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Uriarra School [1897 - 2001]

Edited extract from Claire Lewis, 'On the Back of Two Sheep : a history of George Solomon Webb and his family, pioneer settlers on the Tidbinbilly and Urayarra Runs', 2012, pp 165-168 (see note below)

"The desire for an education for their children led Joseph W McDonald, William McLaughlin, John McLaughlin and Michael Flanagan to submit an application on 22 October 1894 for a Provisional School at Uriarra. The Department of Public Instruction declined the application on 3 January 1895 as it was believed that there were insufficient children and that a Half-time or Home to Home school was impracticable.

An undertaking had been given that the following children would attend the school:
Gladys and Cedric McDonald; Eliza, Ernest and Herbert McLaughlin (children of John McLaughlin); Mary, Sarah, Eliza, William and Dina McLaughlin (children of William Mclaughlin); Catherine and Alfred Flanagan. Ten of the twelve were Catholics.

A further application dated 8 October 1895 forwarded by Mr E.W. O’Sullivan to the Honourable J. Garrard requesting a Half-time school at Uriarra in partnership with Yumburra [Yumburra West PS, Portions 9,10, Parish of Umburra] was also declined as was an application by William Webb, Joseph Blundell, Michael Flanagan and William McLaughlin dated 18 December 1895.

Ultimately, an application signed by Charles Frederick Walker on 19 June 1896 seeking Half-time schools at Uriarra and Ledgerton was approved on 7 July 1896, indicating that the Church of England at Uriarra would be used and residents at Ledgerton would erect a suitable building to be used as a school. By this time the four families associated with the initial application had another four children between them, and there were two additional children, from the Webb and Blundell families. Furniture for the Uriarra School was supplied by the Department".

An essay written by Ernest McLaughlin for a school assignment in 1904, quoted by Lewis [ibid] gives a good description of the school. A section of that essay reads:

"[The school] is situated about two miles from the Murrumbidgee River, on the Uriarra Creek, a small affluent of that river. It is also about twenty-four miles from Queanbeyan, and about thirty-five miles south of Yass. When standing in the school grounds one can see for many a mile across the fertile pasture land to the north, to the east a view of about ten miles is abtainable, while to the south and west the rugged towering mountains conceal all from the eye of the spectator....

The playground is a very small one only, about half an acre. I suppose you would not call it a playground at all but out here there is very little need for a playground for we seldom have more than a dozen attending school at one time and if we do there is sufficient paddock room for a hundred. The playground is fenced in on three sides by a one-rail fence and two wires and on the northern side by a fence composed of one rail and five wires. The gate is on the western end facing the Government road which comes from Queanbeyan and goes on to Brindabella, Coolamon and Yarrangobilly Caves. There are three trees in the playground but they never seem to grow. When the school was built, which is about eight years ago, the ground was planted with trees but these three are the only ones which managed to live.

The school is built a little to the south of the centre of the ground and has one end toward the west and the other facing the rising sun. There are five windows in the school, two on each side and one in the eastern end. The walls are built of slabs and the roof is covered with galvanised iron.

At the southeast corner the tank is situated. It is a four hundred gallon ship tank and was set up about five years ago and has always plenty of water in it. The entrance to the school is at the western end and as the prevailing westerly winds used to cause no little inconvenience a porch has been erected to prevent the wind from blowing in at the door and that has made the school much more comfortable. Inside the school walls are lined with ½ in. pine but overhead it is not ceiled. The floor is laid with one inch pine boards. The school consists of one room and measures about twenty-two feet long by about twelve feet broad. The fire place is on the south side.

The school furniture comprises four desks and an equal number of forms, one table and a chair, one blackboard and an easel with one broken leg. We have two maps, one of the world and one of Australia and also a picture of the reptiles of Australia and a picture of the tea-plant with the Oriental lady picking the tea leaves. Besides these we have books and slates and all the necessary requirements for carrying on a half-time school'.

Queanbeyan Age, Saturday 11th July 1896: 'Uriarra and Ledgerton Schools'

The following letter has been received by Mr E. W. O'Sullivan :--"Sir, --Referring to the formal application for the establishment of hall-time schools at Uriarra and Ledgerton, I am directed to acquaint you that, having had under notice a report on the matter, the Minister for Public Instruction has decided to accede to the application on condition that the residents of both localities provide suitable schoolrooms without cost to this Department, in accordance with Regulations 55 and 56 for half time schools, and that the regular attendance of children having more than 2 miles from the proposed sites will be maintained. When the school rooms are ready for occupation and the fact is notified to this Department, a teacher will be appointed, I have, &c., J Gibson, for Under Secretary."

The Ledgerton School was located on a block of land on the eastern side of the Mullion School. It was a building of timber slabs with a shingled roof and earth floor covered by ant bed.

The Half Time schools opened on 1 January 1897. William Patrick Faulder was the first teacher and resided with Frederick and Annie Walker at Ledgerton. The two schools operated alternatively on two days one week and three the next. Attendance was not always guaranteed as the children would at times be needed to help with farm chores at home particularly at shearing time. When they were not at school the children were kept busy ringbarking, digging rabbits out and fencing. The two schools met together for picnics and sports days.

Faulder married Frederick and Annie’s daughter, Isabella Annie (known as Annie), on 5 January 1898. In October 1900 he was transferred to Kangiara Creek and Tangmangaroo.
John Adams was his replacement and he remained at the school until July 1903. He also boarded with Frederick and Annie Walker at Ledgerton. He married another daughter, Sarah Grace (known as Ruby), on 18 December 1901. Adams was transferred from Uriarra and Ledgerton Half-time schools in July 1903, and was to eventually become an Inspector of Schools.

The third teacher, John T. Coddington, was only 17 years of age when he started his teaching career on probation at the half-time schools in 1903 on a yearly salary of £72.0.0. The community came together to raise funds to establish a library at the school in September 1906, holding a successful social in the Uriarra woolshed with music for dancing provided by and Messrs T. Phillips and T. Harrigan. Coddington, like his predecessors, courted a Uriarra girl. He married Charlotte Annie Webb, daughter of William and Jane Webb of 'Fairlight' on 16 April 1906.

The two half-time schools closed in April 1907 and Coddington was transferred to Burrumbuttock Provisional School, near Albury. He resigned from teaching on 31 October 1907 and the family settled at Cunningar, via Harden. Aafter the schools closed, children were sent to boarding schools, had private tuition or were taught by correspondence .
A Subsidised School operated between 1907 and 1910 and again between 1920 and 1926 whereby the Department paid a subsidy per child and the parents of the children contributed towards the teacher’s salary.

In 1936 it was agreed that a Provisional School be provided and temporary accommodation was found in the old cottage which was once the Uriarra Post Office. The first students were from the families of Bourke, Bradley, Blundell, Skerry, McKenzie, Syphers and the Waldon’s from Martins Corner. The school was known as the ‘red school’ because of its colour. In September 1937 the school relocated to its new premises within the Uriarra Forestry Camp, where it operated until 2001.

The 1936 school has been described as follows:

"The 1937 schoolhouse building is typical of small rural schoolhouses from the early twentieth century. It is constructed of weatherboard, with a brick chimney and large pane sash windows, a hipped roof clad in corrugated iron and overhanging eaves. The building sits on stump footings to one side. The schoolhouse building contributes a discrete and picturesque element of historic character to the village, set back from the road".

'Uriarra Station' and associated settlement in the Uriarra Creek catchment area is in the Murrumbidgee valley, some fourteen miles north of the Tidbinbilla district, and not far from the Territory boundary. Reflecting a small and fluctuating population, the Uriarra school had three ‘lives’.

Established in 1897 when it was conducted in the local C of E Church, it operated for ten years as a Half Time school with Ledgerton, ten miles further north. This school was located beside the road from Queanbeyan to Urriarra, which crossed the Murrumbidgee River at Uriarra Crossing. After two periods operating as a Subsidised School (1907-10 and 1920-1926), a 'new' Uriarra school opened at the Uriarra Forestry Settlement in 1936 and operated there until 2001.The 1937 school building was replaced with a new building in 1968. Both are still standing in the new Uriarra Village, and are used for community activities.

[Publication: Uriarra Primary School. A history. Compiled by Steve Welch, ACT Schools Authority, 1986]

[with grateful acknowledgement. Copies of 'On the back of two sheep, a history of the Webb family, pioneer settlers on the Tidbinbilly and Urayarra Runs', can be obtained from Claire Lewis, 02 6248 0302 / ]

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