Dr Clyde Fenton

Clyde Fenton Primary School was opened on the 14th July 1977, by Sam Golder MP.  The school was built on the site of the old aerodrome on the corner of Rapide and Giles Street. 

The school was named in honour of Clyde Fenton, a pioneer of aerial medical work in the Northern Territory. Clyde Fenton graduated as a medical doctor in 1925 from Melbourne University. He then had a stint in the Royal Air Force in England in 1928. 

Dr. Fenton's early goal was to join the Royal Flying Doctor Service, but the founder, Reverend John Flynn, had a policy of not using doctors as pilots. As a result, Fenton privately raised money for an aircraft, and eventually purchased a second-hand De Havilland Gypsy Moth for five hundred pounds and proceeded to the Territory. 

In March 1934 arrived he in Katherine as the Government Medical Officer. He started an aerial ambulance rescue service which grew into the Northern Territory Aerial Medical Service. 

Over the next six years Dr. Fenton became well known and respected by communities, pastoral properties and missions as he provided medical services over an area of approximately 8,000,000 square kilometres, in the course of which he flew over 3,000 hours. His kindness and determination to help became legendary. He also received attention from the media, both local and national, for his daring rescues, escapades, and occasional pranks, which often brought him into conflict with aviation regulatory authorities. C.E.A Cook, the NT Chief Medical Officer  remarked on his `resolute devotion to duty’, his `compulsive acceptance of challenge’ and his `wilful disregard of personal hazard’. 

Dr. Fenton’s solitary, resilient figure contributed much to an enduring Northern Territory self-image. His other historical contributions to the Territory were to demonstrate the usefulness of aircraft as a means of communication in the difficult terrain and to press for the construction of rural landing strips. 

Calls for medical assistance came through the two RFDS stations at Cloncurry and Wyndham, and were relayed by telegram. Dr. Fenton utilised primitive bush strips and runways to pick up the patients and return them to Katherine for medical treatment. With no navigational equipment or radios, landings were made on strips lit by kerosene flares or car lights, and he often relied on railway lines and the Katherine River to estimate his position. 

He improvised flares for night landings in Katherine using half petrol drums fitted with handles and filled with cotton waste soaked in crude oil. The flares would burn for up to two hours and could be seen up to thirty kilometres away. A rotation beacon was installed in 1937 and a base wireless was installed two years later. The grass airstrip Dr. Fenton used ran parallel to the river, and the school now sits at the the very southern end of the strip.

On 14 May 1940 he received his call up for the RAAF by telegram. He was eventually based at Manbulloo airstrip near Katherine, from where he made many emergency medical flights. In August 1942 the No 6 Communications Flight Unit was formed with Flight Lieutenant Fenton in command. This unit, known as 'Fenton’s Flying Freighters', delivered mail and food supplies and provided transport and rescue services to military bases as well as unofficial medical support to missions, some as far afield as the Wessell Islands.The unit was at various times based at the Ross Smith Aerodrome in Darwin, and at the Batchelor airstrip.

After the war Dr. Fenton did not return to the Territory, however he did write a lively and popular account of his pre-war years in the Territory, Flying Doctor(1947). One of the planes he flew, a Gipsy Moth, is on display at the Fenton Hangar at the Katherine Museum and he has also given his name to a World War II airstrip, Fenton Airfield, near Hayes Creek.

Dr. Fenton was awarded the King George VI’s coronation medal (1937) and the Oswald Watt gold medal (1937), and he was appointed OBE (1941).

Dr. Clyde Fenton died in Melbourne in February 1982.

In its first year Clyde Fenton Primary School had 320 students and 23 staff members. The first principal was Ross Kay. 

A new principal Pat Ellis, came in 1979 and was here until 1980. He wrote the original school song “Students We of Clyde Fenton School.” During this time our house teams were established Jabiru, Brolga, Pelican and Kingfisher. These were named after birds of the Northern Territory.

Paul Hill was the principal from 1981 to 1983. During the 1980’s, the school was carpeted and air conditioned, so before students could enter Clyde Fenton Primary School they had to remove their shoes, as there was little grass and lots of mud in the playground because of wet weather.

A couple of our present staff members were students in the 1980’s and do they have some stories to tell!  In the 1980’s most students rode their bikes to school, so there were many circular bike racks in the area where the Multipurpose Room now stands.  Apparently the withdrawal rooms were named after flying objects, for example the Special Ed room was called Sputnik. There were so many students enrolled that there were at least 14 classes, they filled every available space.  There were classroom of students in the Science area, Dipl room, Library compactus area, Art room. 

There were all sorts of highlights during the 80’s and 90’s when Holt Thompson was the Principal from 1984 - 1994.

In the 1980’s International Nights were introduced where students dressed in costumes and cooked food from different countries.

In 1984 the Melbourne Philharmonic Orchestra played for the students right here at school.

In 1985 there were Punk Days and Old Timer’s Days. In 1986 there was a Happening Day Fete that raised $2798.71 and that was an enormous amount of money for the time. 

Then of course there was the flood in 1998 which affected all Katherine residents.

In the 1990s some students were involved in repairing Dr Clyde Fenton’s plane.

In the year 1990 the school performed a musical called Kids in Space. In 2001 and for a few years after musicals were part of the performing arts program to go along with Wakakiri and Eisteddfod events that the school was already involved in.

These were amazing stage productions involving all the students acting and singing.  

Between 1996 and 2002 Sandi McCue was Clyde Fenton’s first female principal.

For our 2001 Centenary of Federation celebrations students dressed, played games and did school activities similar to people of the early 1900’s.

In the year 2000 Clyde Fenton School put together a musical performance advertising Vegemite and won the state award for the Northern Territory.

Also in this year we won first place when we entered the Eisteddfod  with the “Invisible Man” dance. We were also invited back for the best of the best event.

Up until 2005 year 7 students attended school on the CFS campus. 2006 was the first year when grade 7 students attended the High School Campus for classes. 

In 2006 Bryan Hughes became Principal, introducing many changes, including putting extra tutors in classrooms, a practice that continues today.

In 2008 Sandy Cartwright became the principal, she was responsible for introducing Buy a days, the CFS Dollars, the CFS Way and attendance award days.  She was also involved in the planning and building of the Multipurpose Room that was opened in 2011.

Since 2010 we have been involved, each year, with singing as a whole school in the “Count us in” event where students all over Australia sing a song simultaneously wherever they may be.  The song is also written by specially chosen students to create a song for this event.

To this day Clyde Fenton Primary School has always provided its students with wonderful learning opportunities in every aspect of life.  There are a number of events each and every year to show students strengths such as our Swimming and Athletics Carnivals, Jump Rope, Anzac Day ceremonies (both at the school and joining in with the community), End of year concerts and Student Graduation Evenings (Preschool / Year 6’s).

Students get to take part in representing the school in elite sporting events, sing, dance and produce musical extravagances like Muso Magic, partake in excellent learning opportunities such as STEM week activities, class camps and excursions and Discovery Days.