Darling Range School (Carmel Adventists College)

Tucked away in the Darling Range to the east of the city and accessible by a two hour (40 kilometre) train trip was a rural stopping point known as Greens Landing. The journey was by means a slow crawl up the escarpment via the Upper Darling Range Railway, sometimes referred to as the “zig-zag line.” Directly below Greens Landing was the Heidelberg Valley, later known as Bickley Valley, in which two settlers – Charles Ashcroft and George Palmateer – had procured land. Newly baptised into the Adventists faith by Pastor Finster, both men were in the process of establishing orchards.

Hearing of the search for a property on which to establish a training school and zealous in his faith, Charles Ashcroft was impressed to offer his property for this purpose. Oral history has it that George Palmateer first planted the idea in his mind. Ashcroft made it a matter of prayer and asked for a sign from God that this was His will. The sign for which he asked was said to be “two claps of thunder.” On hearing as affirmative response, he made the offer to the conference, believing it to be the will of God. Whether these details are fact or Adventist folklore, in response to Ashcroft’s offer, the president, Pastor Finster, and Harry R. Miller visited the property on 29th October 1906. Obviously they were impressed with the site, because the following day the executive committee was taken to the property and voted to accept Ashcroft’s generous offer

Some have thought Ashcroft gifted the property to the church but this is not so. The agreement was that the church pay him $200 and accept liability for the $400 loan he had taken out with the Agricultural Bank. In that the property was worth more than double this amount, it was certainly a “most generous offer.”

The advantages of the site included its proximity to the city, its rural surroundings, the fertile soil so suitable for orcharding and growing vegetables, the availability of an abundant and permanent water supply (it was said to be fed by one of the best springs in the district), and adequate transport both for students to the school and crops to the city market.

Once the decision had been made to locate in the Heidelberg Valley, preparation was placed on fast track with the intention of commencing school in 1907. Harry Martin, a recent graduate from the Australasian Missionary College who had been assisting in evangelistic work in Bunbury, was given the responsibility. He was appointed as principal and supervisor of development. He was given one pound to buy an axe, grindstone and a digging fork, but he overspent his budget, because the tools cost him one pound and threepence. He had to cut and sell firewood to pay for the first lot of groceries.

PRIMARY SCHOOL November 1907 #6

The necessary preparatory work was not started from nothing. Ashcroft had already begun to develop the property. Some two-and-a-half acres had been cleared, fenced and planted with oranges, mandarins, lemons, prunes, apples, pears, peaches, figs, loquats and grapes. He also had commenced the building of a seven room residence. This was to be extended and made into dormitories and classrooms. There was also a sizeable ironclad stable, which Martin decided to dismantle and re-erect as temporary accommodation for himself, his wife, Prudence, and baby son, Edward (Ted). Two daughters (Edith and Grace) were born into the family while living in these humble conditions. Fortunately, Harry had experience in building prior to training for ministerial work and his experience was now put to good use. With the help of a number of young male prospective students, and voluntary labour from Adventists resident in the district, rapid progress was made, with the intention of having the facilities ready for as many as 20 students. The estimated cost of this initial work, plus furnishings, was 300 pounds.

Among other donations, the gifts of three hens, a rooster and 12 white leghorn chickens guaranteed eggs for food and proved to be the forerunners of the future poultry industry. What was meant to bring in an immediate income was the cutting of timber for sale. Two hundred and seventy-three hours of labour were spent in cutting up the timber, felled while clearing the property. However, the sale of the wood brought in only two-thirds of the amount paid into students fees accounts for their expended labour. Living in temporary accommodation and tired from each day’s labour, the initial students attended Bible classes in the evenings under the instruction of Harry Martin.

The Darling Range School officially opened with classes on 13th January 1907, with Lillian Clarkes, a teaching graduate from the Australasian Missionary College, as teacher and two students under her tutelage. Numbers quickly increased to seven boarding students and four day students, two of whom were from the wider community. In operating as an industrial school. Each student was required to balance study with a regular work program. By September, the enrolment had increased to a dozen students, one of whom was Don Nicholson, later to marry his teacher!

To help with the lack of sleeping quarters at the new school, a dormitory addition was added to Charles & Ada Ashcroft's family home

For the best part of 40 years, the Darling Range School made use of rail transport for both students and produce. In the early years, the train – which travelled from Perth to Pickering Brook, and later extended to Karragullen – was virtually the sole means of transport. Though it was officially known as the Upper Darling Range Railway, many past students affectionately referred to it as the “zig-zag line.”

The Canning Jarrah Timber Company privately built this historic line in 1891 for the purpose of carting timber from the mills to Midland Junction. In 1903, the West Australian Government Railways took over the line as part of its network. However, the transportation of freight remained its primary purpose, particularly as the developing district became a major orcharding and vegetable-growing area. Linking a carriage or two to a freight train often provided facilities for passenger transport. At Midland Junction, the passenger rolling stock was uncoupled and linked to other passenger units from the Mundaring area and then towed into Perth. It tended to be a slow and lengthy operation.

When the training school commenced in 1907, there were two train stops close together – Greens Landing and Turners Crossing, later these were amalgamated and renamed “Carmel.” Bickley Station was the highest elevation at 319 metres (1045 feet) above sea level. Carmel stood at 283 metres (929 feet), just one metre (three feet) higher than Kalamunda. Passengers who boarded the train at Carmel bought their tickets from the guard, there being no recognised station at Carmel. Instead, the Railways provided a small building somewhat like a shelter shed.

According to Lillian Clarke, the first teacher at the Darling Range School, “The train service is convenient, there being two passenger trains to and from the city each day.” However, by 1924, the timetable shows only one return trip, leaving Carmel at 7.07 a.m. and arriving in Perth at 8.52 a.m. Should one miss this train, one would have to wait until an unscheduled mixed train came along. At times, it was a lengthy wait. The return journey left the city at 5.27 p.m., stopping at Carmel at 7.10 p.m. before arriving at Karragullen at 8.04 p.m. If one missed the evening train, one had to wait until the next day. Wynstan Dowling, a former student, remembers missing the evening train on one occasion and having to walk to the College from Midland, arriving in time to work the midnight shift in the factory.


The feature of the trip was the “zig-zag” on the escarpment. It was a descent (or ascent, depending on which way one was travelling) of 131 metres (431 feet) in six kilometres (four miles) of track, involving the engine alternating between pulling and pushing the stock until more level ground was reached. At times, the journey was so slow that passengers alighted from the train and picked wildflowers or walked the incline, catching the train again at the top. Between 1907 and 1949, many students and faculty members travelled to and from the College by rail. Each year, the day after closing exercises saw many students, with their heaps of luggage, waiting at the Carmel Station to begin their homeward journey, some to experience the “zig-zag” for the last time.

The Upper Darling Range Railway was closed in 1949 due to an Australia-wide coal strike and never re-opened. Transport by road had increasingly proved to be more popular and less time-consuming, eliminating the need for transport by rail. Today, the “zig“zag” is a scenic route over which cars are driven.

It was never planned that the original location of the Darling Range School buildings should be the permanent site of the school. Partly completed existing building were altered and enlarged to provide for the immediate needs of the few students to enrol. The Training Institute of 1908 sparked a determination to locate permanent school buildings at a more desirable location higher up the valley> By 1910, the first stage of a three-stage plan was in place and the shell of a building to house 30 students had been constructed. This became home for the young women, with the young men located in the original building down the valley. By 1914, the second stage had added a chapel, dining room and class-rooms. Major Building then ceased, with finance directed to the ongoing work of finishing and furbishing existing buildings.

As early as 1916, it was recognised that the distance between the accommodation for the male students and the main building up the valley was a problem. So within a few years stage three was completed with the addition of a new dormitory wing for the young men.

Over the following years many changes had to be made to kept up with the growing needs. The years 1951 to 1965 could rightly be called the progressive years of the West Australian Missionary College. These were the years of expansion of dormitory facilities, Charles Ashcroft Hall being built in 1958 and Kathleen Giblett Hall in 1961. Also the long overdue upgrading of staff housing was completed.

In 1972, the College board came up with a plan to demolish old buildings and build a new Carmel College. After several years of planning, the building of the new College commenced in 1974. The new Carmel College was completed in 1979. Another major building program was undertaken in 1990’s with the construction of a Gymnasium Hall and meeting rooms.

As student numbers grew from 193 students in 1994 to a high of 349 students in 2003, expansion was always under consideration. Such growth allowed the number of subject options to be increased and with a reclassification of government grants the school was able to upgrade some of its teaching facilities, including the Taylor Wing for Technology and Art, and the purchase and equipping of a new science laboratory.

Planning is always under consideration as the College continues to grow and develop.


Gaining experience in orcharding, horticulture and agriculture was seen to be an important part of the balance between practical and academic learning offered by the Darling Range School to those whose desire was to prepare themselves to serve as missionaries in the Pacific Islands or in South-East Asia. (In those early years parts of South-east Asia were seen by the Seventh-day Adventists to come under church governance of Australasia.)

Prior to 1949, such experience was gained by supervised labour in various industries. A student learned about poultry by feeding the hens and collecting the eggs; learned about dairying by milking the cows (usually by hand); learned about horticulture by growing vegetables to supply the school kitchen; or learned about orcharding by pruning, spraying and picking the ripened fruit. Many country students availed themselves of this aspect of College life, and eventually returned to a life on the land, having profited by the exposure to every aspect of school life.


While recognising it was commonplace to own a family cow, Carmel was by no means a dairying district. The rocky soil was good for fruit growing and, to a lesser extent,growing vegetables, but it was not the place to locate a dairy farm. Yet from its earliest years, cows provided training in animal husbandry and fresh milk for Carmel’s boarding department.

In May 1954, Bill Hodgen arrived from South Australia to take charge of the course in Agricultural Science. He and his wife, Esther, were to spend 21 years in association with Carmel’s farming, orcharding and poultry industries.

“With a pass rate of 82%, we were higher than the States average in Agricultural Science Courses,” reminisced Bill, with pride. He remembered all of “his boys” with fondness but singled out one or two who went to make outstanding contributions in later life after Carmel.

Bill also acknowledged that his boys could be “a little mischievous” at times. He named one student who cut a holes through the floor in his room and used it as his hiding place for ginger beer.

He also recalled one occasion when he and Lyle Davis decided to “make a raid” on the boys. Anticipating mischief one evening, they hid themselves among bales of hay in the hay shed, and waited for the action to begin. About 9.30 p.m. the lads arrived, lit up the dairy boiler and while the chooks were cooking, proceeded to have a cow-manure fight. Dirty and stinking of manure, they took a bath in the trough and then fortified themselves with eggs and freshly cooked chook – all the time unaware the two faculty members were in the hay keeping them under close observation.

In 1972, Bill Hodgen retired from College teaching for health reasons, only to return from 1982 to 1985 to take over the poultry once more. He quickly turned the loss running industry problem around, making it one of the most profitable of the College industries.

Amy Smith, Bertha Miller and Arthur Powell making the breakfast cereal Granola in 1912, which was taken to Perth for sale
Sanitarium Health Foods

The Darling Range School was founded as an industrial school, where students would spend part of their school hours in gainful employment, thus preparing them to meet the practical challenges of life. “Every student will be required to spend 15 hours each week in some kind of labour assigned by those in charge. Lost time must be made up.” This emphasis appealed to the membership in Western Australia, where so many families were from farming or rural backgrounds.

At its inception, the School had little difficulty providing meaningful employment for the young men. With land to be cleared, it is not surprising that chopping firewood for sale was one of the first named industries. Cultivation of the cleared land, planting more fruit trees, maintaining the existing orchard, milking cows, caring for poultry and aiding in the construction of buildings provided male students with a variety of work experience.


But as time progressed and enrolments increased, it became increasingly difficult to find gainful work for young women. Normal duties – such as meal preparation, caring for the laundry, cleaning the public facilities and hallways – occupied only a limited number. As early as 1907, Pastor L. V. Finster introduced the concept of making health foods to the students, with the result that the construction of “a large oven” was immediately commenced with intent of “providing profitable work for a few of us.” This industry, together with baking bread for the School family, continued to provide employment for young women. Other snall cottage industries were experimented with from time to time, such as knitting, basketry, canning fruit for the public market and beekeeping. While serving to provide labour, such endeavours proved not to be financially viable.

So it is surprising the College board at first opposed the building of a factory at Carmel. In retrospect, it could have been expected that such a development would be a permanent answer to the problem of student employment. But as time increased financial stringencies and the new principal Edward Rosendahl exerted influence, the board reversed its earlier opposition. Land for the building was donated by the school to Sanitarium Health Food Company, and the factory opened, debt-free, on March 17th 1933, providing employment during the Great Depression and beyond.

With the establishment of the Sanitarium factory at Carmel, the day-to-day operation of the College work took on a new dimension. Gainful employment became available to both male and female students, and the financial returns not only assisted students in the payment of fees but also provided the College with a regular cash flow, which eased the meeting of monthly payments. The provision of employment also meant more students, particularly young women, were enrolled., with the result that accommodation limits were being taxed.

Students working in the Carmel Sanitarium Factory

The health food work was also showing pleasing growth. Being dependent on inexperienced student labour, the work in the Carmel factory was not without teething problems, but sales of its products throughout Western Australia increased, particularly with the introduction of the new product called “Weet-Bix.” The possibility of a market to the populous regions of South-East Asia was also investigated, then promoted.

The resulting demand far exceeded the expectations of the health-food leaders, with the result that within five years the Carmel factory had to be enlarged in size and production capacity. All of this meant employment for students as well as permanent staff. It should not be surprising, therefore, that many of the student memories of the period are associated with work at the factory.

The Sanitarium Health Food products proved very popular and necessitated the opening of retail stores in the city. Two were opened – one in Central Arcade and the other at 757 Hay Street.

Very creative displays were built at the Perth Royal Show and other venues promoting their range of products. They now stocked a range of sun ripened fruits, fruit juices, breakfast cereals including Bixies, Weeta Flakes, Granose, Cerix and the big seller Weet-Bix. They also diversified into products like Peanut Paste and other like products.

Their delivery vans for the wholesale market were brightly painted with product signage on all sides of the vehicles.

Staff numbers employed at the Carmel Factory grew as sales increased, from 31 staff in 1939 to 47 in 1954. It proved to be a very successful venture and continues till today.

One Hundred Years

In 2007 the Carmel Adventist College celebrated 100 years. Over the years it went through many names changes as it evolved to the College it is today.


1968 – 1983 CARMEL COLLEGE



It seems the more you try to dissuade Year 12 students from engaging in too many pranks on their traditional “Muck Up” Day, the more they muck up! Ask Brian Mercer and he will tell you of one occasion when a horse was confined to a locker bay. It created quite a stir when students arrived next morning, to say little of the aroma that hung in the air for some days.


Bob Bower recalls when he had taken certain steps to make sure the College was spic and span for an important board meeting with interstate visitors in attendance. On that very day, certain unnamed students chose to string a bicycle between the tops of two Norfolk pine trees at the front of the building, much to the glee of the students.


The Watts family have lived in the district for many years and can recount many a yarn about happenings at the College. One time when the old building was still in use, some boys were cooking a chook in the attic. The preceptor caught a whiff of cooking flesh and began to climb the stairs to investigate.
The boys had a contingency plan for such an emergency. They lowered the cooked chook by string over the balcony and gave every appearance of innocence when the said gentleman entered the room. Finding nothing, he left and the boys hauled in the string. They also found nothing! The boys on the lower floor enjoyed an unexpected precooked chicken dinner – blessings from above.


College courtships were either strictly forbidden or closely monitored, making it difficult to respond to the God-given instinct to find a mate. “One had to be a bit inventive,” said Eunice Vaughan, with stars in her eyes. John was the boiler boy and Eunice the kitchen girl. It was John’s responsibility to be up by about 5 a.m. to light the boiler. He always slept in his upstairs room with his window open, so Eunice would throw stones through to make sure he was awake. He would light the boiler and then they would have breakfast together. But a certain faculty member was on their side. When a check was about to be made, he would say to John, “You’d better have breakfast at the boiler tomorrow, Son-o!” They were never caught.


Mention ginger beer and the memories begin to flow! The boys bought a five-gallon (23 litre) keg and stored it in the orchard coolroom. One night it was brought up to the dormitory and the party began. The problem was that the ginger beer had “gone off.” The alcoholic content took its effect on Micky Milos and he became so “happy” he began to sing. The boys tried to shut him up without success so Norm Eaton, Robert Purton and Derek Blackman grabbed him and took him into the showers and turned the cold tap on the fully clad songster.
On the subject of ginger beer, Joe Chambers (1958-59) tells the story of Bob Donaldson establishing his own ginger beer plant. The liquid was then bottled in appropriate brown bottles and stored in one of the shower cubicles, timed to be ready for a post-graduation party. Paddy Watson is named as the one who sneaked in and planted some raisins in each bottle. During the Saturday-night graduation service the tops began to be blown heavenward, the resulting noise being clearly heard by those in the crowded chapel. Suffice to say that the “party” largely involved cleaning up the mess in the bathroom!


Jenny Bramley (nee Trood) was at Carmel College from 1979 to 1981, teaching Home Science, Trade English and Business English. Bob Hall taught the pre-trade boys and I had to try to teach them English – a challenging task as most of them were bigger than me. They found being confronted by a young female teacher too much temptation not to cause all sorts of mischief. We had a lot of fun and I learned a lot about cars, Studebakers, the Bathurst 1000 and cows. I can’t be certain how much the boys learned.
I remember another year when I was blindfolded and kidnapped on my birthday, taken away from the Girls Dorm by car. Of course, I had no idea where I was going or what they were going to do. We ended up in Kalamunda, where we had milkshakes before returning to College. I guess the excitement was organising the event, carrying out the kidnapping and watching the teacher panic. It was a good laugh!
I also remember another Wednesday night I was on duty in the Girls Dorm and, for some reason, a group of girls and I felt it was necessary to create havoc on the boys. Gary Coe, the Science teacher, must have been on duty in the Boys Dorm that night, because I contacted him so he would know what was going on. He actually assisted us! The girls did a quick dash through the Boys Dorm after lights out, screaming “FIRE!” while a couple of them rang the College bell. By the time the boys had staggered out of bed wondering what was going on, the girls were all back in the Girls Dorm, watching through the windows with the lights out. The boys did organise a response, which – if I remember correctly – involved throwing live chooks in the girls’ room after dark. They created a he mess and the girls were kept busy with extra cleaning.


John Fraser tells the story of a raid on the College chooks, a story that could be repeated several times over the years! A few of his associates in crime decided to supplement their diet with a little protein by nabbing a couple of the chooks. The stolen livestock were taken into the bush and life for them was ended. After studying up on a Country Women’s Association Cookbook, the feast was prepared and duly devoured. The bones were buried in Mr. Skuse’s rose garden at the factory.
However, somehow word leaked about the raid and the miscreants decided confession might reduce the punishment. The vote was taken and John was elected to confess to Raimond Reye. John knocked on the door.
“Come!” Pastor Reye’s booming voice sounded through the door. “Why, John! What can I do for you?’
With due contrition John made his confession.
“John, I am sorry! Are we not feeding you enough?”

Articles: “Glimpses of Carmel Adventist College” by S. Ross Goldstone with Neroline Hiscox
Pickering Brook Heritage Group

Images: 1, 3, 4, 5, 6, 7, 8, 9, 10, 11, 12, 13, 14, 15, 17, 18, 19, 20, 21, 22, 23, 24, 25,
26, 27, 28, 29, 30, 31, 32, 33, 34, 34, 36, 37, 38, 56, 57 Glimpes ofCarmel Adventist College
2′ 16 Kalamunda & District Historical Society
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