Death shocks school

TWO of the teenagers involved in a horrific triple-fatality car smash in Melbourne last week were enrolled at Morwell’s Woolum Bellum College and were members of Latrobe Valley’s indigenous community.

The Express has learnt the students had been referred to Woolum Bellum this year; however, they had stopped attending classes soon after the State Government’s recent announcement of the school’s impending closure.

According to Victoria Police Media, the crash occurred just after midnight last Thursday after the allegedly stolen vehicle veered off Pascoe Vale Road and hit a wall.

Three teenagers died at the scene, including a 12 year-old Preston boy, while a 14 year-old Lalor boy was taken to the Royal Children’s Hospital.

However, The Express has learnt the Preston boy, actually 13, has extensive family connections in Morwell and they will be attending his funeral service this week, while the 14 year-old Lalor boy had ties with the Moe community.

News of the incident has rocked the local indigenous community and the Woolum Bellum schooling network, who were still coming to terms with the government’s decision to close the school at the end of the school year.

College principal Matthew Snell said students had taken news of the school’s closure “pretty poorly”, and the school had “lost track” of the boys shortly after the announcement.

“The closure (announcement) has had a huge impact on the kids, and it has been interpreted by some that they may have no education choices ahead of them anymore,” Mr Snell said.

“When you are dealing with disengaged kids, and certainly in the cases of these two boys, knowing that there is a structure around them and it is going to be there for them does provide security, so a lot have taken it poorly, and I guess they can’t see a future in their education in Gippsland.”

The college, which acted as a pathways school for year seven to 10 students who had fallen out of mainstream education, reintegrates the children into schools and provide alternative education.

However, a government review assessed the school as failing to achieve its goals and lacking value for money.

Mr Snell said working with the two boys had been “difficult” and they had been in a “fair bit of trouble with the law”.

“Yes, there were other circumstances around these students, but dealing with those other things is part of the role we have played here at the school,” he said.

A Woolum Bellum teacher, who wished to remain anonymous, said the announcement of a closure had “taken its toll” on staff and students.

She said the accident “extremely shocked” teaching staff and had distressed students. 

She said several staff members would be attending the boy’s funeral, and said the teaching staff’s heartfelt condolences went out to the boy’s family. 

Anglicare Gippsland program manager for community services Bruce Thorne said Woolum Bellum provided the intensive support needed by local at risk aboriginal youths, which was “far greater” than anything they would have received in other educational settings. 

“It is tragic that there’s even the idea to suggest that they haven’t had the support to make the connection they need to make in the wider community,” Mr Thorne said.

A spokesperson for State Education Minister Martin Dixon, who was behind the decision to close the Woolum Bellum College along with two remaining Koorie Pathway Schools in Victoria, offered his “heartfelt condolences” to the families affected.

“The government remains committed to working with Koorie communities across Victoria to provide real education opportunities for all young Victorians,” the spokesperson said.

The spokesperson said Victoria Police was investigating the incident and said the three deaths would be the subject of a Coroner investigation and a child death inquiry.