Trampled on by Wild Horses: Schooling in Nanango

Nanango School’s 150th anniversary in January 2016 is worthy of a community celebration for many reasons, not least because this school survived some particularly tough times in its early years.

Within our archive collection is a letter handwritten in 1865 that “begs” for assistance from the Board of Education “for needful help” from the inhabitants of Nanango and neighbouring district, who had together subscribed £120 towards a school. Their request won approval and a Memorandum of Agreement was entered into on 6th November 1865 between the Board of Education and John Coop (a Brisbane contractor), to erect a schoolhouse and teacher’s residence. In approximately May 1866 a school house and dwelling with iron-bark shingle roofing was constructed.

We read in the archives that by 1872 a total of 38 children attended, with the average age being eight years old. At the time their teacher William Burns received an annual salary of £174. A new teacher, Frank McDonnell, came in December 1872 and requested an extended period of leave to bring his wife and family from Ipswich to Nanango. McDonnell wrote to the Secretary and General Inspector in the Board of Education to explain that it would take him “at least two weeks” to make the return trip to fetch his wife from Ipswich. Today such a journey, approximately 166km, would only take a couple of hours. However in 1872 it was a formidable experience, and one that a woman could not undertake alone since the “railway is available only to Jondaryan” and from there to get to Nanango the route:

“…lies partly along plain and partly over ridgy country, the road, owing to late heavy rains, is in many places in bad condition. There is not on the line any coach or other regular passenger conveyance. Vehicles are, therefore, not only very expensive and difficult to procure, but uncertain and liable to unforeseen delay.”

Frank McDonnell was granted leave to accompany Mrs McDonnell safely to their dwelling next to the school; whereupon she assisted him with various duties at the school. Soon after, McDonnell pens a moving letter – the couple start to face challenges – appealing to the “equity of the Board …in consideration of the exceedingly high cost of maintenance in this place, where even a sufficient supply of water is an expensive item”. He was duly granted an extra £20 a year cost-of-living allowance.

Another item in the collection is a form (pictured below) dated 26 September 1873 which details the members of the school’s committee, including their religion, place of residence, and the distance they lived away from Nanango School.

Nanango School Committee 1873 (1)
Nanango School Committee, 1873 QSA Item ID 15639

Frank McDonnell has by this time written to the patrons a vivid letter of appeal:

“(I) submit for your attention … (that) while assembling in the morning and also while at play during dinner hour, the school children, most of whom are too young to take due care of themselves, are daily in hazard of being trampled on by wild horses and cattle, which are frequently driven past the school at a reckless speed on their way from the bush to the neighbouring stockyards. Both the lives and limbs of the pupils are thus in constant jeopardy. The moment it starts to rain large flocks of goats that browse in the vicinity rush under the school house, which, being built on blocks, affords them enticing shelter. The intolerable stench arising from these animals enters the school house through the spaces between the flooring boards… a number of pigs which constantly prowl about the school house… residence, destroying… everything they can reach… During the time (the teacher’s) wife assists him in the school both are rendered uneasy, lest those hungry pigs should enter the dwelling house. It’s a source of much discomfort that there is no water provided either for the school children to drink… or for the domestic use of the teacher’s family… Up to the present the children… bring… water in glass bottles, and… go… to the waterholes for buckets of water to drink… (There is a) large quantity of broken glass… strewn about the playground… (also) the peril of …children getting drowned…”

The lack of water tanks and proper fencing were not the only problems, for it also took until 1880 for the school building to be “free of the ravages of white ant”.

From the survey document for the school reserve we get a bird’s eye view of how it “…is situated at the East side of the Creek which runs through the township. It is close to the Eastern end of the bridge, and consists of 3 acres with a 6 chain frontage”. There is evidence that on 6th May 1975, nine years after the Board erected the school buildings, the Secretary of Lands authorised these three acres be reserved as the official site of the public school.

As part of a written Special Report on Site on 11th August 1876, the Inspector produced detailed drawings, with the following being an image of this earliest land document for the school on file at the Archives:

Nanango School No 77 Inspected 11 08 1876
Inspection Special Report on School Site, dated 1876, QSA Item ID 15639

Let’s honour the pioneering families both pupils and parents, also staff like Mr Frank and Mr and Mrs McDonnell, and all the subsequent dedicated teachers, who strived to improve, through very difficult times, what would eventually become the centre of learning for the town and district of Nanango.

For more information about the variety of records held at QSA visit our school history web page.

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3 Responses

  1. Anonymous

    Wondering if any photographs exist of Mr John Ryder, the first principal 1866-68, or his family, some of whom attended the school whilst he was Head Teacher?

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