The next time you go walking around Kandos, turn into Dangar Street and stroll past the school. You’ll see a somewhat corroded memorial plaque for Mrs E Peerman, Kandos Primary School teacher from 1923 to 1961. The plaque suggests that where it stands was once a garden. It is now grass and a line of trees on the other side of an intimidating steel fence.
The plaque pricked my curiosity when I first saw it. 38 years is a long time at a single school. Was the plaque put there in appreciation of Mrs Peerman’s long service? Was she in fact the longest serving teacher the school has had? What more did she contribute? In other words, what is her story?
It’s amazing what you can find out on Trove on-line newspapers (a project of the National Library of Australia), about an ordinary teacher, who lived half a century ago in a small town. I discovered a woman who enjoyed her school and community. She worked hard for her church (St Lawrence’s Church of England), played the piano at numerous socials, dances and school concerts, organised many of those concerts, as well as bazaars and pageants, played the organ at church, was a founding member and secretary of Kandos Red Cross, was president of Kandos Hospital Auxiliary and was a skilled golfer and member of Kandos Golf Club.
Trove also revealed some of the crises in her life. Several times, early in her marriage, she was seriously ill in Rylstone and Lewisham hospitals. In 1937, to her embarrassment I expect, her husband John and brother-in-law Herbert Jackson had to front Kandos Police Court charged with tote betting (SP bookies). They were fined £5 each or 10 days imprisonment with hard labour. In 1942 Edna received news that their son Jack was missing in action, only to learn, with great relief a year later, that he was a prisoner of war (I use the word relief because no one knew at that stage the terrible conditions at Changi where he ended up).
A dip into NSW births, deaths and marriages added some more to the life of Edna Peerman. On 3 March 1917, in the shadow of World War 1, Edna Helene Williams a 22-year-old school teacher and daughter of a draper in Holbrook, married Jack Peerman, 25, a farmer from a line of farmers near Rylstone. They chose to get married at St Alban’s Church of England in Golden Grove (which I discovered was a suburb in the municipality of Redfern that no longer exists).
Like many local farmers and farm workers, Jack Peerman was seduced by the sprouting cement industry at Kandos and ended up spending the rest of his working life there (a combined 44 years in the factory and colliery, according to Wallis and Fleming). They produced two children John and Marie and in August 1922 Edna was appointed to Kandos public school. (By the way you might have noticed that the plaque is not quite correct)
So, where to from there? I couldn’t finish her story without at least a short search of Kandos Public School records in State Archives at Penrith. With tantalising results. Tantalising in the sense that they brought me closer to the real Edna Peerman but reminded me that historical research will never bring one close enough.
Those records took me into her classroom, where I discovered myself (all of the activities were familiar) – reading the school magazine, doing dictation, writing a composition (“A Picnic”), reciting times tables, solving arithmetic problems (a loaf of bread cost 5 pence, what does half a loaf cost?), writing in figures (one thousand one hundred and eleven), learning grammar (saw/seen), discovering Dick Whittington and Francis Drake. I was reminded of words on report cards like careless, inattentive, untidy, good work, slight improvement, trying hard. I felt again the stress and anxiety of being in a class of 30 4th Class girls and boys trying to get things right. I was surprised to learn that in one of Edna’s classes, ages ranged from 7 years to 11 years. That’s because in those days children were often made to repeat a class. Lined up in Mrs Peerman’s classes were many familiar Kandos names including Sharrock, Norris, Kerney, Bayliss, George, Windle, Large.
The state records also took me into the day-to-day life of a teacher who was also a mother and housekeeper. It was a time when leave, for example in Edna’s case, to attend a brother’s wedding or look after a sick father, was not paid. Sick leave was restricted to two weeks full pay even if an operation kept you in hospital and home for six weeks, as it did for Edna. And if your doctor diagnosed your son with scarlet fever and ordered you to stay away from school for eight weeks under threat of prosecution, then the Department of Education would certainly resist paying you, on grounds the doctor was overstepping the mark.
Edna Peerman resigned from teaching in June 1961 at the age of 65. A function was held in Kandos Community Hall where she was presented with a Testimonial, in appreciation of her “outstanding service and citizenship”. She also received a “beautiful clock and a handbag of notes”. Speakers included the local MP, district school inspector, headmaster and shire president. Six months later her obituary appeared in the Mudgee Guardian and probably soon after that, the memorial garden and plaque were installed. One can’t help wondering if she resigned because she was ill.
I haven’t yet found a photo of Edna Peerman to post. Perhaps you have one or know of one?