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Home: Freunde Waldorf

From Rainforest to Mountain Range

(from: Waldorf Education Worldwide, pp. 148-151, Note the Copyright!)

The first Waldorf School in Australia opened its doors in 1957. It was a moment of great joy for a group of very committed anthroposophists who had been determined that Australian children should have access to this educational stream. Nearly 50 years later there are 38 Waldorf Schools in diverse locations - from sophisticated cities on the coastal fringe to the Red Centre of Australia, Alice Springs. The idea for the establishment of the first school arose out of a meeting held in 1951 at which were present a number of members of the Anthroposophical Society - people of vision and high ideals with the ability, energy and drive to make the dream a reality. The Anthroposophical Society flourished in the 1930s and 1940s, attracting to it extraordinarily creative people working in the fields of drama, art, architecture, music, literature and eurythmy (1).

A school with three pupils

Eric Nicholls became the driving force behind the foundation of the school. The first problem was of course to find a teacher and it was agreed that Sylvia Brose, a teacher and a long-time member of the Society, should travel to Edinburgh, Scotland, to train in Waldorf Education. “Dalcross”, an existing kindergarten, was purchased, and it was here in 1957 that Sylvia Brose (freshly returned from Edinburgh) took charge of the first class of three pupils. Soon the little school moved to a new venue, a site which it still occupies today, having grown to encompass 13 classes and 500 pupils. Now in her eighties, Sylvia Brose lives near the school and retains a lively interest in it. She gave nearly 40 years service to Waldorf Education in Australia, encompassing active teaching, administering, teacher training and lecturing, and acting as mentor and wise counsellor to the many Steiner initiatives which followed.

A love of independence

Over the intervening years, Waldorf Schools have started in a variety of ways, out of teacher initiatives, parent initiatives, or perhaps the vision of one or two individuals. The earlier schools were based in the capital cities - Sydney, Melbourne, Adelaide - and more recently Canberra, Perth, Hobart and Brisbane. From there came a proliferation into country towns - and some very beautiful locations ranging from coastal hamlets to farming areas, from tropical rainforests to mountain ranges. This diversity contains within it a major difficulty - that of distance! Schools may be hundreds if not thousands of kilometres away from each other and that makes it hard to organize mentoring. Achieving an effective and cohesive network is a challenge not only because of distance but also because of the streak of independence which lies deep within the Australian psyche. The Association of Rudolf Steiner Schools in Australia is the national body, and delegates from member schools meet twice a year to share progress or difficulties, and to examine national educational issues. Education conferences are also held at least bi-annually and, since Australians are great travellers, many teachers also travel to overseas conferences as well.

Integrating Aboriginal culture

In comparison to many countries, Australia has a strongly established democratic system. Society is tolerant, though not without its problems. Over the last 50 years Australia has developed into one of the most multicultural countries in the world in which society now encompasses and reflects many different perspectives. A special challenge is how to acknowledge and include the Aboriginal culture and heritage in an integral way rather than as an “add-on” to the curriculum. Aboriginal legends and myths are given great prominence in the schools, as are the Aboriginal social and belief systems. However, it is sad but true that very few Aboriginal children go to Waldorf Schools, primarily for socio-economic reasons. Many pupils have been very active in the campaign for “Reconciliation” through which “white” Australians acknowledge and say “Sorry” for the many injustices perpetrated on Aboriginal people since European settlement began in 1788.

Integration in the state funding system

Waldorf Schools in Australia receive funding from the government both at state and federal levels. Nevertheless fees are still necessary. In the State of Victoria, however, there has been over the last 10 years a new model for financing by means of the addition of a Steiner stream or “annexe” to an existing state school, and these are fully funded by the state government. There are now 7 of these in Victoria, and it is hoped that other state governments might one day follow suit.

Despite the relatively high number of Waldorf Schools, the pupil population in many of them remains relatively low, and therefore financial viability is always a worry. The other worry is the shortage of Waldorf-trained and experienced teachers. There are a number of teacher training schemes, but the two major training centres are in Sydney and Melbourne. Here again, distance poses problems that cannot always be overcome. A distance-education alternative is currently being developed to deal with this problem.

“Creative play” becomes the norm

It is fascinating to see a number of Waldorf principles or methods permeating into the general educational climate. One recent example is an affirmation of “creative play” as the basis of a government curriculum for early childhood education. “Holistic education” is currently another buzz-word although the interpretation of the phrase varies widely. It seems that Steiner principles are gaining more credence in mainstream educational circles, and a real acknowledgement of their contribution is being made. In the eyes of the general public as well, Steiner education is seen as a valid rather than a “fringe” alternative and is held in real respect: “I wish I’d known about this when I (or my child) was younger” being a frequently heard remark.

Australia has been largely sheltered from many of the traumas and tragedies suffered by other peoples and countries over the past century. Francis Edmunds, founder of Emerson College in England and a man who made many visits to Australia, once wondered whether much more might be expected of Australia in the future. If there are to be new impulses coming from the Southern Hemisphere, the question is out of what will they arise. In the past, Australia has tended to embrace important cultures - European, American and Asian. Today there are encouraging signs of a new maturity and identity, but there is still a long way to go. Australian society has a great need for young people who are independent thinkers with a strong moral sense, fired with will and energy. Waldorf Education has a vital role to play in Australia’s destiny.


1 Members of this group, among others, were Lute Drummond, Alice Crowther, Walter Burley (the architect who designed the Federal Capital, Canberra), his wife Marion, and Eric Nicholls.

Curative education

Curative education began in Australia in 1952 when Dr Joachim Pohl (1909-1863) and Kyra Pohl (d.1967) moved to Sydney from Germany. Kyra Pohl had met anthroposophical curative education in Arlesheim, Switzerland, and worked there with Dr Ita Wegman. Together with Lesley Evans, Susan Haris, Inike Tenekest and Marjory Wough she founded St Michael’s School in Cremorne, Sydney, in 1957. This was the first curative day-school based on anthroposophy in Australia, and its beginnings were modest. A year later this initiative moved to Inala in the Pennant Hills, 20 km north of Sydney. The co-workers lived with the children in one room where kindergarten or school lessons then took place in the morning. Later on railway carriages were used as classrooms. Today this establishment comprises a school for 30 pupils, many group houses for a total of 80 individuals in need of care, and workshops with 40 workplaces.

Five more foundations took place in the 1960s and 1970s: in 1965 the Warrah Home School and Workshops near Sydney founded by Karl and Hannelore Kaltenbach; in 1966 the Miroma Day School in Sydney founded by Susan Haris; in 1972 the Wandin Home School and Market Garden near Melbourne; in 1978 Knights Hill, and in 1980 Ngeringa. The latter three had to be taken over by church organizations during the 1990s because the way they were run collectively did not conform to legal and individual requirements now stipulated by the state.

Joining forces

The Association for Rudolf Steiner Curative Education and Social Therapy in Australia was founded in 1969. This body runs annual curative education conferences in Sydney, Melbourne and Adelaide, thus becoming the link between all the various institutions. Between 1974 and 1992 it organized 3-year in-service training courses. This ceased in the mid-90s because society’s expectations of a curative establishment began to change so much that it became necessary to elaborate entirely new concepts.

Changes brought in by new legislation

Australia’s Disability Services Act was passed in 1986. This law started a process of fundamental change in the way co-workers, disabled adults and their parents were expected to behave. In consequence both the management of the homes and the way co-workers were trained had to take far greater account of legal aspects. Hitherto the disabled adults had been looked after in groups with the utmost care by a group of co-workers. Now an individual development programme had to be worked out for each adult needing care. This meant that in addition to their understanding of anthroposophy the co-workers would now also need a good understanding of the law. The establishments also had to specialize and were no longer able to care for people with varied types of problem. Medical treatment was no longer carried out in the homes but was left to the parents and the disabled adult to decide for themselves. The state then also required to see quality guarantees and achievement assessments for every individual and for each group home. This called for a huge increase in administration and used up all available financial and personnel resources. The shift away from an emphasis on community living in curative education and towards individual educational and work programmes has now been completed. Those involved in anthroposophical curative education and social therapy are endeavouring to find fruitful ways of linking the knowledge of spiritual science and the understanding of human beings this brings with the legal and individual expectations present-day culture requires. The Association for Curative Education and Social Therapy is working on designing a meaningful training course for those wishing to participate in the work. It is due to begin in 2001.

Rosemary Gentle
Waldorf teacher; diploma in school administration; establishing and advising new schools; chairman of the Association of Rudolf Steiner Schools in Australia.

Dr h.c. Karl Kaltenbach
Studied agriculture and economics; curative teacher; 1982-2000, leader of the Anthroposophical Society in Australia.

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