AISHK 25th Anniversary Throwback: Our First Welcome BBQ

Jean Zhai (pictured far left) leads a performance by the school’s ECA group, the Lion Dance team

On Saturday 15 March, 1997, AISHK hosted its very first ‘Welcome Family BBQ’ at the school’s section of the former St George’s School site, Kowloon Tong. Activities during the event included a BBQ, lion dance performance, choir performance, scatterball and volleyball on the field, basketball in the gym and a “kick-a-footie” session on the field for parents and children.

Below is an excerpt from Dhanara dated Wednesday 19 March, 1997, from Chris Neilsen (Principal, 1996-2003) who reflected on the special family event.

“What an enjoyable family BBQ was had by all on Saturday. It was great to see so many of you there in a relaxing and fun atmosphere. Thank you to the P&F (Parents and Friends), Mothers’ Club and all involved in the organisation of this successful evening… A special thank you to the parent groups – the P&F and Mothers’ Club for their support of the school over this first term in our new home. To all parents who have helped this term in any way – a big thank you.”

Welcome BBQs became an annual tradition to welcome families at the start of the year and to celebrate the school’s birthday. As the school continued to grow, fairs were introduced and would become one of the many highlights in the school calendar:

  • 1997 – First Welcome BBQ
  • 1999 – First School Fete
  • 2000 – School Fete
  • 2001 – Opening Ceremony of the current Kowloon Tong site
  • 2002 – Year of the Outback Fair
  • 2005 – 10th Anniversary Fair
  • 2007 – Year of the Lifesaver Fair
  • 2010 – Circus Fair
  • 2012 – Wild West Fair
  • 2014 – Mad Hatters Fair
  • 2016 – The Great Aussie Adventure Fair
  • 2018 – Emerald City Themed Fair

Today, Welcome BBQs have continued to be a key event for the school community, maintaining traditions including the BBQ, lion dance and musical performances from students.

Chris McCorkell conducts the school choir

Chris McCorkell, who had been at the school for 24 years from 1996 to 2019 (including Secondary Dean of Studies 2013-2019), shares his memories of the school’s first Welcome Barbecue and remembers what the school choir was like in its early days.

“I love this shot of the choir and have very fond memories of many of these early performances. This particular photo was taken at one of our first major school community functions, albeit a fairly relaxed and informal one, not long after our first move to Kowloon Tong in 1997. If I recall correctly, we performed, among other songs, the wonderful “I am Australian” at this first Welcome BBQ. As always, the choir sang with great gusto and I felt that the song took on a very special meaning for all within the close-knit AISHK family. At that time, the vast majority of families were expatriates, many recent arrivals to Hong Kong and the sentiments expressed in the song struck a chord with many. Many of those same sentiments and ideals were embedded into our own AISHK school song, first performed later that same year.

“As the school’s first music teacher, it was such a delight for me to hear the sounds of children’s voices. There were no auditions and all comers were welcome; if you could vaguely hold a tune, you were in! We had such wonderful adventures performing at many and varied events around Hong Kong in the ensuing years, including at a gala ball hosted by Hong Kong’s first Chief Executive, Tung Chee-wah. I loved the strong sense of connectedness and camaraderie established in those early years of the school and believe that the choir and, more broadly, music itself, were a big part of that. They are memories I will cherish forever.”

Jean Zhai (Head of Chinese, 1995-2008) shares her memories of the special event and reflects on what it took to introduce a Chinese program to the school.

“This shot of the lion dance made me cry and laugh. Cry for the fond memory, laugh for my brave move! I was honoured to set up and implement the Chinese program. I strongly believe that language and culture should be taught hand in hand. However I had no idea what a proper lion dance should be, let alone to coach the team and perform at one of our first major school community functions, the Welcome BBQ! If I recall correctly, the lion “head” was Josh Braithwaite, “tail” was Richard Lim, teaser was Chris Finney. The boy who was sitting next to me was drum player Patrick Ingle.

“You can tell from how I look that I was not confident at all. Thank goodness our parent body then was mainly families of expatriates, many recent arrivals to Hong Kong. So they had no idea what I did was not at all  fine! They looked interested and happy!  The lion dance became one of the must-have items at school functions later, including the school’s 10 year anniversary, but at a much bigger scale and with a much better coach. Like Chris, I cherish the strong sense of connectedness established in those early years of the school. I feel that I was not only given a job by AISHK, I was given a sense of ownership, trust and belonging and believe that this had supported me throughout.”