Crush Magazine contacted schools, as well as education and training organisations, across the Region mid last year and asked them to nominate alumni, teachers, current students and programs that are doing fantastic things, big and small. Here’s what we received.

The very best educators and organisations teach people how to think and not what to think. There is no better example of this than when two graduates from the same high school are elected to opposite sides of the Australian Parliament.

It’s incredibly unlikely when you think about it. There are about 25 million people in Australia and more than 10,000 public and private schools across the country. Since Federation, just 1205 people have served in the House of Representatives – and two of them have come from Kepnock State High School.

Brian Courtice was elected as the Labor Member for Hinkler in 1987 and served two terms in the Hawke and Keating Governments as Chair of the Rural Industries Committee. Keith Pitt was elected as the Liberal National Member for Hinkler in 2013 and is seeking re-election for a fourth term. He’s held various Ministerial roles over the years and currently sits in Cabinet.

Despite representing opposing political parties, the pair have an easy camaraderie that comes from a familial place. Their descendants came to Australia with nothing. Attending the same high school and working on local canefarms from a young age, they are both civically-minded, critical thinkers who aren’t afraid to ask hard questions or rattle a few cages. They are also willing to change their mind or perspective when the situation calls for it.

Brian started studying at Kepnock the first year it opened. There were stools of cane on the sporting field.

“It was a fantastic agricultural school, attended by all the rural kids from farms around the area and we got into a bit of mischief,” Brian said. “The two most important things I learned at Kepnock was the importance of economics and how to ‘run the blind’ on the footy field.”

After leaving school, both became farmers. Keith also gained a trade and later went to university. Brian was a proud trade unionist, until disaffecting from the Australian Labor Party in 2005, and today Keith has his full support.

“My principles are still the same. The old school ‘Nats’ (National Party supporters) and the right of the Labor Party were not that far apart. They both stood for working people. It’s the Labor Party that changed and moved further and further to the left,” Brian said. “There are too many people in politics today who have never picked up a crowbar or shovel.”

Keith said his blue-collar roots and love of his family both shaped his political decision making.

“You’ve got to make decisions around what you believe,” he said. “You never forget where you came from. My family was not wealthy growing up, but my parents worked hard to make sure we had what we needed, and we’ve chosen to raise our three children here.”

Keith agreed that some families confronted greater challenges than others. “I get it,” he said. “But I want local kids to know that there are also opportunities, and education is the building block they need. They might have to work harder or a bit longer. Be determined. People will help you along the way if they can see you are willing to have a crack. Nothing comes from nothing.

Keith said Kepnock State High School had turned out students far greater than he and Brian.

“Chris Sarra was named Queenslander of the Year for his work in indigenous education. Lieutenant Colonel Tom Biedermann served in Afghanistan. Ruban Meerman is the Surfing Scientist. Zac Sarra started out picking tobacco before becoming a social worker, a professional rugby league player then a Commonwealth crown prosecutor and, last I heard, he was serving as a magistrate. And then there are brilliant farmers like Wayne Baldry and savvy businessmen like Wade James, who grew the Rush Surf business to 40 stores before selling to Billabong in 2010.”

If there’s one thing Keith and Brian want young people in the Bundaberg Region to know it’s that Kepnock State High School’s slogan is truer today than it’s ever been: “success is earned”.

Across the Bundaberg Region, there are many young people who are working their way to bright futures. The list includes the likes of 2015 North Bundaberg High Dux, Nick See, who is studying medicinal chemistry; designing, constructing and testing new drugs and treatments. The PhD candidate’s work has been published in the European Journal of Organic Chemistry. He hopes to one day grow his own research group.

Kalkie State School is focussed on getting children interested in STEM (science, technology, engineering, maths) from a young age and preparing them for the next stage of their lives. Kalkie State School hosted the inaugural Technologies for Change Day. Working with Community Lifestyle Support and Indigital Education, Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander students from six schools explored emerging technologies and how they could be used in archiving culture. “We’re teaching students who will live in an increasingly connected and digital world,” Kalkie Principal Malinda Findlay said. “STEM allows us to offer them authentic learning experiences that are linked to both curriculum and the world around them, through programs like Reef Guradian and Pick of the Crop with Bundaberg Fruit and Vegetable Growers.”  

When you ask people what they remember most about their formative school years, it’s almost always an inspiring or engaging teacher or mentor that comes to mind.

Not many have been as loved as Brother Gordon Rochford, who died last year. For 31 years at Shalom College, Brother Rochford attended just about every school event or activity to provide support and document everything, resulting in countless hours of video footage and an amazing photo history of the College.  

Former Bundaberg North State High School students who enrol their own children in the school often ask ‘Is Mike Seary still here?’. Now retired, Mr Seary was considered the ‘father figure’ of North Bundaberg High, building connection with the students he taught. He also initiatied a number of charitable programs that the school carries on to this day.

At CQUniversity, students learn from teachers that not only have real-world experience, but are also working while completing their PhDs or research projects; staff such as Danielle Le Lagadec (nursing), Sasha Job (physiotherapy), Karen Seary (access education leader) and Karena Menzie-Ballantyne (education). Bundaberg-based psychology lecturer Matthew Browne is an internationally-renowned gambling researcher. Matt’s podcast, Decoding the Gurus, promotes critical thinking and public understanding of science, by looking at conspiracy theories and online disinformation. The podcast is regularly in the top 100 charts for Society and Culture in the United Kingdom, United States and Australia. 

LEFT: Nick See was Dux at North Bundaberg State High School in 2015 and is now studying his PhD.
MIDDLE: Brother Gordon Rochford dedicated 31 years to Shalom College
RIGHT: Mike Seary was a beloved teacher at North Bundaberg State High School.
Member for Hinkler Keith Pitt and former Member for Hinkler Brian Courtice both attended Kepnock High School. Photo Credit: Paul Beutel