Nestled in the heart of the Sutherland Shire, along Willarong Road, you’ll drive by what is now the abandoned Southern Campus of Caringbah High School or informally known as ‘top school’. Up until 2007, both the Northern and Southern campus’s were linked by a covered walkway, but due to unstable clay foundations, the ‘top school’ was deemed unfit and has now become a site of urban decay riddled with a somewhat colourful cosmetic makeover encompassing copious amounts of graffiti, bears the signs of mother nature bearing down on her year after year, and not forgetting a healthy dose of vandalism, of course. In all honestly really, all the destruction only adds beauty as this fairly impressive structure gains so much character and mystery as a result. Warning: this is a fairly long post, however I felt it would be a cardinal sin not to showcase all the beauty and history and character in words and visuals that encompass this now rotting structure, as one day soon, it might literally cease to exist as mere ashes and rubble. So if you’re interested in history as it degrades before our very eyes, then by all means read on …
A school that is considered an academically selective public high school where students achieved exceptionally high marks consistently in both SC and HSC. Caringbah High first opened its doors in 1960 and in 1989 was nominated as a selective. In 2007, a construction project began to consolidate facilities from both the Northern and Southern campus. Prior to that the now abandoned Southern campus was home to an auxiliary administrative office, plus music, industrial technology and applied science classrooms. I’ve been chastised numerous times in the past for visiting abandoned locations on my own, so this time I enlisted the company of my BFF, Myrza, who was happy to venture somewhere different with me, granted this is not really her ‘thing’ to photograph, but I love her devotion. After all one never knows what you might encounter upon arrival. An abandoned building with ample well lit enclosed rooms, some carpeted and perfectly comfortable. One might even thing you’re in a hotel and have your pick of rooms. A perfect home for flagrants, the homeless or unsuspecting runaways, high on crack … well you never know in this day and age or we could just assume the obvious happens as you encounter unstable structures and rot infested stairways and one wrong footing and I might see myself free falling to oblivion ending with a big crack on my head and not a soul aware of my little venture today to seek help. Must ensure ‘find my phone’ is turned on should someone have the good sense to notify the police of possible missing person.
So on a rather hot and humid Sunday in Sydney, sporting 33 degrees, we head down to Caringbah to sample this urban decay. My inner minx is literally doing back flips and shouting a Woo Hoo with excitement at what I’m about to encounter. I can barely contain myself but for the sake of appearing fairly nonchalant, as this is just another day out for me with my camera. Usually I have to drive hours to discover treasures like this and still can’t believe my luck to have this beauty right on my very door step. And I mean literally 10 minutes away. Who knew, tucked away in a little backstreet in ‘The Shire’.
Upon arrival, we take a brief stroll toward the front of the building, ground leve to suss out access. Okay, not as easy as I was hoping. The place is locked down like Fort Knox and rightfully so, I guess. After all ‘unstable foundation’ and ‘abandoned’ usually should yield a red flag to the general population, but far from deterred, I’m er … we’re going to find a way in and yes please!!, there it is, hidden around the side, adjacent to the neighboring Bowling Club, a gate that one can, with a little difficultly mange to contort your body into a pancake essentially and squeeze through. Oh my inner minx is now having somewhat extreme but delicious heart palpations at the very sight of this decay before my very eyes. I almost want to bow down and kiss the ground. Beautiful doesn’t even come close to the scene before me. The vast emptiness of derelict space is simply gorgeous, makes one feel like you’re utterly alone in this world in some alternate universe. At first sight, the Southern campus as it stands today, it’s fairly impressive in size, a three story structure in an L-shape with vast hallways, covered in wall to ceiling glass allowing in plenty of natural light. Off to the side is a separate building, what looks to be the Industrial technology area. The grounds consist of an amazing selection of cement sporting ‘fields’ sparing no expense in extra curricular activities that once would have been available to students. Now littered with fauna that have emerged from the very earth and made their way through solid cement to blossom among ruin. In some areas, a sight akin to an earthquake that might have rocked this campus and left destitution in its wake now for mother nature to take over. Our first stroll toward the building took us up a small flight of stairs to inspect a possible entrance, and so disappointing to find all the doors barricaded. Most of the windows barred. But hope springs ever eternal within me, this can’t be it. And I will find a way inside. I certainly didn’t go to all this effort to be defeated in losing my chance to capture a bit of history on film. And so inch by inch, we make our way along the entire perimeter of the front of the building, finding along the way scattered shards of vinyl, spray cans, glass, rusted metal, destroyed chairs, more glass. Oh the delights already have me excited beyond belief. The colours, the textures, the degradation, there simply are no words to describe the splendour of my surroundings. I’m inwardly ecstatic with glee. One can almost close your eyes and step back in time and imagine this playground littered with scholars milling about, the sounds of laughter and screaming fill the air. The gardens lush with vegetation, the sporting ‘fields’ a smooth grey flat surface, the windows clear and sunlight streaming in. Now it’s an overgrown jungle of weeds, shattered glass, splintered wood, the smell of rust permeating the air, the grounds uprooted, windows boarded up like a prison and doors ways chained – the contrast of two possible environments is surreal to envision.
Next we venture up another level from the outside to eventually find an entryway that has surprising no locks or chains and into wonderful we step. We’re now inside the building in what appears to be the first floor and your eyes widen in amazement. Vast hallways unfold before you as far as the eye can see. Surprisingly well lit with the few windows that have not been boarded and allowing in daylight. It’s a kaleidoscope of colour and texture that assaults your senses simultaneously. So much to take in. Your eyes don’t know what to glance at first, yet you want to be greedy and take it all in at once. Some of the graffiti is surprisingly good, care and attention has been taken when applying artwork to the inner walls. Whilst other displays of colour, added with no consideration for composition or theme. This is to be expected. As we make our way through every corridor and into every classroom, I’m astounded to find a common theme that is both exciting and eerie. One would almost envisage some unknown danger literally forced the school alarm to sound, causing every student to immediately halt their current activity and make a hasty retreat. The chaos of debris before your eyes seems one of panic and a swift exit. Tables are upturned, chairs strewn across the floor, pens and paper scattered aimlessly across the room, some still sitting on tables, others flown in all directions, notes still written on blackboards.
There is something so infinity beautiful about scattered chaos in the right environment..
I take myself back to my high school years in the mid 1990’s and I see my walkways that consist of order, one that has a somewhat clerical feel to it. Stoic, boring and devoid of color or personality or vibrancy. My surroundings simply put, have no personality, there is a distinct absence of even ordered chaos. And here today, I gaze at my surroundings, roaming the halls of a school and I certainly see chaos. But it has a beauty to it that can’t be described or rationalized. This feeling of being suspended in time is somewhat surreal and hypnotic.
A few treasures that caught my eye, that initially I felt guilty reading, but realized how amazing this is to have in my hands, test scores from students, class lists, mathematical equations, random drawings. One notebook contained a story written by a student I wish that I could have met. An unusual piece of writing in terms of subject matter, truly a story from the heart and a testament to the complexities that live inside the mind already of a teenager, and what they endure and we’ve all been there but sometimes forget what life was like at that age. And for about 20 minutes I found myself lost in bewilderment as I read through this book. Whilst there’s no wow factor in this image below, the thing that caught my eye that I find absolutely priceless and certainly something to be treasured, is the fact that the alphabet remains intact, either written by teacher or student, noted at the top of the black board. The mere fact that vandals who have passed through this room over the years have resisted the urge to smear or erase it. Almost as if it were sacred. A sight to me as an adult, I never thought I’d find oddly sentimental and beautiful. The consonants and vowels that make up our beautiful language remain intact, as it should be. And yes, I’m a stickler for a series of correctly constructed syllables with a little bit of spice thrown in for good measure of course. And boy do these archaic mediums take me back –it’s definitely been a few years since I’ve seen a port connection like that on a keyboard or had to stick my pencil through the hole in a cassette rape to manually rewind it and I surprisingly enjoyed the days of floppy discs, except for storage capacity limitations. Glorious proof that we are evolving so quickly in technology as the years fly past. Don’t we wish prices were still even remotely close to this. One thing that certainly left me wondering and I’m guessing this must be an Aussie thing, but how on earth do you put a price on peanut butter at 60c. Absolutely no way that’s for the jar, so how do they sell peanut butter in Australian schools. By the spoon full / a dollop? The same could be asked of Vegemite. Also a low 60c. A few more random shots as we stroll through each room on 2nd and 3rd floor. After we’d covered every classroom, every staircase, every storage cupboard, teachers’ lounge, it was back outside and head around the back which took us to the bathroom facilities. If only these calls could talk. Once we headed into this room, and spent some time having a chuckle at some provocative messages, others quite endearing and lovable, and the rest naturally sprouting profanity I shan’t repeat, as you would expect teenagers to do, we found another entry way at the end, which essentially took us into a room with absolutely no visibility. Black as night. Felt like I was Indiana Jones exploring dark slippery tunnels, not knowing what you’re going to find or trip over. But hey, nothing ventured, nothing gained.
This particular area we ventured to next, was set aside from the main building and from the contents I’m guessing it was some kind of Wood Working or Industrial Technology class. And exceptionally easy to access – so easy in fact, there you stood before an unlocked, unchained, unboarded wooden door, becoming you to ‘step into my tool shed’ … don’t mind if I do!! And sadly after countless hours spent wondering around the ghost hallways of the Southern Wing of the now abandoned Caringbah High School, our excursion had sadly come to an end. Today in 2015, who knows for how much longer this beautiful decaying structure will still stand. For more images, visit the Gallery here: IMAGES OF ABANDONED CARINGBAH HIGH SCHOOL