Broken Hill’s forgotten school


At the end of a bush track in South Broken Hill was a one room schoolhouse and a schoolmistress in black and the students of East School will always share a special bond.

East School was situated on the corner of Patton and Holdsworth Streets and five-year-old Robin Edgecumbe would walk about 500 metres from Otto’s shop to the school with his older brother.

“It was very entertaining and you’d see all sorts of native insects and birds,” he said.

Groups of small children without their parents would traverse the dirt track which was Patton Street but had to ‘stay on the path,’ whether they wanted to or not.

“There were thorny shrubs and bottlebush trees,” said Robin.

“If you got off the road, it was very difficult to negotiate.”

Everybody walked because most people didn’t have cars in those days.

Nancy Keenan (nee Alagich) was six in 1950 and would walk from the corner of Piper and Whittaker Streets, collecting friends along the way.

“Sometimes when we set off, we would stop off at Otto Holton’s cave shop to see if he had something interesting out the front” she said.

“Then we would walk past all the saltbush on our long trek to school but I never saw a snake or had any scary incidents.

“When it was well over 100 degrees or we were running late, Mum and Dad would sit my younger brother, Richard, and me in the carriers of their bikes and we would have a ride to school. “How good was that!”

Noris Braes (nee Toigo) began walking to East School from ‘Little Italy’ in Piper Street 1945, where the much-loved schoolmistress, Miss Mildred Rowlands, was a vision in black.

“In winter, she would have a black coat, lace-up black, heavy shoes and a big black umbrella and bag,” said Norris.

According to Norris, Miss Rowlands lived in the Central area and had to catch two buses to school. The first was to Argent Street, then the ‘South’ bus took her to the corner of Patton and Rockwell Streets. She would walk past Otto Holten’s shop, gathering some children to walk with her, and she continued caring for children at the school until her retirement.

East School was a combined infants and primary school and Miss Rowlands divided the schoolhouse into two rooms for the children.

“The bigger ones were on one side and the little ones on the other and Miss Rowlands did two curricula,” said Robin.

Miss Rowlands had a black, pot-belly stove in the classroom, which provided warmth in the winter and which she also used to make hot cocoa for the children.

Nancy called Ms Rowlands a lovely and dedicated teacher who challenged those in education.

“She said that if education was as progressive as it should be, there would be a school counsellor to give the Binet intelligence tests to children before they were admitted to school,” said Nancy.

“So some should go earlier and some held back a year.

“She didn’t agree that, just because you are five, you have to go to school.”

Miss Rowlands created fun for her students, from giving everyone a toy to hold in the class photo to games such as Farmer in the Dell.

“Special times were having Father Christmas at our big school Christmas party and the doll shows,” said Nancy.

“My celluloid doll won first prize.

“Mum knitted a beautiful white set of clothing, including a bonnet, and I was so happy.”

Outside, there was a playground with swings, a see-saw, monkey bars, a slippery dip and a wooden horse. There with a few gum trees, which provided shade, and the distinctive bubblers with cool water.

“There was a trough and a rainwater tank with very low-powered bubblers,” said Robin.

“That was the only water at the school.”

Noris recalled a rectangle, wooden frame covered with bird wire and filled with coke.

“A water pipe came up the centre and cooled the coke,” she said.

There was also a 10-foot-high stand of bamboo, the only one in Broken Hill, which ran all the way down one side of the school on the golf club side, maybe to provide shade but they were part of the adventure.

“The lunch benches were near the bamboo stand and there were a number of scares there where someone had a seen a snake near the bamboo stand,” said Robin.

“The bell was rung and we were told to go onto the verandah and told not to go near the bamboo stand.”

Robin and his friends looked over the nearby fence into South Golf Club and devised a way to make a small living.

During school breaks they would jump over the fence into South Golf Club to collect the golf balls.

“Then there was a ready market, selling them back to the club for a shilling each,” said Robin.

On Sundays, the boys would retrieve bullets from the earth mound at nearby South Rifle Range.

“We’d put them all in a frypan, melt the lead into a single ingot and sell them at a metal merchant near the Billy’s Club and get enough to buy icecream at Bells,” said Robin.

On weekends, he would pick up coal that had fallen off the steam trains because the railway line went past East school.

“The train came around the bend and the coal would fall off,” said Robin.”

“I’d collect coal in haversacks or hessian bags and take it home to keep warm through the winter.”

“We’d smash it with a sledgehammer because heaters of the day were powered by coal.”

The boys from East School would ride down the rollercoaster-like Patton Street hill and ‘Otto’s billy cart hill’ in billy carts made from old tram wheels and a box.

“If you wanted to go right, you’d pull the right-hand rope,” said Robin.

“And the brakes were you’d put your feet down and skidded along.

“You’d get to the highest hill and they’d give you a push and you’d just have to hang on.”

East School was carried in one piece, or jinkered, past Robin’s house in 1962 on its way to be demolished but this loved school lives on its former students.

“It would be nice to have some sort of monument out there to remind people that there was a little school in the middle of nowhere which left happy memories for so many people,” said Nancy.

Sometimes Robin is asked “What would you know?’

“Well, I went to East School,” he replies.

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