Special visit for 40-year reunion

From Left: Claudia Barker, David Williams, Assistant Principal Leonie McGinley (front) Rotary's Geoff Reeves, Trish Bethune and Karen Bethune. Picture: Corey Everitt

By Corey Everitt

Kooweerup Secondary College’s class of ’83 held its 40-year reunion this past weekend, which saw a special guest return to see old friends and reminisce about old times.

David Williams was an exchange student in 1983, coming from Johannesburg, South Africa, he spent his senior year across the world in the rural town of Kooweerup.

The exchange was organised by the Kooweerup-Lang Lang Rotary Club.

David would stay with five local families in his stay, attend the local school – when it was known as Kooweerup High School – and travel around Australia in his spare time.

Lots of memories and friends were made by the time he returned to South Africa.

After four decades, David has finally had the opportunity to return and the Kooweerup community has welcomed him back with open arms.

“Very surreal, but it’s been great,” David said.

“I always wanted to come back to visit, but I did my national service in the Navy and then I started working and moving around the world, so life happened while you were making plans.”

David’s return to town was guided by Geoff Reeves, who was one of David’s original host families with wife Lorraine.

“Geoff has been very kind to me, putting up with my snoring,” David quipped.

“Ken and Bev Male – my first host family – lived around the corner from Geoff, so I managed to pop around there yesterday.”

Many faces may still be in town, but Kooweerup isn’t quite the small rural town it used to be in David’s exchange year.

“It’s completely exploded, there are a couple of things I remember,” David said.

The town may change but the memories and experiences are still strong.

“Always wanted to come back, you kind of don’t always appreciate what you are going through in the time,” David said.

“It was the families I stayed with, I stayed with five fantastic families. Playing Aussie Rules and swimming were big highlights.

“Traveling through Australia, I was very lucky to go to Alice Springs, Adelaide, Sydney and a lot of Victoria.”

Local Karen Bethune was a student as well in ’83. The Rotary Club organised her exchange year where she spent 1984 in Japan.

Looking back, Karen and David see their exchange years as giving them invaluable life experience.

“It prepares you for life, it’s not so much an academic year, it’s more a general, broad spectrum about internal growth,” Karen said.

“You’re away from your family with people you don’t know.

“It’s all so different now, 10 years after I came back Mum and Dad were still on the program and kids were emailing their friends.

“I would have to wait for a letter to come home and the letter would take two or three weeks back then to get to where I was.

“There is education there, but it’s not in a formal sense.”

On Friday 24 November, David was given a tour of his old school, now called Kooweerup Secondary College. While on Saturday night he joined the 40-year reunion for the class of ’83.