In the early 90’s, Kennington Catholic Parish, Bendigo was expanding at a rapid rate. There was a need for a new primary school to provide for the large population growth south/east of Bendigo. A site was selected at Strathfieldsaye, east of Bendigo and St Francis of the Fields Primary School opened it’s doors with an enrolment of 109 children, in Feb. 1994. It currently has over 300 children enrolled from Prep to Grade 6.

St Francis of Assisi was chosen as the Patron Saint as he is known for his gentle nature and love of animals and the natural surroundings.
The school is situated on an old dairy farm of approximately 13 hectares. It is surrounded on three sides by Sheepwash Creek and Emu Creek. From the outset it was always destined to become a school that focused on environmental issues. The school has worked towards enhancing it’s own environment as well as that of the local community. It was a strong vision of the first staff and families that the school should use it’s natural resources and open space to help the students appreciate and value the environment that they are living and learning in.
Over the ten years of it’s existence, St Francis of the Fields has endeavoured to bring this vision to life. Led by Principal Mr John Hermans and his dedicated staff, along with enormous support from Parish Priests, Monsignor Frank Marriott and Joe Taylor, and a very involved parent community, ‘St Franks’ was able to include many environmental initiatives into it’s curriculum.
Small animals in the classroom, mini beast, bird life and creek life programmes, chooks and vegies in the one permaculture complex, a nut and fruit orchard and an extensive recycling system in the classrooms were some of the early initiatives of the school.
The school offers a P-6 Environmental Education program that allows all the children to have a hands on approach to the activities that are conducted throughout the year.
The environmental curriculum is based on:
– waste management and reduction
– water saving awareness
– energy reduction in school, transport and in the home
– community and cultural sustainability
– appreciation of the natural environment, especially the flora and fauna that live in and around the two creeks that border the school.
In November 2004, St Francis of the Fields was the first school in the State of Victoria to be accredited as a Five Star Sustainable School. The school community is very proud of this achievement and gives credit to the pioneering families who saw the opportunity and had the vision to establish a school that was to be different in some way.
In recent years ‘St Franks’ has taken on major environmental projects within the school grounds and on adjoining properties. These projects have been funded by the parents and friends committee, and by grants, large and small, some from government and non-government organizations across the state and nation.
Some of the environmental developments at St Francis of the Fields have been:
• St Francis Wetlands and animal sanctuary
• Hothouse.
• A water tank was purchased to catch water off the roof of one set of portables and the small shed. This water is used in the hothouse for propagating plants.
• A computerised timer was purchased for the hothouse watering system to save water.
• Most of the property now has new cattle troughs with under ground pipes to cut down on leakage due to pipe damage from the cattle.
• Children have made signs to place in each classroom asking students to turn off lights and computers as they leave.
• Solar light and heat is used as often as possible.
• A walk/bike track was made around the entire school along the creek’s edge.
• Litter free lunch days have been held.
• The school continues to recycle cardboard and paper and feed food scraps to the chooks therefore cutting down on waste going to land fill.
• Gas usage has been decreased by over 3749 MJ.
• Savings of $3541 per year on water bills.
• 22 extra bales of paper are recycled each year.
• Waste to landfill has decreased by over 50 m3.
Achievements in more detail.
St Francis wetlands and animal sanctuary.
The children at St Francis of the Fields were involved in the study of wetlands and predominantly man made wetlands. With the worst drought on record affecting our school severely, the children were made very aware of the importance of protecting waterways and wetland reserves.
A natural reserve on the banks of Emu Creek was identified as an area we could develop as a wetlands at the school for the local fauna. The water supply for the wetlands includes the stormwater runoff from the car park and the roof of the basketball stadium which is collected and piped underground for a distance of 300 metres directly to the wetlands.
The children have been involved in the planning of the site and the parents had assisted with the construction of fences and a birdhide. The wetlands indigenous planting program is due to begin in August 2005 with seedlings propagated in the school hothouse.
The St Francis Wetlands and Bird Sanctuary will act as a filtering system for the school’s water runoff before it flows back into the creek. This is a very valuable learning facility for the school and plans for the future are to develop a series of frog bogs adjacent to the wetlands complex.
We now await an Autumn break in the weather so our wetlands, dubbed ‘ St Frank’s drylands’ ( due to the drought years) can receive some inflow and attract local bird life.
Creek Restoration.
It was quite apparent when the school was first established that the Sheepwash Creek and Emu Creek beds were infested with introduced understorey plants and grasses. The indigenous plants had been eradicated through overgrazing, clearing and neglect. In 2001, the school developed a six year restoration plan of revegetating the creeks using indigenous plants.
The project was slow and difficult with Central Victoria being in the grips of severe drought for over 18 months.
The creek was divided into 25 metre sections with each alternate section cleared. The clearing process involved parents removing by hand introduced species such as briar rose, hawthorn bush, black berries, spiny rush, fennel and thistles. The cleared sections were planted out with indigenous native plants, grasses, shrubs and groundcovers. The uncleared areas have been left as habitat for the small animals and birds that live in the creek. In the next two to three years depending on the seasons, the remaining introduced habitat will be cleared and indigenous species planted in those areas.
Because of the large demand for indigenous plants that our revegetation program required, the school constructed a large hothouse ( 11m x 7m). It was then able to develop a very successful propagation program. Seed was either purchased from the local indigenous nursery or collected from local waterways. The children were involved in the task of planting this seed in trays and following the process through the stages of pricking out, growing in pots and hardening the plants off. The children have been very fortunate to be able to then take this process even further by planting them around the school property, in windbreaks, shelter reserves, bird corridors and the creek riparian zones.
Recently the school became involved with Parks Victoria to collect seed from the Greater Bendigo National Park. These Box and Ironbark seeds were then propagated in the school hothouse and planted back into the local National Park. This valuable partnership has enabled the school to develop a whole new aspect of sustainability education by conducting community planting days in the district.
In 2004, St Francis of the Fields combined with Strathfieldsaye Primary School to plant 1500 plants in a disused clay pit in the National Park. This was a great day that involved over 300 children and many members of the community.
Future community planting days will be held along new linear paths and wetlands being developed by Strathfieldsaye Community Enterprise.
Agricultural pursuits.
Over the years, St Francis of the Fields has developed a very successful Murray Grey breeding program at the school. The cattle are bred and raised on the property and sold to local farmers or at the Bendigo Livestock exchange. The funds raised are channelled back into the farm and the school library. In 2001, the school took the initiative to fence the cattle out of the creeks. This project enabled the school to create a unique environmental walk around the entire property. The school is now able to keep the livestock off the banks of the creek therefore reducing erosion and enabling natural trees, shrubs and grasses to regenerate.
Diocese initiatives.
In 2005, The Sandhurst Catholic Education Office made a further commitment to Sustainability Education throughout the diocese by developing a partnership with CERES in Brunswick. This partnership has seen two new schools, St Lukes Primary in Shepparton and Frayne College ( P-9) in Wodonga begin to work towards becoming Sustainable Schools of the Future. Over the next three years more of the Sandhurst Diocese schools will be given the opportunity to become involved in the Sustainable Schools Initiative. The diocese is a very large area of the state ranging from Bendigo to Kerang to Corryong in the Upper Murray region.
These are very exciting times for the diocese as it acknowledges the need for Sustainability Education in our schools and works towards developing curriculum and projects for students.
St Francis of the Fields has as one of its vision statements:
That the natural environment should permeate through all areas of the curriculum‘.
It has been a very rewarding experience to strive to bring this vision to life and all at St Francis of the Fields are aware that there is now an even more important vision.
‘To continue to maintain our programmes and initiatives and to even further develop environmental leadership of the children in our care.’
By St. Francis of the Fields - Strathfieldsaye Campus|2017-11-06T17:22:05+10:00April 29th, 2013|0 Comments