Wongutha CAPS is a non-government, year 11 & 12, vocational education school sited on a farm 27 kilometres from Esperance. The school has both boys’ and girls’ hostels and accepts students from all over Western Australia. The school was commenced in 1990 by the Christian Aboriginal Parent -directed School inc in facilities previously used by the Wongutha Mission Training Farm.
The Wongutha Mission Training Farm was established in 1954 by Rod Schenk on a 1000-acre bush block 24 kilometres North East of Esperance and 5 kilometres east of Gibson. He purchased the land under a freehold title. Rod was the son of Rodolphe Schenk who was the founder of Mt Margaret Mission, between Leonora and Laverton. Rod had grown up at Mt Margaret and then studied at an Agricultural College. He had a vision to establish an agricultural school for Aboriginal post-secondary students in the Esperance area. This was in the early days when farmers discovered the potential of the Esperance sand plain by adding super phosphate and trace elements.
The land at Gibson was cleared, buildings established, and a course in agriculture for post-secondary students initiated. The agricultural boom occurred in the 1960’s and Wongutha students were readily able to find work in the area. There were two workers’ hostels established for Aboriginal men at Esperance and Condingup, and farmers sought after ex-Wongutha students as farm workers.
The Wongutha curriculum also included training in Christian principles and leadership, and students travelled from all over Australia to attend the course. As the demand for farm workers declined Wongutha moved into pre-trade courses and continued with these courses into the late 1980’s, when funding and staffing difficulties saw a decline in programs offered.
Many Aboriginal leaders emerged from Wongutha over the years and the program made a significant impact on Aboriginal Education, particularly in the sixties and seventies. Wongutha Mission was operated by a Board made up mostly of local Esperance people
In 1990 this board invited CAPS (Christian Aboriginal Parent- directed School inc) from Coolgardie to take over the training program. In October 1993, The Wongutha Board deeded the land and all assets to the CAPS Board, and the Wongutha Board ceased to exist.
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The Christian Aboriginal Parent -directed School was formed in 1981 by concerned Aboriginal parents who had grown up at Mt Margaret, or had some links with Mt Margaret. They felt that the standard of education that they had achieved was far better than what their own children and grandchildren were achieving, and they desired education that was sympathetic to the needs of Aboriginal students, with a Christian basis, and modelled on the Mt Margaret school. This group of Aboriginal people invited local non Aboriginal supporters to be involved and formed the founding Board which met during 1980. The school commenced in the St Anthony’s Convent building in Coolgardie in February 1981 and catered for years one to ten.
From its inception the school offered boarding accommodation for secondary students who travelled from the NT, Queensland, and all parts of Western Australia to attend the school. In 1980/81 the new Non Government school movement was just beginning to gather momentum and the desire to establish the school was a brave move into relatively uncharted waters. It was a steep learning curve for the new Board who sometimes had to learn from mistakes. Later, pre-school and year 11 & 12 courses were also offered and a second school was started at Kurrawang Community, between Kalgoorlie and Coolgardie. This school offered pre-primary to year seven.
Over time the school gained recognition as playing an important role in Aboriginal Education in Western Australia. The CAPS Board took on the additional responsibility of the Wongutha program in 1990 and the whole property in 1993. The CAPS Board established a new incorporated (linked) body to operate the two farms (Wongutha and the ALT leased property at Neridup) and excised the school site from the Wongutha farm.
CAPS Board members perceived that there existed a gap in the educational market place for Aboriginal students. There didn’t appear to be any post compulsory vocational programs for Aboriginal students. They described the program at Wongutha CAPS as Vocationally Oriented and pre-empted the new wave of VET courses in schools. In 1990 Wongutha CAPS catered for 12 male students and the popularity of the course grew quickly, with a girls’ hostel commencing in 1993 and the numbers grew. Today between 60 and 70 students attend the school and there is a substantial waiting list of students who would like to attend.