BY VANESSA BACON-HALL
Each edition the Advertiser will take you on a journey through the life of people in our community – the characters, the notable ones and just those with an interesting backstory. This week we look at the life of historian, librarian, and Advertiser columnist Frances Windolf.
A LOVE of books, teaching, and the desire for a new challenge in a new place were the underlying themes that saw a young Frances Windolf take up the job of Teacher/Librarian at the newly opened Coolum State High School in 1985.
The school opened with just eight teaching staff and a student cohort of 120 grade eight students – this move would turn out to be pivotal and afford Frances the chance to meet the love of her life, her late husband John Windolf.
“Coolum was just so beautiful, and I came to love it rapidly… I even bought my house straight away and then three months after moving here I met John,” Frances said with a smile.
Before moving to Coolum Frances, who was the eldest of six, had a life that was punctuated with teaching stints in rural areas of both Victoria and Queensland and growing up Frances enjoyed living in country Victoria in the town known as Yea – 110kms northeast of Melbourne.
It was as a child in Yea that the love of history was formed by way of her Father who when not working as a bank manager was a keen photographer.
“When I was young my Father was approached to take the photos for a book which was to be on the history of the Murrindindi Homestead in Yea, and I would go with him and just loved it.”
Frances started her career as a teacher and taught at every level from prep to university and affectionately loved every part of teaching.
Frances’ first teaching position was at the little school at Noojee in the rural Gippsland region of Victoria and from there she was also the library advisor for all of central Melbourne and at 31 married her first husband and due to his hereditary illness, the pair moved to Nanango for the balmier Queensland weather.
The couple lived on a 90-acre championship goat stud at rural Nanango and whilst working full time as a teacher Frances also cared for her ailing husband.
“After Ron died in 1982, I needed a change, and I came to Coolum.”
“My boss told me that there was a new school starting in Coolum and he said that he knew I would love it.”
Thankfully for the wider Coolum community, Frances got the job at the newly opened Coolum High School and would continue working there for almost 20 years up until retirement at 57 in 2002.
And that meeting with John just three months into living at Coolum came about via an article about the Yaroomba shipwreck which was posted in a local shop.
“I saw this article and wanted a copy for the school and was told to see John and my friend said that he thought we would get along.”
And get along John and Frances did.
“In that next number of years after we met, we had only four days that we didn’t spend time together.”
John was a born and bred Coolum ‘local’ having grown up in the region and whilst his work in the Navy took him to many parts of the world including Antarctica, Coolum was always the place he returned to, and he also had a vast collection of Coolum artifacts such as photos and stories which chronicled the history of Coolum.
“When John came back from travelling the world he worked at the garage and the old men that John had known from when he was a kid, when they found out that John was interested in history they would bring him things – an old photograph or newspaper clipping.
“So, when I met him, he had under his bed apple box after apple box full of stuff that he had collected.”
It was to be a treasure trove of priceless Coolum information.
“When we got back from travelling in 2003, I said, I’m going to do something with those apple boxes and I sat down for a year writing, ‘An Island Surrounded by Land’.”
The book chronicles the history of Coolum and the region in vivid detail and the title refers to when Coolum would only be accessible via boat along Coolum Creek due to the only road into the area from Yandina flooding.
The book was warmly received by the community and after that history endeavour, Frances completed an online Graduate Diploma in Local History through the University of New England and then went on to do a Masters/Honours in History – resulting in a 200+ page thesis chronicling the history of the entire Sunshine Coast region.
Whilst history was a love and passion the Windolfs shared, a love of travelling was another passion with the couple visiting an impressive 83 countries together.
Sadly in 2021, the community lost John Windolf and Frances lost her other half. Not content to simply sit and be, Frances enjoys volunteering with the Coolum Lions, writing her regular history column for the Advertiser, and travelling.
When reflecting on what makes Coolum so special to her and why it is ‘home’, Frances explains that it is the community.
“One of my joys is seeing former pupils as wonderful people in the community.
“And Coolum has a heart and it’s had a heart from way back when there were only eight kids in the school.”
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