he believed he was leaving the school in a good place with a great staff.
“When I walk out of the place, it won’t fall into a slump,” he said.
“The new principal will walk into a school that knows where it’s going.”
Murray was named Darling Downs South West Region “Principal of the Year” in 2018, but he claims the school’s 125th anniversary celebrations in 2016 were one of his proudest moments.
A special guest at the anniversary celebrations was the Governor of Queensland, His Excellency Paul de Jersey AC, QC who officially unveiled the anniversary plaque.
His Excellency lived in the school house as a very small child while his father Ron de Jersey was school principal from 1950-1953.
Murray and his wife Sue plan to move to the Sunshine Coast now to be a bit closer to their two grown children, Hannah and Nicholas, who both went to school at Coolabunia.
Overseas travel and a trip around Australia may also be on the cards, and then maybe something “education-related”.