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The Steiner School

Sustainable practices are intrinsically woven into the ethos and culture of the Steiner School. Located in Rilens road Muckleford, the school’s environment and curriculum aim to connect their students with reverence and awe to the natural environment.

From left, Fran Gleeson, Kyle Murphy, Emmet Henderson and Hayley Bridgwood

I interviewed Kyle Murphy, the Site and Grounds Coordinator, who walked me around, showing me the myriad ways in which the school practises it’s vision.

Steiner schools were established by Rudoph Steiner, the founder of biodynamic farming, a system based on working holistically with nature. The school has been in the Mt Alexander Shire for 34 years, starting at the Penny School in Maldon. It’s been on its current site since 1996. When first purchased, it sported 18 acres of flat undernourished, grazing land with only four trees and a salt infected dam.

Nowadays its very different. Kyle pointed out several aspects including;

-In excess of 2000 indigenous trees, shrubs and grasses sourced from Newstead Natives with tree planting an integral part of the curriculum.

-Up to 126 species of birds! Originally there were only four species The school has a bird watching group of students actively identifying and logging new species.

-A dam and island, known as Bushfood island, that serves a wetland, used for educational purposes.

-Buildings designed by Des Cullen, an ex parent , using materials found on site and constructed of rammed earth.

More recent interventions include;

-Two Solar Panel systems, one a 5KW and another a 25 KW system serving 40%-50% of the school’s power usage with night time and winter overcast days not covered.

– lights changed over to LED in 2018, plus almost all gas appliances removed and heat pumps installed for the hot water system, utilizing state and federal government grants and rebates.

-Indoors, Mitsubishi split systems installed for heating and cooling the spaces when needed.

-All sub floor heating removed and replaced with more energy efficient methods of heating.

All these measures have cut power bills down by 25%-30%

All water that comes onto the site stays on the site.

-All surface water is captured and used for watering the grounds

-Six septic tanks feed into three effluent ponds that handle all grey and waste water, with each successive pond playing a role in the cleaning process. Cumbungi plants around each pond contribute to the filtering process and when dried and harvested, are used in weaving activities by the students. Mains water is used for drinking and indoor purposes.

As we walked we explored large veggie gardens used by everyone at the school. They act as outdoor classrooms for horticulture and cooking programs. Children use the produce to cook for the Staff each week, raising money to put back into the program. Compost bins in each classroom are emptied into larger ones in the veggie patch at the end of each day. Mutiple worm farms help break down excess food and garden waste, recycling nutrients back into the land. Chickens scratch around in large pens and bush foods are grown and used in cooking.

Gardening Tools

A Chat with a Student

With such an array of features in the grounds I just had to speak with a student to get their perspective. I chatted with Emmet Henderson, a year 7 student. He chose to sit on a low branch of a Melaleuca tree to talk with me and explained that he had been coming here since he was two years old, beginning in the playgroup.

His favourite year was Grade 3 which introduces the horticultural program and biodynamic ways of gardening. Grade 3 and 4 are largely responsible for the care and maintenance of the veggie garden as part of this program. He loves gardening both at home and at school and helps his dad in their garden at home. When asked what he enjoyed most about growing veggies he said it was fun and satisfying harvesting them, and besides, they taste better. Enough said.

He also enjoys the cooking classes where most of the veggies grown in the garden are incorporated into the menu. Japanese pancakes, couscous and spinach and carrot soup all got a mention. At home he likes making pasta and pizza. But as he tends to ‘experiment’ with weird toppings, they aren’t so popular, he declared with sigh and bit of a grin.

He likes that the school has minimal plastic or rubbish and he sounded quite proud when he said that the students use stainless steel lunch boxes or bring their own, often non plastic containers.

Emmet also has a love of photography and in particular likes taking photos of wildlife, birds, and large, brightly coloured caterpillars that are currently trending at home.

We talked about the The Schools Strike for Climate Change and he has been on some protests. He finds the noise troubles him though so he prefers to make his own protests in other ways. However he did say that the whole of year 8 bar three, chose to participate in climate action protests recently.

When I asked him what he would do for the climate if he were Prime Minister, he said,

‘ invest more in renewable energy, stop fracking and mining coal…… and plant more trees.’

Finally he said that when it comes time to leave Steiner he will really miss being surrounded by the natural environment of this school.

Our sincere thanks to the Steiner School and in particular Acting Principal Hayley Bridgwood, Kyle Murphy and Emmet Henderson for their generosity in allowing us to explore the school’s sustainable practices. We are delighted to be able to celebrate them here on our website.

Fran Gleeson

Photography by Kate Meade