Emotions were running high on Saturday at the first public meeting of the proposed Standard Bearers Academy, a $70 million multi-denominational boarding college to be built near Mareeba.
Proponents of the 1200 all-male student Academy held the information session at Mareeba Bowls Club to gauge public support after media reports described the planned broad-based curriculum as having an “Islamic world view.”
The school hopes to attract students from around Australia, including Far North Queensland taking in Cape York Peninsula and the Torres Strait.
The SBA plans to offer Agricultural courses on its 96 acre Tinaroo Creek Rd site with an emphasis on equestrian studies, environmental awareness, sports centre, Olympic-sized swimming pool, tartan running track, an orchard and a training farm.
More than 100 residents were told by Academy education advisor Dylan Chown that rather than focus on Islam, the Academy planned to offer students of all religions entry in an attempt to allay the perception of a fundamental Islamic school.
In reply to a question from the floor, Mr Chown said although “students from another faith could be enrolled, Islamic values will be taught.” This response brought a mercurial reply of derision from the audience with claims of Islamic indoctrination. Another member of the audience asked why Mareeba was chosen for the Academy and could the community expect rural areas in the north to be “infiltrated with students trying to convert others?”
Academy speakers denied this would occur claiming the purpose of the Academy is to educate and train future leaders in an all-inclusive learning community. “There are 76 different nations represented in the Mareeba population, so we will have to be more transparent than normal because of the fear that’s out there,” Mr Chown said.
Police Inspector Rolf Straatemeier told the meeting he had concerns about the after-hour activities of 1200 male students and the impact it could have on the town. “If there are 1200 boys from overseas and Australia I am concerned they could walk around town leaving great potential for trouble,” Inspector Straatemeier said.
Mr Chown said it would be up to the school to “provide a duty of care to students and there would need to be strong pastoral care.”
After the meeting Mr Chown said there was definitely no involvement of Saudi Arabia or Sharia finance in funding models. “We will be using the same funding model as all independent schools,” he said. Mr Chown said the school would be pleased to enrol local and Cape York Peninsula students.
Mareeba Mayor Tom Gilmore said after the meeting he viewed the proposal as an investment of $70m in the Mareeba area and the council would be completely guided by the community in making any decision about the venture. “I would prefer to see a dispassionate debate about this project,” Cr Gilmore said.
Update: See “Community opposition is mounting over proposed Islamic school at Mareeba”, Cairns Post, 26 November 2014