Our Time In Nhulunbuy 1983 – 1987

Text sent to Nhulunbuy as a reflection on our time. The occasion was the Primary School’s 40th Anniversary.


We were blessed to live and work in Nhulunbuy from 1983 until 1987. In reflecting back overtime, our four years in Nhulunbuy offered both challenge and joy.

Nhulunbuy Primary was a very large primary school – at the stage the school with the largest enrollment of any primary school in the Northern Territory. We had around 800 children, at that time from Transition to Year Seven. On top of that was our preschool a little further up the road in Chesterfield Circuit.

The school was supported by 54 staff, nineteen of them male. We had a great staff balance from a gender viewpoint.

Sub-Schools – The Way We Managed Our School

We developed a sub-school model. Each of our Assistant Principals was the person in charge of the overall management of a sub-school along with having a ‘whole of school’ function.

Narelle Krause (who later became Principal) was the Assistant Principal responsible for Bremmer Sub-School and oversaw whole-of-school curriculum requirements.

Hugh Creighton (who later went top the Regional Office) then Ian Duncan (who after his time at Nhununbuy went on to become Principal of Macfarlan School in Katherine) was the Assistant Principal responsible for Wessell Sub-School and oversaw whole-of-school administrative requirements.

Pat Ellis (who after leaving, later returned to Nhulunbuy Primary as Principal) was our Assistant Principal responsible for Bromby while having responsibility for some aspects of our school’s public relations and marketing outreach.

Bremmer and Wessel were sub-schools made up of classes from Year One to Year Seven. That was the same for Bromby Sub-School. Our Preschool and Transition children were not split between sub-schools, but kept together in the Bromby Sub-School. We felt it important to have our early years children kept together for the sake of nurture and care.

At that time, our school’s five Senior Teachers had responsibility for curriculum development and implementation. Each senior was located on one sub-school or the other: As curriculum persons, they worked with Narelle Krause to assist and support teachers across the school. For example, our Senior responsible for Year Six and Seven was in Bremmer, but liaised with and supported Upper Primary teachers in Wessel and Bromby. That was the case for four of our Seniors. Our fifth senior (my wife Margo) with Preschool and Transition responsibilities had her whole and large team of staff within Bromby.

My role was over-sighting and working with everyone. “Everyone” included our School Council Members of the time. The three School Council Chairpeople of my time were James Strong (briefly, and who later went on to be CEO of Qantas) Graham Waldon and Michael Markham. These men and our council as a whole where there(as now) for the school and its educational programs

We developed the model in part after conversation with management staff at (then) Nabalco in order to ‘bounce’ ideas.

Computer Education

At that time Computer Education was just developing. I remember that Computer Education was made a distinct core learning need by the Department of Education. That changed when people woke up to the fact that computer was a tool that could support learning in all areas; it wasn’t really an ‘item of curriculum’.

The first computer I ever saw (and I heard later the first in the Territory) was out at the Nabalco Plant. I was invited out to see it., That computer was a huge, huge room full of floor to ceiling metal boxes making all sorts of connections in its data generating efforts. it was bulky, noisy and took a long time to carry out a task. I was told that its capacity was about that of an old Commodore 64 computer. We have come a long way since in a very short time. The iPad on I am writing this, in old technology terms, would have taken up many of those huge rooms.

The Oval

Our oval was awful and desperately needed fixing. It was fixed. With the support of Nabalco, Yirrkala Business Enterprises and a goodly number of volunteers. the oval in one weekend was topsoiled with hundreds of tonnes of rich red dirt. That was leveled, graded and made ready for seeding. The volunteers took out all rocks, sticks and other matter left behind once the leveling was completed.

A cannon jet water system was installed, again with wonderful company support. Later we inlaid a cricket pitch, completing the rebirth of this facility. It was enjoyed by the school and community.

This is but one example of the way in which we worked in and with our community. In hindsight, one of the enduring qualities of Nhulunbuy was the school community partnership we shared.

Living in Gove

One of the joys of Nhulunbuy was the way children were nurtured within the community. They lived in a safe environment, the biggest threat being the occasional buffalo or an odd crocodile on the town fringe. These possibilities were not real worries. There were great support activities for children with an array of cultural and sporting opportunities. Our children grew up with great confidence, as independent (albeit respectful) and ‘thinking’ your people.

They MUST have enjoyed our four years there in the eighties. Our daughter Estelle, son-in-law John and their family are back in Gove and running the Peninsular Bakery and Cafe. Our younger son Trenton, his partner Janice and their children are ‘in town’ where Trenton is an engineer with the company Pacific Aluminum. People generally don’t return in adulthood to places with sad childhood memories.

Nhulunbuy is a great place. The community and school gave a lot to us and in turn I hope we gave back to Nhulunbuy. One thing is for sure: If I had to revisit and of my 40+ years in educational terms, I would unhesitating go back to Gove.

Enjoy celebrating forty years of educational remembrance.

Travel Kindly

Henry Gray
Principal of Nhulunbuy from 1983 until 1987

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