I acknowledge the Traditional Owners on whose land I walk, I work and I live. I pay my respects to Elders past, present and future.

Sunday, 5 February 2017

As another school year starts and children head back to big schools, staffed by numerous teachers, equipped with state of the art facilities and cooled by air conditioners it is a far cry from the bush schools of the past which serviced each of the outlying districts of the Herbert River Valley. Today few of the small bush schools remain yet the foundation of schooling in the Herbert River Valley was the small bush school, usually staffed by one teacher.
Thomas Millar, the manager of the Avoca Estate, downstream from the Camping Reserve (now Ingham), on the south side of the Herbert River, first approached the Board of General Education voicing the need for a school. In November 1874 a local petition was organized requesting the establishment of a provisional school. The petitioners were informed that the initiative for establishing a school was theirs as per The Education Act, 1860. If they wanted a school they would have to provide both a teacher and a suitable building. Meanwhile newspaper records indicate that the Mackenzies of Gairloch called a meeting in late January 1875 to gauge interest in obtaining a ‘national school’.  As a result of that meeting a committee was appointed and a subscription list opened, which it is reported “was responded to in earnest.” The correspondent forecast that the school would be opened within six months and would be well attended. The result of this community interest from various quarters  was that in March 1875, Thomas’s wife, Catherine Millar, opened the Lower Herbert Provisional School in the living room of her house with an enrolment of 15 children. Initial optimism prompted a request to the Government for the grant of land on which to erect a permanent school building. Though this did not happen at this point, the usual funding was provided to this first ‘national school’.
Though there had been a speculative land grab and three plantation mills already crushing: Gairloch 1872, Macknade, 1873 and Bemerside 1873 there were very few services or buildings that could be said to constitute a town. The Camping Ground which was then given the provisional name of Sligo consisted, at this time, of a store, public house, blacksmith and wheelwright’s shop and a telegraph office. By November the school was already struggling and the Board threatened to withdraw Government funding. It was remarked that “a number of children who ought to attend do not do so.” But apart from parents who were keeping their children back from school, the low enrolments were due to the community still being a transient one and the newly established sugar industry facing its first big setback, ‘rust’ disease. Clearly, despite the initial enthusiasm of a few, the time was not right yet for a school. Unfortunately enrolments dropped in the next year to ten students and so in December 1876 Mrs. Millar notified the Board of Education that she intended to close the school. Hers had been a thankless job. With financial cost to herself she had supplied the space and furniture and equipment within her own home for a school. An observation was made at the time in correspondence with the Board that the Valley was the most expensive place to live in “civilized Australia”. Alex S. Kemp records that a Mrs. Jim Fisher then opened a school at Log Creek which is supposed to have had an enrolment of 15 children. What happened to that venture is not known.
By 1879 the Government surveyor did survey not only town allotments, but a site for a court-house, school and police barracks. In that year an auction was held for 61 town lots for what was now no longer Sligo but Ingham. The surveyed school area was on the site of the present day Botanical Gardens. Again in 1881 another public meeting was held by Lower Herbert residents. The proposal that came out of that meeting was that two school buildings would be built, one on the Lower Herbert River Town Reserve (named Halifax in 1886), and one on the surveyed land in Ingham. It was proposed that the schools would operate on a part time basis with the teacher travelling between the two. With the realization that funds were not as forthcoming as hoped, and that what funds secured needed to be rationalized with efforts concentrated on the building of one school building, Halifax was the first to secure a provisional school. It opened on September 24 1883 with an enrolment of ten girls and seven boys. Another public meeting was held in 1884 to request a school for Ingham. A year later a school did open  finally in Ingham on May 4, 1885 with 27 students.

Halifax Provisional School (Source: Halifax State School Centenary 1883-1983, 48.)

Ingham State School 1886 (the boys) (Source: Hinchinbrook Shire Library Collection)
Barrie, Douglas R. Minding My Business: A History of Bemerside and the Lower Herbert River District of Queensland Australia. Ingham: Douglas R. Barrie, 2003.
Kemp, A.S. “The Old Pioneers” and “The Turn of the Century.” The History of the Herbert River. 3rd and 6th instalments.
Vidonja Balanzategui, Bianka. The Herbert River Story. Ingham: Hinchinbrook Shire Council, 2011.
 “Lower Herbert.” Telegraph, January 26, 1875.
“Lower Herbert.” Queenslander, November 20, 1875.
“Lower Herbert Provisional School.” Correspondence to Board of Education, February 26, 1876. 

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