Education Week

Education Week has been showcasing  the achievements of our inspirational teachers, staff, students, Parents & Citizens Associations and community members in New South Wales for many years.

Celebrating our stories‘, the theme of  2013 Education Week, provides a great opportunity for our Society to celebrate achievements in this field by sharing some of the wonderful memories of education in our district.

We will attempt to do that from a number of perspectives over the course of the week –

  • from that of a student who began school at Moruya Public in 1910;
  • an account of an exceptionally gifted teacher at one of our district’s small, now-closed schools;
  • through anecdotes of schooling – the old punishment books spring immediately to mind; and
  • the contrasting of the many original schools in the area to their modern counterparts, with their modern facilities and associated technologies.

A Student’s Perspective

“… a pupil of Moruya Public School, a time which stands prominent in my memory as providing some of the happiest days of my life
A. V. (Bob) Colefax
Student 1910-1915

The first celebration of education this week is taken from a document  An Autobiography by Aubrey Verner “Bob” Colefax, edited by his son Jolyon Colefax. The first chapter Recollections of My Days At The Moruya Public School  details Bob’s obvious love of his school days and real respect for his teachers there.

As an educator I find his recollections fascinating. While curriculum content and methodology have changed considerably over time there are real constants.

Children’s unswerving belief in “fairness’;  their appreciation of teachers who have high expectations of their abilities; and, above all –  the ability of quality educators to make a real difference are just three of these constants that are obvious throughout the memoirs.

The Curriculum and High Expectations:

In second class we encountered Brooks Second Reader. My contemporaries may recall the first story, Miss Cloud and Miss Sunbeam. The book continued with a wonderfully varied selection of stories old and new, poetry and general knowledge items embracing a wide field. At the top of each lesson there was printed a list of words culled from that lesson, whose spelling had to be memorised as we progressed through the book.

Miss Cloud and Miss Sunbeam
Miss Cloud and Miss Sunbeam

While I am not a contemporary of Bob Colefax I certainly remember Miss Cloud and Miss Sunbeam from my early schooling in Queensland.

Throughout the memoirs Mr Colefax outlines the curriculum for each grade.

In third class we made big advances. In arithmetic we did advanced exercises in sums involving money and weights and measures. We also did the full works in vulgar fractions, that is in addition, subtraction, multiplication and division. This included calculation of the least common multiple and the highest common factor.

From fourth class “we sharply ascended to impressive levels, progressively to fifth, sixth and seventh classes, the latter two classes having been created by Mr Egan”.

Here we went forward from elementary algebra to simultaneous equations, from simple practical geometry, to the first seven theorems of Euclid, and to stocks and shares, compound interest, and compound proportion. We covered most phases of geography.

The famed Brook’s Fifth Reader

Mr Colefax goes on to say:

Brook’s Fifth Reader was a wonderful aid. It provided a mixed bag in the poetry lessons such as Banjo Paterson’s Clancy of the Overflow; Robbie Burn’s Ballard of East and West……..Grey’s Elegy in a Country Churchyard; Coleridge’s Kublai Khan and the Ancient Mariner………”

Quality teachers and High Expectations

Mr Colefax obviously had an enormous level of respect and admiration for his teachers – particularly for Mr Edward Joseph Egan or the Prince of Pedagogues as Bob refers to him as. His time as head of Moruya Public is referred to as The Golden Age of Education. Mr Egan was appointed as headmaster in 1913 and taught Bob Colefax in Grades 5-7.

…His methods were original and unorthodox and such as to inspire enthusiasm and rivalry in most of his pupils. He took us beyond the set syllabus, although the standards set for the syllabus were not low. When I sat for the bursary, the English paper contained a long, involved passage for parsing and analysis. Fortunately we were all highly trained in this subject. In the Geography paper we had to draw a map of the Balkan peninsula and show the position of twelve named towns.

It is obvious from the memoirs that Mr Egan had a real gift for inspiring his students:

Mr Egan was a Shakespeare fanatic. At times he would break into an oration on the immortal bard, and get quite carried away with the subject, while the more impressive of us would become similarly immersed…..
Mr Egan was also a great Dickens lover…..I remember Mr Egan once being fired with oratory on the life and character of Sydney Carton from The Tale of Two Cities.  Almost in tears himself, he had some of us with tears beginning to well when he quoted:

“It is a far better thing I do, than I have ever done…”

Sydney Carton climbing the steps to the guillotine in A Tale of Two Cities

The success of Mr Egan’s inspired teaching was apparent:

Year after year, without fail, bursaries and scholarships were gained under his guidance. Four of my own family, including myself, won bursaries tenable at Sydney High School…..

……Following are some of the winners of bursaries gained under Mr Egan’s tuition: Myrtle Colefax, myself, Charlotte Louttit, Grace Mathews, Tom Cooper, Norman Parbery, Alan Louttit, Phil Annett, Alan (Tom) Colefax, and Gordon Colefax….

One of the most highly-prized qualities in a teacher is fairness – all children have an innate sense of justice. It was as important in Mr Colefax’s day as it is today. It is clear in the memoirs that Mr Egan was strict but very fair.

It was a painful experience to be caned by him. He used the handle end of a feather duster, and each stroke was delivered with a full blooded, well-timed, follow through, no doubt derived from his effective stroking with the bat in cricket.

This strictness, seen as fair was accepted, is in contrast to another head

I am told that he would mete out all kinds of punishments to children who had a natural difficulty in learning, and for other shortcomings as well. He made pets of the bright ones, and made scapegoats of the dull ones.

Last words about Mr Egan:

We held him in such high reverence and esteem, that it would have been like sacrilege to call him anything but Mr Egan.

This autobiography gives us a real insight into the district’s social history. The chapter that deals with Mr Colefax’s time at Moruya Public School  is only one of 15 fascinating chapters which are full of wonderful insights.

School was definitely not all hard work. You will need to read the full chapter to discover the arcane rules of marbles, the exploits of the boys and the sporting prowess of some of the children. Local gossip of the time is also referred to.

If you are interested in gaining a deeper insight into life in Moruya at the beginning of the 20th century this autobiography is an excellent starting point.

As far as ‘pure history’ is  concerned, this section of the autobiography, like any autobiography,  must be regarded as a valuable primary source in that it provide’s one man’s perspective on his early schooling years.

The full autobiography is at the museum in the original form as well as later copies. Articles about Bob Colefax have appeared in past issues of the society’s journals.

To go to the Journal’s index please click here.

In addition, there are quite a few other articles and publications on education in the surrounding district. The latest Journal includes an article  ‘Kiora Kids (3)’ by Shirley Jurmann. ( Note: The photograph on the header of this post, and below  is of Kiora Public School in 1885.

Kiora PS in 1885
Kiora PS in 1885

Further comments

If you have any family anecdotes about schools or education please add them in the comment section. Remember that on some screens you may need to click on the tile and that will take you to a slightly different, complete version of the post.

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