School is anything but boring at Newman Senior Technical College, Port Macquarie, where students get to set sail as part of their education.
The college is the foremost provider of Marine Studies in the state, if not Australia. Marine Coordinator Warren Bridge, who founded the course at the school, said it was a unique situation, delivering classes from a 100 year old converted trawler.
The XLCR (pronounced excelsior – yes, they came up with that in 1915) was Port Macquarie’s first offshore fishing charter vessel.
Father Leo Donnelly, the head of the St Agnes parish, had his first sea experience on the XLCR as a schoolboy in 1942.
The vessel became the region’s first sea rescue boat on 29 April 1943. She rose to national prominence when Skipper Claude Radley and his crew headed to sea after being alerted by a Catalina seaplane that the coastal steamer, the Wollongbar II, had been torpedoed off Crescent Head by a Japanese submarine, with 32 lives lost.
Despite knowing that the enemy submarine was still in the area, the XLCR went out to sea and rescued five survivors from a half-submerged lifeboat.
The vessel ‘retired’ from fishing in the 90s but was brought back to life by college students. The refit took almost five years and included an engine rebuild, a new wheelhouse, a new deck and hull recaulking. She was lifted back into the Hastings River on 24 August 2009.
“Newman College students receive hands on experience in boat handling, navigation, ship maintenance, water safety, marine biology, estuary studies, weather and trip planning, and can even qualify for their boat licence,” Bridge said.
Students have gone on to careers in the navy, to study Coastal Science at Southern Cross University and one girl even got a position on a tourist boat in Darwin, where crocodiles are tempted to jump for chickens for the benefit of tourists.
Lismore Diocese primary schools also access the boat for excursions to study wildlife, transportation or geography.
“Marine Studies is the most popular elective we have at the college. We have nine classes of it. It’s glorious to be able to get out on the water.”
Life now is very different for Warren, who started out at Patrician Brothers Blacktown in 1980, when he joined the IEU. After 20 years at Blacktown he has loved the move to Port Macquarie, and the XCLR has been a big part of his life ever since.