BACK TO SCHOOL
NSW children are now ‘back to school’ for Term 2 and it is worth remembering that public education in Yamba began almost 150 years ago. Yamba’s very first school, set up on Pilot Hill in 1868 with just eight pupils, actually closed two years later.
By 1876 Yamba’s population had increased and in 1880, using donations of £65, local parents and residents built a one-room unlined sawn timber building with galvanised iron roof on the corner of Wooli and River Streets. It was furnished with two desks and four forms and had a small porch but no weather shed, water tank or toilet. When it gained government recognition in 1882 there were just ten pupils enrolled.
Three ‘water closets’ were erected and the area fenced by 1889. After enrolments rose to 48 in 1890 and the continuation of Harbour Works was assured, a new school building and teacher’s residence to accommodate upwards of seventy children was built in 1891.
In these early days the school was at the centre of the local community. Empire Day celebrations and end of year school picnics were attended by most of the population of the town. When the First World War ended the school bell pealed for hours and a procession of pupils marched through the town to the Pilot Station where the Pilot entertained them with cordials, lollies and biscuits.
Conditions for teacher and pupils alike were quite primitive; pupils often turned up without any shoes despite the known risk of death adders in the school grounds. Inadequate street drainage meant that the school and the residence were flooded after heavy rain, until the drainage was improved in the 1940s. Construction of a tennis court was the only improvement in the 1930s.
By the mid-1940s the school had two rooms, one being used for music and dancing lessons. The Headmaster’s residence was later re-modelled, fences repaired and all buildings re-painted. Enrolments grew to 91 and there were two teachers, each teaching several grades in a single class of up to 51 pupils. Attendance fluctuated seasonally as children of interstate visitors, cane cutters and sugar mill workers came and went.
The McKinnon Library was officially opened in 1962 while a new Infants building was added in 1971. A surge in enrolments in the 1970s meant the library had to be used as a classroom until the first demountable classroom arrived in 1978. The school continued to grow rapidly and by 1983 the school was large enough, with over 224 pupils in four infant and four primary classes, to have a Deputy headmaster.
A new site on Angourie Road was surveyed in 1985 and the new school opened in 1990. The old school building was demolished after the residence and land were sold to the Yamba Bowling Club. The original schoolhouse is heritage protected and garden plantings also have historical significance, including the Norfolk Island pines, planted from 1916 onwards.
The Yamba Museum has a “School Room” where children can sit in an original dual school desk, complete with inkwells. There are school enrolment records dating back to 1882, and an extensive collection of school photos that also includes Palmers Island and St James Primary Schools.
The museum would welcome any photos or old textbooks, exercise books and to add to their collection.