Wednesday, 16 April 2008

Country schools and historical legacies

One historical legacy that isn’t often considered as such is the plethora of schools existing in the Rosewood Scrub. In the days of settlement, people wanted schools for their children and they wanted them close. Families were large so having schools located in close proximity to each other wasn’t a problem in terms of student numbers. What was a problem was if it wasn’t within walking or riding distance. If children were to be educated, it needed to be done around the demands of the farm.

Stories abound of children milking cows, herding stock and doing various farm or house chores before walking or riding to school. Students had to be home for the afternoon versions of these.

Many of these local schools still exist: some flourishing, others clinging determinedly to life. Others, such as Tallegalla, finally closed their doors after many years of declining enrolment. School closures are political minefields and are generally avoided at all costs by politicians. Witness the furore that erupted when the state government proposed to move Amberley State School in order to allow expansion of the air base. Parents enlisted support at all levels of the government, including a delegation to Canberra. Of course, it helped the cause that a federal election was looming.

A school-related tradition in this area is the Queensland Times’ (published in Ipswich)annual special insert carrying photos of all the first year students in local schools. Looking over it today I counted 85 schools in the readership area ranging from Springfield and Redbank Plains in the east to Boonah in the south, Esk and Toogoolawah to the north and out to Laidley and Gatton (directions in relation to Marburg). Of these 85 schools (both public and private), 18 had five or fewer students in their year one class. More than a handful of these had only one or two students. Marburg was one of these, although they added a third child this week. Schools in Ipswich, Springfield, Mt. Crosby and Karralee (over the river on the Brisbane side) and a few of the private schools fielded more than one first year class. It paints a clear picture of growth and decline.

Other states have wiped blank the historical legacy of country schools by shutting small schools en masse and creating huge regional schools with large feeder areas. So far Queensland has not gone down this path. While this remains the case, I for one, enjoy this historical legacy.

Disclaimer: Merry Girl is one of three students in her class. Blithe Girl is one of eight. In mitigation, they are part of much larger composite classes, the school being divided into two classrooms (Prep to Year 3 and Years 4 through 7).

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