From left, Winchester Foundation students Georgia Appleton, Cormack Werner, Jack Mifsud, founder Beryl Neilsen, Brodie Moran and Eliza Anderson.
From left, Winchester Foundation students Georgia Appleton, Cormack Werner, Jack Mifsud, founder Beryl Neilsen, Brodie Moran and Eliza Anderson. CONTRIBUTED

Foundation gives rural students educational opportunities

MORE than 30 years ago Moranbah graziers Beryl and John Neilsen found themselves and their community in the midst of a drought and tough times.

"People couldn't afford to send their kids to boarding school and university. John and I thought when the time was right we'd set something up to offer country kids educational opportunities,” Mrs Neilsen said.

It was then the seed for the Winchester Foundation, named after the Neilsens' property Winchester Downs, was planted. In 2011 it was established and has been operating since.

Mr Neilsen passed away in 1989, but Mrs Neilsen has continued to champion their dream, with a strong team of local people.

From the country herself, Mrs Neilsen knows the importance of the initiative.

"Country kids can miss out on a lot of things, being so far away. The foundation is the best thing I've ever done, it's incredibly rewarding,” she said.

One important annual event on the calendar for the Winchester Foundation is the Whitsunday Voices Youth Literature Festival, hosted at Whitsunday Anglican School.

In 2013, the foundation organised and funded 110 students from Brigalow District Schools to attend the event and this year the foundation has sent hundreds more.

"In 2019, we are proud to have supported 530 students from 22 country schools to attend,” Ms Neilsen said.

Students came from Clermont, Coppabella, Nebo, Mistake Creek, the Pioneer Valley, Carmila, St Lawrence and the Charters Towers School of Distance Education, just to name a few. Remote children who are schooled from their properties were hosted as boarders at the Whitsunday Anglican School Booth House.

"To see them in here, after five hours on the bus, makes me very proud. These kids just appreciate it so much. I certainly never thought it would grow this big,” Mrs Neilsen said.