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Our beloved school, Kapunda High

Word quickly escaped that a fire had ravaged our beloved Kapunda High on a Tuesday night in late March. It was awful and yet bought many together. As published in the local paper here’s my story.

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On Wednesday there was a pilgrimage to Kapunda High School, and its centrepiece, the mansion known as Eringa. People stared and shook their heads and became teary at the sight of the burned ruins.

One former student said to me that, ‘it was like someone has died.’ Indeed, the stunning structure around which the school has grown is like a much-loved old friend and main character in the town’s story. We embrace it dearly.

In our Kapunda group-chat my cousin Froggy praised the school saying, ‘Its aura and rich history have played a big part in many people’s lives.’ We all agreed.

When I began Year 8 it had less than a couple hundred students but was always at the town’s heart. It seemed snug. Even as gawky teenagers I think we realised it was special and would shape our lives for the best.

It still does.

Not purpose-built as a school, it was the residence of Sir Sidney Kidman, his wife, and children, and just like a family home, remains a source of deep pride for Kapunda. We had classes in what were servants’ quarters, high-ceiling bedrooms, and grand reception rooms with stained glass windows. It was wonderfully unique.

Every year, the prefects ran a week of lunchtime fundraising activities. A key attraction was a ghost experience in the tunnels running under the mansion. Can you imagine this happening now? Nobody was spooked but there was mischief and laughter in the darkness, and we’d emerge caked in thick dust and blinking at the sun, ready for more mayhem with Bunsen burners or hockey sticks.

My wife and I met in Year 8 and were only ever going to be married at our beloved school. The affection we hold for it, and the teachers and students with whom we shared the beautiful building and grounds meant we had to return to where it all began for us.

Our choice of wedding venue surprised some city guests who’d not ever visited Kapunda but then saw it’s no drab school. It’s a welcoming estate flanked by Moreton Bay Figs, rose gardens and a fetching sweep of lawn.

On our day last April, the setting was moving and picturesque, and this made Tuesday’s fire more devastating.

For those like me who moved away, a trip home always meant a slow lap of the town. You’d ease past the duck pond, Dutton Park (home of the Bombers), the Prince of Wales pub (there might be a car you recognise out the front) and Gundry’s Hill.

But you’d also drive to the high school, pause by the fence and smile at the view. I’m not sure other towns can make this claim. Even for those who went there our school is a tourist attraction.

Driving up up late Wednesday afternoon, we wanted not to merely witness the awful smouldering ruins, but to see friends and to grieve. This was never only about the building.

At the school we saw our treasured history teacher Paul McCarthy and his wife Kerry. There were handshakes and hugs. These were precisely the people we needed to see.

Later in the pub local icon Tolly remarked that it was, ‘like a wake.’ How terrible that Eringa, the showpiece of not only the school, but Kapunda itself, has suffered this? But those who’d come and congregated weren’t really at a wake. There’s already a rugged resolve that this dreadful event not be a final chapter. Following the equally devastating fire of 1902, Sidney and Isabel Kidman rebuilt their home.

For the thousands touched by Kapunda High, we’re hopeful that this happier side of history can be repeated.