12. Whatever Happened to the Old Bush School?

Getting an education in rural and remote Australia
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Deciding to move to an outback cattle or sheep station out of love is laudable. But what comes next is not so straightforward or familiar. Raising children in rural and remote Australia poses challenges and demands that most parents couldn’t even imagine. What is life like for parents raising children in such circumstances? And what of the changing provision of education, the loss of one-teacher and small rural schools, transport of students to schools in larger regional centres, boarding school issues and costs, and the teaching profession, distance learning and online technology.

Classroom on a remote station in South Australia. Photograph Joy and Bruce Stewart

Classroom on a remote station in South Australia. Photograph Joy and Bruce Stewart

Ila Arthur
Cathie Bammann
Toni Bastian
Professor Dean Carson
Mary Fisher
Bruce and Joy Stewart

Further Reading
Rural Education – A Perspective
Phil Roberts
Published in Education Review, September 2009
Reproduced courtesy of the Australian College of Educators

Rural Education Roberts

In the program, we heard from Joy and Bruce Stewart – they travel to remote outback stations in many parts of South Australia, through an organisation called REVISE, providing services for isolated children with the help of volunteer retired educators . As heard in this program, the School of the Air is an important component in the education of children in remote parts of South Australia.

Learning Outback. Photograph Bruce and Joy Stewart

Learning Outback. Photograph Bruce and Joy Stewart

Wirrabara Forest School: 1881 – 1967
Tony Ryan

Today, most primary and secondary school students in rural and remote Australia have to travel by bus each day to a regional school in a larger centre. That is, unless their parents decide to send them to a boarding school in their capital city. But it was not always so. One hundred and more years ago, many children only gained a primary education in a small school in their locality – and they walked to school each day, rain, hail or shine!

Wirrabara Forest School, about 1910 when the new school was opened.

The “one-teacher” or Rural School was very common in most parts of Australia from the latter part of the 19th century through to the 1960s, when these small schools were beginning to be phased out. One such school was in Wirrabara Forest, in the southern Flinders Ranges of South Australia.

In all these years when there was a substantial population living in the forest, most of the children went without schooling. It was not until 1881 that through the efforts of Henry Copas and his committee, a school was finally opened. Its first teacher was Sydney Jackson. The school soon became the social centre for the forest dwellers and remained as such for the next seventy years. Although the school building was a primitive affair it took nearly thirty years before a proper stone building and teacher residence was opened by Adam Potts in 1910.

In this program, we hear from Ila Arthur, a long-time resident of Wirrabara, about the small rural school she attended in the mid-1930s. Opened in 1910 and closed in 1967, this building was not the first school in Wirrabara Forest – as mentioned above, the first very basic school was opened in 1881. Located in the heart of Wirrabara State Forest, this small school, sometimes with only 20 or 30 students and including all primary school classes, was taught by just one teacher. We hear of the teacher, Mr Murphy and his family who lived in the school house next to the one room school in the 1930s and of the involvement of the local community in supporting the school.

The close of the school in 1967 caused considerable disappointment in this small community, deep in the Wirrabara Forest. The buildings still stand today, and are used as a Youth Hostel. The small schools are still greatly missed in many parts of Australia.

First Broadcast – Monday 17 June 2013

Although the school closed 45 years ago, it still stands in Wirrabara Forest, a silent reminder of "the old school days". Photographer Tony Ryan

Although the school closed 45 years ago, it still stands in Wirrabara Forest, a silent reminder of “the old school days”. Photographer Tony Ryan