Mount Isa History column

A day at school: School children pose for a photograph in Camooweal in the 1930s. Photographs from Camooweal and Beyond 1884-1984
A day at school: School children pose for a photograph in Camooweal in the 1930s. Photographs from Camooweal and Beyond 1884-1984

This article was first published in The Border and Beyond – Camooweal 1884-1984 by Mrs Ada Miller (nee Freckleton).  It is reproduced here with the consent of Mrs Miller.

Camooweal’s first school teacher was Mrs Emily Conroy (later Mrs McMahon) who, as soon as she was settled in the township in 1890, began teaching up to a dozen children.

She was not trained but she appreciated the value of an education and recognising the problem she did something about it.

For one shilling a week for books she provided the service needed. However residents soon took action to have a State School established.

In June, 1892 a letter was received by the Department of Public Instruction from Richard Letts of Camooweal. It read: Dear Sir, Would you kindly instruct me how to proceed to get a Government School built in Camooweal. 

There are thirty eight children in Camooweal and several round about and a school is required very much.

The residents are willing to subscribe towards it.

By instructing me how to proceed you will confer an everlasting favour on the children here. I remain. Yours respectfully, Richard Letts.

At about the same time another resident, D. Morison, also wrote a similar request and as a result a committee was formed consisting of A H Glissan, Chairman; J A Conroy, Treasurer; Don Morrison, Secretary and Committee W Beaumont, W Brideson, B C McDonald, Richard Letts, E Mossner.

The list of children supplied in September 1892 included:  Mabel and Ernest Letts, five Jenkins children, Louisa, Florence and Sissie Jones, Clarke and James Corcoran, Emily Conroy, two Beaumont girls, Annie Mossner, Violet McDonald, three Anderson children and five McDermott children.

Tenders for a school building were called on December 1, 1892.

The school was opened on June 5, 1893 with Ralph John Thomas as the first teacher.

He travelled by steamer to Burketown, then by coach for £5 from Burketown to Camooweal. His full boards was 30/- (thirty shillings) per week and his salary was around £120 per year.

In 1902, W M Benton, District Inspector, reported that the provisional school at Camooweal was a building of wood 22ft by 14ft.

“The verandahs are useless for the purposes of instruction being merely a sort of shelter from the sun when immediately overhead.

“They are open at both ends and front and the floor of earth is about 2 feet below that of the school. Average attendance was 30.4 and four new scholars were expected.”

In 1906 there were problems over accommodation for the female teacher, Miss Phelps, as the hotels were not considered a fit place for any woman to reside permanently. She erected her own small quarters costing £15 and the chairman, L H A Wilkinson, applied to the Department for her to be reimbursed.

In January, 1928, approval was given for the removal of the Mt Cuthbert State School to Camooweal. From 1893 to 1984 there were 33 Principals and 55 Teachers. Ralph John Thomas was the first Principal/Teacher from 1893 to 1896.

Other Principals included Bernard Mahoney who has been remembered as an excellent teacher whose pupils’ exercise books were exhibited at the Brisbane Exhibition in 1907. While William Shaw Henderson, 1908-1910, was very keen on music and who introduced and produced musicals at the school.

And proudly in 1931, local boy, Norman Landsborough Reilly returned to Camooweal as its first locally born teacher. He was later followed by another local boy, Noel George Finch who was reared in Camooweal as his father was Sergeant in charge during Noel’s childhood.

In later years, Principals included, John Patrick Short (1972 to 1974), T Maquire (1974-1977), R E C Roy (1978-1980), N F Heffernan (1980-1982), and J L O’Farrell (1982-1984). All though those early difficult years at the turn of the Twentieth Century, Mrs E McMahon acted as a supply teacher.

If the boat to Burketown was delayed or the wet season held up the coach, she opened the school, teaching classes until the regular teacher arrived. She boarded many young children over the years so that they might attend school.

Interestingly there were three other schools in the Barkly Tableland Shire area in the 1915-1928 era – Dobbyn, Mt Cuthbert and Kajabbi – which also attracted one of the itinerant teachers, Lionel Stevens who was employed under the Travelling Teachers’ Scheme.

Under this scheme each teacher had his own district and was expected to visit each child in that district at least four times a year. He was supplied with a specially designed buggy and four horses and camping equipment. Motor cycles and cares were given a trial during World War I but the roads were in a shocking condition so this proved most unsatisfactory.

Many children were completely illiterate and whole families grew up unable to do more than sign their own name. Instead they were working by the time they were eight to ten years of age.

Getting to school either in Camooweal or to a boarding school must have been half the fun. The Kenny children travelled fifty to sixty miles by horseback at the beginning of school term, the smallest one in front of Dad to get to Yelvertoft Boarding School.

While the Donaldson children returning from their Sydney boarding schools often found that Dad could not bring out the buggy from Riversleigh Station to meet them at Duchess so he brought the horses instead. Discipline was dispensed with the lawyer cane and most problems were settled in the Principal’s office.

Dozens of Camooweal boys will testify to Bill Jensen’s and Arch McIlroy’s prowess in this area. Camooweal district’s children have had to travel further afield for secondary education and this has traditionally been supplied by Church boarding schools of various denominations.

Researched by Kim-Maree Burton. www.kimmareeburton.com

School children in the photo above from the 1930s include George Burr, Girl Simonds, Alice Darcy, Claude Thompson, Ivy Beattie, Olive Conroy, Jo McMahon, Dora Burr, Ted Cunningham, Heather Conroy, Christine Hooker, Glen Reilly, Doreen Reilly, Norman Reilly.

School building: Camooweal State School circa 1983. Photographs from Camooweal and Beyond 1884-1984

School building: Camooweal State School circa 1983. Photographs from Camooweal and Beyond 1884-1984

On his way: Camooweal Itinerant Teacher, Lionel Saunders circa 1918. Photo from Camooweal and Beyond 1884-1984

On his way: Camooweal Itinerant Teacher, Lionel Saunders circa 1918. Photo from Camooweal and Beyond 1884-1984