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< Early Canberra Government Schools

Tuggeranong School [1870 - 1940]

The first Tuggeranong School, (also known as 'Tuggranong'), was always a rural one-teacher school. It opened in September 1870 after applications by Father James McAuliffe, the Queanbeyan Catholic priest, and six local families. It was given provisional status. The school was a small timber slab construction, with a detached room for the teacher, on Martin Pike's land in the current suburb of Richardson. Ten families sent children, including Pike, but the school closed in June 1876.

It was re-established as a Public School in October 1876, with 13 families, but Pike refused to allow the teacher, Joseph Kelly, to teach on his land. Samuel Shumack, a local pioneer and writer * believes it was Father McAuliffe who caused the school to be closed. Kelly taught children of all religions, but the priest, on visiting the school, found an Anglican prayer book and threatened to throw it into the fire. Kelly threatened legal action and refused to teach the Catholic children. Pike sided with the priest, Kelly went to teach in Weetangera before ending up in Yass, and Pike turned the school into a granary!

The second school, also a small, slab, poorly constructed building, opened on 1 April 1878, on NSW Government - owned land in the current suburb of Chisholm. But local residents had supplied and built only a temporary school, with Michael Kennedy as the teacher. The School Inspector recommended a more permanent school in July 1878.

In June 1880 the current handsome, superior, brick classroom with attached four-roomed cottage was opened. Kennedy finally retired in July 1898, replaced by the very popular single man, Frederick Greentree. But it was the married Francis McGee who secured the long-term job, having his wife, local girl Mary, (nee Morrison) to teach the girls sewing. He arrived in November with his wife, a servant and his four tiny children. He would later have three more children, one of whom became internationally acclaimed as a nuclear physicist and pioneer of television.

The Tuggeranong School operated for nearly 60 years, closing in December 1939. For almost half of that time, McGee was the teacher. As well, he also taught at Tharwa School because, for part of 1908, both Tuggeranong and Tharwa were half-time Schools. This was the third occasion McGee taught half-time schools locally. He was the teacher at Tuggeranong in 1913. Very much appreciated by the local community for his teaching, his involvement with the local Catholic Church, sporting events, music and poetry, McGee finished his 45 year career when he retired on 30 April 1927.

Three teachers succeeded McGee, and when the school finally closed in 1940 because of insufficient pupils, the property was rented as a dwelling for a further 70 years. Originally beside the Queanbeyan-Tharwa road, the school today is found at Enid Lorimer Crescent, Chisholm, where it operates as Tuggeranong Schoolhouse Museum - ACT government owned, but housing a private collection which reflects bygone teaching methods and living styles from the past.

The closing of Tuggeranong Schoolhouse Museum

It is with great regret and sadness that we record the closing of the Tuggeranong Schoolhouse Museum, which occurred during the last month. This school museum, which was operated and furnished by its curator, Ms Elizabeth Burness, for about 12 years, had been a most successful venture which added considerably to the history of schooling in the Australian Capital Territory. This school building, erected in brick in the early 1880s is a good example of a NSW Public School building to which was attached the teacher's residence. The school was closed in 1939, and the building rented for many years until Ms Burness undertook to operate it as a schoolhouse, in which both the school room and the teacher's residence were furnished in historically appropriate 1880s- 1890s period furniture. This school museum will be greatly missed as a significant contribution to the ACT's cultural heritage. The future of this building, owned by the ACT Government, is currently unknown, but it is hoped that it will be retained as one of the comparatively few remaining buildings from the 1880s still existing in the National's Capital.

[from ANME News No 47 Summer 2023, with thanks]


Tuggeranong School – Old Tuggeranong Schoolhouse, Conservation Management Plan, Final, Issue 4, 20 March 2013. Eric Martin and Associates

*Samuel Shumack : Tales and Legends of Canberra Pioneers ANU Press 1967 p. 136

A series of photographs of the school and out-buildings taken in the course of renovation work in 2009-10 can be found here

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School Website

NSW Government schools from 1848

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