Kate (Catherine) Ahern was born about 1868 to John Ahern and Catherine nee Ryan. She grew up in Jembaicumbene near Braidwood, her father reportedly attracted to the area by the 1850s goldrush. Her family were apparently well respected in the district and placed significant value on education, with her father'a remarkably well informed man ... (who) possessed an almost insatiable appetite for literature of all kinds', according to his obituary. Amongst Kate's several siblings, was a brother (John Ahern) who also became a teacher.
Kate commenced teaching in December 1886, aged 18, taking temporary charge of Brooks Creek Public without any training, perhaps because of her reportedly good education, The schoolroom was basic, measuring '14 feet by 12 feet by 9 feet, the walls being of slab ... the roof of galvanised iron, a pine floor and a chimney of rough stone'. Teacher and pupils had to negotiate stepping-stones across the creek to reach the school but when heavy rain raised the creek level, this was impossible. In Kate's first year she closed the school 'on the weeks ending 28th January, 10th June and 8th July, in each case owing to heavy rain causing the creek to be uncrossable'.
Like many teachers in bush schools, Kate lived with a local family during term time as there was no designated teacher accommodation. This lodging was a simple bark hut belonging to a settler, with wife and young child, situated close to the school. Kate went home in the holiday breaks as well as during illness. After ten months at Brooks Creek, she was diagnosed with 'Chlorosis' - a form of anaemia – forcing her to close the school for a month, returning home to take 'complete rest'.
In July 1888, with eighteen months experience, Kate was awarded a Class IIIB provisional classification by examination. Her health, however continued to suffer, and in early 1889 she required six weeks leave, again due to 'Chlorosis', during which period her 19-year-old sister Helena, who she recommended as 'capable of performing all the duties of a teacher', was permitted to take charge of the school.
Annual inspections of Kate's school management in 1889 and 1890 recognised her organisational ability, disciplinary power, teaching competence, and practical skills. Her efficiency prompted an inspectorial memo suggesting her removal to a more important school, but as there were no suitable vacancies at the time, nothing eventuated. Soon after this Kate submitted her resignation, 'Thinking that a change of occupation would benefit my health', which took effect on 31 March 1890. While not explicit in her letter of resignation, her new 'occupation' seems to have been marriage, as revealed by the school inspector in related correspondence, where he describes Kate as 'a very comely young woman - a circumstance to which she is, in a degree, indebted for her good fortune in getting a husband', reflecting the patriarchal framing and social expectations of that time.
In an interesting coda to Kate's time at Brook's Creek, it seems her successor Margaret Deasy stayed only a few days before going home with a list of grievances over the accommodation and difficulty crossing the creek. Her complaints were dismissed by the district inspector as a misrepresentation of the situation, stating amongst other things that Kate Ahern, who had a similar background to Miss Deasy, had stayed in the lodgings in question and managed Brooks Creek school for three years without complaint.
Biography prepared by Joanne Toohey, 2023.Sources consulted include NSW school teachers' rolls 1868-1908, NSW school and related records 1876-1979, historic newspapers, NSW births, deaths and marriages online index and Early Education and Schools in the Canberra Region, (1999) by Lyall Gillespie.
- Brooks Creek
12/1886 - 03/1890