Blackwater High School opened its doors to students for the first time on 29 January 1973. The Queensland Department of Education, predicting an initial enrolment of about 140 students, appointed 13 teachers, including the principal, to the school’s inaugural teaching staff. Of those 13 appointees, only four (including the principal) had taught before. Here was a brand new high school and nine brand new teachers. I was one of those beginning teachers, as was my future husband.

Tony and I met at The University of Queensland during our fourth year of tertiary study. We were among the 400 or so students enrolled in the Diploma in Education (Dip Ed) course, preparing for a career in high school teaching. Both Tony and I had accepted Queensland Department of Education scholarships, which meant we were bonded to the Department for the number of years equivalent to the duration of the scholarship (one year for me, three years for Tony). But it also meant we were guaranteed a job with the Department at the end of our studies.   

All students seeking employment with the Queensland Department of Education had to provide a list of preferred schools and locations by the end of September that year (1972). For couples who planned to marry in a year or two, the Department recommended they submit their applications together. Tony suggested he and I do so, “pending engagement”. Although surprised, I happily agreed. As preferences, we chose schools in the Central Queensland region. After all, I grew up in Rockhampton and my parents still lived there. We had no definite plans. We were willing to work in a rural or remote part of the region – wherever the Department sent us.

By late November or early December, the Department notified us of our placements. Not surprisingly, the Department appointed Tony and I to the same school, in the central region: Blackwater High School. We soon learnt that we were going to a brand new high school, opening in January the following year.

Newspaper cutting from The Morning Bulletin (Rockhampton), 5 December 1972.
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Newspaper cutting from The Morning Bulletin (Rockhampton), 5 December 1972. The accompanying article began: “The new Blackwater High School (pictured) will have an enrolment of about 140 students at the start of the 1973 school year.”

Blackwater (1972)

Tony and I found out as much as we could about Blackwater. It was a fast-growing mining town, located approximately 200 kilometres west of Rockhampton via the Capricorn Highway. By the end of 1972, the town’s population was about 2500 and increasing. (At the 1971 Australian census, Blackwater and district had a population of 1984.) A number of open-cut coal mines had been established and were in production south of Blackwater.

Due to the town’s rapid growth, newcomers had difficulty finding suitable accommodation. The mining companies provided houses for its workers and their families, but construction was not keeping up with demand. The companies housed its single men in quarters at the mine sites or in town, but families for whom no houses were available had to live in temporary accommodation in one of the town’s two caravan parks.

In late December 1972, Tony and I drove from Rockhampton to Blackwater. We wanted to see for ourselves where we would be living and working during the next few years.

We soon discovered that the Capricorn Highway between Rockhampton and Blackwater was no “highway”. It combined sections of double lane bitumen and narrow single lane bitumen with lots of rough edges and gravel shoulders. There were one or two short sections of gravel. Traversing the Gogango Range was hairy and, after crossing the Dawson River, a difficult rough gravel section led up the last hill to Duaringa. From there onwards, the carriageway consisted of mostly long straights of narrow single-track bitumen.

After more than two hours of driving, we passed through Bluff, a tiny railway settlement about 19 kilometres east of Blackwater. We hadn’t gone far when, on the next rise, we could see a distinctive structure in the distance. It was Blackwater’s “champagne glass” water tower. You couldn’t miss it.

Blackwater's iconic "champagne glass" water tower.
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Blackwater’s iconic “champagne glass” water tower. Photo source: Salecich Family archives 1972.

Soon the water tower stood right in front of us. The railway line passed by the town in tandem with the highway. Indeed, most of the town was located north of the highway and railway line. We spotted the railway station (it was an old timber building without a platform), a couple of service stations, several shops (including a bakery), two full caravan parks, a primary school (near the highway, in Wey Street) and one church building over the road from the school.

The town and most of the houses appeared relatively new. We drove along streets lined with modest low-set dwellings interspersed with the odd high-set timber home. Most of the houses under construction (and there were many) were standard high-set three-bedroom timber dwellings.

From Wattle Street, we turned into Cypress Street. We could see the high school buildings in the distance. There were no houses or trees in between to block the view. The school complex looked somehow out of place, so far removed from the rest of the town. Eventually we found the street that led to the school. It was a dirt road, recently graded.

The buildings may have been completed, but what we encountered was little more than a building site. The school consisted of three buildings (two permanent classroom blocks and one demountable building) and a concrete slab (the foundation for the proposed Manual Arts Block). That was all. Bare ground and rubble surrounded the buildings. There was no bitumen-sealed quadrangle, no grassed areas, no garden, no trees, no sporting fields, no carpark.

We wondered how the school would be ready in time for its first intake of staff and students – in four or five weeks’ time.

Blackwater High School: Teacher accommodation (1973-1974)

Tony and I returned to Blackwater about a week before the beginning of the 1973 school year. We met the School Principal, Barry Kuskopf, and our teaching colleagues. There were 13 of us in total. None of us had worked together before. Only four (including the principal) had teaching experience. Here was a brand new high school and nine brand new teachers.

Blackwater High School was Barry Kuskopf’s first appointment as principal. He came to Blackwater from the Sunshine Coast, where he had been working as Deputy Principal, Maroochydore State High School.

One of Barry’s first tasks was to deal with teacher accommodation. He informed us that the Department of Education had made an arrangement with the mining companies to accommodate us temporarily in mining staff houses. All Government-owned houses in Blackwater were occupied – by public servants and the current contingent of primary school teachers. The Department of Public Works had only just begun construction of several new houses to accommodate the high school teachers.

At the beginning of the 1973 school year, Tony and I and our colleagues moved into our respective mining staff houses, four persons per dwelling. Because each house comprised just three bedrooms, two out of the four housemates in each house had to share a bedroom. In my case, my room-share colleague and I made our “half” of the bedroom private by placing the tall Department-supplied metal wardrobes in the middle of the room, leaving an opening at one end. We found this arrangement satisfactory, although not perfect. 

1973. One of the mining staff houses in which four single high school teachers lived while the new Education Department houses were under construction.
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One of the mining staff houses in which four single high school teachers lived while the new Education Department houses were under construction. Photo source: Salecich Family archives 1973.

One of Tony’s housemates, Col Krueger, moved out of their share-house just prior to his marriage to Libby Orr (a nurse from Emerald) on 11 August 1973. The Education Department promised to supply Col and Libby, following their marriage, one of the new Department houses. However, when Col and Libby returned from their honeymoon at the end of the August school holidays, their house was still not ready. For the next four weeks or so, the newlyweds lived in a caravan in the backyard of the male teachers’ house. Libby remembers the intricacy of having to share one bathroom and toilet with four men, one her husband, but three with whom she had no relationship!

Tony and I moved into our new Education Department houses at the beginning of 1974. The house I shared with three colleagues was a high-set timber dwelling located in Myall Street. One of my housemates nicknamed it “The Pond”. (I don’t remember why it got that name.) Tony and his three housemates moved into their new Department house, just around the corner from “The Pond”, in Cypress Street.

"The Pond", my Education Department house in Myall Street, Blackwater, 1974.
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“The Pond”, the Education Department house I shared with three colleagues, Myall Street, Blackwater. Photo source: Salecich Family archives 1974.
Tony pictured during a visit to "The Pond", my home in Myall Street, Blackwater, 1974.
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Tony pictured during a visit to “The Pond”, my home in Myall Street, Blackwater, 1974. Behind Tony hangs one of two magnificent hand-painted calico curtains, designed and created by Jane Trewern, one of my teaching colleagues and housemates. Photo source: Salecich Family archives 1974.
The newly constructed Education Department house in Cypress Street, where Tony lived in 1974.
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The new Education Department house in Cypress Street, where Tony lived in 1974. Photo source: Salecich Family archives 1973.

On Sunday 28 January 1973, the day before the high school opened, Col Krueger suggested we go to church together. He said, “It’s a brand new year, you are brand new teachers, and it’s a brand new school. Let’s begin the year with a church parade.” “What a great idea”, we thought. As a result, seven or eight of us “newbies”, and Col (a teacher with a couple of years’ experience), attended the evening service at the Blackwater Christian Assembly in Wey Street.

Blackwater High School: The first year (1973)

In its first year, Blackwater High School catered for students in Grades 8, 9, 10 and 11. Grade 12 students from Blackwater continued to travel daily an hour each way on the bus to Emerald, to complete their secondary schooling.

Barry Kuskopf had the unenviable task of allocating teachers to subject areas and year levels. For some subject areas (Manual Arts, Home Economics, Business Studies) the job was relatively easy. The Department had appointed one specialist teacher for each of these areas. However, for other subject areas (such as English, History, Mathematics, Chemistry), Barry had difficult decisions to make. To cover all the grades, Barry even assigned himself to one junior English class. Allocating teachers to Grade 11 subject areas and classes was particularly challenging. Each one of us hoped for a Grade 11 class in at least one of our specialist teaching areas.

My specialist teaching areas were Mathematics and Chemistry (which meant I could also teach junior Science) and Tony’s were Biology and Chemistry (and junior Science). Thus, for the 1973 year, Barry gave me the following classes and subjects: Grade 11 Mathematics I, Grade 11 Chemistry, two junior Mathematics classes and one junior Science class. Barry gave Tony: Grade 11 Biology, Grade 11 Mathematics II, and three junior Science classes. Tony missed out on one of his specialist teaching areas (Chemistry). Instead, Barry persuaded Tony to take Grade 11 Mathematics II, as no-one else was more qualified to teach this subject.

A biology teacher at the Blackwater High School, Mr A Salecich, examines a specimen of a bearded dragon lizard closely watched by Grade 11 students.
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Newspaper cutting from The Morning Bulletin (Rockhampton), Tuesday 6 March 1973. The caption under the photograph read: “A biology teacher at the Blackwater High School, Mr A Salecich, examines a specimen of a bearded dragon lizard closely watched by Grade 11 students. Pictured are (l to r): Michael Dalton, Mr Salecich, Kym Sauer, Debra Sawers and Tony Gerber.”

Barry Kuskopf turned out to be an inspirational leader. Clearly, he was a person with the tenacity, capacity and skills needed to establish a school from scratch. He worked with what he had and powered on, despite seemingly insurmountable difficulties he (and his staff) faced. When he spoke, it was with authority and conviction. Barry never minced his words. You always knew where Barry stood on any matter.

Tony and I remember the first staff meeting Barry conducted. He outlined the high standards he expected of his teaching staff. An English teacher himself, Barry insisted we make literacy a priority. “Every teacher is an English teacher”, he told us. Tony never forgot these words – they inspired him to always maintain a high standard of English both personally and in his teaching. While Barry acknowledged the challenges we faced, he encouraged us to cope and “get on with it”. He used the fact that we were the inaugural staff of a new school, an historic situation in which we all found ourselves. We had the chance to set the standards and formulate the status and direction of the school. In so many ways, this was a great privilege.

When the school opened its doors to students on 29 January 1973, the campus was much the same as Tony and I found it in December 1972. It comprised three buildings: one block of five general classrooms, one Home Economics Block and one temporary (demountable) Manual Arts building. Barry set up his office, and the office of the school secretary, upstairs in the first block. Our staffroom was located at the end of the same block. Bare ground still surrounded the buildings. There was no bitumen-sealed quadrangle, no grassed areas, no garden, no trees, no sporting fields, no carpark. The entire complex was incredibly stark and uninviting.

For weeks, even months, some of us managed without essential teaching and learning resources and equipment. For example, Tony and I had to teach Grade 11 Biology and Grade 11 Chemistry without the aid of textbooks. Moreover, there was no laboratory and no rooms suitable for carrying out science experiments. At first, we had no science equipment and a scant supply of specimens and chemicals. As a stop-gap measure, the primary school supplied us with a science trolley, a small box-like workbench on castors, fitted out with a gas bottle, gas outlets and Bunsen burners. There were no sinks or taps with running water in any of the general classrooms. If we needed water, we had to fill a bucket and carry it to the classroom.

By May 1973, classroom accommodation at the school had reached “danger point”. Enrolments numbered 187, far in excess of the predicted 140. The school did not have enough general classrooms, let alone specialist classrooms, to accommodate all of its classes. We ended up using a locker room, rest room and staff room as makeshift classrooms. While construction of a permanent Manual Arts Block and a Science Block had commenced, they would not be ready for months. Indeed, neither block was ready for occupation until the beginning of 1974.  

Newspaper cutting from The Morning Bulletin (Rockhampton), Tuesday 8 May, 1973. The opening sentence of the accompanying article read: "Classroom accommodation at the Blackwater High School had reached 'danger point', the Principal, Mr B Kuskopf, said yesterday."
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Newspaper cutting from The Morning Bulletin (Rockhampton), Tuesday 8 May, 1973. The opening sentence of the accompanying article read: “Classroom accommodation at the Blackwater High School had reached ‘danger point’, the Principal, Mr B Kuskopf, said yesterday.”

Despite the difficulties and limitations of our situation, Tony and I really enjoyed our classes. The majority of our students were pliable and (like us) accepting of the circumstances in which we found ourselves. Perhaps being a part of something new and fresh caught their imagination. Teachers and students alike learnt to be inventive. Very few students complained. And together we shared some unique experiences.

Who could forget trying to play rugby league, or hockey, on an uneven, unmarked dusty surface with no goalposts or goal boxes? And who could forget the school’s first cross-country race in which students willingly took on the rough terrain beyond the school boundary?

Students participate enthusiastically in Blackwater High School's first cross-country race (1973).
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Students participate enthusiastically in Blackwater High School’s first cross-country race. Photo source: Salecich Family archives 1973.

It rained a lot during 1973 and 1974. When it rained, the unsealed road leading to the school became slippery and treacherous (for motorists and cyclists alike). Trucks driven by the construction workers “chewed up” the road when it was wet, leaving deep ruts when the ground dried out. The school grounds turned into a muddy quagmire. To get from one building to another, teachers and students had to walk on planks laid across the sodden ground and puddles between buildings. I don’t recall any teachers missing a step and landing in the mud, but I know that students delighted in seeing one of their classmates end up in the mud (not always by accident, of course!). The Department provided metal boot scrapers at the end of each building but, despite their use, we still carried mud into the classrooms on our shoes. I felt sorry for the cleaning staff.

Recent rain had turned the grounds of the Blackwater High School into a quagmire - October 1974.
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Newspaper cutting from The Morning Bulletin (Rockhampton), October 1974. ‘Recent rain had turned the grounds of the Blackwater High School into a quagmire, according to the scretary of the school’s Parents’ and Citizens’ Association, Mrs Beth Lockyer. “Every time it rains, we have the same problem,” she said.”

Frequently, a plague of frogs followed the rain. After good soaking rain, hundreds of burrowing frogs that normally lived deep underground came to the surface to breed. The rain softened the soil enough for them to move to the surface. The frogs inundated the school grounds. Their sudden appearance was a novelty for students and teachers alike. However, Tony remembers severely chastising students he found mistreating the frogs, pulling their legs and throwing them to one another, as if it was a game.

Given the lack of facilities and poor state of the grounds, students didn’t have much to do during their lunch breaks. (It’s no wonder some students got up to mischief.) In response, several enterprising teachers organized lunchtime activities for the students.

Col Krueger was one such teacher. In first term 1973, Col introduced weekly lunchtime meetings of the non-denominational Education Department approved Inter School Christian Fellowship (ISCF). Two other teachers, Jane Trewern and Andrew Parken, assisted Col as ISCF adult leaders. ISCF meetings were so popular that they had to use a double classroom to accommodate all the students who came. Perhaps this is not surprising, given Col’s enthusiastic leadership and his ability to sing and play guitar. Later in the year, Col organized for students to attend an ISCF camp at Emu Park. He recalls driving the bus and a “busload” of excited students (at least 40 of them) to and from Emu Park.

My form class in 1973 was 8B; Tony’s was 9ADB1. In the following photographs, taken in the second half of 1973, notice that most of the boys are wearing the school uniform, but none of the girls are in uniform. The girls’ school uniform was still in the manufacturing stage. Staff and parents alike hoped the uniform would be available in time for the start of the 1974 school year.

Blackwater High School 1973. Tony (seated centre) with his 9ADB1 form class.
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1973. Tony (seated centre) with his 9ADB1 form class. Photo source: Blackwater State High School.
Blackwater High School 1973. With my 8B form class. I'm standing in the second row (at left). Andrew Parken is standing at the end of the second row (at right).
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1973. With my 8B form class. I’m standing in the second row (at left). Andrew Parken is standing at the end of the second row (at right). Photo source: Blackwater State High School.

In 1973, Andrew Parken and I were joint form teachers of 8B. Andrew came to Blackwater High School in February 1973, two weeks after the school opened. Like Tony and me, he was a beginning teacher and a Maths/Science specialist. As the months passed, Andrew turned out to be not only an invaluable colleague, but also a daring prankster. The following “anonymous” (in-house) letter is an example of Andrew’s cheeky sense of humour. He even got the school principal to go along with the joke!

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Playing jokes on one another was one way Tony and his male colleagues dealt with the stresses of teaching. On one occasion, they sewed up the top buttonhole of one of their housemate’s work shirts. Like all male teachers in those days, he wore a tie to work, so the prank did not go unnoticed! On another occasion, the jokers short-sheeted their housemate’s bed, knowing he wouldn’t be home ‘til the wee hours and hoping he wouldn’t notice (until it was too late)! In addition to the jokes, Tony and his housemates couldn’t resist having the odd water fight (using water pistols and various household water containers as “weapons”). It was all in good fun. 

1973. Blackwater High School teaching and ancillary staff, inaugural year.
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1973. Blackwater High School teaching and ancillary staff, inaugural year. Photo source: Blackwater State High School.

Many decisions had to be made in the school’s inaugural year. For example, the Parents’ and Citizens’ (P&C) Association, in liaison with the principal and staff, had to decide if the school would have a uniform and, if so, what it would be. After a couple of months of deliberation, they agreed on the following uniforms. For boys, the uniform would comprise a light green shirt with a tie in winter, grey belted shorts, black lace-up shoes and long grey socks. For girls, they chose an A-line dress made from a lightweight tartan fabric, with short sleeves, white collar and faux white tie, along with black lace-up shoes and long white socks. Sports uniforms for boys and girls were to be all white.   

The school ran a competition for students to design a school badge. A Grade 10 student, Stephen Macdonald, submitted the winning design. The design incorporated the school colours of black and green (denoting the coal and pastoral industries). Black bands contained the words “Blackwater” and “High School”, and a black scroll featured the school motto “Know Thyself”. The design envisaged the badge as a shield, framed by a classical Greek leaf garland, with a green background. Gold was chosen to highlight the writing, garland, water tower, pick and stars. The garland was chosen because the phrase “Know Thyself” originated with the ancient Greeks.

1973. The original Blackwater High School badge.
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1973. The original Blackwater High School badge.

The design featured a pick as its central motif. The pick symbolized the mining industry, the reason for Blackwater’s recent development and growth, which in turn led to the establishment of the high school. The design acknowledged the importance of mining, which linked Blackwater (symbolized by the water tower) to Australia (symbolized by the Southern Cross) and the nation’s economic growth.

Blackwater High School held its first annual Speech Night on Monday 12 November 1973. The event is noteworthy, as it featured many firsts. The President of the P&C Association, Mr M Clanfield, delivered the first annual P&C Report. Barry Kuskopf delivered his first annual Principal’s Report. The evening’s highest award went to Michael von Treifeldt, the first “Dux of the School”. A school choir, under the direction of Janice Coombes, performed publicly for the first time. Mr J A Golding, Director of Secondary Education, Queensland, was guest speaker.

Just 12 days later, on Saturday 24 November 1973, the school staged its official opening ceremony. Mr Neville Hewitt, MLA, Minister for Conservation and Aboriginal Affairs, presided at the ceremony. The event was an important milestone in the school’s short history. The program included items by the school choir, a welcome and introduction by the P&C President, speeches by invited guests, dedication, votes of thanks, inspection of the school, and afternoon tea.

Souvenir Programme - Blackwater High School Official Opening, Saturday 24 November 1973.
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The school campus remained a construction site throughout 1973 and 1974. The Manual Arts and Science Blocks, on which work began in the first half of 1973, were still under construction at the time of the school’s official opening. Both were completed and ready for use by the beginning of the 1974 school year. Work on an Administration Block and a block containing three general classrooms, library, art and commercial rooms continued in 1974. 

Blackwater High School campus, as it appeared in late 1973 and through much of 1974.
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Blackwater High School campus, as it appeared in late 1973 and through much of 1974. Photo source: Salecich Family archives.

The end of the 1973 school year couldn’t come soon enough. After an incredibly testing year, every one of us (teachers) was looking forward to the holidays. After school broke up, Tony returned to his family in Brisbane, while I stayed with my parents in Rockhampton. We spent Christmas with our respective families.

During the school holidays, in December 1973, I bought my first car. With the money I saved during my first year of teaching, I was able to afford to buy a brand new (red) Toyota Corona. 1973 was definitely a year of firsts!

Blackwater High School: The second year (1974)

The 1974 school year began under a cloud, literally. During January 1974, after weeks of incessant rain, Queensland experienced some of its most disastrous and widespread flooding ever recorded.

At the beginning of January, I went to stay with Tony’s family in Brisbane. After a couple of weeks, Tony and I decided to return to Rockhampton. We had to be back in Blackwater at least two days before the start of the school year (January 29). We travelled to Rockhampton by coach, as Tony had returned the Ford Cortina to his family (he had the use of it throughout 1973) and my new car was waiting for us in Rockhampton.

Because of flooding and road closures along the Queensland coast, our coach took the inland route from Brisbane to Rockhampton. At Theodore, however, our coach was unable to cross the swollen Dawson River. Another coach (heading south) was stranded on the other side of the river. So, the coaches swapped passengers. Along with luggage, all the passengers on our coach, and the other coach, were ferried in boats across the river! It’s an experience I’ve never forgotten.

The 1974 school year was due to start on Tuesday 29 January, the day after Australia Day (28 January that year). However, that was not to be. The rain did not stop. Over the Australia Day long weekend, Brisbane and south-east Queensland recorded its worst flooding ever. Because of the floods, which affected so much of the state, the Education Department postponed the start of the 1974 school year for one week.

To get to Blackwater, Tony and I (and many of our colleagues) had to take the train from Rockhampton. We couldn’t get there by car. The Capricorn Highway near Duaringa was closed to traffic due to flooding of the Dawson River. None the less, we made it in time for the start of school, all fired up for our second year at Blackwater High School.

Tony and I looked forward to a bright 1974. After all, we announced our engagement on 17 January, and we planned to get married later that year, in the August school holidays.  

The 1974 school year at Blackwater High School began with a teaching staff of 18, an increase of 5 on the previous year. Gwen Kuskopf, Barry’s wife, continued as a Supply “B” teacher. A laboratory assistant and five teacher aides (including Libby Krueger) were added to the staff. The number of cleaning staff increased from two to five. The school continued to employ a full-time secretary and janitor. The increase in staffing numbers was in accord with the predicted increase in enrolments. In 1974, the school catered for students from Grade 8 through to Grade 12.

1974. Blackwater High School teaching and anciliary staff.
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1974. Blackwater High School teaching and anciliary staff. Photo source: Blackwater State High School.

My teaching subjects and classes in 1974 were: Grade 12 Mathematics I, Grade 12 Chemistry, two junior Advanced Maths classes and one junior Science class. Tony’s teaching subjects and classes in 1974 were: Grade 12 Biology, Grade 11 Biology, Grade 12/11 Mathematics II, and three junior Science classes.

My form class in 1974 was Grade 9ADB1; Tony’s was Grade 10ADB1. Note that, in 1974, all students (bar one or two) were wearing the school uniform.

Blackwater High School 1974. With my form class, Grade 9ADB1.
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1974. With my form class, Grade 9ADB1. Photo source: Blackwater State High School.
Blackwater High School 1974. Tony and his form class, Grade 10ADB1.
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1974. Tony and his form class, Grade 10ADB1. Photo source: Blackwater State High School.

In 1974, Tony and I organized a couple of excursions for our students. The first was a trip to Yeppoon for my Grade 9ADB1 Science class. At the time, they were learning about the Intertidal (Littoral) Zone of the seashore. Tony (the senior Biology teacher) and I decided the students would benefit greatly from a couple of days exploring the seashores near Yeppoon. We stayed overnight at the National Fitness campsite, at Lammermoor Beach. The trip was a great success. The students thoroughly enjoyed the experience and learnt a lot. Truly, they were a delight to work with.

1974. Tony (at left) poses with students of my Grade 9 Science class during our excursion to Yeppoon.
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Tony (at left) poses with students of my Grade 9 Science class during our excursion to Yeppoon. Photo source: Salecich Family archives 1974.

The second excursion Tony and I organized that year was a trip to Rockhampton for two Blackwater High hockey teams (one boys’ team, one girls’ team). Commencing in 1973, Tony had been teaching interested students how to play hockey. They played scratch matches during lunch breaks and after school, but that was all. There was no local competition for them to participate in. Both Tony and I played hockey. During the hockey season in 1973 and again in 1974, we travelled to Rockhampton each weekend to participate in the Rockhampton Hockey Association competition. Tony came up with the idea of organizing games between the school teams and teams from his hockey club. The students relished the opportunity. One of the Blackwater players, on arrival at the Kalka Shades hockey fields in Rockhampton, said to Tony, “Sir, it’s not fair. They’ve got grass on their fields!”

In 1973 and again in 1974, I took on a number of private piano students. As I had no piano myself, I conducted the lessons at the homes of my students. In this way, I got to know my students’ families, which was a bonus. I had seven students altogether. Four came from two long-standing Blackwater grazing families, the Seeman and Napper families. The other three students came from three different mining manager families.

With Jeanette Napper, one of my piano students, and her mother Rose. Blackwater, 1974.
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With Jeanette Napper, one of my piano students, and her mother Rose. Photo source: Salecich Family archives 1974.

One of the highlights of 1974 was a community-based Variety Concert held in the Blackwater QCWA Hall on Saturday 29 June. Lester Euler and Don Maclean compered the event. Five high school teachers participated in the concert. Janice Coombes, Andrew Parken and Col Krueger (“Folk Singers”) performed two numbers. Tony and I performed two items (Waves of the Danube, Drink to me Only): Tony played piano accordion and I accompanied him on piano. The highlight of the evening for me were the performances of four of my piano students. I felt so very proud of them and my efforts to get them to the stage of being able to perform in public.

One particular group of Blackwater residents had a big impact on Tony and me during our two years at Blackwater. They invited us into their homes, prayed for us, shared their lives with us. These people were the Christians of the Blackwater Christian Assembly. Some of these precious folk are still our closest friends.

As planned, Tony and I married in 1974, in Rockhampton, during the August school holidays. We invited a number of our Blackwater colleagues and new-found friends to our wedding, including Col and Libby Krueger, who performed a musical item at the reception.

Before the August holidays, I was “Miss Proposch” to my students; after the holidays, I was “Mrs Salecich”. It was hard for me, and my students, to get used to my new title. For a number of Grade 12 students, those in the Maths/Science stream, Mr and Mrs Salecich taught four of their six subjects! Worse still, on Fridays, these students had to “suffer” Mr and Mrs Salecich (turn about) for the entire day!

After our marriage, Tony and I lived at Bluff, 19 kilometres east of Blackwater via the Capricorn Highway. The Education Department was unable to provide us with suitable accommodation in Blackwater. At the time, the house allocated to the primary school principal’s assistant at Bluff was vacant, so we allowed to stay there. Unfortunately, the arrangement was only temporary, until the end of the school year, as the house was needed by the next primary school appointee in 1975.

The house at Bluff, where Tony and I lived after our marriage in August 1974.
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The house at Bluff, where Tony and I lived after our marriage in August 1974. Photo source: Salecich Family archives 1974.

It was during our time at Bluff that Tony and I met Alwyn Neuendorf. Alwyn came to Blackwater on deputation on behalf of Asia Pacific Christian Mission (APCM) to speak to Christians about his work in Papua New Guinea (PNG). Alwyn, a missionary based in Port Moresby at the time, was home in Australia on furlough. We invited Alwyn to stay with us, which he did – not once, but twice. On his second visit, he brought four of his “Neuendorf” boys with him. You’ll find the full story here: The Neuendorf Connection (April 23, 2016).

Blackwater High School’s second annual Speech Night was held at the school on Tuesday 26 November 1974. Dr R D Goodman, Senior Lecturer in Education, The University of Queensland, was guest speaker. He also presented the academic and special awards. The Special Award of “Dux of the School” went to Anthony (“Tony”) Gerber. Tony Gerber also received awards for Grade 12 History, Geography, Biology and Economics. (Tony was one of several very bright and conscientious students we had the pleasure of teaching at Blackwater High.) As well as seeing my top students receive academic and special awards that evening, I was delighted to witness my most advanced piano student, Adrienne Ripley (a Grade 10 Maths student of mine as well), perform a solo item and provide the accompaniment for two other musical items on the program.  

Tony and I loved our jobs at Blackwater High School. After two rewarding years at the school, we had no intention of leaving. However, given that the Department could not provide us with accommodation in 1975, Tony and I had to apply for a transfer. This was not what we wanted, but we had no choice. The result? Tony was transferred to Bundaberg High School and I was transferred to North Bundaberg High School. Our new appointments were to take effect from the commencement of the 1975 school year.

Teacher transfers - Blackwater High School 1974.
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Newspaper cutting from The Morning Bulletin (Rockhampton), December 1974.

Other teacher transfers came through. By the end of 1974, 10 of Blackwater High School’s 19 teaching staff had resigned or were transferred. Of the school’s 13 inaugural teaching staff, only one remained – the Principal (Barry Kuskopf).


In 1998, exactly 25 years after Tony and I began our teaching careers at Blackwater High School, our daughter Ruth took up her first teaching appointment – at Blackwater State High School!

Our daughter Ruth on her first day of teaching at Blackwater High School, January 1998.
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Our daughter Ruth on her first day of teaching, Blackwater High School, January 1998. Photo source: Salecich Family archives 1998.

So much had changed at Blackwater, and the high school, during the intervening years. In 1998, the town’s population was more than double what it was in 1973-1974. Following the opening of new coal mines north of the town, and expansion of established ones to the south, the population of Blackwater had grown exponentially. It reached a peak in the mid-late 1980s. The town itself had mushroomed. The high school was no longer on the northern edge of town surrounded by vacant land but located well within the town’s northern boundary and almost completely enveloped by new housing developments.

Ruth and colleague Rebecca Vitale with Ruth's grandmother, at Blackwater's Japanese Gardens. The gardens were officially opened on 1 August 1998.
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Ruth and colleague Rebecca Vitale with Ruth’s grandmother, at Blackwater’s Japanese Gardens. The gardens were officially opened on 1 August 1998. Photo source: Salecich Family archives 1999.

By 1998, the high school complex itself was large and well-established. The difficulties we encountered in the school’s pioneering years had long been overcome. Members of the Blackwater community, and the mining companies, had seen to that. Teacher housing was no longer a problem. Ruth and one or two other single female teachers shared a four-bedroom house. The school had more than enough classrooms and specialized teaching areas to accommodate all its classes. The school grounds had trees, green grass, gardens and concrete paths. There was bitumen on the school quadrangle and grass on the sporting fields. A sealed bitumen road led to the school.

When Tony and I visited Blackwater in November 1999, our daughter Ruth and her colleague Rebecca Vitale (pictured) took us on a tour of the high school. It included a visit to the Science Block, our old "stamping ground", where Rebecca demonstrated one of the latest pieces of equipment.
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When Tony and I visited Blackwater in November 1999, Ruth and her colleague Rebecca Vitale (pictured) took us on a tour of the high school. It included a visit to the Science Block, our old “stamping ground”, where Rebecca demonstrated one of the latest pieces of equipment. Photo source: Salecich Family archives 1999.

Like Tony and me, our daughter spent two years at Blackwater High School. Those two years prepared her well for a teaching career that now spans 25 years. Ruth is currently based at Northern Beaches State High School (Mackay) where she is Acting Head of Special Education Services.  

Rebecca Vitale, Ruth’s colleague and housemate for the two years 1998-1999, is now School Principal, Blackwater State High School.

Former Blackwater High School teachers and students are invited to attend the school’s Celebrating 50 Years in Education events planned for next weekend. They include a Celebratory Dinner at the Blackwater Civic Centre from 6:30 pm on Saturday 30 September (bookings required) and an Open Day at the school from 9:00 am to 2:00 pm on Sunday 1 October 2023.

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Judith Salecich

Writer, researcher, former secondary and tertiary teacher and public servant, wife, mother, grandmother, child of God, photography enthusiast, lover of life, history, food and all things creative.

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10 thoughts on “Blackwater High School: The pioneering years (1973-1974)”

    • Ricky, thanks for your feedback – much appreciated. Clearly my story brought back memories of your parents’ stories from the 1970s. I’m glad you appreciated reading about the teachers’ pranks.

  1. I love your story, my parents moved to Blackwater in 1975 when in their early twenties and hence my brothers and I were born in Rocky and spent our primary school years in Blackwater. We loved the idea that there was a house on our street that “all the teachers” lived in, (Arthur St) I always wondered what it must have been like for the teachers. Great memories and I really enjoyed the read. Thank you!

    • Dusanka, I’m so pleased you loved my story. Your parents would have had some experiences similar to ours. By the time you and your brothers were attending primary school, things would have been much improved. I’m glad you appreciated having a teachers’ house in your street. Thanks for your encouraging comments re my story.

  2. What a great story Judy. Thoroughly enjoyed reading it. Have a wonderful time at the celebration this weekend. I hope you, Tony and Ruth meet up with many of your students and work colleagues for a wonderful time and lots of laughter as you recall the beginning days of Blackwater High. Not sure teachers or students would be happy with those sort of conditions today but I guarantee many, like yourselves, would still cherish those memories.

    Thanks again for a great read Judy and also your memories Tony.

    • Betty, thanks for your kind comments on my story. The three of us are looking forward very much to the weekend’s celebrations. I do hope our colleagues and former students recognise us! Fifty years (or 25 years in Ruth’s case) bring about a few changes in appearance and even memory! Seriously, it should be a special “walk down memory lane”. Love to both you and Ian. xx

  3. Thank you for this great story, Judy!

    I’m a former Blackwater High student so it’s fascinating to read about the school’s early days and see the old photos and newspaper clippings, while also learning of your connections to the school.

    I started as a Year 8 student in 1996 and graduated as a ‘Senior of 2000’, when the school was under the astute leadership of Mr Jim Reay. It was certainly an interesting time especially with technology advancing so rapidly in the late 1990’s. When I started, students were still learning to type on electric typewriters. By the end of my time at BSHS, we had many modern computers, the school had its own website and students even had their own email addresses!

    I certainly remember Miss Vitale, who arrived when I started Year 9 in 1997 – such a lovely teacher and I was so happy when I learnt of her eventual appointment to the position of principal.

    Many memories and friendships were made during my time at Blackwater High, although I don’t miss the early mornings catching the school bus up to Blackwater. Living in Duaringa, it was also a bit of a culture shock to go from a small country primary school where there were only seven students in Year 7, to a high school where there were about 130 students in Year 8 split up in six separate classes. I also quickly adapted to following a timetable so I knew what subject we had with what teacher in what room at what time!

    Thank you also for the reminder about this weekend’s event. I’m certainly going to endeavour to get out to Blackwater for the open day on Sunday. It should be interesting to see how much the school has changed since the last time I was there 23 years ago.

    • Owen, I’ve really enjoyed reading your informative and interesting response to my story. Clearly, you have special memories of your years at Blackwater High. Given that you lived in Duaringa, I’m impressed that you survived the daily trips to and from Blackwater. Like you, my daughter Ruth recalls the years in the late 1990s when computers were coming into the schools – for both teaching and learning. I’m glad you remember Rebecca Vitale – she is definitely a lovely person. She was a good friend to our daughter (Blackwater High School staff, 1998-1999). If you make it to the Open Day on Sunday, I’d love to meet you. Please look out for me (my profile picture gives you an idea of what to expect!).

  4. I note that Tony and you met at Uni in Rockhampton Judith, and that you moved also into a brand new High School at Blackwater. I have never before heard the water tower at Blackwater being referred to as the Champagne glass. You seemed to have hit it off with your head teacher Barry. After the rain the frogs appear and what a noise they make. I notice the school was opened on the 29th January 1973. You were lucky to find accommodation in Bluff even though it involved some driving at first before you secured accommodation at Blackwater. I notice That Tony got a transfer to Bundaberg High and that you Judith went to North Bundaberg High and your daughter Ruth following in your footsteps and 25 years later started working there at the Blackwater High School.

    • Maurie, you are one of my faithful readers! Thank you for letting me know what you gleaned from my story. Just one correction – Tony and I met in Brisbane. I came from Rockhampton, but went to Uni in Brisbane. Actually, we quite loved living at Bluff. It was so peaceful, and we had the whole cottage to ourselves! The drive along the highway to and from work was quite relaxing compared with driving the same distance in a big city. Tomorrow Tony, Ruth and I head out to Blackwater for the celebrations. We are really looking forward to the two days “walking down memory lane”. God bless, Judy.

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