“I went along to their committee meeting to hear about the new school project and by the end I was the new Chair,” Rod said.

In 1988, Sunshine Coast property developer Rod Forrester was invited along to a meeting to discuss the creation of a new independent school on the Sunshine Coast. A small group of concerned parishioners in the Maroochydore area had been trying for two years to start an independent Anglican school on the Sunshine Coast, with no luck.

“I went along to their committee meeting to hear about the new school project and by the end I was the new Chair,” Rod said.

Rod’s decision to support the creation of a new independent co-educational school was motivated by both business and family interests.

“Our daughters were in Year 6 and Year 3, and our son was in Year 1. My wife, Jan, and I weren’t happy with the lack of private schools in the region,” he said.

“There was only one independent school on the Coast that catered for students from the primary years right up to the secondary years. Being a developer, I was trying to grow my business and wanted to hire people who felt they could settle here and give their children a quality education.”

“We needed this project for the growth of the area so I took it on.”

The committee gained the interest of architect Jim Birrell, who became the committee’s vice-chairman, and in 1989 employed Stephen Matthew as the school Principal.

“Stephen made a bold move, giving up his role as Director of Studies at Scotch College in Adelaide to move to the Sunshine Coast,” Rod said.

“When he accepted the Principal role with our committee, all we had was a block of land that was tied up under option and a school licence application awaiting approval in Canberra. We didn’t have federal government funding. On top of that, a private school in Noosa had gone into receivership the year prior, so it was a pretty gutsy effort by Steven to take on our project.”

“Stephen’s role was to get out into the community and talk to people, and he got straight to work, banging the drum about our future school.

In April 1989, the committee was thrilled to receive approval to build an independent school on the Sunshine Coast. The school council purchased an orange orchard of 20 hectares just below the mountain of Buderim. Upon approval of the land for the new school site, Rod stood on the block and imagined the campus being built.

We were determined to open the following year.

“I could visualise what it would be like with the creek and all the vegetation on it. I thought, what a beautiful environment for the kids to be educated.”

Rod appreciated that Buderim was one of the oldest suburbs on the coast, and that it had a good reputation as a strong and connected community.

“I knew the future motorway was going to go through Buderim – it was earmarked. I was conscious of Buderim’s growth potential.”

Rod invited Stephen to use his property development office in Mooloolaba as his base while they set about building the school.

“Stephen and I virtually worked every day together – talking and strategizing,” Rod said. 

“It was Stephen who had the vision for the school and the way it would be.

“The vision he created was all about educating the whole student. He used to say, ‘It’s not just academics – our students also need to have the opportunity to explore music, the arts and sport’.“

The motto would be: faith, skill and endeavour. That resonated with everyone locally. They felt that it was going to be better than a normal school. “That ‘whole child’ focus has clearly been continued now.

‘Academics, music and the arts, sport and community service were a very strong part of Flinders when we were there in those early years, and I know that after Stephen retired, the next Principal, Anthony Vincent, kept it going.

“Anthony was very strong in that regard as he had spent two years as Stephen’s deputy, learning and understanding the vision.”

And that ‘quality education for the whole child’ focus – supporting students to develop their character – continues with Stuart Meade as Principal today.

Rod said one of the most rewarding experiences for him personally was when he secured a negative cash flow loan with Westpac.

He explains, “For five years, Westpac leant us the interest because we couldn’t pay it. We didn’t make a single payment in those first five years. The debts just kept growing and growing.

“Part of that arrangement involved providing half a million dollars to secure loans totalling $11million.

“However, Westpac wouldn’t allow that sum to come from one person. They insisted that parents would guarantee it – they wanted to know that the community was going to back the school.”

Stephen set about finding parents to commit as guarantors. And he was successful! Twenty-seven families, including Rod and Jan Forrester, have been honoured on a plaque at the school’s Main Administration building.

Sir Walter Campbell, Rod Forrester and Stephen Matthew at the Official Opening, March 1990
Official Opening, March 1990

Sir Walter Campbell arrives for the official opening
Official Opening, March 1990

The school was named Matthew Flinders Anglican College after the famous navigator who sailed the coastal waters. It opened its doors on January 29, 1990 and welcomed 161 students across Years 5-8 with 19 staff. After five years, the College began to turn a surplus, and that’s when Rod stepped down as chairman.

“It meant that we had finally reached 1,000 students enrolled, the number of students we needed as a College to break even. We began to have a surplus with each new student. This let us pay the interest and begin reducing our debt. Our focus was on recruiting a certain number of students every year; building the buildings within budget; and managing the student-teacher ratio within budget.”

“Getting those families, who were our bank guarantors, released was one of the happiest and most rewarding moments for me in this entire project,” Rod said.

“Our first bursar, Colin Fitzgerald, was fantastic in guiding us through strict financial management. Steven and I worked hard to keep everything on a tight rein to meet our fiscal goals so that we could report to the bank each year. Each year that we kept our word, the bank supported us again the next year.”

“It was amazing the way everyone got behind Flinders, and that spirit was because the school had its independence; it was owned by the community and the board of directors. When I stepped off the board in 1997, I was very satisfied and proud with what we had achieved. We had released the parent guarantors, honoured our commitments with the bank, and achieved what we had set out to do with creating the school.”

Primary and Secondary Choir with Leanne Hunt conducting at the Offical Opening, 19 March 1990.
Students Briana Evans and Jeremy Cruickshank putting the finishing touches to collage during Holy Week, 1990

As parents, Rod and Jan enjoyed investing their time and energy in the school community. Jan coached netball and helped in the tuckshop. Rod was involved in the cricket. They both attended or volunteered at most of the school events.

“Our kids were at Flinders from the beginning, when things were pretty raw in those early days,” Rod said. “We had a lot of community involvement in those founding years. Some of our best friends to this day are parents that we met at Flinders. That’s a huge reward for Jan and I.”

“It was a privilege to be able to play an active role in the quality education our children had access to. We believe that if the children see the parents participating, then they feel that they have got to put in more effort as well themselves. That’s been the way we have educated our kids; showing them that we participate helps them to feel they have an obligation to perform.”

Rod recalls that when the school oval was named Forrester Fields in 2016, it was a special occasion for his family of five.

“I just wish we could have some of our grandchildren attend Flinders but, unfortunately, there was no university on the coast when our kids graduated so they went to Brisbane and have settled happily there and on the Gold Coast.”

Rod said his children reflect on their time at Flinders with fondness and gratitude. “I hear them talk about how lucky they were at Flinders, in terms of the natural environment they were educated in and all the opportunities they were given. They probably didn’t realise just how fortunate they were until they left and saw other schools that don’t come close.”

Upon stepping down from his Board Chair role at Flinders, Rod was promptly invited to be on the University of the Sunshine Coast Board. He served for seven years, with four of those years as Deputy Chancellor. “It’s been part of our journey that we’ve been involved in the growth of the coast,” Rod said. “It’s been great that we have been able to help but we have reaped so many rewards along the way, for our business, our family and our sense of community.”

“It was a huge honour when they named the oval after our family. Our whole family came together that day and it was really special.

Read more about the history of Flinders’ foundation and the role Rod Forrester and other founders played in the College’s development.