Lennox Head Public School P&C treasurer Sonja Maier is looking for answers about how the schools growing numbers will be catered for.
Lennox Head Public School P&C treasurer Sonja Maier is looking for answers about how the schools growing numbers will be catered for. Marc Stapelberg

Buried treasure halts major school upgrade

THE discovery of almost 600 Aboriginal artefacts has indefinitely stalled major upgrades to a North Coast school.

Lennox Head Public School had been promised a two-storey expansion including eight new classrooms, a new administration building, special programs room and out-of-school-hours support facilities.

But a site inspection in late 2017 found an axe head and flake, sparking excavations by an archaeological team and Aboriginal parties in December last year.

This led to the discovery of hundreds of Aboriginal artefacts, according to a report obtained by The Northern Star.

Ten test pits unveiled 596 artefacts including "implements and pounders" while there was evidence of "multiple types of raw material that are not local including opalite, chert and quartizite" on the school grounds, which was once a "major Aboriginal camp site".

The school's P&C treasurer, Sonja Maier, said they had been kept in the dark about the future plans for the school, which was bursting at the seams with 466 enrolled students as of February this year.

Ms Maier said the staff room and a space used for the Reading Recovery and Kids in the Kitchen programs had both been converted to classrooms and the school was already outgrowing the planned expansion.

But the P&C has been told the significant cultural finding will ban any ground disturbance deeper than 10cm.

"At the moment the school's really at capacity, there's almost 500 students enrolled and there's always more every year," Ms Maier said.

"With the discovery of the Aboriginal artefacts we actually can't put any more demountables in on footings."

Ms Maier said the school community had been enthusiastic about the planned upgrade, even if it would have been quickly outgrown.

"There was a table set up downtown (with) different colour schemes... people could come through and touch the samples of the carpet," Ms Maier said.

"It was all really exciting and we were all looking forward to it and it just never happened."

Her daughter, now in Year 6, had hoped to use one of the new classrooms, but that's not going to happen.

While the P&C has been fed information from the school, Ms Maier said they had received no direct contact from the State Government.

"We have our monthly P&C meetings and the principal comes along so she keeps us up to date, but really every month there are more questions than there are answers," she said.

"No one seems to be able to give her a clear answer, it's all too hard."

A Department of Education spokesman said after consultation with registered Aboriginal parties, an Aboriginal Heritage Impact Permit had been approved.

He was unable to confirm what this permit would allow, although the Office of Environment and Heritage says on its website its chief executive can issue such permits "where harm to an Aboriginal object or Aboriginal place cannot be avoided".

Neither department has yet been able to confirm whether the permit will allow any new constructions, but a source said the State Government had gone "back to the drawing board" and was investigating alternate engineering methods.

The education department spokesman said while the findings had delayed construction on the school upgrade, they "represent an invaluable part of Ballina's cultural heritage".