Richmond River High School

Richmond River High School

I burst into tears at about 9.30 on Thursday morning. It wasn’t one of those deep heartfelt moments of grief like the death of a family member or friend. But still, it was a moment of grief.

My old school friend, Anne, shared on Facebook a media release from the NSW Department of Education, saying it’s very unlikely our old school will re-open on the same site, following the catastrophic flood in Lismore.

Based on the Department of Education’s site visits and assessments, all buildings except block A, are beyond repair and deemed unsalvageable. It is increasingly unlikely the current site is viable for a rebuild.

Anne wrote:

This is breaking my heart๐Ÿ’” My Mum went to this school….myself and my siblings, my sister’s kids and then Luke….until Feb 28th when our town was destroyed๐Ÿ˜ฅ

And my friend Richard, who went to the school both as a primary school, and then into high school shared this.

That school site was the only one I ever attended from start to finish. It has significance for me. My mother also attended that site when it was Lismore High School.

For the first time I’m aware of, water entered the classrooms in the catastrophic flood in February. Before then, water had often entered the nearby lower-lying sports fields and sometimes entered the grounds.

In fact, I remember going to school in Year 11 or 12, and there was water on the grounds, but we still attended. Back in those rather reckless days, a couple of boys ventured out in kayaks made at the school into the flood waters to get fish and chips for lunch. They got in trouble.

Back in those days, it was customary for teachers and students to come back to the schools for flood clean-up.

No such cleanup could happen after the floods this time, as water entered the classrooms, and the damage was beyond anything anyone who went to RRHS could imagine.

Memories went back to when the science block caught fire, and when the new sports stadium also caught fire (arson?), which saw my year at school lead a fundraising project.

The fundraising project was led by our wonderful Form Mistress, Anne Bosse. Anne was an inspiring figure. Even now, I remember the way she held my hand and embraced me when my dad died when I was in Year 11. Anne died far too young, aged only 39, due to breast cancer, back in the days when awareness, diagnosis and treatment weren’t nearly as good as now.

Anne Bosse. Her legacy is still being recognised at the school many years later with the first in biology, being awarded the “Anne Bosse Award”.

Another important teacher for me was Barbara Kearney. My German language teacher was smart, funny, and tough when it came to learning German. She also led a small group of us through fundraising, finally realising a trip to Germany back in the days of the Berlin Wall.

Barbara Kearney, Louise Brooks, James O’Brien, Amanda King, heading off to Germany
The Northern Star 1983

Coincidentally, the last time I spoke to Barbara was during the 2017 flood. I was on ABC Radio North Coast (Lismore) with warnings about the flood. She called in for a chat more, and to say hello. In the midst of the warnings, she wanted to say hello.

Barbara Kearney on ABC North Coast.

And of course the friendships. A small group of us still chat most days on Messenger.

Richmond River High 1983

Though now part of a three-campus high school, along with Kadina and Lismore High, RRHS was never the “elite” school in town. We were the “flood zone kids” from North Lismore, South Lismore, and adjoining towns. Chatting with a friend who is from Nimbin and caught the bus for an hour every day to and from school. She wondered where the kids from Nimbin will go. Depending on where they build the school, it might be an extra 15-20 minutes each way.

We held a school reunion in 2004, and have been promising to do another one, and then COVID got in the way.

Still, we keep in touch through Facebook, and from time to time, we also keep in touch with real life.

All of those things went through my mind today. Along with the memory I was “Boy Student Of The Year” in 1983. My name was on the “Honour Board”, something which brought great pride to my family, in particular.God knows where the “Honour Board” is. Maybe somewhere down the river?

Ironically, the school named after a river has been destroyed by that same river. The school will move to new accommodation, it’s likely, but not on the site in North Lismore which has been home for over 100 years.

Richmond River High School
Visiting my old high school, Richmond River High School. Located in North Lismore, flood water will often come near the high school, but never enter the building, as it did a few weeks ago.

We hope there will be an opportunity to say “goodbye” properly to our old school, a school that thousands and thousands of people went through.

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  1. matthew schiavello

    My thoughts are with you xx

    1. James O'Brien

      Thanks Matthew. For me, it’s memory. For the kids/teachers/staff, it’s at least 3-4 years of disruption and uncertainty.

    2. Rod McAdam

      A very sad situation, especially for all the current school kids. So much disruption and upheaval and all on top of the isolation and home schooling that had to be contended with during the pandemic.
      If a new school is built in a new location, what is to become of the old school? Demolished? As Andrew wrote, it’s a lovely building.
      If the land is now classified as flood prone, who would buy and build on it?
      Hopefully the Honour Board is still screwed (bolted) to a wall in the school and not too damaged, and can be rescued to be placed in the new school when built.

  2. Andrew

    The building also looks quite attractive.

    1. James O'Brien

      Beautiful old weatherboard buildings.

  3. Paul

    Lovely story James.

  4. James O'Brien

    Thanks Rod, Andrew and Paul.

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