Wednesday 5 September 2018

Memories of East Minto Public School

by special guest blogger
Laurie Stroud

East Minto Public School opened in September 1898 in Hansens Road, East Minto. The two classroom school served children who lived within a 3 mile (5 kilometre) radius. The solid brick building had a verandah in front with one end enclosed and a store room at the other. The building was painted in “public school brown”.

On the end wall of the main classroom were two blackboards, each had two sections which could be raised or lowered. In effect this gave the teacher four blackboards which was quite helpful, given he had at least three classes to teach. To one side of the blackboards was a large piece of cardboard on which the multiplication tables were printed. (Leaning multiplication by rote was somewhat distracting for the other pupils but we all had to learn this way and just accepted it.) There was also a fireplace but it was seldom (if ever) used. The pupils sat at bench type desks with holes where inkwells could be placed.

East Minto Public School in 1920.

There were two tanks at one end of the building where the kids could have a drink. The square tank shown in the above photo was replaced by a corrugated iron tank to match the other. (The square tank was moved to the side fence and placed on its side to become the incinerator where rubbish was burned.) Sufficient rain water was collected from the school roof to ensure the tanks never ran dry.

The school grounds occupied about two acres with the bottom half of the site mostly bushland, including many large trees. There were three outside toilets – one for the boys, one for the girls and one for the teachers. The section between the front of the school and the main gate was covered with asphalt. This was where assembly was held at the commencement of each school day. It also boasted a flagpole – complete with flag on important occasions.

The immediate area around the school was cleared (no grass) to facilitate access and provide an area to play games during the lunch break. Sometimes there was a cricket match but the surface was rough. A bat or a proper cricket ball was seldom available. This meant that rounders became the favoured game. Rounders was played using an old tennis ball. Also it was relatively easy to fashion a baseball type bat from a sapling or a tree branch. The kids soon worked out that the longer the bat, the further they could hit the ball. However this advantage had to be balanced by the increased difficulty in actually hitting the ball. The “happy medium” was a bat just over one metre in length.

Playing rounders was not without some risks, particularly for the kid assigned to the outfield during  spring. Each year a pair of magpies would build a nest in one of the large ironbark trees towards the back of the school yard, adjacent to the side fence. The maggies considered any intrusion into their territory had to be strongly resisted. If the batsman succeeded in connecting with the ball it would invariably land in disputed territory and the person fielding the ball would be swooped repeatedly until he retreated – with or without the ball.

One year it was decided that we should not continue to be the subject to the indignity of these unwanted attacks. It was decided that force should be met with force. On the appointed day an arsenal consisting of bows and arrows, catapults, stones and acorn flicks was assembled. One kid who possessed a pith helmet hat was designated as the “lure”. When he ventured into magpie territory and was swooped, the kids responded with a barrage of stones, arrows and acorns. This only proved to be a temporary success. The wonder was that the “lure” escaped unharmed as accuracy was not a prerequisite for participation.

One of the positives of schooling in those days was the free provision by the Education Department of slates and crayons for the younger pupils, while the older ones were provided with exercise books, pens, ink and pencils. Any “extras” such as text books and sporting equipment had to be purchased by the Parents and Citizens Association (known simply as “the P&C”). Homework was unknown.

East Minto was initially a one-teacher school. The school's first teacher was Cecil George Browning Sutton. He remained at East Minto Public until he retired in 1921 and remained in the district as an active community member until his death in 1951. The altar at St James Minto is dedicated to him.

In the 1930s the teachers were Mr Edwards and Miss Frost. The next teacher was Percy Kable who also taught at Campbelltown Public School. He was followed by Mr Haines or Pop Haines as he was known. The school's numbers remained high during this time and at one stage there were two teachers. A Miss Henderson taught years 1-2 while Mr Haines took 3-6. He was regarded fondly by his pupils.
A former pupil by the name of Keith Longhurst remembered him playing cricket and rounders with the children at lunch time. Keith described his days at East Minto further: "We were taught reading, writing and arithmetic. And I don't mean maybe- we WERE taught. The only thing that spoilt my school life, if any, was that I was shifted from 2nd class to 4th class in one jump and it was a long hop and of course I missed my tables that you had to learn in 3rd class".

East Public School 1934, present Mr Edwards and Miss Frost.
(Denison Collection .Campbelltown City Library)

Names such as Etchells, Denison, Longhurst, Porter, Johnson and Hansen being prominent among the pupils.  Other names including Benjamin, Bentley, Goodwin, Hatfield, Leech, Mitcherson, Moore, Pickett, Stroud, Walters and Worrall also come to mind.

Another former pupil, Laurie Stroud from Kentlyn, enrolled at East Minto School at the beginning of the 1939 school year. It was about one kilometre further to walk each day compared to Kentlyn School but East Minto had two teachers at the time. This indicated a better learning environment. It was still a long walk for a bare footed five year so on some days his Dad would take him to school on the back of his bike. At this time Mr Haines was the headmaster. He was assisted by Miss Miles who taught the younger pupils.

Laurie recalls one winter’s day in 1941 when the school dentist arrived – unannounced. One by one the kids had their teeth checked. “For some unknown reason I had several of my first teeth removed. I had no indication of a problem other than a couple were a bit loose.  After the extractions the dentist said, ‘You can now go home, son’. I took the short cut which was in a direct line to my home through the bush; about a two kilometre walk. It started to rain before I reached home. I can still recall the shocked look on my Mother’s face when this wet bedraggled kid with blood trickling out the corners of his mouth arrived unexpectedly at the back door. Fortunately I suffered no serious aftereffects and went back to school the next day.”

Parents and students at East Minto. Mr Haines is at the rear. (Circa 1942)

Following the attack on Sydney Harbour by Japanese midget submarines in 1942, the Education Department decided that schools should be prepared in the event of air raids. The order went out that a slit (Z shaped) trench should be dug where the students could seek shelter should an air raid eventuate. In response to this request a number of fathers, complete with picks and shovels, gathered one weekend to excavate a trench. The ground was hard and progress was slow until Alf Longhurst arrived with his draft horse and scoop. The work was then soon completed. Fortunately the trench was never used for its intended purpose. However the boys quickly made use of this newfound play area to fight their own make-believe wars. When it rained the trench filled with water. Soon the walls collapsed and it had to be filled in. So much for that brilliant idea.

The P&C was quite active raising funds for the school, usually through raffles (3 pence a ticket or 5 for a shilling). The main expense was the purchase of books to be given to the pupils as prizes at the end of the year. Occasionally the level achieved in the class at the end of the year was noted for the senior students but most books simply contained a presentation sticker signed by the headmaster with a notation that the prize was awarded for “general proficiency”. This sounded impressive and must have pleased many parents. One weekend the P&C hired a bus and took all the kids to the beach at Thirroul on the south coast. This was a novel experience for many and greatly appreciated by all.
After the retirement of Mr Haines there was a succession of temporary teachers and the quality of education suffered. It was not unusual for a temporary teacher to fail to arrive and the kids had the day off. Falling numbers of pupils saw East Minto become a one teacher school. In 1943 a “permanent” teacher was allocated to the school. His name was Samuel Cook (affectionately referred to by his wife as “Cappy”, no doubt due to his surname). Initially he was unable to obtain temporary accommodation in the area so he and his wife plus two daughters lived in one of the classrooms for several weeks. This was a rather tough introduction to his new posting, particularly as the school did not have a kitchen or a bathroom.

Mr & Mrs Cook with most of the pupils. (Circa 1944)

Mr Cook proved to be an excellent teacher and he increased the academic standard and motivation of the students considerably. Instead of pupils automatically going to Liverpool Junior High at the end of sixth class to complete their schooling, his tuition and dedication enabled several pupils to pass the exam necessary to gain admission to the selective high school at Parramatta where they were able to attain the leaving certificate at the end of fifth year. Some achieved a sufficiently high standard at the special exam to be awarded a bursary to Parramatta High School. (A bursary was means tested but virtually all the parents of the pupils had no difficulty in coming in under the financial threshold.)
It is worth noting that despite the general poverty (by today’s standards) of the district, a number of students went on to become successful in their careers. These included a TV news reader, an entrepreneur (now a multimillionaire), a lawyer and a senior public servant.

On October 2, 1947 the school was destroyed by fire. It started in the early morning and destroyed everything except a store-room. Some suspected arson and others thought the fire may have started as a result of an electrical fault.

East Minto Public School after the fire that destroyed it in 1947.


Following the fire, existing pupils were temporarily re-located to the large open verandah on the house next door owned by Mr Jim Angus. This became their new classroom until other arrangements could be made. However as the population of East Minto catchment area had decreased after World War 2, it was decided not to rebuild. Students were then bussed to nearby schools and eventually they would attend a new school at Minto.                                                                                               

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