You may have heard the incredible stories of the early 1980’s, when dedicated Christian families mortgaged their homes to make Christian schooling a reality for families in the Swan Valley.
It sounds like a ‘furphy’ (that is, ‘Australian slang for an erroneous or improbable story that is claimed to be factual’) or some sort of exaggeration to highlight a level of dedication that these pioneers displayed.
It is hard to believe that people would make the decision to take the equity from their home, to give to an enterprise with no experience in education and then not ask for any repayments to be made.
There is also the question of Christian humility. Should we be broadcasting this sort of information? There are a number of schools of thought on this one – and many of these pioneers are very quiet about the enormous sacrifices they made in those early days.
June Sims is one of those SCEA pioneers that maintains a very low profile, now residing in the coastal town of Yanchep – fifteen minutes north of Northshore Christian Grammar School in Alkimos.
Her husband Len passed away a few years ago and June enjoys regular visits from her four children (Michael, Elizabeth, Tania and Sally) who all attended SCEA schools in the 80’s and 90’s. Her regular Bible study group at North Coast Church get together to sing hymns and study the Bible mid-week, and her Sundays are filled with a morning service and catching up with friends Rod and Jennifer Gunn who June has known since the 1960’s.
Len and June Sims were one of the original group of 50 adults who came together in late 1981 to look at the proposition of starting a Christian school. While the concept sounded exciting, new and fresh, this rather romanticised image of forming an academic institution seems rather overstated in retrospect:
“Len had worked with Brian Goodchild at DOLA [Department of Land Administration – now known as Landgate] and our two families lived on the same street in Swan View,’ says June, who still has the old photo albums of the first busy bee and assembly of SCEA.
“Brian encouraged us to come to a meeting and it made good sense to us. We had a young family and we were keen to find a Christian school for them. The possibility of Christians coming together like this was just wonderful.”
Countless busy bees and working groups on weeknights during 1981 and 1982 made the original school site in Woodbridge habitable for students, but Len’s own diary states that ‘the kids would come home from school looking filthy from the black dirt that was everywhere on the school grounds.’
It seems that the old foundry worksite was not entirely ready for students when SCEA took possession of it just a few months prior to the 1982 school year starting.
How did you come to mortgaging your home to give everything to start the school?
“Well, it’s not something that we wanted known. But, basically, the request was made to us, and to others, in order for the school to purchase the demountables and build the classrooms,” says June in a matter-of-fact manner.
“We knew that something needed to be done in order for the school to become a reality, we were at peace with the concept of it and there were a number of other families that took part in this too.”
After such a magnanimous gesture, I can’t imagine that the school charged you fees for the rest of your children’s schooling – did they?
“Oh, it wasn’t anything like that. We were happy to oblige and we didn’t really think about it after that point. We knew that we would survive and it was not something that was really referred to from then on.”
Anyone who contemplates this act of generosity for any length of time will recognise the heart of those early SCEA families – to go above the requirements of what is expected and remain humble throughout.
Forty years on, June still prays the same prayer she did in 1981 for Swan Christian Education Association and its students and teachers:
“That they would experience the love of Christ, in Christian community and come to a saving faith in Him alone.”