A small school marks its place in history

Johns River Public School celebrates 150 years with a video series delving into the past.

18 December 2020
Seven students stand in front of mural holding up works.
Image: Students from Johns River Public helped research the school's history.

In 1870 when Johns River Public School established a small classroom in a homestead to educate the children of local timber workers and farmers there was no electricity and paper was considered expensive.

Fast forward to 2020 and the small school on the NSW mid-coast is celebrating its 150th anniversary.

Celebrating a sesquicentenary during a pandemic requires some innovative planning so Johns River Public School created a video series to capture the events and history of the school’s 150 years.

The videos shared to the school’s Facebook page feature students sharing historical facts, photos and interviews with locals as well as highlighting major historical events impacting on the school and society.

Relieving principal Murray McGrath said the students found the process of researching and creating the videos a fascinating learning opportunity.

“It was certainly an eye-opener for them to see the memorabilia and old photographs from the past,” Mr McGrath said.

“It was a great exercise to research Australia’s history and to think about how these events coincided with the school’s history. The students also developed an understanding of how they are a small part of a much longer history.”

Black and white photo of children and adult.
Image: It's not just the school uniform that's changed ... a class photo from 1909.

Robert Johnston was recorded as the first teacher at the school which opened with a total of nine students, the same number of students attending the school today.

Enrolment numbers have fluctuated over time with records showing the school closed and reopened several times due to separate epidemics of measles and whooping cough and flooding in the area, which drove down demand.

The school’s first official building was erected in 1886 and the first female teacher arrived at the school in 1909, but it wasn’t until 1957 that the school received electricity.

Mr McGrath said there was a strong community involvement in the school with some locals seeing four generations attend Johns River Public.

Last month a photographic display at the Johns River markets gave locals the opportunity to look back at history. The online videos open those opportunities up to a wider audience.

A historical highlight for Mr McGrath is the school’s punishment book which details the discipline handed down to misbehaving students.

“It was interesting to see some of the ‘misdemeanours’ and the punishments they received,” he said.

One seven-year-old student received “one cut of the cane” for smoking on school grounds while their classmate received three cuts for “laziness”.

Find out more of the history of Johns River Public School by watching the video series on the school's Facebook page.

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