skip to content

< Early Canberra Government Schools

Yarralumla ('Bulgar Creek') [1878 - 1914]

Public education on the Limestone Plains had its beginnings in a private venture. In June 1849 Terence Aubrey Murray advised the newly created Board of National Education in Sydney that he had already established a school at ‘Yarrowlumla’ for the children of his tenants and neighbouring families. The school closed for good around the time that Murray left the district. No other National or public school operated within what is now the ACT until the 1870s, a decade that also saw a belated revival of interest by families living in the locality of Murray’s station.

Yarralumla ('Bulgar Creek')

Ironically it was Father McAuliffe, Queanbeyan’s Catholic priest, who in 1878 made application to the government’s Council of Education for a provisional school at ‘Yarralumla’. He estimated that 31 children would attend and reported that a ‘school-house’ was under construction on land leased from John Fox. He neglected to say that it would double as a Catholic Church. The site was in fact Portion 70, Parish of Yarrolumla, at Bulgar Creek, 4½ miles south-west of Yarrowlumla homestead. Within two years McAuliffe had delivered the numbers and full public school status was awarded. Perversely, the department named it Yarralumla.

The McAuliffe-negotiated lease terminated in 1886. The department’s first thought was to rebuild on Murray’s 1849 site because the Crown now held title to two acres there, but it was too far for most of the children. Instead, Frederick Campbell of Yarralumla Station agreed to sell two acres at Bulgar Creek to the south of where the Cotter road now runs. The government paid him £5 per acre (total £14/19/-including legal costs) and the Minister approved expenditure of £65 on a ‘plain wooden building’ 18 x 14 x 9 feet (with outhouses).

The limitations of the building were exposed when teacher Mrs Emma Mayne and her niece were unable to find accommodation closer than 3½ miles to the school. They were camping in the schoolroom, which was unlined and without a ceiling, and winter was setting in. Even the inspector had to concede that distance and exposure made the post untenable for a person ‘at her time of life’. Emma nevertheless had to suffer through the winter of 1888 before a transfer to Nelanglo near Gundaroo could be arranged in spring. While the schoolhouse was a conventional box, a novel approach was adopted when the parents petitioned for a weather shed in 1890. It took the form of an ample L-shaped verandah along two sides of the schoolroom.

In 1892 teacher Francis McGee wanted to double the size of the school site so that pupils could pasture their horses away from the trees he was planting. On the strength of previous experience, Frederick Campbell was unwilling:

'The noise naturally made by the children keeps my livestock from feeding over some 20 acres adjoining the School. This land is therefore partly wasted, and then the Govt. give trouble over the payment and the title etc.'

He asked for £12 per acre, well in excess of the going rate. It might have had the desired effect, as thereafter the departmental file is silent on the matter, although a later survey does show two adjacent 2 acre blocks rather than one.

Like all of the local schools, Yarralumla was hostage to fluctuating demand as children moved away, grew up or were kept at home to help on the farm. Some parents sought Certificates of Exemption for their children. These certified that, although the child was under age for release from compulsion, he or she had already reached the required standard of education as determined by examination. Regrettably, those children whose parents most desired to have them leave before age 14 were among those least fitted, through parent-approved truancy, to succeed at examination. The department took a dim view of these try-ons. In 1897 McGee was issued with a please explain for wasting the inspector’s time by having him examine pupils who were obviously unready.

In 1898 the school was demoted to half-time status and paired with Nerrabundah ('Long Gully'). Numbers recovered sufficiently by 1900 for Yarralumla to be reinstated as a public school but in the middle of 1906 it was closed as part of a district-wide rebalancing of the system. The best that the remoter Bulgar Creek families could achieve for their deserted children was a government subsidy of £5 per pupil per year to a maximum of £25. This Yarralumla subsidized school, which was otherwise entirely the parents’ responsibility, lasted from 1907 until 1914. The teachers employed during this period were Mr Ingram, Mr Michael O'Rourke, Miss M.Wilson and Miss Alice Cameron. Thereafter the schoolroom, less verandah, was removed to Narrabundah (Crossroads) to double the capacity of that school.

Location Map

Teachers

NSW Government schools from 1848

< Early Canberra Government Schools

If you are able to assist our work of identifying, documenting, and celebrating the early bush schools of the Canberra region, please contact us or .