FEATURE: 50 years of catching up at Oxley High School’s big reunion

“IT is said that ‘tall trees from little acorns grow’. I shall never forget the troublesome little acorn that was Oxley at the beginning of its first year, and I marvel at the growth that has occurred since.”

Those words were recorded by the first principal of Oxley High School, John Copp, in the school’s first principal’s annual report in 1968.

Earlier that year, about 530 students from two separate years – first form and second form, or the equivalent of Year 7 and Year 8 – walked through the school’s gates for the first time.

Half a century on, and those same students are getting together at the Tamworth Jockey Club on Saturday, to spend a few nostalgic hours reflecting on their shared youth.

Former student Terry Taylor put his hand up to organise the 50th reunion and has spent the past two years tracking down students.

Of the roughly 530 students who started at Oxley in 1968, he’s found about 350.

About a third are still in or around Tamworth, and the rest are travelling from all over Australia and even as far as the United States.

“We’ve got 50 years of catching up and only five hours to do it,” Mr Taylor said.

The Year 8 students, which Mr Taylor was one of, spent the previous year at Tamworth High School, while Oxley was being built. The school was a brand new environment for everyone – students and teachers alike.

“A lot of the teachers were young and many of them early in their careers,” Mr Taylor said.

“It was interesting because lot of the teachers formed good relationships with the students, and were still in contact many years later.”

Workers unload furniture as the school gets ready for its first day. Photo: Northern Daily Leader

Workers unload furniture as the school gets ready for its first day. Photo: Northern Daily Leader

Tamworth Regional councillor Russell Webb was in the first year to graduate from Oxley, and like any school, said there were famous stories that live on, even after five decades.

“One of the more significant events that comes to memory, was sitting in the library as a student and watching the television as man landed on the moon,” Cr Webb said.

“I’ll never forget that one.”

Cr Webb remembers another story, which involved a dead horse, a science teacher and a skeleton.

While it may sound like the set up to a joke, Cr Webb said he and a couple of his friends found a dead horse in a gully, and told their science teacher, Warrick Schofield.

“We showed him where it was, he collected the skeleton of the horse and pieced it together,” Cr Webb said.

“It stood in one of the quadrangles of one of the blocks for many year. I don’t know what happened to it.”

Cr Webb said the original wave of Oxley High students went on to have a significant influence on the city of Tamworth once they graduated.

“They were the next generation coming into the business community,” he said.

“Many people who went to that school in the first few years collectively formed a big part of the business community in the years to come.”

GUIDING HAND: Oxley High School's first principal, John Copp, who guided the school through its formative years.

GUIDING HAND: Oxley High School's first principal, John Copp, who guided the school through its formative years.

Wayne Lockhart, who owns Tamworth-based accounting firm Lockhart Business Advisors, said the growing school presented unique challenges, however they were all overcome.

“As the school was growing, so were the students,” he said.

Mr Lockhart fondly remembers the first major musical production – Gilbert and Sullivan’s Pirates of Penzance.

“Many fine voices and acting abilities were discovered,” he said.

“The dedicated teaching staff was so enthusiastic and many have remained acquaintances decades later.

“The achievements of Oxley High School continue to this day, which makes our greying cohort of ex-students feel very proud.”

John Graves, who is a practising lawyer on Sydney’s Macquarie Street, said the school left an “indelible imprint” in his memory, and represented his happiest schooling days.

“I am very proud of the wonderful body of people that the apparent rabble that started there, turned into,” Mr Graves said.

“I remember with great fondness a large number of dedicated teachers who put their shoulders to the grindstone with limited facilities and in spite of a town of naysayers who were wanting the school to fail, out of which they were able to produce, with help from the students, the pre-eminent school in the town.”

The original teaching staff.

The original teaching staff.

While it’s come a long way in the 50 years since it first started educating young minds, current Oxley High principal Simon Bartlett-Taylor said the school still held on to its foundations in many respects.

“The traditions of excellence and trying your best, and it’s still a very harmonious environment,” Mr Bartlett-Taylor

One of those traditions that the school has kept alive is the close bond between students and their teachers.

“The dedication of our teachers to the school is incredible,” Mr Bartlett-Taylor said.

“There are teachers here who always willingly donate their time to spend it working with kids during the weekend on their HSC projects.

“That is probably one of the key things of the school that hasn’t gone by the wayside, it is a tradition where the teachers become involved with the kids and help them out of hours because of their belief in these kids.”

In many ways, the school is the embodiment of a quote from it’s inaugural principal – “I hope that this school will constantly re-examine its aims and adopt attitudes and methods designed for tomorrow, rather than for today, or yesterday.”

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