Backward Glance - Back to school
  • Wednesday 30 January 2019

As Sunshine Coast children head back to school this week, on their bikes, scooters, skateboards, in a bus or a car, it is interesting to wind back the clock to the early 1900s.

The early provisional schools were established on a voluntary basis by settlers and were built with rough bush timber, bark walls and an earthen floor.

In these provisional schools, parents provided all the furniture, slates, books and pencils and the Department of Public Instruction provided a teacher with a wage of up to £100 per year.

It was no easy task getting to school. Many children often walked barefoot and even if they were lucky enough to have shoes, they’d swiftly remove them once out of sight of home. 

It has been said that in early school photographs children’s feet were often not visible as most were not wearing shoes.

Many children rode horses and it was common for two, three or even four children from the same family to ride the same horse, with arguments about who would be at the front or balance at the back.

When a new school at Maleny opened in 1925 there were 70 pupils and 35 horses corralled in the horse paddock.

A few innovative young gentlemen, who did not have horses, offered to catch the mounts for the young ladies. 

This had a double benefit, they were able to learn to ride whilst taking the horse to its waiting owners and they also gained the approval of the young lady riders.

Children travelled miles to school, across farming land, and in many cases followed the tram lines.

In a letter to the editor in the Nambour Chronicle on August 28, 1903, Mr Finbury lamented that a promise was made to link two roads that would enable children to attend school more regularly, but as he states, “promises are like pie-crusts, easy to break”.

He wrote that children had to pass through private land, follow the tram line, and if they encountered loaded trucks on the bridge, they either had to clamber over them or wade through the mud and slush of the creek below.

This epic journey was often made after helping on the farm or dairy.

In 1909, the Nambour Chronicle published a report by a school inspector in New South Wales surveying 38 schools, 495 families and 1131 children.

The findings were that 50% of children were regularly milking cows by hand and feeding calves and pigs before and after school. On average, they rose at 5am and retired at 9pm.

An early example of a loosely termed “school bus”, was Bert Brooker’s cream truck.  

Bert had the cream run from Curramore to Maleny and the school run from Curramore to Witta and Maleny. 

In a resourceful scheme, he put the kids and the cream in the back of his truck and had the kids help him unload the cream and put it under a bush. 

He then loaded up the planks for seats, put mesh across the back and continued on to school, before returning to finish the cream run. 

He is quoted as remarking that “the kids didn’t mind, the parents didn’t mind and the cream of course had no say”.

Another interesting mode of school transport was by boat along the Maroochy River. 

A provisional school was opened on June 27, 1911 near Dunethin Rock.

A daily boat service operated from 1917 until 1965 ferrying pupils from the Maroochy River-Dunethin Rock area. 

By 1916, parents living upstream from Coolum Creek were concerned by the lack of schooling opportunities for their children and a request was made to the Department of Public Instruction to remedy the issue.

The headmaster of Yandina State School, being a departmental representative, was conveyed along the river by Fred Thiedeke on the M V May and found there were at least 11 children who did not attend school due to the absence of roads to their homes.

Following the headmaster’s recommendations to the Department of Public Instruction, £100 per year was allocated towards running a motor launch to be overseen by a committee.

By 1917 children were travelling to the Maroochy River School in a boat owned by committee member Andrew Gosper.

The Maroochy River school boat operated for nearly 50 years.

All these trials were overcome in the pursuit of knowledge and it’s likely they must have doubted at the time whether it was all worth the trouble. 

However, as an article in the Nambour Chronicle in 1939 states, “all future professors, judges, prime ministers, archbishops or whatever, must all begin at the same point. They must learn the same ABC, the same beads on the ball frame, make the same pothooks, as there is no royal road to learning.”

Thanks to Sunshine Coast Council’s Heritage Library Officers for the words and Picture Sunshine Coast for the images.

Image details

Hero: Children ready to board the first school bus to leave Buddina for school in Maroochydore, ca 1970

Image 1: Maroochy River School and pupil’s ca 1935

Image 2: Students and teacher J.T. Wilson in their classroom at Woombye School, 1910

Image 3: Sisters Sonia and Linda Suosaari rowing to school across the Maroochy River from Stoney wharf, Bli Bli ca 1950

Image 4: School children from the Walli Creek area on horseback ready to ride to school, ca 1930s. Most children in the area either rode to school or relied on private motor transport until W.E. Sims commenced the first school bus service from the Walli Creek area to the Kenilworth State School in 1949.

Image 5: Children riding horse back to school, Glass House Mountains,1928

Image 6: Coolum State School pupils with their teacher, Miss Ellen Chapman, ca 1920

Image 7: Buderim Mountain State School pupils and teachers, ca 1908. Buderim Mountain State School was established in 1875 with 18 pupils enrolled. An early Buderim teacher made an official complaint to the Education Department, stating; “the rough food and the fact that I am forced to carry my own water and wood”, which is an indication of the difficult conditions rural teachers faced in this era.

Image 8: Maple Leaf cream truck, Conondale, 1930s

Image 9: Maroochy River School Boat leaving the jetty alongside the Maroochy River State School for its final trip as a school boat service, August 1965

Image 10: Maroochy River School Boat on for its final trip as a school boat service, August 1965

Image 11: Mooloolaba State School Principal Arthur Bray Parkyn standing on the verandah of the one teacher school surrounded by pupils, ca 1940.