A modern day white knight

IMG_3988 Forget Prince Phillip – perhaps Tony could recover from his farcical knighting of an Englishman by giving it to my mate Waz?

Waz – the White Knight of Kyabram. It has a nice ring to it.

Sorry, I am a bit delirious. I haven’t slept much for the last few days.
Every spare waking moment has been spent thinking, “What can I do? How can I help? How can we stop the State Government coming on Monday to take our school’s year 9 learning centre away?”

Today is Monday. Today is the day the Minister for Education, James Merlino, said the trucks would roll in to remove our buildings. Today is the day I thought I would give up hope the State Government is ever going to meet the needs of our country kids.

My last few days may have been long – but let’s just think for a minute about Waz. Waz is the vice-president of our school council. Waz has been fighting the state government for the rights of our country kids for ten years – yes, you read that correctly. Ten years.

And there hasn’t been a whole lot of joy in those ten years.

I know – because I spent a couple of years fighting alongside him. School council is a thankless, relentless, voluntary job. You do it for your kids. You do it for your mate’s kids. Otherwise, you wouldn’t do it.

Today is an exception though – today is a good day.

For the past ten years Waz has seen:

· Promise of funding to rebuild our school – including six stages of development
· Breaking of that promise – only stage one was achieved
· Closure of a campus
· Promise of the year 9 learning centre to stay; closely followed by:
· Breaking of that promise – removal of the year 9 building was advised for Monday February 9

The removal of the year 9 building was the straw that broke the camel’s back. Waz wasn’t going to be quiet anymore. When he told me he wanted to fight this I said, “You tell me what you need and I’ll do it.”

It turns out Waz had more support than he ever imagined.

The last few days is the first time I have really seen our small community stand shoulder to shoulder with Waz. At a town meeting on Wednesday night the community stood up and collectively said, “We will fight this with you and for you”.

I could have cried.

Here was a room full of people saying they cared about our public school. Not just parents of our school – there were representatives from:

· Businesses
· Sporting groups
· Parents and staff from surrounding schools
· Community groups
· Councilors
· Members of parliament
· Ex-employees

There were even two older gentlemen with a startling resemblance to Statler and Waldorf, who said they would ask all local preachers to pray for our school.

The community was outraged. I was outraged. I went home after the meeting and wrote a scathing letter to the Minister for Education, James Merlino. Although I am sure he will only find my letter useful to light his open fire with – it felt good to do something.

Turns out, when a lot of a people do a little bit of something – great things happen.

Before the community meeting wrapped a social media campaign was launched. In the space of 24 hours, 200 people who cared turned into 2000. We only have 7000 people in our whole town!

Our story is truly one of people power.

Today we received notification from the Department. They advised they had…

“….found an alternative solution to provide the required accommodation at Cranbourne East.”

In other words – we won. WE WON! Holy crap – we won.

But hold off on the party poppers people.

We may have won the battle, but we mustn’t forget the war.

Retaining our year 9 learning centre buildings simply restores the status quo. At the end of our battle we are in no better position than before. We still have a tired old school that has needed replacing for decades.

Granted – we get to keep our buildings. But they were ours to begin with.

Nothing rings truer right now than,

The squeaky wheel gets the oil.

We must continue to squeak louder and more often than the rest of them. I want our school finished, just as was promised all those years ago.

I am so ridiculously proud of my community right now – goofy grinning type of proud. I am reminded why I live in rural Australia. I am reminded why I choose to live in a town where the butcher knows my name and I play tennis with the real estate agent.

If any town can win this war – it’s us.

To Waz and Jarrod and the rest of the volunteers on school council – it is people like you that stick a community together. Please know we are grateful for the time you take out of your busy lives to make Kyabram a better place. Also, thank your partners for me – because I know while you are out making a difference someone is at home feeding the kids and washing the dishes.

I asked Waz the other night what keeps him coming back. He replied in his simple, no-nonsense way,

“I’m not leaving til the job is done.”

Geez Kyabram, we better get us a new school otherwise Waz will still be on school council when he is 85.

I am about to crack the top off a cold beer to celebrate, because today is a good day.

But we must remain vigilant – we have a war on our hands.

At least we have a White Knight in our corner.

Blend it your way,
Leese x

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