We were delighted to welcome the children from Stage 1 and Stage 2 at Shoalhaven Heads Public School to visit us at Eleven Eighty last week to learn about what school would have been like for them had they been born in Shoalhaven Heads 100 years ago, when they would have attended school at our site when the property was known as the Coolangatta Public School (C1861 – 1959)

We decided, with the help of the teaching faculty at SHPS, to bring the children out in small groups so that we could make the sessions fun and interactive.

We set ourselves up in the old Coolangatta School Hall,  which had you been born in the Shoalhaven Heads/Coolangatta region anywhere from 70-160 years ago, would have been the actual room where children attended school.

We talked about the major differences between school life today and school life at Coolangatta School, 100 years ago.  Some key points we noted were:

  • Walking the 5km to school across marshland, often with your only pair of shoes tied around your neck, so they wouldn’t be muddy for the classroom.
  • One single classroom with all ages in one class.  The children were very interested to look at some original class photos and noted that there was even a baby in the photo in its sibling’s arms.
  • One teacher for the whole school who lived on site.  We discussed that teachers back in the 19th century often had no qualifications or teaching experience and only claim to fame was that they were literate!  The children felt that the focus on the 3 R’s – Arithmetic, Reading and Writing, and learning by rote sounded very boring.
  • The lack of electricity meaning that they would have relied on natural light or candles and an open wood fire for heat in the winter.
  • It was great to be able to show them an original blackboard and chalk and slate that they would have used for copying down.

The favourite part of the presentation was talking about “The Cane”.  The children just couldn’t believe that a teacher could hit you and often for something as small as not paying attention or talking to your friend.  The boys, as you imagine just loved it, but some of the girls looked wide eyed and somewhat horrified.

It was fabulous that a lot of the children had done their homework before visiting us and many had stories to tell of older family members who went to school at the Coolangatta site who had memories to share.

After this, it was time to get the children moving.  We picked 3 games to play that would most certainly have been played at the Old Coolangatta site.  Firstly, the children had a choice of “Fly” or Hopscotch and then we just had to have a tunnel ball tournament.  Displayed in the school hall are the original sports day flags from the 1940’s where it appears that the Coolangatta School were a force to be reckoned with in the Illawarra district when it came to Tunnel ball so we thought it only fitting that we all gave it a go.

Just before heading home, we gave the children a look through the train carriage, which although wouldn’t have been there in the time of the school, is extremely well known to the local area from when it served cream teas in the days of the Pottery.  In fact ,a number of children told me that their parents remembered being taken there for a treat or indeed one of their parents had worked there for a time.

It was a wonderful community day, one which we have wanted to put on for the children of SHPS for a long time.  Overall, the children felt that school life was much better today!!  We thought the children were a credit to their parents, the teachers, the school and the community.  They were fantastic:  They were so well behaved, and all contributed to the discussions.  We loved having them visit us for the day.  Thank you SHPS.