In the late nineteenth century, Australian states took tentative steps towards compulsory school attendance for children between the ages of six and fourteen years. Queensland’s Education Act 1875 provided for free, compulsory, secular education with a basic curriculum that focused on arithmetic, grammar and reading and writing, along with some physical activities and lessons in singing, sewing and needlework.
The original schoolhouse at the Ross River Provisional School, sometime between 1889 and 1892. The teacher was Alexander Duncan.Photo: courtesy of Lyn Phillips.
In 1880, the area between Aitkenvale and Alice River, and up to what is now the dam, was sparsely populated by families in rural occupations such as dairying, wood-cutting and farming.
At this time children made a significant contribution to the effective functioning of the family unit by assisting with domestic and general chores such as carting water, collecting firewood, milking cows, and looking after livestock.
Despite this, the community at Ross River, as it was known, saw the importance of educating their children and began agitating for a Provisional School to be established in the area.
In August, Thomas Gleeson, Jorgen Rasmussen, William Thorburn and Thomas Lawrence were elected as members of a Building Committee to establish the Ross River Provisional School. The number of children in the area of school age was about 30.
The original schoolhouse opened on 11 April 1881 and although the school initially struggled; with low enrolments, difficulty retaining teachers due to low pay, and only basic resources, the school survived to overcome all obstacles that came its way.
In 1934, wet season floodwaters threatened the school when the nearby weir wall, which was nearing completion, was severely damaged. At the height of the flood, a considerable section of the left bank of the river was washed away and it was feared that if the erosion continued, the school and its pupils might be in grave danger.
Thankfully no further erosion occurred, but the flooding resulted in the school being within only 18 metres of the riverbank. The following year, in keeping with its location, the school changed its name to Weir State School.
|Pupils at the Weir State School, 1937. (The School changed its name to Weir in 1935)|
Photo: Courtesy of Lyn Phillips.
In April 1942, the RAAF informed the District Inspector (for schools), Mr E. Walton, that an additional RAAF squadron was to be stationed near the school, and an aerodrome would be built close by.
Once the aerodrome was in use it would have been almost impossible to conduct lessons at the school because of its proximity to the runway, and as a result, lessons were moved to the residence of Mrs T. Cooper, who lived about 1.2 km away.
Mrs Cooper was apparently “only too pleased to allow the school to be conducted in her grounds and on the verandahs of her house for as long as was required,” and all without cost to the Department of Public Instruction.
At that time there were 11 pupils at the Weir State School and most of them lived closer to Mrs Cooper’s house than they did to the school, so it seemed to be a perfect solution.
Unfortunately, when the RAAF vacated the Weir School buildings, they were left in a dreadful state of disrepair. Among other things, timber from doors, windows, sashes, verandah floorboards and fence posts had reportedly been removed and used for fires for cooking by the personnel stationed there.
In April this year (2016), Weir State School will reach a milestone of 135 years since its founding.
With thanks to Lyn Phillips, who provided me with information for this article.