All the latest news and views from the CPSU team

Dunalley Primary School: more than just a building

A SCHOOL is often said to be the heart of a community. The recent bushfires saw the community of Dunalley lose its primary school.

The CPSU visited Member Melinda Blacklow on the last day of January.

Driving up Bay St, Dunalley the school zone sign is blackened; houses on either side are burnt down at random.

Pulling in to the Dunalley Fire Station, the grounds are packed with utes, trucks, cranes and heavy machinery. The station is the current Dunalley Primary School office and Melinda Blacklow’s make-shift worksite. The police are also sharing the building.

The School Executive Officer chats while the hum of construction work carries on in the background, getting the temporary school ready for the 130 pupils starting on February 13.

The first edition of the school news letter’s in front of her. That was a bit of a trial, with template documents one of the many, many resources lost in the fire.


Dunalley Primary School site after the fire in early January

For Melinda the loss of the school in the recent fires is particularly painful.

My Mum and Dad went to Dunalley Primary School, I went to the school and my children went to the primary school. Probably down the track when I have grandchildren they’ll go there as well.  We’ve got a strong family history at the school.

Melinda’s connection to the school is of course professional as well as personal. I’ve been the SEO since 2001, and acting in the position 12 months before that. So I’m almost part of the furniture.

My mum’s been around at the school longer than me – a teacher aid and until last year she was doing a few cooking classes. She also ran a Mini Munchies programme, which is part of Launching into Learning where parents come in with their 0-4 aged children and cooked. The children just adored her and she adored them as well.

Because of this connection and history, the loss of the school was difficult for Melinda, to say the least. Despite this, she’s remaining optimistic,

Seeing the school really had an impact on me – seeing what was left. People have said – the school is not just buildings, it’s the people inside that make it what it is.

I just adore my job, I still don’t think of as a job because it’s just a nice place to be, a pretty special little school. Every day it’s so different and that’s what I love about it. I’m determined to remain positive. It’s going to be hard for all of us, the children as well. We don’t know what some of those children have seen, or heard from adults and how that’s going to be affecting them.

We’re here for the children – that’s what we’re going to focus on. We want to make their start as easy and as normal, whatever normal’s going to be in these circumstances, as what we can.

It hasn’t been the start to the year anyone at the school expected or imagined. Getting back into the swing of things will take time – much more than a normal year.

All of our data was lost – which is a lesson. The hard drive was in the school safe, and I didn’t even think if the safe was fire proof. A bushfire coming through, you wouldn’t even think of that happening in your wildest nightmares. I feel pretty bad. I’ve looked in my glove box I don’t know how many times to make sure the hard drive’s not in there. That’s one of the hardest things, with all the data gone. Hindsight’s a wonderful thing but I just have to move forward.

Many remnants of Dunalley Primary School were also lost in the bushfire.

We’ve lost every photo that was in our school. One of our lovely parents has a Facebook page is asking for photos from the school. My sister-in-law actually emailed me through a 1918 photo of the primary school – and it’s sitting up above my desk. That’s actually the only photo I have of the school.

KK School Photos, who we have our school photos done with every year, always do a beautiful big whole school photo – and it’s always centre of attention in the front foyer of the school. I’ve actually asked them if they could replace that. They were happy to help out plus also give us a backlog of photos going back to 2001.

Photos are one of the most precious things.

She knows this from personal experience of the bushfires. At Melinda’s Kellevie home there were about half a dozen instances where the fires were coming towards the property but as luck would have it the wind changed at the last moment.

We packed three cars up with photos and lots of memorabilia you can’t replace and took them to the shack on the East Coast. We had some pretty scary moments. We bought a fire fighting pump and we were ready to defend our home if we needed to – it came close a few times.

I’ve never taken as much notice of wind direction as I have lately.

It went through the town so quickly. My husband, son and daughter’s partner were in Dunalley that Friday afternoon trying to fight the fire at the sawmill which belongs to my uncle. They said it was frightening the way it was travelling. The fire was creating its own wind and sucking all the oxygen out. In Dunalley at 3’oclock in the afternoon – you just couldn’t see in front of you because it was so smoky. It went through the town in minutes.

My Mum and Dad lost their home at Dunalley. They’re doing it pretty tough but I’m proud of how they’re handling it really, just taking it one day at a time. It’s been a difficult time for all of us.

Melinda first went to Dunalley a few days after the fire came through.

 I just wasn’t prepared to see what was left, especially of our school. I know it was only a building. But you have your routines and know where everything is in your office.

Even things like, I had a lot of Hawthorn memorabilia in my office and that’s all gone. One of the cleaners actually bought me a Hawthorn bear, so that was really sweet.


For Melinda, the 2013 work year began on January 21. She was determined to start work despite the lack of a school building. The first day Melinda’s base was Learning Services at Warrane.

But it was too far away – I had my Mum and Dad staying in a caravan with us at home, and there were bushfires still threatening our place at Kellevie – I said thank you but I’d rather be closer.

Melinda then worked for a few days in Dodges Ferry Primary School before moving to Dunalley Fire Station. Her next move is likely to be the gym and then lastly to the new building.

So I’ll have moved around a bit.

Temporary office: Melinda in her current worksite: the Dunalley Fire Station. In front of her is the first edition of this year's school newsletter.

Temporary office: Melinda in her current worksite: the Dunalley Fire Station. In front of her is the first edition of this year’s school newsletter.

Coming back to work was a bit like ‘where do I start’ for Melinda.

It’s been very busy. Usually this time of year you’re well into a routine. I knew what I needed to do before I came back on Monday the 21st – I had it all planned out.

We have six classrooms in the new temporary building. I guess we’ll probably have these buildings for up to two years – it’ll be a while I think. It could be 2-3 months before we get into a routine.

It’s not going to be easy starting my office from the ground upwards but there’s plenty of help out there, I just need to make sure I ask for it.

Currently Melinda has both phone and internet in her temporary office, although was unable to access programs such as Finance One and Edupoint that were on the department’s network.

I’ve just got to do what I can with what I have. It’s going to take a while to get it up and running.

Other schools are going to be great with document templates. Dodges Ferry Primary’s passed on some of their templates. A template for a newsletter, I got that from Orford Primary School.

The school’s been overwhelmed with donations of all sorts, from individuals, organisations and other schools.

I just can’t describe how generous people are – there are so many nice people. It’s heart-warming. People just want to donate whatever they can.

It’s not the start of the year anyone wanted to go through but there’s been so much support.

I must actually say how much I appreciate the support of the CPSU. Celeste phoned me several times just to make sure I’m okay and to tell me what support was available. That’s really appreciated.

Progress: work continues at the Dunalley Primary School site before the school year starts on February 13.

Progress: work continues at the Dunalley Primary School site before the school year starts on February 13.



Keitha Granville - February 9th, 2013, 4:58AM

So good to hear that KK has school photos back to 2001, brilliant. I wondered if they kept them for long. You be sure to let me know if I can help with ANYTHING. And give my love to your mum. It'll be back, bigger and better than ever Melinda.


Jen - February 7th, 2013, 11:40PM

I too have been affected by the recent bushfire and I struggle to put into words the surprise I experienced, and the appreciation I feel for the union, for offering appropriate support, advice and assistance. I didn't go to them, they found me! Thats proactive. Heartwarming. Thank you.


Heather - February 7th, 2013, 4:42AM

What do they need in the school? Books for the library? etc. I will do a collection in this workplace.

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