Paul Wood­head

Dubbo Photo News - - News -

Paul is the Founder and Direc­tor of Cir­cus West. In­struc­tor, As­ses­sor and Of­fi­cer in the NSW Ru­ral Fire Ser­vice (RFS)

I came to Dubbo in 1989 af­ter fin­ish­ing a de­gree in Sports Science in Can­berra, ma­jor­ing in gym­nas­tics. Just be­fore I got here, there was a Dan­ish gym team that had come through and ob­vi­ously made an im­pact. When I got here, I took over as Head Coach of the RSL Gym­nas­tics Club and they were talk­ing about these in­ter­na­tional cour­ses for gym­nas­tics coaches that were run by the school that this Dan­ish team came from. Now, at the same time, there was a pro­gram fed­er­ally funded called the Coun­try Area Pro­gram, which aimed to get pro­fes­sion­als in dif­fer­ent ar­eas to go out to small schools in the Western Re­gion and try to give them ex­pe­ri­ences that kids in ur­ban ar­eas would get. So the two sort of co­in­cided, and in 1990 I got de­part­men­tal sup­port to go to Den­mark and do this course – a Grad­u­ate Diploma in Hu­man Move­ment Gym­nas­tics.

While I was over there, my brother was a com­mu­nity worker in Belfast and was in­volved in tak­ing kids from quite dis­parate ar­eas of the com­mu­nity to a cir­cus camp in New­cas­tle. They in­vited me to come across and teach some tum­bling, and I had seen cir­cus live I think only once in my life as a young kid.

When I came back here, I was teach­ing at Dubbo West Pub­lic School, which at that time had about 900 kids, and we were try­ing to use gym­nas­tics in the play­ground to struc­ture some ac­tiv­ity. Gym­nas­tics though can be lim­it­ing if you have lit­tle co­or­di­na­tion or no real back­ground in try­ing to do any of the tum­bling. So half­way through 1990, we started us­ing cir­cus as part of the wel­fare pro­gram.

We ini­tially started with a small group of kids who were quite dys­func­tional in the school set­ting; they were re­ally naughty (laughs). We tried to set­tle them and re­di­rect them to go back into main­stream classes. But they took to it. It was risky, we al­lowed them to take risk. They were tum­bling and they were do­ing a bit of jug­gling and a bit

of di­ablo, ac­tiv­i­ties that taught fo­cus and calm­ness. And es­sen­tially it grew from there.

The pro­gram was then of­fered as a sport pro­gram for a wider group of kids. From there it also went into a lunchtime pro­gram. Be­cause, ob­vi­ously, you can’t have that many kids on the play­ground and not have ar­gu­ments. It was at that time we set out our ba­sic phi­los­o­phy, about help­ing kids not only get through school but be­come stronger in them­selves.

We only ever had two rules. One is you have to share. You share the equip­ment, as we didn’t have a lot, but you also have to share what you know. So, right from the start, we are ex­pect­ing every kid who does cir­cus to also teach cir­cus, which is a huge boost to self-con­fi­dence. And the other one is re­spect, which is a throw­away word of­ten, but we lay­ered it. So you re­spect the gear by putting it away, you don’t just toss it on the ground; you re­spect your­self by hav­ing a go, you don’t just give up af­ter one go; and you re­spect oth­ers.

The is­sue that we had af­ter a cou­ple of years was that all of our tal­ented kids were go­ing onto high school, par­tic­u­larly Del­roy. They wanted to stay in­volved, so we started an af­ter-school pro­gram, purely for kids from Dubbo West and Del­roy to start with, but which is now open to kids from Year 5 and up from any school. And that was at no charge. But we had to buy gear.

We were lucky enough to get a cou­ple of small grants and the school gave us P.E. money one year. But we are talk­ing hun­dreds of dol­lars, which is not a lot when a uni­cy­cle costs $150-$200, or up to $1000. So we started charg­ing a fee of two dol­lars a week. And that hasn’t changed for 27 years.

I am tech­ni­cally re­tired, but I still teach the equiv­a­lent of three days a week.

We have lived in Dubbo since 1989, but in 2006 we moved out of town. I grew up in the Blue Moun­tains, so we were al­ways aware of fires, and as a fam­ily Dad would teach us with buck­ets. Be­cause the house was lo­cated re­ally well, we didn’t have to fight the face of a fire un­til I was 18 or 19, in which case we jumped on the back of a truck be­cause it wasn’t so for­mal back then.

I hadn’t con­sid­ered the RFS it­self and had never come across it for­mally un­til we saw guys train­ing on our road. And I just thought, I’ll do that. So now I take ad­van­tage of my teach­ing back­ground and I’m a train­ing of­fi­cer; I’m an of­fi­cer in the Mi­nore Bri­gade and I’ve been teach­ing cour­ses for the RFS for al­most ten years now.

Cir­cus, fire and fam­ily is ba­si­cally where I am.

– Photo by Wendy Mer­rick. In­ter­view by Darcee Nixon.

Fire Per­form­ers, Hal­lie Bourke and Har­ri­son Crow­foot.

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