Amidst investigations into allegations of unreasonably harsh disciplinary measures on many children of Coober Pedy famlies, causing disruptions to the equalibrium of both the children, their families and the wider community, the Coober Pedy Area School Council met on Friday 11 December to re-cast their votes as to whether or not a memorial plaque to former student Donna Dunstan aged 29 who drowned at the Community Swimming Pool earlier this year, would be allowed to be mounted on the wall of the school gymnasium.
Mr. and Mrs. Dunstan were both relieved when they heard that a decision had been made to approved the mounting of the memorial plaque for Donna.
Mrs. Dunstan said, “even though we won the right to have the plaque on the wall, and the memorial plaque will speak for itself, in the end we (our family) have still lost our beautiful daughter! We are grateful to the Coober Pedy community who were there for us and supported us”.
The Dunstans have spent the entire year not only greiving the loss of their daughter but coping with obstacles which could have been avoided. Members of the community have generally concurred that a more sensitive approach would have helped not only the Dunstan family, but close friends and community members achieve some sort of closure to the process that many were working through.
The article below is reprinted with permission from the ABC
A Coober Pedy family whose daughter drowned in the local school swimming pool earlier this year has been refused permission to mount a memorial artwork inside the pool grounds due to school council concerns it might make children and staff uncomfortable.
John Dunstan’s daughter Donna, 29, drowned at the Coober Pedy Area School swimming pool on March 11.
The facility is jointly operated in the school grounds by the school and the Coober Pedy Regional Council as a public pool.
Mr Dunstan, a well-known miner and local business operator, told ABC Local Radio he had been negotiating with the school council for more than six months to have a simple memorial placed in the grounds of the pool. He was happy to bear the financial costs.
“All we have wanted to do is to have something there to say that this is where Donna left us, and to remember our daughter,” he said. “She died at the pool and we just wanted something simple to serve as a memorial… perhaps in some ways it might also remind people about how important water safety is around pools. “I cannot see how that’s a bad thing.”
Mr Dunstan’s initial proposal to erect a granite rock with a commemorative plaque inside the grounds was rejected on safety grounds. After speaking to the school council he understood the problems and submitted a new proposal. “We went away and tried to think of something else we could do, and came back to the school council with the idea of this one, simple plaque,” he said. “The school council wasn’t happy with some of the wording, so we went away again, and we changed that.” Donna had a great love of painting.
Mr Dunstan and his wife Yoka later suggested a plaque incorporating one of their daughter’s pieces, and he was informed this was agreed to by the school council at its meeting in early September. It is unclear as to whether the location was agreed to, but Mr Dunstan insists he was never told it would be banned from going on the wall.
The commemorative piece, which cost more than $2500, was duly commissioned and arrived in Coober Pedy in late October. Mr Dunstan said he had always understood the plaque would be mounted on the wall inside the school grounds. “Nobody ever said anything about it not going there,” he said.
Shortly after the piece’s arrival, however, he was informed the memorial would not be allowed on the wall. This came after concerns it would bring back bad memories to those who were at the scene when Donna drowned.
A DECS official closely involved with the matter confirmed to the ABC that the reason the plaque had been deemed inappropriate in such proximity to the pool was that members of the school council were concerned that it would bring back negative memories.
The official said many of the staff who had been at the pool on the day Donna drowned were still involved with the pool, and there were serious concerns that young children would be adversely affected by any obvious reminder of the accident. While there was great sympathy for Donna’s family and her young child the decision had been necessary for the collective good of the school, its staff and students.
The school’s community council, which has “17 or 18″ members according to one senior figure, had not formally voted on the matter. One of those involved explained the councillors had decided against having a vote, and that the decision had been “more about a consensus”. The consensus had been unanimous. It is understood local senior staff had concerns about the health and safety of staff that might be having trouble dealing with a very sad incident which was still fresh in many minds.
Despite her strong feelings for the Dunstan family, the official said the decision had been taken and the matter would not be reviewed.
One attempt to reach a compromise had involved the plaque being mounted outside the pool area in a small garden. “That’s not where my daughter drowned,” Mr Dunstan said, adding that the whole affair had left him personally quite traumatised. He said he and his wife had always acted in an open manner and had tried to be fair-minded in their dealings with the school council. “I just can’t see what the problem is there, they have a wall with plaques and signs on it already (at the pool),” he said. “This is just a simple piece of artwork we would like to place with our love and in our daughter’s memory near the place she died… “We’ve got nothing else to lose, we’ve lost everything.”
Coober Pedy school principal Ms Sue Burtenshaw confirmed in a two-line sentence emailed statement that the school council still wanted the plaque to go outside the pool area in a garden and would work with the family to achieve that.