History of public education told through family ties

Six generations of one family have learned and played at Kangaroo Valley Public School. Julee Brienen reports.

Image: Peter Wilson, left, with granddaughter August Wilson, 3, Val Wilson and Mitchell Wilson. August’s brothers Hunter, 7, and Huey, 5, in front row.

When little Huey Wilson started Kindergarten at Kangaroo Valley Public School last month, he became the latest in a long line of the Jarrett/Wilson family to be educated there and to call the valley home.

As the NSW Department of Education celebrates 175 years of public education in 2023, Kangaroo Valley Public School, set in a picture-perfect valley in the Shoalhaven Region, provides a snapshot of the importance of community connections through time.

The family association started when Thomas Jarrett started as one of Kangaroo Valley Public School’s first students when the school opened in 1871.

Thomas was followed by his son, John Jarrett, granddaughter Val Wilson, great grandson Peter Wilson, great-great grandson Mitchell Wilson and great-great-grandsons Hunter, 7, and Huey Wilson, 5.

Kangaroo Valley Public School Relieving Principal, Jen Arnott, said she was amazed to discover six generations of one family had attended the school, which now has around 80 students.

“It’s quite significant to have such a connection to the school for such a long period of time, and it was so lovely to have four generations here to celebrate Huey starting school this year,” Ms Arnott said.

“We have a few families in the area that have had multiple generations attend the school but the Wilson family is quite unique in their history with the school, which stretches back 152 years.

“This area is very special and the community connections are what makes it a wonderful place to live, attend school, and to teach.”

Image: Peter Wilson at school in 1972.

School day memories

For Val, Peter and Mitchell Wilson, Huey’s first day in Kindergarten brought back many fond memories of their school days at Kangaroo Valley Public School.

“I started in 1946 and walked down to school with my twin sister and siblings; there were eight of us,” Val Wilson said.

“I remember playing together and having lunch together and it was such a small school, everyone just got on so well.

“Once the whole class got into trouble and we were all lined up in the big room and got a tap with the cane for talking in class. You weren’t allowed to talk in class in those days.”

Peter Wilson said the school hadn’t changed much since he started there in 1972, although there were more buildings and the trees had grown significantly.

“It’s a really proud family connection we have to the area and the school,” he said.

“You’re happy to let your kids run around the countryside because everyone is keeping an eye on them. It was like that when I was young and it’s still like that today.”

Peter Wilson’s children left the valley as young adults but all later returned “because this is where they want to bring up their kids”.

Huey’s dad, Mitchell Wilson, remembers a particularly memorable incident on his first day of school in 1995.

“My best mate kicked the principal in the leg and then ran off. We still laugh about it.”

Mitchell said he still knows most of the students he started school with, and many are good mates.

“This school really shaped me. It really was an integral part of growing up,” he said.

“It was such a tight knit community and very sheltered and we had a great time. I wanted my kids to go here because of the experiences I had. There was a bit of magic here.

“Knowing all my other family members had come here [Kangaroo Valley Public School] was a bit of a push to come back here for my own family.”

Image: Val Wilson and her twin sister at Kangaroo Valley Public School.

Fun and games

While Kangaroo Valley has changed since Thomas Jarrett started school one thing has remained the same – the Wilson family members always looked forward to lunchtimes when they would play with their friends.

“I want to play with a ball, like soccer,” Huey Wilson said.

For his dad, Mitchell, it was soccer, skipping, marbles and British Bulldog, which was popular in his father’s schooldays too.

“Every morning when you got to school you ripped your shoes off and everyone ran around in bare feet until it was school time,” Peter Wilson said.

“Handball came along later. We were all into sports here – any team sport.”

Great grandma Val said the games in her day were a bit more genteel.

“We played Vigaro, Rounders and Basketball or Netball,” she said, “We had a lot of fun in the playground.”

Image: Huey Wilson rings the school bell watched on by his dad Mitchell.

The heart of community

The story of the Wilson family’s long association with Kangaroo Valley Public School is a testament to the power of public education, the importance of community and connection to families.

“Public education is what you make of it,” said principal Jen Arnott, who attended Bombaderry High School which is the feeder secondary school for Kangaroo Valley.

“It’s so lovely as a network to have so many educators who have been students in public schools, who know the area, and are so passionate about public education.”

Kangaroo Valley families appreciated the small school setting, she said.

“They love that everyone knows everyone’s name and what their interests are; who their mum, dad, nan, and pop are; and that families all help each other out here.”

  • 175 years
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