After growing up as the son of a headmaster, Murrurundi resident Paul Smart was well prepared for his role as Scone Grammar School’s principal.
Words Victoria Carey
Photography Pip Farquharson
The familiar strains of big band leader Glenn Miller’s 1939 hit In the Mood fill the classroom. The famous jazz standard is heralding that it’s time to go home at Scone Grammar School. Two boys rush out, slinging backpacks over their shoulders as they walk towards the school gates, happily talking about the day. “We decided a few years ago to replace the traditional school bell with music,” explains Paul Smart, who has been principal of the school since 2007. “And the kids love it.”
‘Positive education’ is a phrase that often pops up as we speak about this dedicated teacher’s approach to his job.
“It’s all about enabling the kids at this school to grow to their potential. Our goal is to create students who are independent learners who feel comfortable moving forward in their lives and careers,” he tells me from his office at the school which first welcomed pupils onto the grounds in 1845.
The world of education was a natural career choice for Paul as both his parents were teachers. His father Peter was also the principal of a country school, just like his son. Smart senior was at Tamworth’s Calrossy Anglican School from May 1976 until December 1988. “Watching him calmly and quietly getting on with things, while having to make big decisions is something I have certainly taken away with me,” explains Paul. “And I’ve always enjoyed and loved connecting with people. That’s been the driver for me.”
After graduating from the University of New England, Paul’s first teaching role was in Sydney’s Campbelltown. His wife Julie, another teacher, worked in the Mt Druitt area. “We are both country people, but we spent our early teaching years in Sydney before coming to Scone,” he explains. “It was very hard at that time as there was a glut of teaching graduates.”
The couple were keen to return to rural life.
“We started to look for a new school and we were both fortunate enough to be offered roles as primary teachers at Scone Grammar in 1990,” says Paul.
It was to be nine very fulfilling years before they moved south to work at Tudor House at Moss Vale. Four years later a position as head of junior school, and later middle school head, at MacArthur Anglican School in Camden followed.
By now with three young sons in tow — James, Tom and Matthew — the call of the wide open country further north was growing stronger day by day.
Finally in 2007, nearly two decades after he and Julie had started at Scone Grammar, Paul was offered the role of principal. “We came back even though we never expected that we would,” he recalls.
When Paul became headmaster, Grammar had 314 students. Today, there are 650 enrolled from kindergarten to Year 12 plus 85 students in the Yellow Cottage Preschool.
He attributes this growth to the strong school community.
“A lot of parent involvement went into helping make sure that the school got going, it was a big effort from those behind the commencement of the school. I think that has been a hallmark aspect of who we are, and it hasn’t changed,” he says.
A strong sense of community also led the Smart family to their current home in Murrurundi nearly 11 years ago.
“There is a nice sense of forward thinking and community here. It has a good diversity of people that bring culture and connection,” he says.
Once home to the town’s post office employees, Pear Cottage used to be on Mayne Street, but the old timber house had been moved to Karalee Row with views through to Woolooma and Gundy in the east by the time the Smarts saw it for sale.
“We were leasing a place in Gundy but decided we wanted a place of our own. We needed room for our three boys and fell in love with this small block. It’s such a beautiful part of the world,” he says. “The position is spectacular.”
When Paul is at home, his favourite way of relaxing is to garden and do projects around the house. “Those are the sorts of things I like to do to take my mind into a different space away from the core business of being a principal,” he says.
But somehow, I think, even in those moments in the garden, the school’s motto, ‘And let us run with perseverance, the race marked out for us’ is not too far from his thoughts.
And finally, I ask, do you love your job? “Yes, absolutely!” is the resounding answer. “Well, how could I not? Every day is all about working out ways to help our students be their best.”
60 Kingdon Street, Scone, NSW. Telephone (02) 6545 3131. For more information, go to sgs.nsw.edu.au
Paul Smart’s Address Book
Ask Paul Smart for his favourite places in the Upper Hunter and it’s a question he finds hard to answer. “We are very lucky to have a variety of options of places here — and we try to go to all of them,” Paul explains. Here he recommends a few things for visitors to the region.
Burning Mountain Nature Reserve
Australia’s only naturally burning coal seam is just 20 kilometres north of Scone. Take the moderate 4 kilometre return walk and observe how the flora and fauna have adapted to having a fire below ground for 5,5000 years. “I have had an affinity to Burning Mountain from my early teenage years as we used to go there on picnics before there was any established path. It is a unique spot,” he says.
Telephone (02) 6540 2300. For directions, safety and practical information, visit nationalparks.nsw.gov.au
Graze at the Willow Tree Inn
Built in 1913, the Willow Tree Inn is now also home to the award-winning restaurant Graze. The house speciality is the dry aged Black Angus beef produced from cattle raised on the pastures edging Willow Tree’s Colly Creek.
“Over the range, I always enjoy going to Graze. I love a good steak and they do a beautiful job,” says Paul. “They also sometimes do a sashimi style entrée which is pretty special.”
New England Highway, Willow Tree, NSW. Telephone (02) 6747 7711. grazewillowtree.com.au
Housed in an 1860s cottage, this much-loved restaurant is popular with the Smart family. “It’s always one we love to go to,” says Paul.
196 Kelly Street, Scone, NSW. Telephone (02) 6545 1215. thecottagescone.com or @thecottagescone
“I really enjoyed talking to Paul,” says our editorial director. “Good schools are at the heart of every thriving community.”
This Orange-based photographer was racing against the bell when she shot this story for The Argus. “I was photographing two boys grabbing their bags when I heard the music instead of the bell,” she says. “It was wonderful, it really created a great atmosphere.”