Donor story: A lifelong love of trains is helping fund our classrooms for a new century!

Old friends since primary school, Phil A’Vard AM (ex 1954) and Graham Watsford (ex 1952) shared a lifetime love of railways. While at Melbourne High School, they both had a passion for building model trains, and won many competitions with their collective work.

On leaving school, they were foundation members of the Puffing Billy Preservation Society and in the 1950s helped rally volunteers to get the decommissioned train line between Upper Ferntree Gully and Belgrave operational again. It became only the second operating preserved railway in the world and has become one of Victoria’s most popular tourist attractions since.

Graham Watsford and Phil A’Vard doing restoration work on Puffing Billy.

Alongside their love of trains, both Graham and Phil had long and successful careers. In his final year at MHS, Graham shared the role of Dux, taking an exhibition in mathematics at the Matriculation examinations. In his University days he was awarded a scholarship in mechanical engineering at an American university and on return was employed as a production engineer at the Government Aircraft Factory.  In later life he was the chief engineer at the Peter McCallum Hospital.

Phil studied to be a teacher but abandoned this (for a time) to work at the Princess Theatre as an actor and stage manager. A successful career in theatre and television alongside teaching, followed. In the 1960s he was engaged by Monash University to head up their newly opened Alexander Theatre where among other things, he pioneered a long-running children’s theatre programme.

Graham Watsford

The two men remained firm friends throughout their lives, with Phil supporting Graham during his battle with cancer.  Before Graham died in 2018, he bequeathed his significant collection of model railway equipment to Phil, saying he could do what he liked with it.

After careful consideration, Phil decided to sell the collection and donate the funds to MHS, the school that Graham loved and supported throughout his life.  In memory of Graham Watsford, Phil A’Vard has provided a matched donation for the 2020 MHS Giving Day on the 25th March when our community will come together to raise funds for our classrooms. For 15 hours only donations will be matched by our generous matching donors.

Donate and follow the countdown at or volunteer your time to make the day a success here

Archival Film: Australia’s Puffing Billy Preserved (1966)

MHS Foundation responds to COVID-19

Funds raised during this year’s Annual Appeal are helping MHS Students cope with the impacts of COVID-19

The return to distance learning has been challenging. This is especially true for our VCE students, who are struggling with the uncertainty of how remote learning will impact their final ATAR score and their choices for the future.

Recent Australian studies have found that remote learning is resulting in vulnerable students falling further behind their peers. This is often due to limited finances, family pressures, crowded living conditions, and inadequate technology. Our wellbeing team has been working hard to identify students with living situations that are not conducive to home-based learning and identifying ways to support them to excel in their studies.

Since returning to distance learning, the Wellbeing Team has received urgent requests for technology support. They have also experienced a significant increase in demand for counselling services as students once again deal with the unique challenges of lockdown and remote learning. A lack of face-to-face contact with peers and teachers is also resulting in high levels of anxiety and depression for many of our students.

Using the funds raised through our COVID-19 Appeal, the MHS Foundation responded quickly to these pressing needs. We are pleased to advise that, to date, your generous donation has supported the:

– Purchase of five computers and internet dongles that can be loaned to students who are struggling to access their classes at home because they do not have internet access or a computer that supports online learning

– Provision of funds to increase the part-time school counsellors’ hours by one day per week, to meet the extra student demand for her services

Many of our students have been through one of the most challenging situations they have faced in generations. Jennifer Mill, the Health & Wellbeing Coordinator, asked us to share Tom’s story below. Jenny wanted you to hear first-hand how your support is helping students to continue to reach their potential while studying at home.

Not always an exemplary student, in his earlier years Tom was frequently disruptive and argumentative with his teachers and peers. To help him understand why he was acting out at school, Tom was referred to the Wellbeing Team. After a few sessions he disclosed that there were significant disruptions at home with family arguments and court involvement. With counselling support, Tom was able to gain an insight into his behaviour, develop tools for managing his emotions and build his confidence. As a result, he found his academic rhythm, started connecting with the school and his grades improved. He was well on his way to VCE success.

Unfortunately, moving to remote learning has not been great news for Tom. Shifting his learning environment to the family home removed the safety and stability of school. He found it difficult to connect to online learning and lost his motivation. Members of the Wellbeing Team recognised that Tom was struggling and kept in weekly contact. For Tom, this support has been critical, saying himself that at times this contact is all that has kept him going. The counselling support has helped Tom to keep pushing forward with his studies and stay encouraged and motivated in spite of the challenges of remote learning.

*Tom is not the students real name

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