Education was pretty raw a hundred and fifty years ago. Imagine a dozen or more kids squashed on a couple of long benches, scraping their feet on the dirt floor of a slab and bark shack, reciting letters of the alphabet, while the untrained teacher pointed with his cane.
That was Coomber Provisional School at the start of November 1873. Local farmer John Lloyd senior had engaged John Warren, a Canadian with no teaching experience, and agreed to pay the balance of his £40 per annum salary, after each child paid one shilling per week to attend.
You can imagine little schools scattered throughout the district within an eight-mile radius of each other, schools like Clandulla, Carwell, Tong Bong, Oakborough, and Glen Lee. They fluctuated between “provisional”, “half-time” and “closed”, depending on numbers, and parents hoped that their child would receive at least the basics of the three Rs.
Coomber had two more untrained teachers. Edwin Howell, who had been a public servant, lasted a year before he resigned, explaining he didn’t like “being buried out in a bush devoid of all congenial associations”. Robert Kersley was a local farmer who lasted 23 years. During his time, the Department of Public Instruction replaced the old school with a school plus teacher’s accommodation (still standing near the entrance to Kandos). It was a rubble stone building with a galvanised iron roof consisting of a school room, eight by five metres, plus a verandah and a four room teacher’s residence. It had no stove, bathroom, copper or tubs and the toilets were in a corner of the yard, but that was not unusual.
By 1910 numbers had declined so much that Coomber closed for five years and then reopened in January 1915 as Candos Public School with an enrolment of 22. It changed to Kandos Public School in August that year. From then on local education became a tug-of-war between Kandos community and the Department of Education, the former watching enrolments sprout and agitating for better accommodation and more teachers; the latter, sitting on its hands, unsure just how far this industrial town would expand. Or indeed whether it would last.
Although two teachers (Francis Daley and Nathanial Barton) preceded Arthur Patrick Meany, it was Meany who did more to establish Kandos Public School than anyone else. Promoted to the position of headmaster, he arrived in September 1917 from Lawson’s Creek Public School, with his wife Margaret (also a teacher) and sons Gerald and Kenneth. The Mudgee Guardian, gave him their blessing, assuring Kandos readers that Meany was public-spirited, popular, enthusiastic and capable, and would be a great addition to the rising industrial centre of Kandos.
The month Meany arrived, the ground was shifting. Though the department was talking about adding extra rooms to the old school, the cement company had included in its new subdivision, a two-acre site for a public school on the corner of Dangar and Jaques (they wanted the school on their side of the railway line). Meany and the newly established Parents’ & Citizens’ Association inspected the old building and reported on its defects and inadequacy for an enrolment of 66 with 20 children waiting. Next thing you know the Department arranged for two unused classrooms to be brought from Mudgee and erected on the new site, which they eventually purchased from the cement company for £100. The old school was refurbished as the headmaster’s residence. In July 1918 Meany moved the school into the new classrooms, with his wife as the second teacher. But guess what! In September the enrolment was 120, the school again was too small and within a year an unused building from Lue was erected and another assistant employed, enrolments now at 165.
Both Kandos and the public school were growing like Topsy. In 1920 Inspector Hayes recommended a new modern school building. The Department ignored that idea, though they found it hard to ignore a letter from Mrs Travis in June 1921 complaining that her six-year-old son had been refused enrolment. Mr Meany explained to the Department that first and fourth classes (46 and 36 students, total 82) were taught in the same room by the one teacher (Arthur Meany presumably). Moreover, the floor space of 505 square feet only had a capacity of 50 students, given the Department’s requirement of 10 sq ft per student. Meany offered to enrol the boy at 6 ½ years, and by that time a fourth classroom was removed from Wilbertree to Kandos.
The Department hoped that when the new Catholic school opened in January 1923, enrolments would go down. But that didn’t happen. When another inspector, this time Inspector Harvey, described the school in June 1923, as “four detached wretched wooden buildings”, the Department approved the erection of a new building. It opened on 28 October 1924, a weatherboard building of five classrooms, with concrete foundations, chimneys and fireplaces.
The official opening of the school reveals a great deal about Meany’s organisational skills and educational philosophy. He knew the power of promoting education so he enticed the Minister for Education to open the new school. He invited other dignitaries to make speeches and insured the Mudgee Guardian and Lithgow Mercury were there to report on them. Then he rewarded them with a banquet, catered by the ladies’ committee. He expressed his non-sectarianism by inviting the Convent school to attend the festivities. He had his well-disciplined students display the flag drill and maypole exercises and then entertained all the children with a picnic and sports afternoon – the carrot, not the stick! “And everything went off without a hitch under the watchful eye of Mr Meany the headmaster.”
Mr Meany, his work done, or so they all thought, transferred the next year to Coramba, at that time a thriving town on the far north coast, where he stayed till his retirement in 1938.
Back in Kandos however, enrolments had reached 300, so in October 1925 two temporary classrooms were erected in front of the main building. Within a year the number had increased to 397 and a third classroom was erected. Numbers kept creeping, vigorous correspondence increased and eventually a two-storey brick building, with four classrooms, assembly area and staff offices, weathersheds, lavatories and two extra weatherboard classrooms, were built.
Ironically, it was 1929, the beginning of the Great Depression. It turned out the school now had a surplus of accommodation!
Thank you Jeannette McHugh for reminding me that Kandos Public School has an interesting history.
The featured image shows a Spider Webs Maypole Display at the opening of the new school building on 30 November 1929. (permission NSW State Library)