skip to content

Cavanagh (nee Harris), Mrs Ethel

Ethel Harris was the teacher at Mulligan's Flat 1917-21. Ethel was born 25 August 1898 at Glenelg, NSW - a locality near Nimmitabel. Mulligans Flat was her first teaching appointment at the age of eighteen. She found boarding with the Cavanagh family at 'East View', and four years later married the Cavanagh's son Michael.

This was following a trend; the two previous female teachers at Mulligans Flat – Margaret Burrell and Flora Dunn - also married local men. The pattern was repeated across the country – the Department running an unintended marriage agency. Sadly, Regulation 86 proclaimed that 'married women will not be eligible for employment as teachers'.

It was however a duty of teacher's wives to teach needlework to the girls, and their husband's career could be affected by their contribution: 'In forming an estimate of the efficiency of a school, the competency and usefulness of the teacher's wife, and the time she devotes to school duties, will be taken into account'. (Regulation 96).

Later Ethel recalled that 'the school ground was unfenced, and wandering tramps and drovers often camped in the weather shed overnight'. She got the grounds fenced, then organised planting of the conifers still there today.

Michael died young in 1937, and following his death Ethel returned to Bemboka, where in 1951 she married again - to Kenneth McLeod - and later went to to live in Mallacoota. Altogether she was a teacher for fifty years.

Ethel's niece Carole Thompson writes:

<i>"My Aunt Ethel Harris was a very important person in my life. I was born in Bemboka at the foot of the Brown Mountain. When I was born in 1943 Ethel had already returned to Bemboka after the death of her husband Michael Cavanagh in 1937. As she and Michael did not have any children their property was left to their nephew Ernie Cavanagh. Ethel was left money and bought a property in Bemboka with her brother.

We always called her 'Aunty Cav' and her Canberra friends always called her 'Cav'. They say I look like her. She married Michael Cavanagh in 1922. I did not realise that he was so much older than her.

Cav was a brilliant school teacher and was my teacher in primary school at Bemboka. In 1951 she married again to Kenneth McLeod, and they went to live in Mallacoota, Victoria, in those days a quiet, isolated fishing village.

Of course her leadership qualities came to the fore and she again began to teach; altogether she taught for 50 years. She also activated an Ambulance service, the Bush nursing Association and the CWA. Kenneth died in 1966. In the 1980's she returned to Canberra to live in retirement at The Goodwin Homes in Ainslie and later Morling Lodge. She died in 1992 at the age of 93 and is buried in the Catholic Section of the cemetery at Mitchell".<i/>


Teachers >

<< Early Canberra Government Schools