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Past student biographies


2000 - 2010

Allana Wales (2003)


I want to say how privileged I am to have studied music at Cairns State High school. Its facilities for the performing arts and especially instrumental music are (to my mind) the best in the state. I couldn’t have been in a better place to begin my journey as a violinist. 

I wish to extend my biggest thanks to the Music Department, Lizanne Smith and Robert Favell in particular, because it was primarily through their efforts every year that the school’s orchestra travelled down to Brisbane to compete against our southern counterparts. In the year of my graduation, 2003, I was Concertmaster of the orchestra for our win at the Australian Academy Festival of Music. 

It was through these competitions that I found my love for performing at a high standard and decided that this was going to be the direction of the rest of my life. I also found a love for travel and want say an enormous thank you to Stella Massey for my years of study with her, and for our Cairns Strings Orchestra tours to western Queensland, which gave me this. 

In my first year of study at the Griffith University Conservatorium of Music, I performed in Germany and Italy with The Queensland Youth Orchestra. Two years ago I received an International Experience Incentive Scheme Grant to study at the Royal Northern College of Music, Manchester, UK, where I lived for three months. 

This year I am excited to be part of the Australian Youth Orchestra’s international tour. Our farewell concert in the Sydney Opera House will be in July before we leave for a three-week adventure, performing in Shanghai and Beijing, China, the Tivoli Gardens in Copenhagen, the Concertgebouw in Amsterdam, and at the BBC Proms in the Royal Albert Hall, London. 

My instrument has also taken me to many Australian cities. Last month the Australian Youth Orchestra performed Benjamin Britten’s opera Peter Grimes in Perth. I think we’re extremely lucky to have this constantly growing and evolving musical culture in our country. 

In the intervening time, I have been a soloist with the Queensland Conservatorium’s Symphony Orchestra, performed with The Queensland Orchestra and entered competitions as a soloist and chamber musician. At present, I’m a core member of Camerata of St. John’s, Queensland’s only professional string ensemble. Camerata has just launched its first CD, Essential Camerata, and in October is touring to western Queensland, to many of the places I visited as a child. 

Thanks again to all the people whose dedication inspired my own.


Robbie Cousland (1998 - 2002)


I attended Cairns High from 1998 until 2002 - it has only been 5 years since I’ve left,

so a lot of my memories are still fresh. Some of the best years of my life were at CSHS. Overall, I think it offers a great balance across all areas; it provided me a great social life with plenty of friends, excellent teaching, wide subject availability, world-class music (performing arts) department and a wide range of sports to keep fit. 


I remember my mates quite well and still keep in regular contact with them. It’s not until you leave school and move away that you really appreciate how many friends you really had. I also remember a lot of teachers who were very easy to get along with. They would never hesitate to stay behind and help and were always ensuring you were performing to your full potential. It’s clear that they enjoy what they do which makes big difference. 


I was involved in the music program throughout my time at the school. I was in the Orchestra, Stage Band & Concert band. Despite these extra-curricular programs taking up time outside of normal school hours I wouldn’t have done it any differently. The trips away with the orchestra and the music program in general have been some of the most rewarding experiences in my life. 


On the academic side, I went from someone with little motivation and average grades in the junior levels to excelling in the senior years. Towards the later years, I knew I wanted to fly F/A-18s. This meant getting good marks. I remember always reminding myself, “I’ll regret it for the rest of my life knowing I didn’t give my best at school – so why not put the hard yards in now.” 


CSHS provided me with excellent teaching with plenty of academic subjects. I was able to follow my interest in non-standard subjects such as German & IT in addition to the standard Maths, Science & English subjects. As a result, I was able to excel in academics and was awarded an OP1 (amongst several others) at the end of Yr12. 


As you could imagine, the recruiting process for an Air Force Pilot is highly competitive. Having a strong academic record definitely helped me become competitive. Performing well in academics, music & sport demonstrates a lot. I never thought I could do it, but my schooling gave me confidence, motivation and belief that anything is achievable.
(Robbie is now a RAAF Fighter Pilot and flying F/A-18 Hornets). 


I hope to fly & teach new pilots on the newest and latest generation of fighter aircraft. I also hope of doing an exchange with another Air force to better my skills and knowledge. 


I thoroughly enjoyed my time at CSHS and wouldn’t hesitate to recommend it or dare I say, send my future children there. I remain very proud of the School and still see it one of the best schools in the country. 


Gretchen Croome (1998 – 2002)

The best memories I have are from my time at Cairns High! To the annoyance of many of my friends, I am still way too patriotic about Cairns High! These memories are some of the best in my life. 


I was part of the CAD art class in 2001 & 2002 with Jude Marsden and Cathy Jackman. There was only 8 of us in this class and the artistic freedom (but still with Jude’s quirky guidance!) was something that was envied by my friends from other schools. And the CAD Fashion Parade was the highlight of every year. The night always felt like the most important Milan fashion show to me and I spent months and months preparing for it! 

I was School Captain in my final year and I remember how important this was to me and my family. I guess you could say that I wasn’t the epitome of what pops into your head when you think ‘school captain’ but I still included Trevor Gordon’s reference in every job I have applied for! It really meant the world to me. I know that my socks didn’t match and I understand that paint all over your shirt isn’t ideal but I love that Cairns High promoted individuality, creativity and friendliness; because that has definitely been a major part of my career. 
CSHS took me to Japan on the trip of a lifetime and to New Zealand snowboarding with my bestest friends. I painted sets for Rock Eisteddfod, went to way too many lunchtime meetings, always bought chocolate hedgehogs from the tuckshop, and made up songs with my friends to remember facts for my history exams. And I will never forget those amazing times! 

After completing a Bachelor of Communications, I am now I am living in Melbourne and working at Nova 100 radio as their Marketing Manager. I get to work with hilarious, amazing and totally hard-working people everyday like Hughesy, Akmal, Ryan Shelton, Carrie Bickmore and Cal Wilson (not to mention the miracle-workers behind the scenes!) and to be honest, I didn’t think my dream job existed! But now that I have it and am able to look back on how I got here, Cairns High not only gave me the education to back me up but also the people-skills and confidence to manage whatever challenges I am faced with. 


Cairns High reminds me of the best time in my life and I am truly grateful and proud that I am a past student of such a wonderful school.


Nellie Pratt (1996 - 2000)


I started high school at Cairns State High in 1996 and graduated in 2000. During that time there were many changes in the school. Upon reflection I remember that the two most important changes were that the Principal Bernie Mackenzie was replaced with the current principal Trevor Gordon and the High School memorial for senior students was opened. 


Since leaving high school I have completed a Bachelor of Photography and started working for The Cairns Post, first as a casual advertising photographer then moved into a full time position in Editorial where all of the news, sports and features happen. I am currently still working as a Photographer at the Post and enjoy it because it delivers something new, interesting and challenging everyday. 


I have very fond memories of Cairns High with the likes of friends that I have gained over the years and events that I participated in. I was part of the Orchestra playing the French Horn and that experience would definitely have been the standout. Going to Brisbane for all of the competitions and hanging out with friends was fantastic (especially when we won!).


The leadership camp at Tinaroo was another awesome experience because we all got to let loose and have a blast. I do remember being a little scared on my first day in year 8 with having split classes with different people, but quickly came to love it with getting to chat with different kids all the time and learn from different teachers.
Many teachers have shaped the person that I am today, just to name a few were Bob Favel, Lizanne Smith, David Marsden and Valerie Jones (photography teacher). They always made every class entertaining and fun. Photography was always a natural career choice for me in both high school and university because I love shooting and eagerly a waited for when I had a class. I would spend hours in the dark room and scour over books to learn more about the craft. 


Cairns State High School was definitely a positive experience and whenever I look back on my high school years it brings a smile to my face. 


1990 - 2000


Satya Tanner (1994-1995)

Common questions for me when I was in Year 11 at Cairns High included: what are you going to be when you leave school and what are you going to study at University? I struggled to find the answers to these as there were so many hidden possibilities – how could I choose when I had never experienced the world?  For this reason Cairns High was very formative for me.  

I took Maths and Physics subjects and balanced it out with Art and Drama. I liked to keep my options open and experience many different things. It was no wonder then that my parents got sick of driving me all over the region to my 14 extra curricular activities and decided that something had to go. Unfortunately Orchestra took the hit (it was my most recent acquisition) but thankfully I still had choir, rock eisteddfod, musicals, violin lessons, leadership activities, cross country running (to name just a few) to keep me going.  

I loved Cairns High: great friends, supportive teachers and exciting opportunities just waiting to be tapped into. I vividly remember the lunchtime water fights, Mrs Thomas’ wild sense of humour, exotic creations in the art room, slave auctions that resulted in most of the guys wearing women’s dresses for a day, student council meetings in the library and best of all the Leadership camp in Year 12 – what an absolute hoot! 

I was also very excited at the prospect of exploring the world beyond Sheridan, Grafton, Grove and Upward Sts. But what to do? How would I find a career path that gave me the same sense of opportunity and support? It was a fairly torturous time for me to make such huge decisions at that stage of my life. The staff at Cairns High were highly supportive during this process and then when Defence Force Recruiting came to the school my form teacher suggested I go and have a talk with them. To this day I am so grateful that he did that because otherwise I may have missed out on some incredible opportunities. I suddenly found a pathway that would give me the variety I enjoyed and continue the sense of fun and camaraderie I had experienced at Cairns High.   


I've had an incredible journey so far with so many highlights including: 

  • Studying my Aeronautical Engineering Degree for free at the Australian Defence Force Academy - while being paid.
  • Six weeks of engineering work experience at NASA in the United States
  • Numerous outdoor adventure opportunities like caving, abseiling and leadership development
  • Becoming an Air Force pilot and spending a year flying C130 Hercules aircraft, including being a co-pilot during the aero medical rescues after the Bali bombings in 2002.
  • Becoming an Engineer and enjoying fun projects including where we got to throw various pieces of equipment out of moving aircraft (if you have the grades, become an engineer – it sets you up for life!).
  • Spending five weeks competing in Biathlon (skiing and shooting) at the British Military Championships in Germany with Olympic level athletes (I was competing very much at the back of the pack!).
  • Spending a year lapping up the cultural treasures of working with foreign military personnel and helping them adapt to the Australian culture.
  • Now I’m trying my hand at a marketing role.
  • Add to this all my extracurricular activities and here I am: a volunteer meditation teacher, vegetarian yogi, global traveller, enjoying the delights that life can offer and very grateful for the way Cairns High nurtured my inquisitive nature and encouraged me to seek out new and inspiring opportunities.


I still don’t know what I want to be when I grow up but I’m having one hell of a good time figuring it all out!


Jane Frost – (1989 -1993) Drama Teacher. 


I attended Cairns High School from 1989 to 1993 and have fond memories of the school. These memories include: 

  • N Block burning down. I lived in Kuranda so usually I had a long trip to school. I had a sleep over at a friend’s place in Westcourt and I was looking forward to sleeping in and going to school later. We were getting ready in the morning when we heard over the radio that school was cancelled because part of it had burnt down. Talk about a high school kid’s dream! We went in and had a look. It was kind of sad to see all that history reduced to ashes, but eventually we got a lovely replacement building that was a lot nicer. Now I can’t help but shudder at the memory because I can appreciate how devastating it must have been for the teachers who had their staffroom in N Block.
  • IPA (Integrated Performing Arts) with Ms Dyer. We always had so much fun! I adored going to drama, especially when we went to McKenna Hall for lesson and played “Stuck in the Mud” as our warm up.
  • Grade Eight Camp and Year 12 Leadership Camp. On grade eight camp I was the only girl to make it to the top of the broken nose on Mt Bartle Frere! I really felt a sense of achievement. It was also where I met Mr Di Tano and even though he was never my classroom teacher he remains one of the most influential teachers I have ever had.
  • Euroka. I remember going to the Cairns International at the Sponsorship Executive for the magazine and talking to them about placing a colour ad in the magazine.
Ms Karen Dyer instilled such a love of drama in me that eventually I chose it as my career. She was an inspirational teacher who always made class interesting, challenging and fun. While I was always too far away in Kuranda to get involved in extra-curricular drama I always loved the atmosphere this created in the school. 

Another person who influenced me was Ms Forsyth my year 8 social science teacher who instilled in me a love of history and that is my second teaching area. I still use my year 8 social science book sometimes to get ideas for teaching! Other inspirational teachers included Mrs Mehonoshen (Year 12 English), Mr Di Tano, Mr McKenna (Year 12 Biology), Mr Murphy (the singing maths teacher!), Mr Edwards (year 8 science), Mr Morrisey (Year 9 English).

 I am now teaching drama at a senior secondary college in Darwin. I have taught in rural Queensland and in England. I am studying my Masters in Drama Education through Griffith University

1980 - 1990


Melinda Jackson - Bissell (1983 - 1987) Cairns State High School


Melinda first attended Cairns SHS as a year 8 student in 1983 and graduated in 1987. 1987 was a mixed year with a great start at the Senior Leadership camp, the Gillies Bus Crash, being elected Vice Captain, assisting with the Euroka and continuing with school studies. The two subjects that Melinda feels were most useful to her in her future were Japanese and Typing. The study of these subjects lead to lots of employment opportunities and helped her fund her way through University. The support of two teachers in particular, Chris Rogers and Brian Stopford, made school an enjoyable place to be. 


In 2004, Melinda graduated from Griffith University with a Degree in Environmental Science and a Graduate Diploma in both Japanese language and Education. After travelling overseas and working in Brisbane and the Atherton Tablelands, Melinda returned to Cairns SHS in 2000 – this time as a teacher. 


Melinda currently holds the position of Head of Department, Teaching and Learning at Cairns High. She has been Acting Deputy Principal, HOD Senior Schooling, a Year Co-ordinator and been involved in many aspects of the school. Whilst it is sometimes strange to now be a colleague with those that were once her teacher, Melinda enjoys the friendships she has made and the ties she has with the school. “It is always interesting when I hear the same discussions about uniforms etc that we used to have over 20 years ago. It is also interesting to be able to share my stories with the students and make strong connections with them. Cairns High was a great place to be as a student and is now a great place to work!”


Chris Uprichard (1977 - 1981)


I attended Cairns State High School from 1977 to 1981 and still have many fond memories of the five years I spent there. In those days Cairns was a much smaller place with only four high schools to choose from and as a result many of the friends that you went to primary school with continued on at the same high school. 

The education I received at Cairns State High School certainly prepared me for the working world. When I first left school I pursued a career as an apprentice chef, however due to dermatitis of the hands that career was cut short after two years, but the skills learnt have continued with me to this day. 

Currently I am a Senior Constable in the Queensland Police Service and have been a member since July 1984. My current position is as a member of the Cairns Water Police although I have served in general duties, plain clothes, at one man stations and as an intelligence analyst. 

The teachers at Cairns High were great and friendships that were made are still lasting today. 


1970 - 1980


Kate Middleton (nee O’Brien) - (1966 – 1970)


Hi I’m Kate Middleton (nee O’Brien). I am the only ex-student of Cairns State High School who has ever been an Acting Principal of the School. Would you believe me if I tell you I planned it that way?· 

As a little kid all I wanted to do was teach. I dragged the neighbourhood kids into “my school” regularly. Yet, when I went to Parramatta State School myself, Mum tells me I got really angry with the teacher on day one of grade one because she did not teach me to read. 

I got over it thank goodness. Mum and Dad split up while I was in Primary School and the issues surrounding this break-up also shaped how I work with students. My beloved Stepfather was Indigenous and up until 1967 not allowed to vote in his own country. 

I don’t think I ever forgave my Dad for leaving me at the front entrance of Cairns High to start my secondary career. I will always remember how lonely it felt knowing that only one or two of my friends were going to be at secondary school with me. 

My results in year eight were really poor compared to my excellent primary results. I had some brilliant teachers like Mr Charles Reich, Mr Arthur Farr and some fantastic strong female role models like Mrs Dixon, Mrs Holmes and Mrs Miller (O’Shane) who, whilst they taught me what they were supposed to, also instilled in me the sense that I could be anything I wanted to be even though I was a working class girl. I definitely attribute my strength and resilience to my childhood experiences and Cairns High. 

A Guidance Officer wrote on my records “Kathleen has decided views on teaching.” And I certainly did. Over the years I have had other minor jobs including cleaning toilets and delivering brochures which kept me grounded in reality. However I always worked fulltime for the Queensland Department of Education. 

After graduating from Kelvin Grove Teachers College as a Commercial Teacher (remember shorthand, bookkeeping and manual typewriters) I taught in Townsville. The week before I left Townsville to come back to Cairns High as a teacher I met my husband Martin who was destined to be the love of my life. Martin was in the army and based in Townsville. 

I therefore only got to teach at Cairns High for six months. Those were the days when I could run to the top of A Block and not be puffed. 

Martin and I had three children Michelle, Christopher and Kyle and I taught in several working class suburbs in Brisbane before moving to Beaudesert as a Head of Department. 

I yearned for Cairns and have always called it home (and will always do so). My Mum developed emphysema and I prayed for jobs to come up in Cairns. Woree State High School was my first school in a substantive role as Deputy Principal. As often happens in life I was reacquainted with an old friend - the Principal at the time was Mr Charles Reich. In my time at Woree I also worked with one of the true gentlemen of the world, Mr Trevor Gordon. 

After five fulfilling years at Woree an opportunity came to transfer as Deputy Principal to Cairns State High. Obviously I took it with pleasure. In my time as Deputy Principal I had a month of being Acting Principal while Trevor and Yvonne took some well deserved leave. I had made my goal in life. But then I wanted my own school. 

I had fourteen wonderful months at Kowanyama as Acting Principal and then came back to Cairns State High School. But I knew it was time to cut the umbilical cord. 

I am now the Principal of Nhulunbuy High School in Arnhem Land in the Northern Territory earning twice what I did in Cairns. Go girl!!!!!! And I am only a two hour flight from Cairns. 

My philosophy towards education has always been very simple. Make sure that each and every child counts and that each and every child has the chance to achieve.