Thursday, August 9, 2012

Lochiel School - More than a Century of Tales:

Although one teacher facilities were common throughout the region from the 19th century, the closure of Lochiel School saw the end of the tradition in the Pambula district.

It was the result of a move by local Anglican Minister Reverend Thom that the facility was initially established. Conscious of the number of children growing up in ignorance, he signed an application for establishment of half time schools at Lochiel & Greigs Flat in September 1869.

With a slab hut provided by local blacksmith Mr Hart, teacher Mark Johnson was appointed in October, although after breaking his leg in a fall from a horse, the school’s opening was deferred until November. With books & equipment provided by the National Board of Education, classes commenced with nineteen pupils on the roll, although the nine pence a week that it cost parents to send their children was the root of some dissension. However, relying entirely on these fees for his income, Mr Johnson’s total weekly wage stood at just 7/6 from both facilities.

In addition, with no teacher’s residence, he was forced to board with local families, & although regarded as hard working, Mr Johnson’s health suffered as a result of his harsh lifestyle & by October 1871, his condition had so deteriorated that he was compelled to take three months’ sick leave, both schools closing as a result.

A teacher on his way school near Pambula. Although the 
subject of this photo isn't identified, those who taught at 
Lochiel in the early days would have used similar modes 
of transport.

Thomas Wellings arrived in February 1872, but with ongoing issues between competing community factions, attendances fell, so he sought & secured a transfer to the more stable Pambula School in January 1873. Although Lochiel & Greigs Flat submitted their annual returns & continued to operate until the Christmas holidays, neither reopened in 1874.

November 1875 saw Lochiel re-established as a half time facility, although this time with Wyndham. Located in premises to the south of the Mount Darragh Road, teacher Francis McPhail arrived in 1876, while local residents Richard Hart, William Burton, Henry Carragher, Armstrong McCausland & Thomas Clancy were appointed a local committee by the Council of Education to oversee matters relating to the school.

Bernard Grant replaced Mr McPhail in 1878, while Mary Leslie followed in April 1880. Shortly afterwards, Wyndham was made a public school & Lochiel was raised to provisional status until also becoming a public facility in 1882. By this time Colin Spalding was teacher. The Bega Gazette noted that “The residents whose children are at Lochiel School are Messrs Hart, Burton, Clarke, Hyde, P. Hyde, Cusack, Clancy, McKinniary, Beveridge, Holmes, Power & Shipway.”

Mr Spalding was followed in 1883 by Edward Long, who remained just over a year before being replaced by Evan Francis in May 1884, & then Edward Guilfoyle in January 1886.

Although land facing the Pambula – Bombala Road had been granted for educational purposes as early as 1871, there was a delay of many years before the move was made to provide permanent school accommodation. In the interim, premises were leased from private individuals, amongst them John Cusack during 1883 & C. H. Badddeley between March 1884 & May 1887. Finally, however, tenders were called for construction of the Lochiel Public School building, with the £60 contract awarded to John Patterson, & classes moved in in 1887. Improvements were undertaken by D. W. Crawley in 1891, while in 1897, Job Keorber undertook extension work. Additions in 1922 further enhanced school facilities.

The late 1880s & early 1890s saw a rapid turn-over of teachers – James Imlay Forsyth arrived in February 1888 to be replaced in November by Isabella Murphy, then Thomas McCurley in February 1891 & Lancelot Ottway in May 1891. Local resident Simon Gordon commented on the state of the school in the visitor’s book during March 1892, noting that while the facility was clean, pupils attentive & the teacher paid great attention to her duties, the building & grounds appeared neglected.  Edward Dent took over as teacher in July 1893, only to be replaced by William Davies in September the same year.

By this time, gold had been discovered at nearby Mount Gahan, & the district found itself experiencing a boom not seen locally since the Kiandra rush almost three decades earlier. Unlike many other facets of the community, however, Lochiel School experienced a significant downturn in attendance, no doubt due both to the opening of a similar facility on Mount Gahan & the distraction represented by the wealth potential of the Yowaka & Pipeclay Creek fields.  Average student numbers fell to about fifteen per cent until 1894, when they finally climbed back to their typical sixty per cent level.

Children were not an uncommon sight on the 
Pambula goldfields.
Although both Simon & James Gordon noted in 1892 & 1894 respectively the need for fencing for the horses of students who rode to school, it wasn’t until September 1897 that tenders were finally called. Although this remained an important mode of transport for pupils for many years, by 1908 it was reported that fourteen students from the Six Mile Creek area were being conveyed to the school & by 1910, John Longhurst was providing a transport service at eight pence per child per day.

One of the highlights of the Lochiel School calendar was annual picnic, & reports in local media indicate its popularity with the wider community. The Pambula Voice noted in March 1897 that “The annual picnic…took place in the school grounds on Thursday last. Visitors began to arrive about 11 o’clock & soon after lunch some 200 people were present. A comfortable bush house has been erected & in this dinner & tea were served. The tables were filled with good things conclusively proving that the Lochiel folk are adept at catering. After the mid-day meal the children ran races for toys, swings were provided & were taken advantage of by young & old...All concerned worked hard to make the picnic a success, a result which they certainly achieved.” Numbers at the annual event continued to swell & by 1902, it was estimated that up the three hundred were present.

William Davis was transferred after six & a half years, & in January 1900, Thomas Hardcastle arrived to take up the teaching position. Recognising the need for more material to support the learning needs of his new pupils, he turned his attention towards establishing a school library. After organising a social on Empire Day 1908 to raise funds for the cause, he was able to purchase £6 worth of books.

Like most schools of the era, religious education was a constant feature at Lochiel, as is indicated by names in the visitor’s book such as Reverend J. L. Forbes, who was a regular guest from 1888 through until 1909. This was a tradition that continued right up until the final days of the school, with later teachers Jack Jones & Fred Whant both recalling the various ministers visiting on a regular basis.

New teacher George Henry Armstrong arrived in 1910 & life continued along on a fairly even keel in the district, although across the ocean tensions in Europe continued to simmer away until finally erupting with the outbreak in 1914 of the greatest conflict the world had seen. Like so many other communities, Lochiel did not remain untouched by World War I, & reports in local media continued to remind residents of the human cost. Students soon turned their attention towards supporting patriotic efforts, including the purchase of a travelling kitchen & ambulance for the troops, knitting socks for the War Chest & contributing goods to the local Red Cross branch.

After seventeen years at Lochiel, Mr Armstrong was transferred & Frank McMillan arrived to take over the teacher’s position in January 1927, continuing to uphold Lochiel's concern with local matters. Pambula District Hospital was of particular interest for the students, & according to media reports, they consistently made a special effort, collecting pennies, making up linen supplies, holding regular “egg days” to collect goods & in 1932 making weekly vegetable donations from their school garden.

Students & teacher working in their school garden. 
Gardening was a popular & important subject at Lochiel.

With the agricultural industry being so important locally, it is unsurprising that gardening was being taught at Lochiel at least by 1916 & that year, experimental corn crops grown by the senior boys resulted in a healthy seventy bushels per acre.1931 saw astrological experiments undertaken by the students, which, according to a report were “…spoken of very highly by Mr Green, the Departmental Agricultural Instructor.” 

Lochiel was able to boast a P & C Association by 1927, & in July 1933, they purchased a range of shrubs for the school grounds, as well as supplying super phosphate for students to conduct agricultural experiments. Jack Jones, teacher from 1949, recalled that they had “…a very good garden. A lot of the kids were interested in gardens, we had a bit of a flower garden along the front of the building & then we had a vegetable garden, those days you were pretty practical, if you couldn’t eat it, what was the point? We had no trouble getting a load of cow manure, it was pretty heavy soil out there.”

By 1929, with a new school on another site necessary, D. W. Hart agreed to exchange two acres of his own land, construct a new weather shed & supply nine chains of fencing in return for the old school building. Tenders were called in July, with C. A. Stewart - Boag’s for £439 accepted & the official opening took place on March 26, 1930 to coincide with the school’s annual picnic.

The Lochiel School building, constructed in 1929 and 
relocated to Pambula Public School in 1971.

After serving the school for a decade, Mr McMillan was replaced by Dan Boland in January 1937. Remaining until May 1940, he was followed in quick succession by John Constable, Ronald Thompson just six months later & in September 1941 by John Grunsell.

Although Lochiel’s residents had begun petitioning for a teacher’s residence as early as 1910, requests both that year & again in 1927 were declined. By 1942, however, arrangements were in hand to relocate the recently renovated Stony Creek school residence to finally provide Lochiel’s teacher with a permanent home.

Plaque on the old Lochiel School building, which is now 
located at Pambula.

Another quick succession of teachers followed Mr Grunsell’s transfer in 1948 – Keith Archbold in March, then Harold Shea in May the same year, & Jack Jones in December 1948.

Hailing from Lithgow, Jack had applied for a one teacher position after employment at institutions such as Cabramatta, Reefton & North Annandale, but only married for six months at the time of his appointment, he recalled the concern he felt at relocating his new wife to the isolated district. “I had some trepidation when we came down here, we’d only been married for about six months, my wife had lived in Manly until I rescued her, came down here, tank water, pit [toilet] up the back, no power, & I thought ‘God, how the hell’s she going to live?’, but I remember here a few months before she died, we used to sit & reminisce, I said to her ‘Where did you like living best of all the places we lived?’, she said ‘Oh, Lochiel.’…all our kids were born in Pambula, my son started school out at Lochiel & lived there for about the first seven or eight years…”

Initially teaching the sum total of seventeen or eighteen students, Jack remembered the arrival of the Cash & Robinson families. “…the Cash’s moved in & there were six of them…& Malcolm & Fern Robinson came from Ferndale. You know eight kids in one week, we didn’t have enough seats…” he laughed.

Lochiel School students in 1957. 
Image courtesy of Barry Stewart.

Calling to mind the demands of one teacher schools, he noted that “…you’ve got to teach every class, so you’ve got kids in first class, second class...& so on, at Lochiel in those days they caught the bus into Pambula to go to high school…now they’re in your hands & what you don’t teach them in first class that you should, they still don’t know in second class, third class & so on, so you’ve got to get yourself well planned, it’s a very demanding role, but like most demanding roles, it’s a tremendously satisfying one…”

 “…you’re number one task was to teach kids to read, & how they miss out on that now I can’t quite fathom…now the big kids helped some with the reading, we had sort of buddies…Marlene Stewart, she was my right hand girl…these kids that arrived at about five past eight in the morning, I’d give them one of the junior kids to hear them read for five minutes & they might do it at lunch time & before they went home. All your problems in that regard just disappeared because the kids that are tutoring them & helping them are keen to show how good they are & they were all understanding, they had to be or I got on to them, & the other kids, they could suddenly tell that they were learning…”

Combined Schools Sports Carnival march past in Quondola 
Street, Pambula, circa 1940s
© The estate of A. C. ("Bubby") George.

“We had manual arts two hours of an afternoon one afternoon I took the boys, & the girls all went over to the house & they did sewing with my wife.”

Remembering school heating, Jack recalled “…we had a fuel stove…& I got out of bed in the morning & went over to the school & lit the fire, & the kids got there about five past eight, so I always tried to be there before then, around ten to eight, quarter to eight, put a big block of box wood on so that the place was warm, the kids would all come in & it’d be beautiful.”

To keep the supply up during the cold winter days, it fell to Jack & members of the P & C to maintain a well-stocked wood pile. He remembered “In those days, the P & C had a working bee. There were plenty of box trees in the paddocks, if I wanted to go & get one, I’d say to so & so, ‘I’m going to go & knock one of your trees off,’ & away you went. One of them, either Stan Sawers or Harold Gordon or someone like that would turn up with a tractor & a bench & we’d have a working bee & saw it all up & put it in a big heap in the playground. On the day of the fire, our wood heap caught fire.”

The fire Jack was referring to was the 1952 bushfires, one of the most devastating natural disasters to ever hit the region. Before the blaze struck Lochiel, he joined other local residents to put in a fire break at Box Range (near Wyndham), but unfortunately, their efforts failed to check the inferno. “It burnt down to the sea…It started up near Bombala & there was quite a stiffish breeze blowing up from the west & burnt its way down…we went out, maybe about twenty of us, out on the other side of Box Range & put in a fire break…the next day…we all went out to Six Mile & it had jumped the fire break, so we all headed back to Lochiel to look after our own places…We lost a toilet, a school toilet & we thought we were going to lose the school too, & the house, but we didn’t.”

The remains of a house in Bega destroyed during the 
disastrous 1952 bushfires.

Surrounded by a blackened landscape as far as the eye could see, spot fires still burning & a serious water shortage, Jack was concerned about how his students would cope emotionally, so he contacted the inspector for advice on whether to close the school, but it was decided that maintaining some normalcy would be more helpful.  “He said the kids would better off at school than at they came to school…”

Although Jack had an obvious passion for one teacher facilities, he also recalled the drawbacks of the small student population. “You try to make their school life as broad as possible. The only area that I think one teacher schools were weak in was once the kids get to around ten or eleven, they want to play football or cricket. Well, you haven’t got enough kids out there for that, but I had an arrangement with Vic Parkin, who used to be the Principal at Pambula, on a Friday the big kids would go in to Pambula & play sports with them, football & cricket…”

Lochiel School, 1961. 
Image courtesy of Barry Stewart.

The Small School Sports Carnivals provided another outlet for the student population, as Jack recalled. “Back in those days…in our little group, there was Palestine, Yowaka, Nethercote & Lochiel, & one day a year we had a sports carnival in Pambula, which was run by a committee there & there was a section for one teacher schools…” The Small Schools annual picnic was another popular occasion organised to allow the pupils to gather together from the various local single teacher facilities. Fred Whant, who arrived at Lochiel in 1964, recalled “For the Small School’s Picnic Day & Small School’s Sports Day, we used to travel around to the various small schools.” 

Combined Schools sports carnival at Pambula, circa 1960s. 
Lochiel students are identifed by the white flag with red writing. 
© The estate of A. C. ("Bubby") George.

Folk dancing was a popular activity at Lochiel & Jack Jones remembered “…in those days of course, without power, this was when we first went there, we had a battery wireless, but you didn’t use it any more than you had to, so I did a bit of hunting around, writing here & there, & I got hold of a few songs & the words, & we learned the words of the songs & then we used to make up our own little folk dance for them…& we’d all dance around & sing & folk dance, & the inspector came down & he was quite impressed with this, because it was a problem that most schools had, getting music…”

Folk dancing was a popular activity at Lochiel School. 
Students are pictured giving a demonstration during 
the 1969 centenary celebrations. 
© The estate of A. C. ("Bubby") George.

Another popular event Jack remembered was the Gould League of Birds bird call days. Instigated by Merimbula Public School teacher Jack Lynch, he recalled “…down in Merimbula, they had an open morning at the school, we all put on whatever you wanted to do, we had folk dancing…then we went up to the hall & you might say a couple of poems, that’s what Lochiel used to do…& then of course you had the bird call championships & they’d pick a team to go to Sydney. Now back in those days of course, there were plenty of parents that hadn’t been to Sydney let alone kids, so you can imagine their eyes were falling out with anticipation…”

Fred Whant also remembered the bird call days, noting that “Gould League Day was very strong down here in Jack Lynch’s time…We used to have a big day at Merimbula & do bird calls over at Twyford Hall…”

Trained in one teacher facilities, Fred transferred to Lochiel from the three-teacher Pambula School, remaining until the closure of the facility in about 1971. Relying on the vital contribution of the P & C for provision of a range of teaching aids, he recalled that they were very active raising funds through raffles, street stalls & dances. “In those days, those sorts of things, particularly the dances, attracted people from far & wide…”

Some of the crowd gathered to mark Lochiel School's 
centenary in 1969. 
© The estate of A. C. ("Bubby") George.

He remembered the various celebrations that were marked by students during his time at school. “We had Empire Day, Queen’s Birthday, all those sorts of things…” Perhaps the biggest event though was the 1969 school centenary. After months of organisation for the November function, Fred & his local committee staged what was described as one of the most enjoyable school functions in living memory. Fred recalled “We had a sort of an historical display in the school with school work from years gone by, & somebody made a centenary cake…& that was cut by one of the oldest here…& then at lunch time we had the local member Steve Maugher & local district inspector & various other people, a Shire Councillor I think was here, & then there was a live display by the kids, I can remember we had a hundred year old wedding dress…it was enormous. We took six months to prepare for it…Everybody was in their Sunday best…All the kids had their shoes on for one. It was a great day…”

Students dancing the maypole during the 1969 Lochiel School 
Centenary celebrations. 
© The estate of A. C. ("Bubby") George.
Local member Steve Maugher speaking at Lochiel School's 
centenary celebrations in 1969. 
© The estate of A. C. ("Bubby") George.

Then living in Albury, Jack Jones also made to journey to enjoy the celebrations. He noted “Fred Whant ran that, he was the teacher…I came though...And all the pupils that I saw!”

The commemorative plaque unveiled during the school's 
centenary celebrations.

This was to be one of the last great events in the life of Lochiel Primary School. Shortly afterwards improved transport & falling attendances combined to bring about the closure of what was then one of the oldest remaining one teacher schools in the district. Jack Jones commented “I can understand economically why they shut down one teacher schools, because it’s cheaper to put the kids on a bus & take them into a big school, but it rips the heart out of the community…the school was the centre…”

Past & present pupils, teachers & residents gathered for the 
Lochiel Centenary celebrations. 
© The estate of A. C. ("Bubby") George.

Although the century-plus year old facility may have closed down, Jack Jones & his former pupils ensured that the spirit of the school lived on for many years through the “Lochiel nights” that the group held a couple of times a year at Jack’s Merimbula home. Teacher, past students, their partners, & sometimes even grandchildren, would gather to reminisce about the good old days at the small school.

The old Lochiel School building, which was relocated to 
Pambula Public School in 1971.

After Lochiel’s closure, the old classroom was relocated to Pambula Public School where, during the 1988 Australian Bicentenary it became the focus of classes conducted by Jack Jones with his former pupils as well as Pambula Public students. He recalled “…One of the great events concerned with Lochiel school…this is going back to 1988, I was down at the bottom pub in Pambula having a beer with Dennis Hart & Clive Stewart & Barry McGrath & a couple of others, & John Summerville came in & I said to him, ‘What are you doing for 1988, the bicentenary?’, & he said, ‘Oh, I’ve got it all worked out, I’m going to get Jack Jones to open up the Lochiel school the way it was in 1955.’ And I thought, ‘Oh yeah, whatever,’ & then when I went to walk out of the pub, he followed me & he said, ‘I was fair dinkum,’ so I said ‘I’ll think about it.’ I came home & was telling my wife about it & she said, ‘Oh, wouldn’t that be wonderful.’ Then the phone went, Alf King was there [at the pub] too & there was three of them rang up to say ‘I hope you’re going to do it Jack, we’re very keen, we talked about it after you left.’ So we did, & we had thirty something there, Eunice McMahon came down from Newcastle, her brother came over from Tumut, I set up the school & did the things we used to do from half past nine to eleven…& then he [Mr Summerville] set up little groups of kids & intriguingly, I took a cane & they all wanted to know if I would give them the cane. I belted it on the table a couple of times & assured them that it wasn’t fun. Then we had a BBQ lunch with the present teachers & a bit of a session out in the playground with the infant kids, answering questions, & then we went around the classrooms, three or four of us in each room, answering questions & talking about the olden days, & then we had a sports afternoon. Then we all went down the pub…” he laughed.

Jack Jones & his former pupils from Lochiel Public School 
during the 1988 Bicentenary Celebrations at Pambula.

Jack Jones with his former Lochiel pupils at 
the Pambula Public School's 1988 
Bicentenary celebrations.

© Angela George.

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