A small school in a small place, Wallabadah Public is the town’s pride and future. As it celebrates its 150th anniversary, Carolyn Millet talks to current and former staff and pupils about their memories.
Lyn Hunt (later Adams) attended the school for all of her primary education, from 1961-67. She was the female school captain when the school turned 100.
“It was a great event; we planted hundreds of petunias in ice-cream tins for the day. They looked beautiful,” she says. “It was a special day, as my late father won the beard-growing competition.”
Lyn is “quite convinced that a time capsule was secreted behind the plaque on the sundial rock” during the centenary celebrations. Apparently attempts have been made to find it, without success.
“I believe it was plastic, as the rock would protect it. I know they have tried a metal detector, but plastic wouldn’t register,” she says.
Lyn’s fondest memories are of walking to the Wallabadah hall to practice for the end-of-year concert there.
“I always remember my sense of pride in our school,” she says. “When someone was buried, we would line up at the fence to show our respect as they proceeded to the cemetery.”
Lyn remembers every student being responsible for a section of the school garden.
“And who can forget the crates of flavoured milk delivered by Mrs Barnett? They often sat in the sun for awhile, but we never got sick,” she says.
“It was a great school to attend. My two brothers and my sister also attended. Wonderful memories.”
Harold has lived in Wallabadah all his life, except for two years in Moree. He’s had many roles in the village: including mailman, bus driver, and shopkeeper for 30 years. He attended WPS from 1936 to 1944.
“We only had two rooms up there and Miss Brady was the first schoolteacher that we had – she was a cranky old girl, too. She used to use the stick pretty well.”
Harold says one of the students’ jobs was cutting wood to heat the schoolrooms.
“All the older boys used to have to go out with two men and a horse and dray,” he says.
Harold says he “found it really good, going to school: all the schoolmates we had, all the games we used to play.”
Alex moved to Wallabadah with his family as “10-pound Poms” in 1966.
“For me, it was special as my first school in a new country. I loved the space, the trees – especially the big pepper trees out the front where we had breaks and lunch.”
He says some of his clearest memories were of his principal, a war veteran probably living with post-traumatic stress.
“He was an erratic guy with a bad temper and given to frequent use of the cane. I recall he also threw a lot of chalk at students in class if they were talking, fidgeting, daydreaming etcetera,” Alex says.
“On one notable occasion he had run out of chalk so grabbed the nearest thing at hand – an old iron tape dispenser – and threw it at Alan Sands.
“It hit his desk and left a big indentation. Lucky it missed Alan.”
Alex was boy school captain when the school marked 100 years.
He also remembers the centenary celebrations – and the ceremony with the infamous time capsule.
“We all dressed in period costume and had a big parade. It was huge for the school and Wallabadah.”
Johanna is the new principal of the school, having applied for the role after 16 years in the Upper Hunter as a teacher and principal.
“I loved the idea that Wallabadah was such a tight-knit community and the school was seen as such a pivotal part … It is well-known for its wonderful education and learning experiences and is seen as a true hub of excellence.”
Johanna says the school is special “because it is rich in experiences and diverse in nature”, welcoming children from the village, surrounding properties and Quirindi.
“Students interact all together. You can have a Year 6 student playing in the sandpit with a Kindergarten student. They are active, involved and highly engaged learners.
“The students are given many opportunities through sport, culture and academics to mix with students from the surrounding schools. Wallabadah is such a special school.”
Lyle started at the school in 1940 and left in 1947, and has also lived in the village all his life. He doesn’t have too many memories of his time there, but says some aren’t too pleasant – perhaps a sign of those times in education.
“I got the cane nearly every day, and you didn’t have to do anything [wrong] to get it, either,” he says.
“If you didn’t have any ink in your inkwell and you turned around to get some on the desk behind you, you’d get six cuts on the hand.”
However, he says he “learnt a bit” – later going on to run the successful Barnetts trucking business for 45 years.
Elizabeth is the longest-serving staffer at WPS, having started as a casual in 1978. She’s now a part-time relief teacher, librarian, and support for kids with learning difficulties.
Her dad went to the school, as did his sister, brother and cousins; and her future husband Rod, but she went to school first at Castle Mountain then Quirindi.
“Wallabadah is just a delightful place to work, it really is … It’s always been a happy place,” she says.
“It’s the community spirit, it’s honesty, manners; the little things that are sometimes forgotten … The big kids look after the little ones; the environment is inclusive.”
Elizabeth says the members of the small school community have celebrated together and grieved with each other countless times.
“A few years ago we had a little boy who died in a farm accident who was a student here; that was awful, but everyone rallied around and tried to help,” she says.
“We’ve had house fires, minor accidents. There’s also been some years of crippling drought – which affects families badly, more than you might realise ... but people rally around.
“Out of the bad, some good always shines through somehow.”
She says a longstanding tradition is teaching new kids games such as tunnel ball, captain ball and over-and-under ball, as well as marching.
“Every year we do it, and every year it just starts off being hilarious as the little ones learn how,” she says. “Any kid that has been here since the beginning of time would think, ‘Yes, we have done that’.”
Chris has just wound up a 13-year stint as WPS principal, moving on to Nemingha Public School just this year.
“Leaving this wonderful school earlier this year was extremely difficult,” he says.
“I struggled with feelings of guilt and sadness as I left a place where I felt so content and happy – somewhere that made me grateful every day I came to work. It wasn’t work, actually, it was fun – and that has been my philosophy of teaching: to make learning fun.”
Chris says he was “always amazed” at former students’ continued interest and pride in the school.
“I believe there are five values that define the community spirit here at Wallabadah: pride, fun, opportunity, community and freedom,” he says.
“Wallabadah opens windows of opportunity to everyone who walks through the gates. It’s a sense of ‘anything is possible’ for everyone.”
Chris says he feels “truly honoured to have taught at Wallabadah”.
“It was a privilege I will never forget.”
- The school’s 150th anniversary celebrations will be held on September 30 and October 1. There will be a parade, markets, guided tours, art displays and more.