From OS to Koowee: an Aussie teacher comes home

As a teacher you see a bit of life with each group of students in front of you. The image I remember last week was of one of the boys in my Year 7 Soccer team putting up his hand saying he did not have any footy boots to play in. Somehow my eyes wandered down to his feet. I was drawn to his runners and I could see his big toes sticking out.

He was a good kid, who had worked hard at our training. Then two other kids put up their hands and said they did not have any boots. We had been getting ready for our soccer tournament this week. Here in front of me are kids from battling homes I thought. When I see that I am instantly drawn to them. I see a bit of myself in that, a little battler from the bush.

One of the things I loved about coming home was coaching Aussie kids. They have an honesty that is breathtakingly refreshing and genuine. I do love the young ones and I am coaching Intermediate Footy boys next week. I have also coached Inverloch Boys Under 11 cricket and senior girls cricket at our school. The girls loved the trip to Macca’s just about as much as playing the game. Next week it is soccer and this group of little tackers.

I am now working at Kooweerup. “Koowee” is known as “The Swamp”. It’s a long way from Jakarta, Beijing, the Emirates, Singapore, Egypt and Taiwan, where we had been living over the last 18 years. It’s even a long way from Melbourne for some of the Koowee kids. It’s a darn long way away also, from the wealth of some of the expat communities that our family has been exposed to. I have come full circle in my life and am now teaching in a small town.

I went home and shared the news of my soccer team with my own family over dinner. Our sons, Jack and Sasha instantly pooled four pairs of footy boots and five pairs of Chelsea shorts for them. “How about this Dad?” Said Jack triumphantly.

I reflected on life back home teaching in a state school with our boys and the differences. It had been both exciting and tough coming home. Initially I was out of work, but immediately jumped into whatever teaching work I could, as did Lynda. Now I am fortunate to have a leadership job at Kooweerup. One thing I will never stop doing, despite my slacks and tie now, is give up coaching kids. I love getting on the sports fields.

Koowee is a great school, with resilient kids and a determined, happy staff. We make do and get on with the job. At wealthy international schools, we did it easy. At my last gig, Jakarta International School,  we had around 30 computer technicians in the whole school. Students got Apple Airs and could walk into open style cafes and be served on by attentive staff who fixed up their hard drives or saved their work . I used to be pretty disappointed with some of the kids, and they way they talked to our support staff there. Mind you many of the kids were fantastic. I remember the trips we used to go on with the sports teams I coached: going to different countries on a sports team! Swimming in Japan, soccer in Singapore. I took a group of kids to Egypt on a leadership trip once from the Emirates. I remember some of the kids that our boys used to hang out with and their houses. There were so many amazing resources and great experiences in these places.

Now I am at Koowee, it brings you back, in a good way.

At Koowee, we have two technicians serving 1000 plus kids. The one student wellbeing coordinator told me he had seen eight kids in one morning about various personal issues. We get regular updates about our kids and the sometimes-battling backgrounds they have. The good news is we are looking after them as best as we can. Our facilities are great for a state school and our teachers are the salt of the earth.

On the day of the competition the boys get their gear, and of course like any team, irrespective of country, they argue about their numbers. Out comes my sons’ boots and four pairs of eyes light up. “They have scored many goals I say to them!”

Today they will score some more.

The boys look terrific. My instructions are simple on the day and they were the same instructions we worked together on in training: have fun, support your mates and play with all your heart. This they did, winning their last game against Casey Grammar 7-0, (We had lost our first two games narrowly).

We beat a Grammar team, we kicked some pretty handy goals and we had smiles goal face wide.

About Haje Halabi

Born in Bright Victoria, went overseas for 2 years and stayed 18. Tiger tragic, father of 2 fine young men, teacher and obsessed with sport and the good it can bring.


  1. Great stuff Haje. Let’s do an Almanac visit at Koowee. I’ll bring the ‘So you wanna be a sportswriter’ program there for a day – and knowing how dedicated and determined you and the students are, I’m sure we’ll get some terrific pieces from them.

    I hope this yarn is read widely.

  2. Loved your perspective Haje. What goes up must come down. The old one generation makes it; one keeps it; one loses it cycle – for countries as much as people.
    I had to google to see where Koo-we-rup was. Expanding my horizons.

  3. Peter- So did I when I applied for the job! Thanks for your support.

    Harmsie- I may take you up on that.

  4. Lovely story Haje. I drive past Kooweerup at regular intervals and I’m sure you and the kids will come to mind from now on.

  5. Simon Killen says

    Best read of the week. Great stuff Haje. I’ve seen all kinds of coaching techniques out on the soccer pitches these past few winters, but yours is bloody hard to beat!

    As per above, you have also given Koo Wee Rup a little definition for me – 1,000 kids? I would have believed 70 :)

  6. Patrick O'Brien says

    Chelsea shorts? Talk about rubbing salt in the wounds.

  7. Haje Halabi says

    Hey Simon- yes we have 1000 kids there, it is now a transport hub, we bus in 850 kids a day from all sorts, packenham, Lang lang, Tooradin, Grantville…they are coming from everywhere.
    Patrick- My boys love Chelsea as do I, as for footy its a split family, tiges and blues!
    Thanks for your coments Don

  8. Citrus Bob says

    Great to read about KooWeeRup (that’s the right way!)
    My former Alma Mater and also to the mothers of Tyson Goldsack (Wendy), Jack Steven (Jenny) and Patrick Dangerfield (Janette) and also Brad and Matt Crouch’ s dad (Philip).
    When the late Fred Hooper was Principal you could only get a teaching gig if you played footy and of course you had to play with KooWeeRup.
    KooWeeRup is also the home of Mulga, Tadpole, Honey, Slim and Slim Shelton. There uncle Jim was a great St.Kilda player who got suspended once for hitting a spectator.
    Ah the memories of the “rup.

  9. john Mcloughlin says

    Well done Haje. Good read. After the Grammar win I hope it was off for Macca’s or at least a Chai Latte!

  10. Haje Halabi says

    Hey John Boy- no straight back to the swamp after our game. Yo should check out the local bakery though, best sausage rolls this side of the yarra

  11. Peter Fuller says

    Lovely story Haje, and good on you. Teachers making a difference for kids who start a bit behind scratch are the best people. If students can find some activity in which they can achieve – sports field, classroom, workshop – it opens up their world.
    My now retired cousin spent a few years at KWR (even as Principal maybe), so I’ve sent her a link to your life-affirming tale of the soccer team.

  12. Haje- great yarn, especially for me as we’re leaving Singapore at the end of the month and heading back to Adelaide following a three year teaching stint. Good to hear you and your family have made the transition well, and you’re finding life rewarding, and interesting.

    Like you I’ve sometimes found the privilege I’ve witnessed quite staggering, such as the boy whose butler, for want of a better word, each school lunchtime personally delivered him a cooked meal, while the two personal bodyguards lingered. Did this make me a better person? Not sure, but it’s been fascinating.

    Of course simple things like a backyard, a BBQ, seasons, the footy, friends and family are drawing us home.

    The planet has shrunk so much since I was a kid, I can’t imagine what its dimensions might be when our boys are adults.

    Thanks Haje. Koowee sounds like an excellent match for you. Keep enjoying it!

  13. Once went on a school camp to Java from Bali, where the bus was followed by a team of bodyguards to protect the daughter of the licence owners of the 7-11 group for Indonesia.

    In the Emirates at RIS, just before the bus departed on their first ever school camp, a mother came up to one of the (male) teachers and gave him a feather. He asked what it was for. She replied “Sometimes, Ahmed has trouble getting to sleep, so it helps to tickle his testicles with the feather”. He gave the feather back to her and said it wouldn’t be required.

    Good to hear you, Linda and the boys are back and making people and places better!

  14. Dr Rocket says

    Good one Haje!

    Great to hear your son Jack enjoying his footy with Inverloch – especially when he gets the $5 from the coach for MVP and shares proceeds with team-mates at the club canteen!

  15. Malcolm Ashwood says

    Fantastic Haje good on you and also your children for going and getting the boots and gear straight away.A really enjoyable read all the best for the future !

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