Future focus at Sydney’s oldest public school

A mix of the old and new combine to provide students with a unique learning experience at Botany Public School. Billy Kos reports.

Students sitting at a table. Students sitting at a table.
Image: The Buddies program at Botany Public School links Year 5 students with Kindergarten students.

From the 140-year-old Moreton Bay figs that line the entrance to the school, to its original heritage-listed buildings, an immediate sense of history surrounds you the moment you step through the gates of Botany Public School.

Nestled in the heart of the vibrant Botany community, the school's roots can be traced back to a time when there was an unfavourable attitude to education in New South Wales, generally, with some parents even believing their children were better off without an education.

A Report from the Board of National Education described parental attitudes at the time of the school’s establishment:

"The first is the apathy of the parents, many of whom appear to care very little whether their children receive any instruction or not, while some have actually stated their opinion that children are better without education.”

But despite these views – and much to the credit of the residents at the time – Botany National School opened with one teacher and 30 students in 1849, making it the third non-denominational school in the state, and the first in Sydney.

Today, the school’s 270 students learn in an environment where the old and the new have blended in well.

Yesterday, students participated in Creative and Performing Arts performances and a whole school art show.

On Friday, staff and students will dress up from different periods of time to reflect the school’s 175 year history. Students will each receive a cupcake to mark the special occasion.

A class photo. A class photo.
Image: Students at Botany Public School in a class photo from the 1920s. Photo: NSW Department of Education ©

Walk through time

As you walk through the school, it is clear just how proud its community is of the school’s status as Sydney’s oldest public school.

Classroom corridors display artefacts including old school photographs, examples of old school uniforms and student desks while display units contain school records from as far back as 1926, including assessment books and observation records.

Principal Heather Strachan, who joined the school in 2021 in the middle of the COVID lockdown, said its proud history was an integral part of the school’s identity.

“I am very proud to be a part of Botany Public School’s ongoing history of providing high quality and equitable education for our local children and their families,” Mrs Strachan said.

“To me it is important to remember that children and adults have come to this land to connect, learn and play for many hundreds of years, long before Botany Public School opened, and it is important to celebrate this land’s history as both a school and a safe place for Aboriginal people prior to the arrival of the first fleet.

“I hope this land will continue to be a safe place where children can learn and grow for many, many years to come.”

Over the course of its illustrious history, Botany Public School has undergone numerous transformations.

The first school closed in 1850 after the owner of its temporary premises moved into the building. It reopened in 1862 in a small chapel measuring just 24 by 40 feet (7x12m).

As the school’s enrolments continued to grow and the chapel became too small for its 140 students, an acre of land valued at £100 was granted for a new school at its current premises on Botany Road, with the first original building opening in January 1869.

While today’s grounds feature a sports field, running track, basketball court and a yarning circle, much if its original playground was low-lying and swampy, making it smelly, full of mosquitos and useless for playing on.

It took 40 men six months in 1934 to raise the level of the playground by over a metre by carting dirt from the stormwater channel that was being dug in the local neighbourhood so that it could be used.

An old school building. An old school building.
Image: Botany Public School in the 1880s. Photo: NSW Department of Education ©

Turtles call school home

Botany Public’s location means the grounds are home to some fantastic local wildlife.

“Long neck turtles come on to the school playground every November to lay eggs, so in February each year, students scour the playground in search of turtle hatchlings who may be in need of help of making their way safely to the Mill Pond,” Ms Strachan said.

“We also have resident blue tongue lizards and recently welcomed our chickens, Sooty, Ebony and Ruby to the school.”

Botany Public School has a rich history and an exciting future, where the school’s dedicated staff and supportive community continue to ensure it remains at the forefront of educational excellence, adapting to the evolving needs of the students and the community it serves.

“I am so proud of the work our teachers and staff do here at Botany,” Ms Strachan said.

“Many of the staff are local to the community and have been at the school for a number of years, which is a testament to the strong, supportive relationships we have worked hard to build.

“Teachers work together to encourage each other to learn and grow and provide each and every student at Botany with the best educational opportunities we can.

"We are very fortunate to have such great staff, students and parents – without their commitment to Botany Public School and public education we would not be able to achieve the great things that I am so proud of,” she said.

A detailed history of Botany Public School was developed in 1976 by the principal at the time, Graham Norton, and can be downloaded from the school’s website.

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