In January 2021 Toowoomba Grammar School is welcoming its new headmaster, Dr John Kinniburgh, who grew up in Gunnedah, NSW.

If it wasn’t for the experience of growing up in country NSW, John Kinniburgh doubts he would be taking up the top job at the prestigious Toowoomba Grammar School. You see, he attributes much of what he has been able to do in his career to the childhood and teenage years he spent in Gunnedah NSW, where his dad ran a stockfeed business and his mum was a physiotherapist at the local hospital.

“Family and community were the most important thing to us, and I had two older sisters who kept me in line as well,” John says. “Mum and Dad instilled strong values in us from an early age and my parents worked very hard to provide us with the opportunities we enjoyed. They were great role models.

“At school, my results were respectable rather than remarkable, but I had a strong work ethic and had a love of learning. Like many country kids, I was very active with sport every week. During the winter it was rugby league on a Saturday and rugby union on a Sunday, and in summer it was cricket, tennis and golf. Somewhere in between, I would find time to do my schoolwork.”

During the holidays, John would work for his father in his factory, local tradesmen as a labourer, or on farms baling hay or chipping cotton. He was awarded a scholarship at Sydney University, where he studied a Bachelor of Arts degree. “Initially I had ambitions of studying sport psychology, but ended up doing subjects I really loved, including geography, geology and marine science.”

In 1996, as he finished the degree, he was offered a job to teach geography at The Kings School in Sydney. “I quickly knew I’d found my career path as a school master teaching geography, coaching rugby, developing boys and living in a boarding house. It was a wonderful environment and I developed some great relationships with lots of older mentors who guided me along the way. I felt right at home in a boarding school setting.”

Then in 1998, John was given an opportunity to pursue postgraduate study in the UK when he was offered a rugby scholarship to Oxford University. “I recognised this was a great privilege and opportunity. Growing up in a country town, I never dreamed I would end up completing a Master of Science at Oxford and playing rugby at Twickenham.”

He returned to The King’s School for another 12 years before returning to the UK with his young family to teach at Wellington College, one of the world’s leading independent co-educational boarding schools. Further studies, including a PhD in education, eventually led him to Prince Alfred College in Adelaide, where he has been deputy headmaster and head of secondary school for the past four and a half years. And sport and cultural pursuits still figure highly in his educational values. “These activities allow a boy to take personal responsibility, learn teamwork and experience something bigger than themselves. They also help develop positive relationships with others and important skills like resilience.”

John has a strong passion for boys’ education and environments that focus on wellbeing as well as character development through an all-round approach to education. “Academics, sport and the arts play a major part in that,” John says. “I firmly believe that schools should provide a range of opportunities for boys that allow them to determine their own pathway beyond school.”

He says he has admired Toowoomba Grammar from afar for many years because of its holistic education and focus on learning outcomes. This occurs through curriculum, sport, culture, music, arts, community service, cadets, boarding and pastoral care. “Schools such as Toowoomba Grammar place a strong emphasis on developing character, which is so important in today’s society. Learning to act in a way that is right, and which serves others helps boys be independent, have self-worth and be adaptable. If we can do this, boys learn to self-regulate and achieve a state of wellbeing which are all-important skills to flourish in life.”

John is replacing Peter Hauser, who is retiring at the end of 2020 after providing leadership at the school for 18 years. John says he is looking forward to joining the school with his wife Jo and their three children. The two boys will become students at the school and his daughter will attend a local independent girls’ school. “Family is the most important thing to me,” he says. “We can’t wait to get to Toowoomba, and we look forward to immersing ourselves in the community and contributing as much as we can.”

This story is from Issue #134

Outback Magazine: Dec/Jan 2021