A whole generation of primary school students has passed through the Valkyrie State School in rural Queensland without ever having been allowed to play on the school’s oval.
- Valkyrie State School students haven’t been able to access their oval, due to safety issues relating to its hard, dry surface, since 2015
- The school has not had a permanent water supply since it opened in 1974
- Parents and support groups have been campaigning for change for several years
That’s because for the past six years at least, the school has had no access to a permanent drinking water supply, let alone enough extra water to help grass grow on the oval to make it safe.
The school’s 20 students come from the nearby farms and villages in the Isaac Region, about 150 kilometres south-west of Mackay.
P&C president Kristen Michelmore said the school had to truck in potable water for the children to drink.
“This is a situation that country kids have to face,” Ms Michelmore said.
But not having an oval to run around on, was another crucial aspect of childhood the Valkyrie students were missing out on.
Hard, dry ground a safety risk
The ABC understands the school had to ban students from playing on the oval after a student broke an arm after falling on the dry surface in 2015, but issues around water supply have existed since the school opened in 1974.
“The grounds are pretty dry, it’s a bit of a dust bowl when you get on the mower,” Ms Michelmore said.
“It feels like you’re just mowing up the dirt rather than the grass.
Ms Michelmore’s husband, Ben, said the school was considering several options to rectify the issue, including connecting to a pipeline 20km away or a dam 700 metres away, as well as installing more tanks to catch rainwater.
He said bores located close to the school are unusable because of their high salt content.
Jessie Bethel, the president of the Nebo branch of the Isolated Children’s Parents’ Association, said it was a great loss to the students that they did not have a safe grassed area to play on.
“All bush kids are used to wide open spaces. They’re used to having a very active lifestyle, an active space to play,” Ms Bethel said.
“For the children to not have a grassed oval to kick a ball or do extracurricular activities and sports and athletics training, it’s a real loss and it’s something the community really feels.
Government process ‘frustrating’
Ms Bethel said the ICPA, P&C and the school had been working with various levels of governments, and government departments to address the issue.
“It’s very lengthy, tricky and frustrating to get an agreement with multiple government departments, especially when it is done out of Brisbane,” she said.
LNP MP Dale Last’s seat of Burdekin takes in the Valkyrie area, and he said he had contacted the Department of Education and the Department of Resources about the school’s situation.
“That school has been surviving on rainwater and a tanker that gets transported in each week … you can’t sustain that,” he said.
“We need a more permanent solution.
“It’s a difficult issue to solve in the long term given scarcity of water in the area … and as underground water is not suitable, that makes it doubly hard.”
Three new rain tanks on the way
A spokesperson for the Department of Education said the health, safety and wellbeing of students and staff in Queensland state schools was the department’s highest priority.
“Valkyrie State School does not have access to mains water supply, however, the school uses rainwater tanks on site for all of its water needs,” the spokesperson said.
“Three additional new water tanks will be installed at the school during Term 3, 2021. All new tanks will have ultra violet light filtration systems.
“The department will continue to work with the school to find a suitable solution to the school’s water issues.”
The school’s P&C will spend this weekend fundraising for access to water at the annual Nebo Rodeo and street fair.