Did Jackie Chan really go to school in Canberra?

Jackie Chan has a well known connection to the nation's capital.

The actor's parents used to work at the United States Embassy in Yarralumla and there's even a science centre in his name at the Australian National University.

But did the superstar attend school in Canberra before he went on to bigger things?

That's the question high school teacher Luke Coleman asked Curious Canberra to investigate.

"When I ask around, everyone assures me that's the case but it just seems really left field," he said.

"I can't really picture him - firstly even going to school - and secondly going to school in inner-north Canberra which is so... vanilla."

Hailing from Queensland, Luke also wanted to know why the ACT has a separate high school and college system.

To answer that question, we have to go back just over 40 years, which happens to coincide with when Jackie Chan was living in Canberra.

Did he go to Dickson College?

ACT Board of Senior Secondary Studies (BSSS) director John Stenhouse said the split system had its roots in the early '70s.

At the time parents, teachers and students were unhappy with the New South Wales school system that was in place.

"The issue that became very clear is that the students were being treated as older children, whereas they considered themselves as young adults," he said.

Mr Stenhouse said another cause for concern was the weight afforded to the Higher School Certificate (HSC). It was decided that assessment (and a student's resulting university score) should be more evenly spread throughout Years 11 and 12.

"They were looking for a way that paralleled the way universities taught," he said.

In 1976, the ACT's first colleges opened in Dickson, Hawker, Phillip and Narrabundah.

On the new college campuses, students called their teachers by their first names.

"Back then it was absolutely unheard of," Mr Stenhouse said.

"Even today, students who come from interstate... you can pick them, because they still call the teachers 'Sir' and 'Miss'."

Around the same time Jackie Chan was in Canberra, visiting his parents. Many people believe he attended Dickson College, where he's listed as an alumnus.

I phoned Chan's agent in Los Angeles to see if I could speak to the man himself but my request for an interview was politely declined.

Next I contacted the ACT Education Directorate.

They could offer some information but nothing concrete. They believe Chan may have attended Dickson College as a mature-aged student but there are no enrolment records to confirm this.

Moving to Canberra

Determined to find a definitive answer, I contacted the US Embassy in Canberra to arrange a visit.

When I arrived, I was given a copy of his autobiography, I am Jackie Chan: My Life in Action.

Embassy staff had helpfully bookmarked Canberra references to help with my research.

I learnt that Chan's parents, Charles and Lee-Lee, were preparing to move from Hong Kong to Canberra when he was seven. They had been hired as a cook and housekeeper at the US Embassy.

While you might assume that Jackie travelled with them, according to the book, his father thought it was best for him to stay in Hong Kong where he was enrolled in the China Drama Academy.

At the age of 17, Chan graduated. A few months later, he did something many teenagers could relate to - he called his parents to say he was coming home.

"For well over 20 years Jackie's parents were the live-in household staff of a generation of US ambassadors," Trevlyn Gilmour from the US Embassy said.

He said the Chans, and Jackie for a period of time, lived in the servants' quarters of the US Chief of Mission's Residence - now called the Chan suites.

"One thing we certainly still have is Jackie's kick bag," Mr Gilmour said.

"Jackie came back in the 1990s and signed it for us, both in Mandarin and English."

Mr Gilmour said embassy staff often referred to Chan as the most famous person to have stayed in the home.

"We've only had two presidents sleep here overnight, that was President Bush senior and President Bush junior," he said.

"In most peoples' minds Jackie outranks them."

Struggling with the language

When Chan arrived in Canberra for his longest stint, in 1972, the city was a very different place.

There were fewer people who were, or spoke, Chinese and Chan wasn't fluent in English.

In his autobiography Chan notes that communicating his own name was a struggle, as most people failed to comprehend Chan Kong-sang.

But the most definitive answer to Luke's question came from a video I found online.

It was a recording of Jackie Chan in conversation with Li Cunxin from the Sydney Opera House Talks, dated August 2016.

In it, Chan spoke about being unable to buy food at a Canberra shopping mall because of his limited English.

"I told my father I have to go learn English and he said 'Okay, you can go to a government school for free'," Chan said.

It appears that Chan attended an after-hours English language class during his stay.

"I was 17 and I see a lot of old people and young people all from different countries and nobody speaks English."

Which school did he attend?

Luke, our question-asker, not only wanted to know if Jackie Chan attended school in Canberra - he also wanted to know if the rumour about Chan attending Dickson College was true.

Dickson College didn't open until 1976, which happens to be the same year Chan returned to Hong Kong for a role in a martial arts movie.

But Chan could have been a student on the campus when it was still a high school that catered to Years 7 to 12 and offered after-hours English programs.

So what did Luke make of my findings?

"I wouldn't ever say he didn't go to school here but I wouldn't say that he was a student at Dickson College," he said.