Infant Welfare Sisters, Margaret Piper and Joan Salter’s work moved parents to long for a wholesome education for their children.
Friends, Judy Abbot and Judy Weatherhead listened when Joseph Chiltern-Pearce suggested that only Steiner education could meet their children’s needs.
Others had met Rudolf Steiner’s ideas in relation to their own spiritual searching, or in agriculture, or architecture.
These parents wanted more than a dry, materialistic education. They hoped for the nurturing of imagination and creativity, for the recognition of the individual, spirit being of each child. And they wanted it to be something where they too could be involved.
In October 1984 teachers at the Melbourne Rudolf Steiner School, Susan O’Dwyer and Wendy Duff, contacted by the two Judies and also by the Margaret Piper’s Carnegie mothers with an invitation to speak, suggested a combined meeting. Listening that night were the parents and friends who would take the initiative to begin our school. Within this group were a surprising number of architects, nurses, social-workers, artists, makers and doers – just the mix needed to bring intuitions into action and care for the building of community in the process.
By the time of a pre-Christmas get-together in Judy Abbott and Tony Durrant’s home in Richmond we could announce that a place had been found. While on their Sunday walk, Pip Stokes and Greg Burgess had come across the Uniting Church hall in Waltham Place on the Richmond Hill. Tucked away amongst a dense mix of churches, galleries, theatres and dwellings, the solid old hall was ripe for renewal. Also, Wendy had volunteered to teach the kindergarten.
Together we planned working bees for January. Wendy handed out fabric, yarn and fleece for the making of pillows, plaits and dolls and urged the gathering of logs, cones, stones and shells, which would become our play materials. Purpose-made tables and chairs had been ordered. We sang some Christmas carols, nibbled shortbread and went home, our hearts filled with the warmth of anticipation.At home over Christmas, Julia White took phone enquiries. Word spread.
Over summer the high ceilinged hall was sorted, cleaned and lazure-painted in soft pinks. Church pews became accommodating room dividers, shelves and seating. The white church crockery was abundant and suitably robust. Curtains were hung.
The RampIn the small courtyard space outside, ground was cleared and fenced, a large sandpit formed and brick paving begun.
The steep old wooden steps that led up to the hall’s bluestone threshold were a stumbling block, but replacing them seemed a difficult and costly exercise. Besides, a ramp would eat into the limited play space.
Not satisfied that this was a good decision, Greg asked if we would reconsider.We downed tools, gathered around the steps and listened… It was agreed.
We would build a ramp. Rather than eating into the space, new space could be created…across the entrance, hugging the building, down to the corner, leveling out around the shady paperbark tree, and back down to join the expansive paving.
Well-fitted decking timbers and wired-in sides made this a safe and inviting place. Friends Robert Maxwell and Tim Petherbridge spent two weekends and crafted a fine, wide handrail.
This mezzanine-type area provided an overview of the playground and a seamless transition between indoors and out; informal meeting and greeting for adults and a dreamy ‘halfway up the stairs’ space for children.
The warmth and energy that shaped the place where our school was to begin was driven by our will to work, with others, for the good.
We had a benchmark, realized through our doing.
Sophia Mundi had come into Being.
Founding Teacher at Sophia Mundi