Ann Donoghoe grew up in Canberra and knew at the age of 14 that she wanted to be a teacher. However, her path led to community work and social activism before she arrived in Maleny to become principal of The River School.
by Gay Liddington
After graduating high school in 1979, Ann Donoghue knew she wanted to become a teacher.
However, she deferred teaching school after one year, as a path in community service unfolded, working at the Louisa Women’s Refuge in Queanbeyan.
At the age of 24, with many experiences advocating for women, including fighting racism and domestic violence, Ann Donoghue moved on: “I worked in Canberra for a government community agency, Youth Accommodation Group, the peak body that represented youth accommodation services.
“Because Canberra was not self-governed back then, we met with the federal ministers and related the needs of youth refuges.
“We also identified that there was nowhere for young people to go after they left the refuge, so we put in a submission for an unemployed youth housing scheme, and it was adopted. Canberra was the first place to allow young people to form a group and then apply to the housing commission for a government house.”
The intensity of social activism in Canberra motivated Ann to cut loose and travel. At 29, she found herself in Perth and felt it was time to revisit her dream of becoming a teacher.
“The life experience I had before I started that degree gave me a richness and depth that I could draw on.
“I moved back to the east coast and finished the last of my degree at Lismore. My first couple of years teaching was in northern NSW, then my older brother Glen, who lived in Maleny, encouraged me to apply for a vacancy at the relatively new neohumanist Ananda Marga River School.
“At that time, I was disillusioned with the public education system, restricted by red tape, and had great dreams that I could make a difference, that young people could shine and find their passion and purpose in life.
“I had an interview, got the job, and my partner and I became Queenslanders. I felt like I’d come home.”
Ann Donoghoe soon made her mark. She began at the River School in 1997 and progressed to the role of Principal, made official in 2019.
“The difference between being a classroom teacher and Principal is that in the classroom I saw things from a micro-level, as Principal I see it from a macro-level. I see all the parts come together and that is exciting, interesting, and challenging.
“The neohumanist philosophy really resonates with my values because you’re looking at the whole child. We can’t teach them everything, but what we can teach them is to be the best they can be.
“If they can walk out of here with a smile on their face feeling good about who they are and what they can do and what a difference they can make, then I feel we’ve done a great job.”
My interest sparked when Ann spoke of the school code and the restorative approach to resolving conflict.
“We have a very strong behaviour understanding policy. If you are safe and happy, you are free to learn. However, it’s not just me being safe and happy, it’s about me contributing to the safety and happiness of all by using kind words and actions—by respecting another’s private space.
“We teach them skills, so they know there is an expectation. It’s called behaviour understanding because we use the restorative approach where conflict is resolved through conversations.
“It’s powerful because they have to understand what they’ve done that’s affected someone else. As adults, these children will know that they don’t have to use violence and anger to solve situations.
“Another important part about the restorative process is the person who’s been harmed gets a voice and they say how that makes them feel and what they need.”
In 2015, Ann and friend Sue Attrill, who is now the River School’s Deputy Principal, set up a restorative practice business for teachers. They went out to schools and taught teachers how to work restoratively with children. Two years later, when Ann became Principal, Sue took over the business and continues this valuable work.
“I’ve known Sue since Women OutFront days. In 1998, local women ran ‘chalk-ups’ at the UpFront Club in Maleny. It developed as an express need in the community from women performers seeking a safe and supportive forum through which to perform and build their confidence.
“Back then, performance opportunities were very male dominated. Sue and I took it over in 1999. It was so successful that we ended up moving to the community centre.
“We developed this beautiful big team of women—visual arts, organisational, the musicians’ team… it was an artistic feast. We funnelled the money back into the performers and to promote the arts.
“There were some men in the groups, but it was always the women ‘out front’. We did it for about 15 years—it was incredible. It doesn’t exist anymore because there isn’t a need.”
I ventured to ask Ann what she does in her spare time: “I’m currently making a crocheted blanket and love to read fiction and cook—when time allows, I enjoy making sourdough. I run too, as I’m into health and fitness.”
For a time, Ann and friend Tash entered a partnership to run a small food business Tashan as a creative outlet for their cooking passion. “We made and sold samosas at a number of Maleny events until we could no longer keep up demand while still working our main jobs.”
To conclude, Ann draws on hindsight and reflects: “My happiest times have been when I’ve been really involved, usually voluntarily, helping other people. I really believe the greatest happiness comes through service.
“People say, ‘I want to be happy.’ You can’t just be happy, happiness comes to you through doing, and then you can feel it.”