Tuesday, October 2, 2012

"Demise of Hollydene Hostel"

 Published as  “Demise of Hollydene,” Weekend Extra, The Advocate, 15 November 2003, 34

An opportunity that, in retrospect, was so fragile. It needed many ingredients.  Teachers to plant the seed that there was a road that led beyond my beloved hills. Parents ready to struggle to find money in an already tight budget. Most important it needed a place to stay. Hollydene Hostel.

In the mid 1970s Hollydene served as a safe base in Hobart for country boys to step onto the road to higher education. Few made it through to successful completion of year 12 but without Hollydene many more would have fallen by the wayside. That would have caused the early and unnecessary  termination in the careers of a number of very good engineers, teachers, scientists and the odd outspoken academic.

Hollydene was, even in the 1970s, rundown but it  provided a place my parents knew they could entrust the care of their son. A 16 year old  who lacked experience, maturity and the finances to survive in a flat or shared private accommodation with other young country kids in a strange city.  Hollydene, located in Campbell Street, was not a paradise and we all struggled against its curfews, hostel rules and restrictions on heating in winter time. Yet it provided a sense of community and day to day stability. It wasn’t a home but that was a major part of its attraction.

The sale of Hollydene raises a simple question. What is there now to replace it? In a letter dated 27 October 2003 to the Mountain Heights School Council (Queenstown) Paula Wriedt, the Minister for Education suggests that there is a trend away from the “more structured and supervised hostel accommodation” . Therefore West Coast parents wanting to send their children on to Year 11 should “liaise with the senior secondary colleges to establish networks of home-stay accommodation within the individual college communities”.

Simply not good enough Minister.

When you close a major accommodation hostel and fail to replace it there will definitely be a trend towards private board or rental accommodation. There are no other alternatives if students wish to study in Hobart. The direct retention rates (never very good) of Year 10 to full time Year 11 in 2003 from Mountain Heights dropped from 68% in 2002 to a dismal 43-47% (if you count students who have moved interstate). In today’s information age this is tantamount to slamming shut the doors of opportunity on kids who out of choice or necessity went to school on the West Coast.

Yes at sixteen I briefly toyed with the idea of sharing a flat with one of my mates until the reality of the search for accommodation, rents, furniture, cooking and cleaning changed my mind. The hit or miss of home stay accommodation (in terms of compatibility, reliability and availability) was easily outweighed by the benefits of structured and supervised hostel accommodation. The privacy of your own room, the availability of food, laundry and scheduled study periods and a base to explore a new city and lifestyle with a degree of independence.

The closure of Hollydene and the refusal to provide country kids (and the resulting parental peace of mind) with a replacement, state of the art  hostel accommodation (designed for the needs of 16-17 year olds) borders on absolute neglect. Yes it would be costly but what price are we prepared to pay to allow all our children equality of participation in further education be it going onto University, VET or other paths such as apprenticeships.

I never returned to visit Hollydene but I would be surprised if successive governments did much to maintain or improve the hostel from the late 1970s too its closure. From time to time it falls to particular Ministers and Governments to lay down the costly foundations and invest for future generations. The rebuilding of Reece High School was an opportunity to improve education in the North West. The replacement of Hollydene would be an opportunity to improve the educational prospects of the best and brightest from many small country schools around this state who would like to study in Hobart. It is unfeasible and simply too limiting to rely on all West Coast students (and students from country/remote areas) to move only to Launceston or Burnie.

Without a Hollydene Hostel in Hobart  my life would have been far different. I now have a life beyond the imagining of a young boy thirty years ago. I still remember a family relative driving me to Hobart in a Mini Moke with my bags in the back. As I stepped onto the footpath to walk through those famous heavy doors of Hollydene I had no hint about the career or life I would discover. Yet Hollydene gave me the opportunity to find out.   I am troubled that 30 years later that fragile opportunity given to me is now even more fragile and problematic.

Providing secure and good quality accommodation will  improve retention rates. Yet why are these retention rates for Mountain Heights students falling? More importantly what is the Education Department doing about the problem? By all means travel the world beating the drum to entice parents from other countries to send their children to study in Tasmania.  But don’t neglect our own backyard.

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