There was something slightly ironic about watching a musical about a workhouse boy with no education whilst seated in the private theatre of one of Australia’s most exclusive boys schools! Settle down now children! Nothing untoward here!.
Thursday night I went with friends to watch a bloody good school theatrical rendition of Lionel Bart’s “Oliver” performed by The Kings School in Sydney and female members of their sister school, Tara Church of England School for Girls.
I was very pleasantly surprised, not least by the professionalism of the troupe who were better than some professionals I’ve seen quite frankly . . incredible! But also the school Theatre! Unbelievable! Seating about 200, there was a suspended gallery for the orchestra, hydrolic sets and scenes, rotating panels in the floor, complete and permanent stage light sound and mixing. Sets professionally made, costuming impeccable. It was like sitting in a miniature version of Star City’s Lyric Theatre complete with pre-theatre Pizza in the science lab (only for those in the know) beforehand and champers at interval for the price of a gold coin! (That’d set you back about $11 at the Opera House!)
I think I became curious about this school after sitting next to a couple of youg boarders in their full regalia . . apparently they have to wear school uniform whenever they mix with the public whether it’s after normal school hours or not. I felt a little sorry that they couldn’t sit like everyone else in their civvies. Instead, they wore the oldest military uniform in Australia. Navy long pants with a red side stripe and a grey marle blazer with epilets and distinctive red trim, white shirt and school tie underneath.
The King's School is the oldest independent (read private) school in Australia. It was founded when the victorious Duke of Wellington dispatched his his protege, Archdeacon Broughton to introduce a "superior description" of education into New South Wales in 1831.
Sited at Parramatta which at the time was the second NSW settlement and the site of the first real agriculture in the colony; it was the gateway to the interior and at the head of the navigable Parramatta river. (Their annual regatta is still called ' Head of the River' even though it's now run at the Penrith Olympic site). The patronage of King William IV was to remind the school of its history and purpose - both of which were at risk in a colonial Parramatta that boasted over 20 pubs, more than 1000 convicts, a female factory and jail (still does) compounded by the prevalence of scarlet fever still in a recovery period from the times of a rum currency.
The injection of both public and private money into schools of this calibre is glaringly obvious – Generally, Private or Independent Schools receive the same Government funding as State Schools then supplement their income either through a combination of higher fees, diocesan donation and private fund raising. Kings is an Anglican school and also ‘private’ so it costs a fortune to send your kid there and there is a strict selection criteria. To ‘register interest’ in just sending your kid to kings, you pay $250! Non refundable. If you are fortunate, you may then complete an application form. Priority of course is given to practising Anglicans, prep school boys and the sons of wealthy politicians, farmers and diplomats or indeed Malaysian or Thai princes. Then your suitability will be assessed and if you cut the mustard, can afford the fees and have the ‘right’ connections . . you’re in whether you’re kid is bright or dumb as dogshit. There is then an acceptance fee of $3,600. Heaven knows what the annual tuition fees are . . .around the $5,000 per term mark I believe.
Little wonder then that the facilities are amazing. This school is big. It has country boarders in motel style dorms and is also open to day boys from years 7-12. It has a preparatory school for children 6-12. It has some serious infrastructure, from a brand new hall and sports centre to the usual labs and classrooms, a full Auditorium and another Assembly hall. It has a cricket pitch currently under refurbishment and 10 purpose built playing fields . .
Finally, that leaves me with the concept of boarding . . Many of the Kings boarders are the sons of wealthy farming families, diplomats, Canberra bound politicians, even foreign princes so boarding is a necessity but some are just there because it's convenient. My neighbour for instance, boards her children 24/7 and the school is only 20 minutes away. I always thought that a little cruel knowing that mum and dad are 20 minutes away and you're stuck in boarding school while they play golf and go to the Hunter Valley to watch the likes of Rod Stewart on the Green at Draytons. She feels it's good for character and dad was an 'old boy' so the prestige is huge. Then again, when they were little, Clare earned plenty babysitting the little brats over the weekend when mum and dad were hardly home.
The Full-time Boarder is a boy who resides at the School 24 hours a day, 7 days a week. (7 days a week? That’s cruel and unusual punishment)
A Weekly Boarder is a boy who boards during weekdays but returns to his normal residence generally following his sporting commitments each Saturday. (at least he gets a hug from mum and
The Flexi Boarder is not usually a boarder but due to family circumstances will join the boarding community on a short term secondment or for a regular one or two nights a week (so that mummy and daddy can have a couple of evenings of respite and pop along to the ballet)
A Day Boarder will use the boarding facilities during the day and early evening, but does not stay overnight in a boarding house. (sort of long day care for big kids)
I have friends who loved being boarders (not at Kings but other schools), others who despised it but none who were ambivalent. There's a little bit of Oliver in them all! And if you want to send your kids to this school, you'll have to pick a pocket or two!