Girilambone's school of 17 students wins NSW history award

Drum roll for the School History Competition winners - our final celebration of 175 years of public education. Madeline Austin and Linda Doherty report.

Students on play equipment. Students on play equipment.
Image: Girilambone Public School students are keeping their town’s history alive.

A small but mighty school of 17 students at Girilambone, 45 kilometres west of Nyngan, banded together to retrace the past and the important moments that made their town what it is today.

Girilambone Public School won the Secretary’s Choice Award (primary school category) in the NSW Department of Education’s ‘My History, Your History, Our History’ competition to acknowledge 175 years of public education in NSW.

Girilambone Public Principal Angela Lewis said receiving the award was deserved recognition of the school’s efforts to preserve and celebrate the rural town’s history.

“I love the fact that it’s a close-knit community where if someone needs help or support, there are always people willing to lend a hand,” she said. 

“I was really excited when we won the award, because we were competing with bigger communities with many more students to carry out the research.”

All 17 students took part in building an immersive and knowledgeable website to tell the story of the town of Girilambone and its public school, which opened in 1897 to accommodate the growing workforce needed for the copper mine and railway.

The School History Competition attracted entries from students across NSW from Kindergarten to Year 12 across mediums including websites, podcasts, film, journalism and visual arts.

NSW Department of Education Secretary Murat Dizdar said the competition entries painted a picture of historic and contemporary education.

“Public schools are at the heart of their communities and our history is entwined with the history of NSW towns and suburbs,” he said.

“I’m thrilled to see our students look deeply into their local history.

“It’s a fitting end to 2023 where we have celebrated 175 years of public education, with the first government school in Australia opening in Kempsey in 1848.”

For Girilambone Public students, the history competition was a learning exercise about their beloved town.

School captain Indy Jackson said their research uncovered a shared history between Girilambone Public School and other small schools at Coolabah, Hermidale, Byrock, Nymagee, Marra Creek and Gilgoin.

“I think it’s very important to pass the history down to younger generations, so they know how to respect the town and its culture,” she said.

Vice-captain Charlie Gibson said it was interesting to look back at the relationships with nearby communities.

“We even learnt about the (public) Mine School that used to be in Girilambone,” he said.

Primary category winners

Pambula Public School on the NSW South Coast and Enfield Public School in Sydney were the joint winners of the primary category.

Pambula was one of the earliest public schools established in Australia and celebrates 175 years in 2024. It has been at its current location since 1907, overlooking the Pambula River flats.

The school’s submission included podcasts, where students interviewed former students and teachers, and a newspaper article detailing the ‘Bridge to a New Millenium’ designed and built in 1999 by Year 6 students, parents and community members.

The ‘Enfield History Express’ is a digital adventure detailing the history of the school and the suburb of the same name, student achievements, curriculum over the years and alumni such as entrepreneur John Singleton, racing car driver Norman ‘Wizard’ Smith, and James Anderson, who won the Wimbledon doubles tennis title in 1922.

Coopernook Public School was highly commended for its thorough research and presentation. Tempe Public School was highly commended for its use of video.

Secondary category winners

Georges River College Penshurst Girls Campus won the senior section with a comprehensive history of girls’ secondary education – from being trained to be housewives in the 1950s to excelling today across a range of academic subjects.

Penshurst Girls started as a home science high school for girls, providing courses in life and career skills, such as how to be a cook, hostess and visitor. Needlework was compulsory and there were classes in shorthand and typewriting.

In 1962 when the Wyndham Scheme introduced six years of secondary schooling and the Higher School Certificate, the school completed its modernisation journey and became known as Penshurst Girls High School.

Students were then offered a wider range of subject choices such as Mathematics, Physics and Chemistry.

In 2002, Penshurst Girls High School became Penshurst Girls Campus of Georges River College, serving as a middle campus for girls in Years 7 to 10.

Wiley Park Girls High School received the Secretary’s Choice for the most original and creative submission.

The students created an interactive, highly visual school history around the Wiley Park Girls High ‘Value Pack’, detailing values such as kindness, community, friendship and inclusivity since the school opened in 1957.

The submission was developed by the school’s media team and Year 10 students in the history elective ‘Unlocking the Past’ by first looking at “the things that we value that make us, us”.

Marrickville High School was highly commended for its interesting subject matter and use of archival photos and information.

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