A lifelong learner still contributing to his school

Community and education are at the heart of former Wyrallah Public School student Fred Hoskins. Kristi Pritchard-Owens reports.

An elderly man sitting in the middle of a group of schoolkids dressed in red uniforms An elderly man sitting in the middle of a group of schoolkids dressed in red uniforms
Image: Local legend Fred Hoskins with the Wyrallah Public School students he visits regularly to encourage their learning.

When Wilfred Hoskins first made his way on horseback to Wyrallah Public School in 1940, the six-year-old had no inkling he would still be a regular visitor to the classroom 83 years later.

Known to all as Fred (Wilfred was ‘too medieval’ for his liking), Mr Hoskins has long been the beating heart of the village of Wyrallah, 11 kilometres south of Lismore in northern NSW.

“It’s the association with the community, that’s what keeps me going,” he said.

“I love children, sitting down with them and encouraging them to learn. They all treat me with respect.”

As NSW public education observes its 175-year anniversary in 2023, the school experiences of veteran community members like Mr Hoskins tell the story of changes in education and society over time.

Mr Hoskins, the son of a dairy farmer, enjoyed his time at school but with only one teacher to supervise 50 students the youngsters could easily get up to mischief.

“I used to get the cane quite regularly … I dare say I was a naughty kid,” he said.

“But my father taught me that if you do something wrong, you accept the punishment and try not to do it again.

“It’s a big thing to own up and take responsibility.”

Mr Hoskins left school in Year 8 to help on the family farm, but he continued to read and learn new skills.

Throughout his life he has been a dairy farmer, truck driver, timber cutter, boilermaker and steelworker.

He grew coffee, then macadamia trees, helped build a bridge, did his National Service and was a counsellor for Lifeline.

Established in 1867 as Tucki Tucki School and renamed four years later, Wyrallah Public School is the oldest continuously operating school in the Lismore district.

Newspaper reports from the 1920s document a Christmas picnic where teachers were acknowledged for being so “earnest and painstaking” and students were awarded prizes for attendance.

The students had also “voluntarily surrendered their half-yearly prizes” to buy medals for former students who returned from World War I.

A purpose-driven life

Mr Hoskins has had a significant role in documenting the school’s history. As a student he remembered an Honour Roll at the school with the names of 73 ‘Old Boys’ who served in World War I, including his father, Henry Hoskins.

The Honour Roll was dedicated at the school in 1916 as the students carried Union Jack flags and sang ‘Australia fights for British rights’.

The ceremony asked: “God to bless and protect the brave old boys of Wyrallah Public School”, according to ‘The Northern Star’ on June 30, 1916.

The children were reminded to be obedient to teachers and parents and to show “carefulness and thoughtfulness for other children not so well off as themselves”.

The Honour Roll went missing in the 1950s. Decades later Mr Hoskins discovered a postcard of the Honour Roll and sought funding from the Department of Veterans Affairs to produce a replica.

“I realised that so many families had moved on or passed on, that if I didn’t do something the names would be lost forever,” Mr Hoskins said.

Mr Hoskins and his wife, Olwyn, taught scripture (Special Religious Education) at Wyrallah Public School for more than 30 years until 2019.

Wyrallah Public School principal Lisa Fahy described Mr Hoskins as an altruist and genuine storyteller.

“He is loath to centre any stories on himself and eschews any limelight, however all his stories are amazing, interesting and accurate representations,” Mrs Fahy said.

“More importantly, he is a beautiful person; an extraordinary man, and a man I am proud to call a friend.”

Mr Hoskins claims to be “going a bit slower” after a heart attack last year but at 89 still finds time to visit the school to drop off surplus produce from his garden and bring a different perspective to 21st century students.

“It’s been a good life and I’m still learning,” Mr Hoskins said. “It all boils down to a purpose-driven life.”

  • 175 years
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