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Yarra [1869 - 1971]

Previous Name/s: Run of Water (1869-73); Waterland (1874-81); Run of Water (1883-1906).

Run of Water School. Memories of learning in a little bush school. Kevin Miskelly

"My first little bush school was listed in departmental files originally as Run-of-Water and records show that it was opened on July 3 1869. Present-day travellers on the Hume Highway pass over the stream where we paddled and later swam. It curves along just south of the city of Goulburn, still indicated by that quaint, old-fashioned name of Run-o'-Waters. Here, years before, where the winding road dipped steeply to the rough bridge over the creek, was the scene of a coach hold-up by bushrangers.

The school was at Barker's Bridge, near the junction of the Hume and Federal Highways. In its early years it was a half-time school with a neighbouring school, several 'bush miles' tnrough the scrub, on the pioneer Chisholm property at Kippilaw. In those days there were three grades of bush schools: half-time, provisional and public. The half-timers were open three days one week and two the next, sharing with another school. I remember my father telling of a teacher in the Taralga district who became lost for a few days while travelling on horseback between his two schools.

The first Run-of-Water school was in the small Methodist Church. It became a full-time provisional school in 1874, still in the church building but renamed Waterland. On May 21, 1883, it again became Run-of-Waters but was now in the front room of Thomas Barker's home. The winter westerlies, raging across the Breadalbane Plains, must have chilled the pupils and their 'new' teacher, Miss Eliza Wilson, as there was no fireplace. The following year a weatherboard school opened nearby, just a single room, with a brick chimney. The name changed to Yarra in 1906 after the naming of the railway station. Although the original station was named Collector when opened on November 9, 1875, it was altered to Yarra in 1878 and Collector was adopted by the village bordering Lake George. A new site was chosen for the Yarra school and the old building moved there, with a few minor additions. This was my first alma mater.

With a small group of boys and girls, I passed through my primary school days. Here we listened and learned and wrote. We spoke our poetic lines and sang our well-loved songs while in our bush playground we romped in carefree abandon. Long ago, on the first night of the Christmas holidays, a dead possum was dropped down the chimney of the Yarra school. Imagine the aroma which greeted the teacher and pupils when school reopened the following year! The young teacher was Miss Elizabeth Kellett, whose life span was more than 100 years. Imagine the clamoured naming of suspected miscreants. Was it Billy or Tommy or Bert? Of course, all these suggested culprits had left, most of them already well above primary school age.

The years have kept their secret and when the school celebrated its centenary in 1969 that teacher, who was still living, couldn't name the humorist although she smilingly recalled the incident. On that day she had gathered the girls under a spreading gum for lessons while the boys played nearby until the room was aired. In my days at the school, a friendly goanna was often sighted through the windows, dozing in a gum. 'Old Scaly' remained outside, unlike the one that slept in the rafters of Henry Lawson's bush school, only to stir when the Irish teacher, Mr Tierney, disturbed him.

Frank Withers, who followed Miss Kellett in January 1902, often took the class down to the roadway to watch for a passing car — that new wonder which had appeared on the bush scene. Earlier in that Yarra school an inspector had recorded the following in his written report; "The teacher who resides at the Public House, about 300 yards distant, did not arrive until 10 minutes to the hour of 10. When he unlocked the door he hastily turned back the school clock to 9.30, and being pretty smart in his movements, he evidently thought he had performed the trick without me seeing." He did not disclose where he had been hiding and he did not mention that on other days the master had probably arrived an hour or so early.

When I was later in charge of my own country school I had a similar experience. The district inspector, well known for his crafty, spying tactics, parked his car at a distance from the school and proceeded on foot to barge in without knocking. Naturally I assumed surprise, but the post office and grapevine communication links had beaten him! He was a dour Scot. I didn't hold that against him, having a sprinkling of Highland blood in my veins, but his dialogue was so broad it was quite foreign to the pupils, and I had to interpret.

The school of my boyhood was a neat weatherboard structure of one classroom, a small storeroom and a porch where our lunch bags were hung along with our drinking mugs, a mixture of white, chipped enamel and dented tin. The single galvanised tank supplied our drinking water, almost boiling under the summer sun and ice-cold in frosted winter. The class furniture consisted of several old-style desks, three book presses, two blackboards and a teacher's table with a couple of chairs. During those long winters of the Southern Tablelands our fireplace glowed continuously, generously stoked by well-seasoned logs or stumps gathered from the surrounding paddocks.

Occasionally an ugly specimen with a mass of legs curled away from a smouldering log.
The centipede was soon flattened by a senior boy, with gasps of relief from the girls. The blackboards rested on easels and a tale centred on one of them. The incident took place during my first year. The educator was Mr P. Larbalestier, known as "Old Larbie". He was noted for his caning ability, generally administered to the senior boys. Girls were excused caning and troublemakers among them were placed behind a board. On this occasion Larbie had forgotten the lass, who, becoming leg-weary, decided to rest against the structure. What a catastrophe! Over went easel and board, grazing the master seated at his table. After that his stem command, "Get behind the board!" was loudly extended with, "well back, against the wall, and stay there!"

Some may remember the long desks and forms. A couple of these, along witn our teacher's table, glowed red, especially when caught in a ray of sunlight. No doubt they were cedar. All were adorned with the names or initials of past students, "carved in agricultural letters", some partly erased by the passage of time. A story revolved around one of these desks. My special cobber, Jimmy, had a crush on one of the girls, Ivy. Normally girls were just sissies unless they happened to excel at rounders or even cricket. Ivy was a sizzler in all sports. The desks usually accommodated about six pupils and there were holes for inkwells. Accidents were frequent, often when a steel nib caught in the rim of an inkwell and upset the contents on the desk and floor. Ink cloths and blotting paper were always on hand. It's a wonder some teacher hadn't invented ballpoints long before to counter the ink-spilling and blots associated with those nibs, though, in the hand of a gifted writer, they produced a beautiful, flowing style unknown today.

Now, remember those Conversation Lollies with their brief messages printed on them? You could find a greeting for most occasions, provided you had the necessary pennies. One morning, before school commenced, Jim removed the inkwell and slipped a Conversation Lolly into Ivy's section of a long desk. Unfortunately, Ivy was called upon to assist with the 'littlies' and another girl shifted into the vacated place. Poor James was waylaid by this lass at playtime and couldn't escape.

Going home that afternoon Jim was not his usual, carefree self. His nonchalant, larrikin exuberance had disappeared. "What's wrong, Jim?" I asked. "Nothin' much, I reckon, but Ivy won't speak to me." "Don't worry, she'll get over it," I assured him. "Perhaps, but I was tricked." "How come?" I queried. "Well, Ivy had to help with the reading," was his brief reply, but he didn't elaborate until I continued the discussion. "Some of us have got to help, you know, Jim." "Yes, I know that but I put a Conversation Lolly in Ivy's desk and she didn't get it." It was days later that I found out why the other girl was behaving so amorously towards Jimmy, and Ivy was tossing her head and ignoring Jim and even giving me a friendly glance of approval. That white Conversation had a special purple message —I LOVE YOU. Problems such as Jim's were soon forgotten in those light-hearted days in the primary school. It wasn't till later that we discovered, waiting for us over the horizon of our boyhood, a somewhat different path of learning. "Hard the cobbled road of knowledge to the feet of him who plods/After fragile fragments fallen from the workshops of the gods."

[Canberra Times, Saturday 29 December 1990, p 14]

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NSW Government schools from 1848

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