Across the River with Geoff Goodfellow | Moss Vale Public School turns 150

Moss Vale Public School turns 150 this year and local historian David Baxter is doing a wonderful job of digging up the past to help mark the occasion. 

LABOUR OF LOVE:  Local historian David Baxter is working hard to record the history of Moss Vale Public School for its 150 year celebrations in September.

LABOUR OF LOVE: Local historian David Baxter is working hard to record the history of Moss Vale Public School for its 150 year celebrations in September.

By December 31, he had named and catalogued 1135 class photographs, with many more to complete before the celebrations in September.

While David is doing the hard historical yards, let’s pay tribute to the hundreds of teachers who have played such an important part in educating generations of kids since Moss Vale school began in 1868.

Back in the day, tedious reporting and endless paperwork may not have been as demanding as now, but the workload still extended well beyond imparting knowledge and nurturing kids.

In those early days of Moss Vale Primary School, it was the responsibility of the teacher to fill lamps, trim the wicks and clean chimneys.

Each morning the teacher had to bring a bucket of water and a scuttle of coal for the day’s lessons, as well as make pens for the students.  

“Make your pens carefully,” advised the Department of Education’s instructions to teachers in 1872, suggesting, “You may whittle nibs to the individual taste of the pupils.”

Male teachers were allowed to take one evening each week for courting purposes, or two evenings a week if they attended church regularly.

After doing a 10 hour day in school, “teachers may spend the remaining time reading the Bible or any other good books.”

As well, “any teacher who smokes, uses liquor in any form, frequents pool halls, or gets shaved in a barber shop will give good reason to suspect his worth, intention, integrity and honour.”

But a teacher in 1872 who performed his labour faithfully and without fault for five years would be given an increase of 25 pence per week in his pay, providing of course, the Board of Education approved.

Women teachers were on an even tighter rein. 

“Those who marry or engage in unseemly conduct will be dismissed.” 

And they were not allowed to ride in train carriages or automobiles with any man except their father or brother and had to be home between the hours of 8pm and 6am, unless at a school function. 

Female teachers were also expected to scrub the classroom floor with hot soapy water once a week and sweep it daily. As well, one of their jobs on cold days was to start the fire at 7am to have the school warm by 8am when the students arrived.

Early last century girls spent 80 minutes of the school day in sewing, knitting and darning instruction while the boys spent these periods on extra geometry, geography and arithmetic, because clearly the girls wouldn’t have needed those blokey skills.  

Thirty minutes a day was spent singing and there were rules about how the children had to enter the classroom, bow to the teacher, sit properly, how to hold their pens and where their writing pad had to sit on the desk. Left-handed kids had to learn how to use their right hand. 

Perhaps the most useful lesson was “teaching students the advantages in life of avoiding all things which would make them disagreeable to other people.” 

Now that would be a handy skill for all of us to know.

Which brings us to Dudley, who broke down out the back of Taralga.  

So he walked into town, where he found a friendly pub to have a beer and feed before lining up a room for the night.  

“Sorry mate,” said the publican, “we don’t have a spare room, but you’re welcome to share with the little red-headed schoolteacher if you like.”

“Thanks very much, that’s terrific” said Dudley, quite excited that his luck had finally changed. “And don’t worry, I’ll be a real gentleman.”

“Just as well,” said the publican. “So is the little red-headed schoolteacher.”

 – Geoff Goodfellow

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