Heritage Adelaide is featured in this edition of The Lampstand because it is celebrating its 10th anniversary. This article reviews the events that led to registration and site acquisition as well as the renovations and furnishing necessary to equip a school. All of these steps presented significant challenges. It was a concept new to the Brotherhood, an undertaking that had limited financial resources, and a project where time was of the essence because of a shortened planning cycle. The resolution of the many challenges that emerged in these processes evidenced the Father’s blessing. These events are reviewed to demonstrate His loving care.

This is truly a remarkable story. Made so because of the obvious blessings of a loving heavenly Father. Our desire in describing it to you is to elevate our living God; to express our thanks to Him and to depict the work of the many brethren and sisters involved as that of “faithful servants”. All associated with the work were humbled at the thought that in some way they may have been used by Him to accomplish His purpose in this matter. But this is not unique to the work at Heritage. Is not our daily prayer for God to accomplish His purpose in all of us? The only difference between His hand in our lives and the work of Heritage College was that at Heritage His hand was very obvious to all who knew the difficulties we faced. In speaking this way we know that we cannot speak for God; however, let His actions speak for themselves (Psa 19:1-6).

Another point that must be made from the outset is, that this Australian model cannot be replicated in most other places in the world. What makes our concept unique is that the Australian Commonwealth and State Governments meet, by way of grants, nearly 80% of the operating costs of our private schools, whether religious or not. This project would not have been attempted without this financial support.

Background

Any new project has its advocates and its detractors. It is generally the weight of evidence favouring one group or the other that determines whether a project has sufficient support to proceed or not. And so it was with the school. However, the one thing that was very evident that resulted in gaining the support of the great majority, was the very real need to have our own school. This was the impetus.

At a combined Arranging Brethren’s meeting held in September 1993, several brethren raised their concerns at the evil influences to which our children were being exposed while at school. I am sure that every one present was shocked at what was being described, and I sensed that if the concept of operating our own school was proposed, the meeting would support it, but I also knew that if it was proposed it would become a significant project for its promoters.

The thought of developing our own school was daunting. The mind was immediately crowded out with the difficulties of such a task, and they seemed to be “legion”. But what I hope to impress you with as you read this article is, that although these concerns were real, what became evident was that as each issue arose it was addressed by the care and attention of a loving God. All of us involved in the project came away with the firm belief that if it was not for Yahweh, the school would never have commenced. To us it became further evidence that we have a living and a caring God.

The combined Arranging Brethren’s meeting adopted a proposal appointing a committee of three brethren, Bruce Gurd, Brian Luke, and myself, to consider the feasibility of establishing a Christadelphian college in Adelaide. After 3 months of investigation and research, the report concluded that the concept was feasible. So at a further combined Arranging Brethren’s meeting held in November 1993, this same committee (which later included brother Chris Wright) was appointed as the Planning Committee to develop the school. This led to the incorporation of Heritage College Inc, on 5 June 1995, to operate a Christadelphian college that commenced on 31 January 1996, as a Primary school, nearly two and a half years after it was first considered. The College extended into a Secondary (High) school in 1997.

The Site

It was first proposed that the school operate out of the Golden Grove ecclesial hall. This proposal, although approved by the Government, was short lived because of an objection raised by the Golden Grove Developer. Rather than contest this objection, an alternative was investigated. This resulted in negotiations to acquire a portion of the vacant Hillcrest Hospital site and to change our registration so that we could operate from this new location.

The old hospital was located in an inner northern Adelaide suburb which became know as Oakden. Its attraction was its reasonably central location and affordability. It was less than 9 kms (5.5 miles) from the CBD. We initially commenced negotiations to acquire only a few acres, but as our understanding and confidence in the project grew, so did our investment. We eventually acquired 2.5 hectares (6 acres) at $30 m2, which was a quarter of the then market rate. The 2,500 m2 (27,000 ft2) of buildings, of which even the shell had a replacement value of $3.5 million dollars, were “thrown in” at no extra cost. These buildings were structurally sound and ideal for renovation. The internal walls could be removed without affecting the structural integrity of the building envelope. A service tunnel existed under the elevated floor which allowed access to any part of the underfloor of the building. This was particularly useful for plumbing changes.

We were given access to the site on Saturday, December 9th 1995. The college was scheduled to open on Tuesday, January 30th, 1996. We had exactly, we discovered later, 52 days in which to complete the task! We took comfort in the knowledge that if Israel could rebuild the walls of Jerusalem in 52 days, we could also build our school in this time (Neh 6:15). But to do so we knew that we, like the returning exiles, needed Yahweh’s blessing.

And His blessings came. Some of the notable events that demonstrated His care are recalled as follows.

Assistance from the State Government

We were given immediate access to renovate the old hospital before any agreement was put in writing. To have to draft and execute an agreement first (which we expected; after all we were demolishing walls and pulling down the ceilings of Government property, all of which constituted a significant public liability exposure) would have taken most, if not all of the 52 days we had, and every day was needed to prepare the school. A contract was not signed until January 1999—three years later!

We had free use of electricity and water for the renovations and the re-establishment of the grounds. This continued for several years.

The building had been stripped of all internal fittings in preparation for demolition. All internal doors, door hardware, light fittings, cupboards, etc, that had any value had been removed. All that remained, other than the external shell, was the internal walls. We were given approval to take, without charge, any fittings found in any of the remaining hospital buildings that were useful to us, eg fire hoses, light fittings, doors, door hardware, etc.

Assistance with the Fit-out and Grounds

The extra-wide internal doors had been sold at auction, however, 48 were “rediscovered” and all but 4 of these were the actual doors that had been removed which we required to close off classrooms, offices, storerooms, and toilets. New replacement doors would have cost well over $250 each.

The door hardware (handles and locks) had been taken off all these doors by the government’s maintenance department before the doors were sold. A brother worked for this maintenance department. At his request, as much of this hardware as was required to make the doors operational again was given to us. We needed a minimum of 500 tonnes of loam to level off our oval. Where could we get such a quantity and at what cost delivered and levelled? At the same time our neighbour, The Rams (who took possession of the main oval to the west of the school) had decided to provide better drainage for their sports field. They had just laid new topsoil and turf which they had to remove and replace. How convenient to us both! They had the equipment to transport the soil, level it out, and we, who had the use for it, were only a stone’s throw away. All this at no cost to the school.

We needed to equip a Science Laboratory and a Technical Studies Workshop. The government decided to merge Brighton and Mawson High schools, an action resulting in a surplus of school equipment. At this time Brother Andrew Johns ‘just happened’ to be leaving Brighton High. How better placed could he have been to negotiate the acquisition of this equipment for the Science Laboratory and Technical Studies Workshop? Further, most surplus government-school equipment is pooled and first offered to other public schools and if not disposed of, then sold at public auction. An offer was made to purchase some of this equipment before it went to auction. This offer was refused. We were told to bid for it at the auction. Not to be deterred, our ‘shopping list’ was put in writing to a more senior officer with an offer of “between $1500 to $4000”. When we followed up, we discovered that the policy had been changed, the person we had been dealing with removed, and the pooled school equipment was to be disposed of immediately. We were asked if we were prepared to pay $1500 for the equipment we wanted and to take any thing else out of the ‘pool’ that we thought useful. This enabled us to equip our Technical Studies Workshop with metal and wood lathes, a saw bench, grinders, etc, etc.

Home Economics was furnished with four brand new gas cookers donated by SA Gas Co who also agreed to maintain them for the first three years and then replace them with new ovens. They also donated an electric hot plate, cooker, wall oven and microwave.

Assistance to Vary our Conditions of Registration

In 1995, when we first sought registration, we applied to commence a Primary school in 1996 with a maximum enrolment of 100 students and to extend into a Secondary school in 1998. So successful was the Oakden venture (over the planning for Golden Grove) that from the first day we commenced, we exceeded our Primary school enrolment limit, but more concerning, was that our projected enrolment for the second year was nearly double. The Government was not concerned if we exceeded our limit by a few students, but they would not accept enrolments that were nearly twice our limit. Further, we now wanted to commence the Junior Secondary a year earlier. What were we to do when our 1996 Year 7’s moved up to Year 8 in 1997 but we could not commence a Year 8 class until 1998? When these facts were placed before the authority, we received a flat refusal. We were advised that we must operate within the agreed limits and timeframes unless “special circumstances beyond the school’s control” could be proven. Neither a simple underestimate of enrolment numbers, nor a change in plans would constitute “special circumstances”. To further dishearten us, we were told that there had been only one request for a variation under this “special provision” from a Melbourne based college. We were further warned that the college went to considerable expense to appeal, only to have their appeal rejected. Nevertheless we travelled to Canberra, “appealed,” and once again with the Father’s blessing, had our appeal upheld on both points.

Assistance from the Enfield City Council

To operate our college we need planning approval from the Enfield City Council. The Town Planner for the Council was well known for his fractious personality. But when it came to our application, we found him to be to the contrary. He was upset at the Murdoch family bypassing him and going direct to the Premier for approval for their proposal to develop the neighbouring Rams Sports Centre. Being offended, he confessed that he was prepared to go out of his way to assist our proposal.

His first concern was that our school was “land locked”. He described it this way. We had a parcel of ground with a building on it that we wanted to make into a school. We had not bought the site; we did not even have a contract written let alone signed; we did not know the boundaries to our site, and further more, it was located off the main (Fosters) road so that we had no legal access to it other than by traversing over “private” (even though Government-owned) property! Oakden was only partially developed at this time, with no public roads giving access from Fosters Road to the college site. Hilltop Road did not exist then. He said that we did not have a proposal that he could legally consider. He could only consider our application if the Government put $2.2 million into the Council’s Trust Account as a commitment to develop the road. As we were certain that the Government would not do this, we sought another way.

We asked the Government if they would consent to giving us a legal right-of-way to traverse over their property to provide us access from the school to Fosters Road. The next day we were given a Right of Way duly executed by the Solicitor General’s Office to the satisfaction of the Town Planner. Now we could lodge an application for Planning Approval.

This was our next issue. It was now late December 1995. Our Planning Application was subject to a fourteen day Public Exhibition to give our neighbours the right to lodge objections to our proposal. The Planner would consider all objections and we would be asked to respond to these objections. Our response had to be in the hands of the Planner by January 17 for the Council meeting of 23rd January. Our opening (assuming we received approval) was scheduled for a week later. If we missed the January meeting of Council our school opening would have to be deferred for at least a month. Putting the Christmas and New Year’s holidays aside, it was literally impossible for us in late December to meet this time frame. We needed the Father’s help again. This came.

The Planner was prepared to waive the “Public Exhibition” step that created the delay. His view was that the public display of our proposal was to enable any neighbour to voice an objection. If we went to all our immediate neighbours and gained their assent this would more than meet our obligation to this legislative step. So we went to “all” our neighbours: both of them! One was the Government who owned and was selling us the land, and the other was the Northgate Developer made up of a joint development with the Government again, and AVJennings. Needless to say, these two agreements were received and our proposal approved at the January meeting of the Enfield Council.

Assistance from the Brotherhood

The project involved, at the time, the largest single fund-raising event the Brotherhood in Adelaide had faced. Funds of over a million dollars had to be raised. And they were. From all quarters. Some gave of their abundance, and others, of their penury (Lk 21:4) but all gave alike. All bore testimony to the Word in the hearts and minds of many; “for God loveth a cheerful giver” (2 Cor 9:7). There were also those who had little material wealth to give, so they gave of their time.

Each Saturday between 50–60 brethren and sisters and more, turned up at the Working Bees. Some ten to a dozen continued throughout the week, several taking their annual leave to support the work; even some from interstate. The actual cost of the renovations was $30 000 but with the value of labour added, the renovations were estimated to be worth over $250 000. The cooperation and goodwill was a testimony to the wonderful benefits of unity and love that comes from labouring together. As Solomon said, “Except Yahweh build the house, they labour in vain that build it” (Psa 127:1). For Yahweh to add His blessing there needs to be those that labour to build. We had the willing labourers, and because of which we are also sure we had His blessing as well.

A Decade of Growth

And so the college commenced ten years ago on Wednesday morning, January 31st 1996. As we reflect upon these last ten years we have seen the school grow from an initial enrolment of eighty students for the proposed Golden Grove School, to 104 when we commenced at Oakden and now to our current maximum enrolment of 370 students. In the first year we had four classes with three teachers and brother Bill Lunn (Principal and Head of Primary) taking a class with his sister wife, Pauline as his relief. Today we have twenty-two full-time teachers excluding brethren Bill and Andrew Johns (Head of Secondary) and five full-time administrative staff reporting to Sister Priscilla Bailey (Administrative Manager). Thirty staff in all. Over this period we have seen 700 students receive instruction, some for only a year or two, others for the whole ten years and many more still receiving instruction, only knowing schooling at Heritage College.

The School’s Purpose and Objectives

The school’s Purpose and Objectives, written into its Constitution are:

“To establish, conduct and maintain a Christadelphian School and to regulate all activities at such a School including:

  1.  Maintaining a safe and happy environment, to encourage Godly values and morality, and support the work of parents in developing a love of God in their children. An environment where students feel loved, valued and respected and where their individual needs are addressed. Where there is respect for authority and discipline and where the students reflect acceptable standards of behaviour and dress.
  2. Providing quality education within a Biblical context.
  3. Preparing students for the challenges of this modern age by developing in them the basic skills necessary to earn a living and for a life in Christ.”

Is the school meeting these objectives? The only effective measure is “outcomes”. As for academic results, the students are consistently achieving marks above State averages. All of our senior students, since leaving the college, have either been employed or are receiving tertiary education. However, the most challenging issue and the reason for having our own school, is the development of our students spiritually.

It should be noted that all of our children come from a Christadelphian background. All of our thirty full-time and voluntary staff are brothers and sisters. (Australian schools under federal legislation, are one of the few bodies exempt from discrimination: another blessing!) This gives us the ability to manage the ethos of the school which is particularly essential “to encourage Godly values and morality, and support the work of parents in developing a love of God in their children”. With teachers sharing the same values as the parents, they provide a wonderful assistance to parents in endeavouring to create this same attitude in their children during the time spent in their care. They open class each morning with prayer, give thanks for meals; secondary classes spend the first session in Bible study and use any opportunity to make a spiritual point out of secular affairs. However, it still comes back to the Truth in the home and the love for God in the hearts of the children. Fathers are given a particular responsibility to bring up their children “in the nurture and admonition of the Lord” (Eph 6:4). The school is not a substitute for the role of parents, merely an adjunct, but we hope a valuable one at that.

It is gratifying to see responses in our children. The difference between our Heritage Colleges and any other school is that our schools provide an environment which supports and encourages the expression of spiritual values. Two thirds of our senior students are involved in the school choir or orchestra, which necessitates them giving up free time for practices in preparation of items, many of which are then given at ecclesial events. The school does not organise Bible reading groups, but each year they ‘spring up’ as a student initiative. These and many other examples can be cited as an indication of spiritual growth, which must surely ascend to the Father, as “an odour of a sweet smell” (Phil 4:18).

The Children Have Their Say

As we reflect upon these last ten years and more, we are reminded of all the challenges we faced in preparing a building made ready for demolition and turning it into a place where God can be revered and our children given care. Perhaps the best praise that could be given is from the “mouths of babes”, the words of the children.

A young student to her Grandfather

“You know, grandad, I think much more about the Kingdom at Heritage. I never used to think about the Kingdom at M…” (her previous school).

Student statements

“I enjoy Heritage College because it is a nice school and you can talk about God without worrying about people not knowing what you are talking about.”

“I love everything about it; teachers, friends, everything.”

A Primary school student on the day of the opening of the school

“On behalf of Jessica, Samantha and I, we wish to thank you so much for organising our new school. We love it so much! I love it so much because I’ve got more friends at this school than at my old school. Plus it is a lovely Godly environment.” At the bottom of the note was a drawing of “Uncle Bill and Auntie Pauline”.

A Year 12 student

“Heritage really is the opportunity of a lifetime. With teachers who actually care about what happens to you, and friends that are there for good, there is no better place to spend the 12 most important years of your life than at Heritage College. I think I speak on behalf of every other Year 12 student when I say, we have been truly blessed by our loving heavenly Father in being able to spend our final year of school in a place where God is feared and loved, and where His principles are honoured and upheld.”

This is not to say that the school is without its challenges, for nothing this side of God’s Kingdom is perfect. However, we now wonder where we would be without it! A Christadelphian school is not possible, or just not preferred by every family; for this reason our earnest prayer is that God will overshadow and protect all our children. We have recounted this story in the hope that in some way it may increase our perception of the reality of our God, for said the Psalmist, “He is our God; and we are the people of His pasture, and the sheep of His hand. Today…” (Psa 95:7). He cares as much for us all “today” as He has for “the sheep of His hand” in all ages. For this reason we thank Him for a decade of blessings.

As for Our God

He is the Rock, his work is perfect: for all his ways are judgment: a God of truth and without iniquity, just and right is He… For who is like unto Him, among the gods? who is like Him, glorious in holiness, fearful in praises, doing wonders?… O love Yahweh, all ye his saints: for Yahweh preserveth the faithful… Be of good courage, and he shall strengthen your heart, all ye that hope in Yahweh (Deut 32:4; Ex 15:11; Psa 31:23–24).