The new principal of Blackheath & Thornburgh College in Charters Towers, Qld, is balancing the school’s 102-year-old history with a desire to evolve and modernise.

Story Ken Eastwood

It’s one of the age-old problems: tradition versus innovation. How do you balance and respect what has come before with new ideas?

This was exactly the dilemma that faced Simon Murphy, the incoming principal of Blackheath & Thornburgh College in Charters Towers, Qld, when he started at the school at the beginning of last year. Founded over a century before by the Methodist and Presbyterian churches, the small school, which has 280 female and male students from pre-prep to year 12, had strong traditional values and practices, but Simon wanted to continue to evolve the school to ensure its students were receiving the best opportunities that modern education offers.

“We are very steadfast in our traditions and the way we do certain things … but we are looking for any opportunity to be innovative,” he says. “Sometimes traditions in boarding schools are good, and sometimes they’re bad.”

Simon, who grew up in Dubbo, NSW, and worked for many years in the NSW education system, established a new modus operandi for the school that will influence all decision-making. Previously, its catchphrase was ‘where learning counts’, and he changed it to ‘inspired by tradition’. While the school will still hold fast to traditions such as Anzac Day marches, saying the Lord’s Prayer in school assembly and grace before meals, it has introduced new policies, such as bring-your-own device to enable more web-based and other electronic learning. “Everyday life now is governed by an understanding of technology. It’s a form of literacy,” he says. “If we don’t engage our students in technological aspects of learning they will struggle post-school.” 

This story excerpt is from Issue #137

Outback Magazine: June/July 2021