Vale Norm Woodhouse: Remebering a Stalwart of CEP

by | Feb 7, 2019 | Bush Voices

An obituary written by Judi Sykes

Woodhouse – Norman ‘Norm’ of Gelantipy.                      
6th May 1932 – 30th December 2018                       
Passed away at home surrounded by his family.

The Country Education Project (CEP) was an initiative of the Commonwealth Government in 1977. Its aim is to improve the educational opportunities of students and community members in remote areas.

Norm, a “dog trapper” by trade,  was involved in the initial Buchan Sub Area group, attending the very first meeting held at Orbost in 1977. The participants at that meeting were amazed (or bemused) to see a party of three, from west of the Snowy, “gatecrash” their meeting. Until then, the Orbost folk had been led to believe the CEP and its funding was to be used only for communities East of the Snowy River. But the three representatives from the west — namely Norm, Terry Price and Colin Roberts — had other ideas. In their minds, they hadn’t driven an hour-and-a-half to return home empty handed. Miraculously, agreement was reached and the designate line did a dip over the Snowy River to incorporate the pocket of land from Suggan Buggan to Buchan and Buchan South. And with that, the Snowy River Area of Country Education Project was born.

Norm was passionate about education, rural living and young people. He was a committed member of the local Polo Cross where all his family became involved with his daughters having great success at local, state and national levels – Norms commitment to this passion, saw him become a highly respected judge/referee at a state and national level.

In due course, Norm became Chairman for this group in 1986. I think the rule was that you couldn’t be chairman for more than three years in a row … I am not sure how many terms he held that position.

Norm’s interest in the education of rural communities was something he maintained throughout his entire life. He was a school councillor of the Gelantipy Primary School for more than thirty years. I think the only disagreement I had with him in all of that time was whether we should have salads with the barbecue at the school’s centenary celebration or not. Norm thought the barbecue was enough but, on the day, salads appeared and whether he added them to his plate I don’t know and I never asked. 

Norm was well respected by all Country Education Project members; he was always fair in listening to proposals for programs that would make a difference to the diverse communities that we had in the region. However, he was a stickler for protocol and his understanding of meeting procedure was top-notch. For me, as a relatively new educator recruit to the area in 1977, I learnt the true course of meeting procedure from an expert and I have relied on it to this day.

At that time, meetings were held monthly for both the Snowy River Group and local Buchan sub-group. The miles travelled were immense. Because I was prone to car sickness Norm wasn’t allowed to smoke, which meant I had to provide the lollies for him to eat instead. Meetings ran notoriously late (records have it that one meeting went to well after midnight to get the business done) and finally a minute was instigated that stopped all meetings at 10PM, with the only exception being a 30 minute extension to finish important business.

The Country Education Project aimed to improve the education of rural communities by empowering local people to come up with programs that really made a difference. In our area, we made use of the bus and trailer of camping gear  to introduce an annual camp for the Gelantipy School. Likewise, we instigated the purchase of the school’s first computer, initiated weekly art sessions at night for the community, ran welding programs and purchased musical instruments for the kids to be shared throughout the communities. CEP had, and still has, a lot of positive benefits for remote communities. And probably the most creative was the support of a mobile swimming pool to ensure all the remote schools had access to swimming classes.

Not content with attending only local meetings, Norm eventually took on the role of Chairman of Far East Gippsland CEP Area in 1987, thus increasing his mileage travelled even more. Norm and the CEO, Al Balfour, got on well and soon enough they were travelling to these meetings together, with many great education programs for rural and remote kids in Far East Gippsland resulting.

In 1992 Norm was bestowed an Award of Merit from the State Committee recognizing his contribution to country education in rural Victoria.