The student super-commuters putting in the hard yards for school

It’s not yet 7am on a quiet Gisborne railway platform and 18-year-old Shane Clough is preparing for another year of daily marathon trips to school.

Lugging football gear in one bag and schoolbooks in another, the year 12 student spends almost two hours on public transport just to get to class, in Maribyrnong, in Melbourne’s inner west.

Add more time to that for the trip home or when he’s got footy training after class.

Long way to go: Shane Clough at Gisborne station early in his almost two-hour journey to school.Credit:Paul Rovere

He’s not alone. While kids living near a school might saunter to class in minutes, some, like Shane, face a slog.

Shane, who has done the almost four-hour round trip since year 7, is chasing a dream. He wants to be drafted to play in the AFL and to study sports science at university.

He says attending Maribyrnong Sports Academy, which is a government-funded state specialist sports school and part of Maribyrnong Secondary College, will help him achieve that goal.

The school’s alumni include Essendon AFL player Peter Wright, Port Adelaide footballer Zak Butters and Olympic cycling bronze medallist Luke Plapp.

Shane is already playing for Calder Cannons, in a state-level under-18 competition, and for Gisborne Bulldogs.

It was his idea to attend the school, and he passed the physical test to be one of the 100 students accepted into year 7, out of hundreds of applicants.

His mother, Yuxain Clough, whose husband died 15 years ago, and who doesn’t drive, said at first she was worried.

“I said, ‘Maribyrnong is very far away.’ He said, ‘Mum, don’t worry. I can do it.’ ”

And he has proved that he can. “Shane’s done very well. I’m proud of him,” Clough said.

Shane gets up at 6.15am and catches a 6.45am bus, then the train to Footscray and then a tram or bus to arrive at school by 8.30am. He leaves school at 3.15pm and gets home by about 5.15pm.

Three nights a week, he has football training at Craigieburn – a 35-kilometre public transport trip – and twice a week he has 7.30am training at Maribyrnong, which means catching a 6.15am train.

Does he resent having to travel so far? “No. I love it. I enjoy it now. I’m used to it. It’s worth the travel. I get to go to a good school. Every day I get to be in an environment which I enjoy and play sport.”

Many kids wouldn’t do it, Shane said. “I reckon they’d get sick of it.”

You need to be determined. “I’m pretty motivated towards my goal and I want to reach it.”

Maribyrnong Sports Academy director Mark McAllion said students with a long commute were “very single minded and quite resilient, and they need to be, to make that sort of commitment, to travel those sorts of distance, to try and pursue their dream.

“It’s definitely a big commitment, and it’s a consideration for their whole house because I’m assuming the whole household is probably up very early, with some of these families, to get one of their children to school here.”

Another student with a long commute, Samuel Alexander, 14, lives on French Island, 100 kilometres south of Melbourne.

Samuel Alexander, 14, on the ferry from French Island that is part of his commute to school. Credit:Joe Armao

At 7.10am, his mother, Stella, drives him 10 minutes to the ferry which leaves at 7.30am for Stony Point, on the east side of the Mornington Peninsula.

A school bus drives him 23 kilometres to Dromana Secondary College, picking up other kids en route, and arrives at school by 8.45am.

Samuel said some people he meets don’t believe him when he says he takes a ferry to school and some think it’s cool, but for him ferry travel had become “the new normal” since the family moved to the island from Rowville a year ago.

It can be tiring, but once he saw a dolphin swimming beside the ferry “that was pretty cool”, and the views, of the sunrise, the ocean and across to the town of Hastings, can be nice. He says he often does his homework on the ferry and the bus.

Samuel’s brother Max goes to French Island’s tiny (seven student) Perserverance Primary School whose two teachers take the ferry to the island every morning having driven to Stony Point from homes near Mornington.

Tony Mordini principal of selective government boys’ school Melbourne High School in South Yarra, says 90 per cent of his students go to school by public transport, some from as far as Waurn Ponds, south-west of Geelong, and Berwick in Melbourne’s south-east.

Mordini said: “I think it shows that dedication to their studies and co-curricular activities. They value what they get here, and they’re prepared to make the sacrifice to do it,” he said.

“Last year we had a kid coming from Shepparton until he found a home-stay situation.”

The school’s student-run Railway Interest Group has recently been resurrected and runs a buddy system on each train line so kids can travel with schoolmates rather than alone.

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