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Williamsdale School [1871 - 1949]

Previous Name/s: McDonald's Flat (1871-1885), also known as 'Lobbs Hole' school

The Reverend James McAuliffe of Queanbeyan submitted an application in December 1870 for the establishment of Half Time schools at McDonald’s Flat and Burra, some five miles apart. He recommended that Coll McDonald and Michael Smyth be appointed to the McDonald’s Flat School Board and advised that sixteen children would attend – six of McDonald’s, six of Charles Smyth’s, and four of Joseph Blewitt’s. He nominated John O’Dwyer as teacher, and stated that the school wouold be conducted in Coll McDonald’s house – a slab building measuring 20’ x 16’. Aid was granted to the schools in February 1871.

When Inspector McIntyre visited two months later in April, he found the schools closed. Teacher John O’Dwyer had become ill and returned to his family at Jembaicumbene on 17th April, where he subsequently died in June. Rev McAuliffe then recommended that Michael Kennedy be appointed teacher. McIntyre in turn recommended to the Chief Inspector that Kennedy be appointed only on a temporary basis as he had heard he was a man of ‘intemperate habits’. In the event Michael Kennedy stayed for nearly seven years, being replaced by Andrew Douglas Wright in March 1878. A year later McDonald’s Flat was paired with the newly opened school at Rob Roy, some four miles north on the Cooma-Queanbeyan road.

When Wright left in March 1881 the two schools were without a teacher for six months until John Ahern took up his appointment (August 1881). He was followed in April 1884 by Richard Rex. When Rex resigned a year later, the school’s name was changed to Williamsdale (November 1885), and James Campbell became the teacher.

In a quest for full time schooling for their children Richard Curran, John Mayo, Alexander McIntyre, Patrick Sheedy and Elizabeth Keefe (all from north of Williamsdale) submitted an application on 3 December 1891 for the establishment of a new Public School at Guise’s Flat, a mile and a half north of the existing Williamsdale School, giving an undertaking that their children and some of the other families would attend. Inspector D.J. Cooper recommended that the application for the new Public School be declined but supported the ugrading of the existing school to Provisional (and thereby, full time) status subject to a new building being provided by the residents, to be assisted by a grant of £45. This was approved by the Department on 1st February 1892. Jeremy Keefe wrote later that month reporting that a Committee had been formed comprising himself, Richard Curran, Patrick Sheedy and Francis Smith, who were willing to have the work in connection with the school carried out. He wrote again in June 1892 to say that a new school building 17’ x 14’ had been erected erected.

Inspector Cooper was evidently impressed. His memo to the Chief Inspector of 27th June 1892 recommended that the residents be granted an additional £5: “The sum of £45 was promised to the residents of Williamsdale on condition that a school building (14’ x 12’) should be erected. They have, however, built an excellent school, comfortable, well-lighted, and provided with good ventilation, measuring 17’ x 14’. The walls are of vertical pine boards, secured to a hardwood frame. The roof is of corrugated iron. The outside of the woodwork has been painted and two very good out-offices have been erected. The building stands on Crown Land. In view of the excellent character of the building, and the fact that the average attendance of pupils for the past four weeks was slightly in excess of 15, I recommend that the grant be £50 instead of £45, as requested in the appended letter from Mr J.Keefe. The school and out-offices are well worth £70. Payment should be made to Mr J. Keefe, Williamsdale’.

In November 1892 the Department of Lands informed the Under Secretary, Department of Public Instruction that approval had been given to the permanent dedication of two acres of land, Portion 160, Parish of Burra, as the school site and two acres, Portion 161 adjoining, had been temporarily reserved as a school paddock.

Teacher Eliza Gate wrote to the Inspector on 21st August 1899 advising that the school had been closed for the two previous weeks: ‘There were 16 children on roll and out of that number 10 were absent through whooping cough and severe colds and 4 are attending Waterholes. I have an attendance of three today, one of whom is just newly enrolled’. Seemingly anxious for the future of the school, and her position, Eliza Gate left the school in mid-December, and never returned. Flora Smith was a short term replacement (January to May 1890), but six months without a teacher followed, before the school again became a Half Time School with Royalla.

In 1904, for reasons that are unclear, the school was relocated to a new site. A letter to Inspector Flashman from Charles Smith at Waterholes, Michelago in March 1902 had advised that the Williamsdale school ‘could be removed in sections or on skids, with the Porch taken off’. ‘But in regards to the price I think it is too much, as they say it will cost £13’. In May 1902 the Department of Lands advised that Portion 163, Keewong Parish, had been withdrawn from sale ‘with a view to being reserved for school purposes’. This became the third and final home for Williamsdale School, a site between the road and the railway, on the Cooma road some three miles further south.

The school then was alternately Provisional or Half time for thirty years. In 1935 it was made a Provisional School for the next 14 years, closing in 1949.

According to a Navin Officer report, Brian and Foster Smith, former residents, landowners and lessees of Williamsdale went to the Williamsdale School before its closure in 1949. Both brothers recollect the school house and the shed that was built for the bus driver as a residence, and to store the school bus, a Bedford and later an AEC. A paddock was fenced off for the Smith’s horse Major, and became known as Majors Paddock). The Smith’s father and their aunts also attended the school (Foster and Brian Smith pers.comm. 2008 and 2009). Other children that attended Williamsdale School with Brian and Foster Smith were Barry Smith, Frances Smith, Katherine Gillespie, Mary Gillespie, David Gillespie, Diana Smith and ‘Little Richard’.'

[Murrumbidgee to Googong Water Transfer Project. Cultural Heritage Assessment including Subsurface Testing Program. A Report to ACTEW Corporation November 2009. Navin Officer Heritage Consultants Pty Ltd. p. 37 ff]

"The first schools to operate in the area were at Burra and McDonald's Flat, and they opened as Half Time schools in February 1871........The McDonald's Flat school was situated at the head of the Jerrabomberra Creek and its pupils were of the Plummer, McDonald, McIntyre and Smith families, also the Blewitts from Lobbs Hole. This school existed until 1885 and was often called the 'Lobbs Hole' school. When it closed it was replaced by the first Williamsdale school in the reserve at Guises Flat. Mr O'Dwter was the first school-teacher, and he boarded with the McPhersons at Burra Station. He travelled on horseback to the McDonalds Flat school b y a track through the 'Warm Corner', What is known as the Old Red Road was constructed around the hill in the house paddock of 'Warm Corner' for the use of the teacher and pupils from the Burra. The eldest children of William Moore would have attended both schools"

[Bruce Moore, 'Burra, county of Murray', Canberra, 1981 p.64]

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