In a fresh blow to a drought stricken community, the historic Christian Brothers Agricultural College at Tardun in Western Australia's wheatbelt is to close after 80 years.
The West Australian reports the college is to close its Year 8 to 12 schooling at the end of next year, despite local community members arguing the institution remained an important part of the community, with student enrolments increasing in recent years.
According to the school website, it is the "biggest school in the world" as it is "situated on 18,000 hectares of wheat farming land."
Enrolments have risen from 60 in 2003 to about 90, with the once all boys boarding school, 140km east of Geraldton, opening its doors to female students last year.
Shire of Mullewa chief executive Tom Hartman said urgent talks were being sought with school operators Edmund Rice Education Australia.
"The general feeling is the loss of that facility in our area, and also in the state, is an important issue," he said. "We want to look at keeping the place operating."
The school began in 1928 in tents and sheds under the Christian Brothers teaching order and in following decades its students included orphan and migrant boys, particularly from Britain and Malta.
In the 1960s, the school, which is on 18,000ha of wheat farming land, turned its focus to agriculture.
It has recently concentrated on accommodating students who may not fit into mainstream schooling, drawing children from the Geraldton area, Perth and the Kimberley.
Local farmer Michael Thomas, who was chairman of the school for five years until its board was disbanded last Friday, said school staff and the community had worked hard to boost student numbers in recent years, despite the challenges posed by the recent drought.
"We are disappointed at this decision, which will have repercussions not only for the parents of the students at the school but right though the Mullewa community, of which the school is an active part," he said.
Edmund Rice executive director Wayne Tinsey said the school was operating at a loss at current enrolments but that was not the reason behind the closure.
The organisation was taking a new national approach, which would include flexible learning centres in Perth and regional areas, along with mobile outreach schooling where required.
Historic college to close doors (West Australian, 14/8/08)