As dependants of Royal Australian Air Force personnel based at Butterworth, Malaysia, we as students were privileged to have attended a school which made such a positive impact on us, that we still feel it today, some 2-4 decades later. Whether it was the exotic foreign location, the climate, the people, the different cultures, the shared sense of experiencing together a unique and unforgettable time in our lives at a home away from home, or a combination of all these; the fact remains that no-one who went to Malaysia has remained untouched by the experience. Here is an attempt to recapture some of the essence of those days and the lifestyle we enjoyed as expatriates. I have attempted to faithfully record those days as they were, because in time, all those things recorded here may disappear. I hope the interest will remain for many generation.
Why this Site?
Because there was no information about the school available on the web. Although the RAAF does hold limited information and statistics about the school, it is classified. So, with limited information available in that direction, I saw as a worthwhile pursuit the gathering of all information possible from other sources, with the ultimate aim of recording it and making it public for posterity. Our school has earned a place in history, especially so because it no longer functions as RAAF School. If something wasn't done, all we know of our RAAF School would in time, risk being lost forever.
Therefore, this site is created for the purposes of recording the history of the school and associated lifestyle of the times, and that of its students and teachers. It will also serve to reunite school friends through contact information and reunions.
These were halcyon days we enjoyed, but as so often happens in life, we probably didn't appreciate at the time that they weren't forever....
It is my hope that anyone who was involved with the school will find something here to interest them; something to strike a nostalgic chord or refresh a forgotten memory. Let us all remember the good things that happened - and if only one person is reunited with a long-lost school friend, then this site has achieved one of its aims, that of bringing us back together.
I believe that we all share a common bond, brought about by the sharing of these, our formative years, together. Bonds that in our hearts, will last a lifetime.
As the school no longer exists, I feel it is important that we ensure it's existence doesn't fade from the record, because I know it hasn't faded from the memories of those who took part in its life.
So for all past students who don't have their Australs or who aren't able to access information in any other way, I hope you will find what you are looking for here. For me this has been a sentimental journey and one from which I have received an extraordinary amount of pleasure.
What You'll Find Here
For all who played a part in the life of the RAAF School in Penang, Malaysia, during its existence from 1962 to mid-1988, welcome - this site is for you. I hope you enjoy your journey back in time! You will find the history of the RAAF school on the next page, and although that school is main the focus of this site, you will also find photos and detail on the early schools at Residency Road, the Annexe, and later, the school at Butterworth (hence the school becoming known as "RAAF School Malaysia").
You will find a selection of photos, many of which have been contributed by readers, but also from the Austral school magazines, which have been kindly loaned. The photographs present a general overview of school life, covering areas from sporting to social events. You will also find your class photos here. There is also a small representation of the general lifestyle of service personnel in the area.
Standard of Education
It is apparent not only from my own experience at RAAF School, but also from feedback and acknowledgements in the Austral magazines, that the members of staff displayed a professionalism and devotion to duty which was so crucial to ensuring the continued success of the school. With the constant turnover of staff it would have been necessary for new staff to assimilate quickly and smoothly into the current system and this could only have been done with cooperation and willingness of the resident staff.
A School with a Difference
The school fulfilled a most important function in the history of RAAF operations in Malaysia from the mid 1950s to 1980s, and also played an integral part in the lives of those students and teachers who attended it during their stay in Malaysia. Without it, children would have been forced to board at home or be educated remotely in other local schools in Malaysia or Singapore. The provision of the school, teaching staff and associated facilities in Penang provided a central structure for the families, with children able to be educated locally and maintain the desired academic levels with the excellent educational standards. The opportunity for us as students to live and be educated in a country other than our own for that short time, enabled us to receive an uncommon education and to see, at first hand, a different way of life. This must have had an enriching effect on us and also would have broadened our outlook on life and our tolerance of the different customs of other peoples in the world we all share. Here are some of the reasons RAAF School was different from other schools:
the school was the only school for Australian children not within Australia
It was the only international RAAF school in existence.
the average duration of student enrolment was between 2-3 years and therefore the school experienced a 100% turnover of its student body in this period. A constant flow of students was transferred in and out of the school at all times of the year, as they arrived from and returned to Australia.
staffing policy was generally that of a two year appointment, meaning in theory that the school faced up to a 50% changeover of staff each year - fortunately these were staggered throughout the year.
a common curriculum had to be developed to facilitate the needs of students from all States of Australia, where a common educational curriculum does not exist.
the school was staffed jointly by the New South Wales and Victorian Education departments.
the unusual situation prevailed where the whole of the parent-body was service personnel.
inter-school visits and excursions took on a different flavour as the cultural diversity of Malaysia was experienced.
Excerpt from 1968 Austral Magazine
The following is an excerpt of an address by Officer Commanding G.H. Steege of RAAF Base Butterworth. I believe he has touched on an important social issue and this indicates the level of responsibility our leaders took towards our education at that time.
"Of all the attributes which you are expected to acquire during your school-days, a sense of responsibility is one of the most important."
"...'being responsible' also means 'liable to be called to account'. Hence you must be prepared to account for your actions to your friends, your teachers, your parents, and to your conscience."
Commanding G.H. Steege
RAAF Base Butterworth
This address emphasised not only the importance of our responsible behaviour as representatives of Australia to our Malaysian hosts at the time, but also for our future conduct as citizens anywhere in the world, to avoid thoughtless acts which would mark us as irresponsible people. It is important to learn that we have corresponding responsibilities when we learn of our rights.
Why a Tribute?
For the reasons outlined above I don't believe one of us would say that a tribute is not deserved. The RAAF School was truly a school which aimed to instil in its students sound principles, an intelligent turn of mind and a broad and tolerant outlook, within the boundaries of sound social and moral attitudes.
The school lives on for us today as we remember it the way it was. It is a special part of our memories, as it has harnessed the affection and spirit of all who dwelt within its walls.
Most noticeably, it managed to foster a happy and normal school life for us as children, amid the very real responsibilities of the reasons the RAAF was there. In spite of the turmoils of the surrounding racial tensions, the aftermath of The Emergency, possible outbreaks of terrorism, the riots in Kuala Lumpur in 1969 and curfews in Penang, and the Indonesian confrontation problem, we as students felt safe and protected, therefore being able to look back today and say in all honesty, "Those were the best years of our lives".
by Cynthia Matuschka