Booklet ‘1867-1967 History of Lower Portland Public School’ courtesy of Colin Mitchell
The first Lower Portland school was opened in 1866 or 1867, after the severe flood of 1864 and about the time of the biggest flood ever experienced in the Hawkesbury, in 1867. Many families were left destitute after the 1867 flood with farms, homes and crops ruined, so it is not surprising that the school closed the following year after the school inspector reported ‘the discipline is feeble and the moral aspect unsatisfactory…the attainments are small’.
By 1869, Walter King was nominated as teacher for a new school situated ‘at the junction of the Colo and Hawkesbury Rivers’. A boat was provided for the teacher to row pupils from across the river and enrolments jumped to forty-seven: slightly over-crowding the one-room, slab and mortar building with a dusty earth floor, built to accommodate about forty pupils. King successfully led the school to Public School status by 1872.
James Cooke took over as teacher in 1873 and the next year the residents of Lower Portland contributed two-thirds of the cost for a new stone schoolroom and a very sparse teacher’s residence all under one roof, constructed on a one-acre site donated by John Smith. In 1879, King returned to the school for another eight years, until he was transferred to Ebenezer in 1887. He was replaced firstly by Mrs Sarah Sheehy and then William Broadfoot, a popular teacher who trained his pupils ‘to be vigorous, industrious and proficient in their work’.
There were nearly ninety major floods recorded in the years leading up to the school’s centenary in 1967. Local schools were frequently closed during flood times and during the flood in 1889, Broadfoot wrote that ‘The late flood swept away the school boat, the Government punt and boats belonging to many residents…the roads being impassable on account of the large deposits of mud and debris left on them by the flood’. Of course, the other problem was drought. In 1901, Brinsley Hall wrote that ‘Lower Portland Public School water supply has run out’.
John James took over as teacher in 1891, then Henry Watts in 1908 and William Campbell in 1915. Mary Nash took over in 1917 when Campbell enlisted in the AIF and remained until his return in 1920. Additions and alterations were made to the school and residence over the years, including the addition of the wooden school building from Upper Half Moon Reach when that school closed in 1905. White ants were always a problem and in 1930 urgent repairs were carried out when it was reported that ‘the residence is not habitable…and the W.C. is positively dangerous [and] likely to collapse into the pit’.
The list of teachers up to 1967 includes Salter, Frape, Waterhouse, Harris, Gill, Bridge, O’Rourke, Carter, Earley, Schafer, Oakley, Bousie and Tony Fogarty, bringing to an end the first one hundred years of Lower Portland Public School.
Copyright Carol Roberts 2018
This article by me first appeared in Hawkesbury Gazette, Wednesday, 5 July 2017.
History of Lower Portland Public School 1867-1967, published by Hawkesbury Press, Windsor, 1967, courtesy Colin Mitchell.