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Popular Warners Bay teacher retires after 50 years


His name is synonymous with Warners Bay Public School and, after 50 years of teaching, that’s where he hopes his legacy lies.

Say the name Greg Powell to anyone who has been in one of his classrooms since 1971 and it will almost certainly go hand-in-hand with collectible cartoon mugs, bushranger stories, games of Tick Off, open fires, bushwalks, school camps and the re-enactments of gold rush times.

It seems anyone who attended the school since 1978 has a fond memory of the teacher described by many as “genuine and caring”.

On Friday afternoon the Mills Street learning hub was awash with former and current students, parents, teachers, and family, all wishing Mr Powell the best on his retirement.

A special one-hour assembly was dedicated to remembering the popular teacher and showering him with gifts and gratitude.

“I want you to cast your mind back to the year of 1978,” began Year 6 student Aleisha.

“Men wore flared pants, there were lots of cheese cloth tops and Levi jeans and tie-dye clothing were all the go.

“Malcolm Fraser was Australia’s Prime Minister, Apollo won the Sydney to Hobart Race… Aussies were flocking to see Olivia and John in Grease and Mr Gregory Powell commenced his 44 years of teaching at Warners Bay Public School.”

His teaching career actually began in 1971 during the Vietnam War when he was sent to Papua New Guinea to “educate native recruits” within his role in the Australian Army.

He also taught for six years in the Blue Mountains before finding what his four children call his “home away from home” – Warners Bay Public School.

“I came here when I was 27 and that’s reversed and I’m leaving at 72,” Mr Powell says.

“My retirement age was 60 in 2010, but I came back for the next 11 years, so its 44 years at this school, 50 all up.”

Most recently the keen historian has been working as a casual teacher at the school.

“That finished on 4 August last year because the Hunter went into lockdown on 5 August and that was the end of me as a casual teacher. No one was taking on casual teachers,” he said.

“I was also reluctant to come into the classroom at my age with COVID.”

And, while he has spent half a decade in the classroom, he is reluctant to say what has changed over the years.

“Because I’ve been at the one school for 44 years, it’s unfair for me to say kids are now all rotten, or kids are much better at one school over another.

“What I would say is how I’ve changed over that time and I know that in 50 years I have definitely changed.

“In the beginning I was like an older brother because the kids I was teaching were only about eight years younger than me,” he told the Newcastle Weekly.

“We came out of teaching college aged 20. Whereas now I’m like a grandpa to them. I look at them as though they are all my grandchildren.

“So, I have changed, but I don’t think the children have changed all that much.”

And, judging by the hundreds of compliments received from his former and current students at Friday’s gathering, Mr Powell knew how to engage children at every stage of his 50-year career.

In fact, when the school’s principal Deb Hall set up an online document for former students and staff to leave messages of support for him, it was inundated, with memories spanning from the 70s to present day.

“You know you’ve made an impact when 30-something years later you’re still remembered as one of the greatest teachers ever.” Those were the words left by husband and wife Ben and Carly who met when they were 20 and realised they had both had Mr Powell as their Year 6 teacher, years apart.

“It’s very kind,” Mr Powell reflected on Friday.

“I always wanted to be a teacher. I always wanted to give children as many interests as I could.

“I hope I have done that.”

Greg Powell has written 13 books on his favourite topics – bushrangers and bushwalking.

He is also a volunteer with Lake Macquarie City Council’s Landcare.

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