A Short Biography of the College

This short history was initially written in 1997 by Susan Haris, assisted by Erwin and Ann Berney. Much has happened since then, resulting in the need to add to the story. This task was taken on by Mark Baxter in 2012, and sadly by this time Erwin had crossed the threshold in September 2011 and Susan Haris September 2012.  Re working the text therefore had an added poignancy and at times when the original revealed that unique grammatical structure and use of language that only an Hungarian immigrant could write (all three migrated around 1950), it indeed seemed appropriate to leave the original. The result is however an interesting mix of styles and ideas, but that also reflects the history of the college!

The Seed

The college is a tree of many branches bearing precious fruit. How did it all begin? The seed was planted in the early 70’s when a small group of dedicated individuals had the impulse to bring activities based on Anthroposophy into the world. Open meetings, lectures, discussion and planning were held monthly in the rooms of the Anthroposophical Society in Sydney. These meetings resulted in open weekend seminars and associated practical activities, such as translating foreign language booklets on healthy lifestyle. Several groups were formed to deepen studies and work with various arts. A bread making group eventually grew into Demeter Bakery / Helios Enterprises, probably the first non-profit bakeries in Sydney to bake with bio-dynamic grain.

Through the enthusiastic offer of Enid and Jim Cryer, weekend residential seminars were held at their historic homestead in Martindale. At one of these seminars the Anthroposophical Activities Group was formed by individuals who felt the call of the time to share their knowledge and experience of Anthroposophy – wisdom of the human being. The founding  group was  (in alphabetical order) by Ann and Erwin Berney, John Blackwood, Enid Cryer, Susan Haris, Mechthild Harkness, Anna Havas, Beryl and Dick van Leer. As time went on, many more friends joined: Doug and Marj Waugh, Anna Kundert, Mark Baxter, Ruth Marx and others.

The Anthroposophical Activities Group

During the 70’s and early 80’s this group organised a remarkably rich and lively steady stream of residential and weekend seminars including a monthly course in Rudolf Steiner Education at Glenaeon Rudolf Steiner School, Sydney, and part time and evening courses. The interest generated was overwhelming, with some of the week long residentials attracting well over 100 participants. As the interest and enthusiasm for these offerings grew, it became obvious that the time had come to start a full time course. This idea was greatly inspired and wholeheartedly supported by Francis Edmunds, the fiery founder of the famous Emerson College in England.

The Orientation Course

Thus in 1980 the Orientation Course in Anthroposophy was born as a two term part time evening course conducted in Liverpool St., Sydney. It had more than 50 students, with the numbers steadily growing in the following years. In 1983 the first one term full time Orientation Course in Anthroposophy was started with 12 students and 11 tutors. Its core group consisted of Erwin and Ann Berney, Mark Baxter, John Blackwood, Susan Haris and Anna Havas. Its students have since come from all over the world including Canada, Japan, USA, Germany, South Africa, Scandinavia, India, the former Yugoslavia, U.K. and New Zealand. Many students formed deep and lasting friendships, some even marrying.

The journey has been supported by over 50 tutors who, at the same time, have continued their professional work outside the college.

It is important to also mention there were numerous seminars and short courses organised by the college which presented overseas visitors, many world authorities in their field. Individuals such as Francis Edmunds, Arne Klingborg, Dr. Len Mees, Lawrence Edwards, Georg Kuhlewind, Paul Matthews, Coenrad van Houten, Dennis Klocek and many others have shared their wisdom and enthusiasm with us here in Australia.

Having started life as The Orientation Course, by 1989 a new name became necessary to reflect the identity of the college – and so in 1989 Parsifal College came into being. The new name described a place where students and tutors could journey, like Parsifal, on a path of self-knowledge.

As it grew Parsifal College faced many challenges, adjusting to ever changing circumstances. The need for a paid coordinator and permanent office arose, and was ably filled by Gerry Josephson, then Leslie Ford, Norma Blackwood and later Renate Long-Breipohl. Since 2008 the College has been coordinated by Adam Chan and more recently also Linda St. Clair. As tasks became more complex, a separate Board of Directors emerged out of the tutors group, at times joined by friends with special areas of expertise. The Board of Directors currently comprises Mark Baxter, Jolyon Bromley, Karla Cryer and Linda St Clair.

Sydney Rudolf Steiner College has recently grown out of Parsifal College. The name change is seen to make the college more accessible and marked the integration of two one-year accredited courses, into the two year Advanced Diploma in Rudolf Steiner Education. Whilst this course is the core of the College’s program, the diversity of other courses available is a reflection of the College’s rich biography.


The guiding aims and aspirations of the College have been expressed throughout the years in a variety of ways:

“The course is for individuals who want to find out: Who am I? Where am I going? What is my role in society? What does the world require of me? What work can I do that is worthwhile?”

“The future will depend on individuals able to awaken the spiritual impulses and capacities within themselves and use them creatively to make their unique contribution to the world .”

Teacher Training

It has been clear since the early days of the Activities Group that children in Australia need Steiner Schools. As they continue to grow and develop the schools need teachers, who in turn need to be trained. Thus a great number of the short courses and seminars were on Steiner Education and mostly held at Glenaeon Rudolf Steiner School in Sydney’s Middle Cove.

An historic residential seminar “EDUCATION AND THE ARTS”, conducted by the Orientation Course in 1983 in the Blue Mountains, with Sylvia Brose OAM from Sydney and Marcus Cox from Melbourne, became a real watershed. A great many of the numerous participants were so inspired that they became teachers or parents in Steiner schools and even founding members of several new schools. Thus the Course in Rudolf Steiner Education began as an extension of the Orientation Course. It was conducted by Sylvia Brose and Marcus Cox initially for 2 terms in 1984, but soon growing into a full time one year teacher training.

Prospective teachers studied the foundations of Anthroposophy and developed their experience in the visual and performing arts during the Orientation year and then spent the second year studying educational theory and practice whilst deepening artistic experiences. This was seen to be a key to being a Steiner teacher. Since 1987 this second year was conducted by Glenaeon Rudolf Steiner School, offering the much needed opportunity of practice under the guidance of experienced teachers. This continues today as the second year of the Advanced Diploma in Rudolf Steiner Education run by Sydney Rudolf Steiner College.

Accreditation and University Courses

A great turning point was the achievement in 1993 of course  accreditation by VETAB, (the government accreditation board).  This was the result of long preparation by Erwin Berney and Leslie Ford and made possible a government subsidy in the form of “Austudy” for the students. This change necessitated a more formal curriculum without compromising the content as well as an assessment process for each student. (Oh, how much additional work for the tutors!). It was one of the first Steiner Education courses in the world to be formally accredited and as a result also attracted  overseas students. The course was listed on the Australian National Training Register.

The first year Certificate lV course was known as the Anthroposophical Studies Course and was run by Parsifal College. The second year Associate Diploma in Rudolf Steiner Education was delivered by Glenaeon Rudolf Steiner School. The Melbourne Rudolf Steiner School Teacher Training Seminar also became an accredited provider of these courses.


In the late 1990’s A pathway for students to continue their studies at the University of New England in Armidale was formed and students were given full recognition of their two years study at Parsifal. A Bachelor of Education could now be completed in the usual four years, the first two of which were Steiner based! Parsifal, Glenaeon and the Melbourne Seminar also funded the secondment to UNE of senior a lecturer Paul Rubens, to supervise Steiner units.  Two introductory units in Steiner Education, requiring no previous background, as well as Masters of Education work, were also introduced. This was an exciting alternative to studying an education degree and made Australia one of the few places in the world where this was possible. For a time, Paul’s supervisory work was taken over by Renate Long-Breipohl.


The life and growth of Sydney Rudolf Steiner College has only been possible through the enthusiasm and enormous amount of work for very little or no remuneration by its pioneers and generous donations by a few devoted friends. As the College is not receiving any financial assistance from the Government, there is a continual challenge to remain economically viable while keeping the quality of the courses high and students’ fees affordable. Today, the extent and detail of paperwork required by tutors and staff to maintain compliant as an RTO (registered training organisation), is a major component of our work. Since 2010 however, when we were able to implement VET fee help for students studying accredited courses, student interest has increased.

Move to Rudolf Steiner House

The course had been held in the old Berney Studios building in Liverpool St but in 1987 the Orientation Course was able to move to Rudolf Steiner House in Sussex Street, where it has been conducted ever since, in happy symbiosis with the activities of the Sydney city centre of the Anthroposophical Society.

Early Childhood Education

An Early Childhood Course grew out of the enthusiastic initiative of Susan Haris. It was accredited for a number of years as a Certificate course. A variety of weekend and part time courses, including the Journey into the World of Little Children with Ebba Bodame and Susan Haris were also started for those interested in working with young children under five years of age. Today these courses are delivered in distance mode with residentials throughout the year.

Kindergarten Course

One more ‘first’ was the beginning in 1997 of the accredited full time Diploma Course in Rudolf Steiner Kingergarten Education directed by Dr Renate Long-Breipohl. This ‘Kinder’ course had a large component of practice teaching in Steiner Kindergartens all over Australia, assuring much needed experience.

The course has undergone a number of developments to reach today’s format. The Foundation Course in Rudolf Steiner Early Childhood Education is introductory and suitable for people wishing to work in kindergartens, pre schools, centre based child care, home based child care and play groups. It is a pre requisite for the Certificate Course in Rudolf Steiner Early Childhood Education, which extends the knowledge and abilities of participants to an advanced level.  Weekend intensives allow students from afar to attend.

Distance Education

The tyranny of distance in Australia has meant it is not always possible for those wishing to become a teacher, to attend a full time course in Sydney. Schools outside the major cities often had to find alternative ways to train teachers in the Steiner approach. A variety of intensive residential seminars meet this need but the ongoing distance education modules provided by the college meet a real need. Raphael College developed and delivered a number of distance modules but after struggling to gain accreditation and sustain the organisation, decided to hand over the intellectual property and responsibility for students to Parsifal College in 2009 Julie Lovett from Raphael, was employed by Parsifal as a coordinator and was able to help in the transition.

The modules have been rewritten and restructured and today, under the stewardship of Linda St Clair, there are over 60 students enrolled who are able to customise the course to their individual circumstances. The residential seminars, which are held at the Harmony Centre in Mittagong, are an essential part of the course and ensure study is enriched with artistic exercises and dialogue.

2012 saw another first as a residential high school teacher training seminar was held at Harmony in Mittagong. It was recognised that high school teachers need different ways to study the background to the Steiner curriculum than primary school teachers.

A Few Statistics

By 2001, the Orientation Course at Parsifal College had seen more than 200 part-time and over 350 full-time students enrolled. 275 had completed the first year in Anthroposophical Studies, 75 had continued and graduated in the Steiner Education course and 31 in the Early Childhood Education Course.

Many graduates are teaching in Steiner Schools and Kindergartens between the East and West coast of Australia as well as overseas. A number of students have furthered their studies in different anthroposophical fields such as eurythmy, healing and therapies, biodynamic agriculture and many enrich their lives through applying their insights to everyday life.

The Tree

During 96/97 some of the original founders, Ann and Erwin Berney, Anna Havas and Susan Haris, all septuagenarians, handed over their guardianship of Parsifal College to the next generation, trusting that the tree which they have tended for decades with so much loving care and hard work will be faithfully looked after. In Susan Haris’s words,

“This is a special tree – the tree of life uniting with the tree of knowledge. It will have to face many further challenges to meet the demands of the future. May it grow big and strong, bringing much healthy fruit through the joint effort of students, tutors and directors and with continuing blessing of the Spirit World and those who are guarding it from the other side of the threshold.”

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