by Jacqui Hensel

The Old Witta School is a building steeped in local history, and the current Old Witta School Management Committee are working incredibly hard to ensure the site remains an integral part of  the local community. 

The term ‘future-proofing’ is used a lot during my visit to the Old Witta School. The committee and caretaker team are both deeply invested in the future of this much-loved building.

Grant Fincher (President) and Sarah Stirling (caretaker) took time out of their busy day to share their exciting plans with me for next year and beyond.

“The Old Witta School building will be 100 years old in 2025, which is a silver lining as we thought it was this year,” says Grant.

“With Covid 19 still around we would have to cap numbers. Next year we might be through the worst of it. There are conflicting records on the actual date of the school. However, we were sent a newspaper article from 1925, so we finally had a definitive answer on the date.”

Although still in early stages of planning the celebrations, the committee would love to have a recreation of life in 1925 as part of the centenary event. 

“We are looking for any community groups that are interested in helping out with our celebration,” Grant shares. “We will have a collection of artifacts from the Maleny Historical Society and Maleny State School. So desks and blackboards, slates that kind of thing.”

The original school first opened on October 3, 1892, as the Maleny Provisional School. In January 1893 the name was changed to Teutoburg Provisional School and to Teutoburg State School in January 1909. It finally became Witta State School in 1916, and the current building was commissioned in June 1925. 

“It’s more than just a lovely old hall in a scenic setting. Everyday people come here to walk their dogs or play cricket or footy with their kids. The grounds are always open to the public unless there is an event in progress,” says Grant.

“We still have people in our community who went to school here and they love the fact that it is being managed and preserved for future generations,” he continues with pride.

“We are lucky to have Sarah who, as a horticulturist, has been instrumental in our wildlife planting. Just over two years ago we planted 512 rainforest and koala habitat trees such as Propinqua, Queensland Blue Gums and Grandis. 

“We had a lot of help from many community groups and locals. The trees are absolutely astounding now at four and five meters tall. We have had a koala sighting this week, very near to the new trees,” Grant says excitedly.

“The school is a ‘Land for Wildlife’ site and that means we are able to tap into the Sunshine Coast Council for assistance and knowledge. We have had wonderful support from our local council member Winston Johnston. He’s been just brilliant. 

“We have successfully obtained grants for arborist work so we could look after the existing shade trees that give our site its bucolic ambiance. It’s so beautiful and we want to ensure it remains so for the community,” explains Grant.

Many locals use the hall, but there are also art shows, children’s parties, wakes, community group meetings, dance classes and yoga. It is booked every week. It was even used by someone to record music as it has such good acoustics. 

“It’s probably best known for the markets that are held here every third Saturday of the month,” says Sarah. 

“They are very popular with locals and visitors. The stall holders are quite varied. You can find fresh produce, jams, chutneys, homemade cheese, honey, plants and even sausages. The Maleny Pie Guy is a regular as is the Little Coffee Van. But there is also locally produced craft, art, jewellery and textiles.” 

The refurbishments include a new kitchen and electrical system, powered sites out onto the grass, increased water supply, and polished floors. The committee now also plans to repaint in the original heritage-listed colours. 

“We have done more than necessary to ensure the Old Witta School is a viable option for the community to use for anything they can imagine. The hall is a low-cost option for events with under 60 people (in the hall). Marquees can be used for larger groups,” Sarah explains.

“We need the hall to continue to be a popular choice by the community as that helps fund its upkeep and ensures its longevity. So we have updated as much as we can, and it has to remain just as it is because of the heritage overlay, so it is maintaining what is here now.”

On the wish list is new bathroom facilities including a new septic system, however they are a significant cost. 

“The committee is a great group who really  have this place at heart,” says Grant, “and we are looking for new members for the ‘Friends of the Old Witta School’. 

“The best way to ensure we keep in contact with everyone who likes to help us is through membership of this group. And it’s a bargain at $5 per year!” Grant laughs.

“We want the community to get as much use out of it as they can. We’d like to see more groups using the hall and grounds. We have improved it so much and we’d like people to just come and use it,” concludes Grant.

Old Witta School, 316 Witta Road /website: oldwittaschool.edublogs.org / email:  oldwittaschool@gmail.com / phone: 0408 034 570