Monday, July 21, 2014

Smithfield Primary school Part III

The following list of head teachers was culled from the records at the Education Centre (Flinders Street) and Admission Registers at Smithfield School.

1877-78               August Wittber                              1919-20             John A. Shepherd

1879-80               Henry G. Allert                              1920-28              Keith V. Day

1881-84               James Kekwick                              1928                  Clyde H. Pearce

1885-93               Timothy O’Connell                         1928-31             Paul H.F. Brus

1894-95               Henry J. Armitage                          1931-43            Carl H. Nietschke

1896-98               Charles R. Tucker                           1943-45             Peter L. McCarthy

1898-1912           Herbert J. Deeble                           1946-67            Kevin P.J. O’Brien

1912-18               Arthur J. Moulds                             1968-75           Ormonde B. Kermode

1976-date (26/11/77)  Ian R. Weston

Smithfield has always been a small school with an enrolment fluctuating between 37 and 70 during the years 1877 to 1947.  There were three upsurges in the past 30 years, as shown by the following figures; 1951(90), 1954 (60), 1959 (180), 1974 (33), 1977 (113).

The peaks of 1951 and 1959 were caused by the influx of migrant children from the hostel at Smithfield.  The closing of the hostel and the development of Elizabeth and Smithfield Plains, which swallowed up the farms from which many of the pupils at this school came, caused the decline in numbers.

Monday, July 14, 2014

A Brief History of Smithfield Primary School Part II

This is almost enough to suggest that Smithfield and Gawler Plains were one and the same place, but they couldn’t have been, for there were, at times, three teachers (Letitia McClelland, Ann Crisp, and Margaret Myers) presumably keeping separate schools at Gawler Plains while James Catts and Ellen McClelland were each maintaining a school at Smithfield.

On 16 December, 1871, Ellen Grace Beer McClelland was married in Adelaide to Archibald Campbell and returned to her school at Smithfield where she remained until the new school was opened in 1877.

Attendance at school was not compulsory until the passage in 1875 of a Bill which made it compulsory for children between the ages of 7 and 13 to attend 78 days a year.

It appears that the pioneers placed a fairly high premium on education.  The Government of the State provided no school buildings.  If the people living in any district decided that a school was required, the District Council of the area sent a plan, specifications, and a guarantee relating to the intended school, to the Central Board of Education (set up in 1851).  A grant in aid of construction of the schoolhouse was then given to the Council provided the Central Board of Education was satisfied with their plans, specifications, and guarantee.

Not all Councils were progressive.  On 1 August, 1855 the Board received a letter from the District Council of Munno Para West saying that they were unable to avail themselves of the Board’s offer to assist in the erection of a school.

Because attendance was voluntary, it is no wonder we find enrolments and attendances fluctuating widely.  At James Catts’ school, the attendances varied from as low as 26 in 1867 to as many as 59 in 1869.  In 1860 (24 boys, 26 girls on the roll) he taught writing to 45, arithmetic to 39, grammar to 10, geometry and history to 7, and had an average attendance of 38.

Ellen Campbell, in 1876, had her school open on 245 days, was visited twice by an inspector, had one assistant (male), presented 46 pupils for examination.  Of these, 53 percent passed.  An amount of £30-4-7 was collected in fees.

From 1876 onwards, records of school, head teachers, and statistics of attendances etc. are good, but details of the schools’ activities are almost non-existent.

Minute 854 of the meeting of the Council of Education, held 10 July, 1876, records “It was resolved to accept Mr John Smith’s offer of block 163 for a school site in Smithfield”, although later records show that they paid £8-5-0 for it.

On 14 September (Minute 1105) it was reported that the following tenders for the erection of a schoolhouse and residence at Smithfield had been received.  Taylor and Forgie £1200-12-6 (accepted), Caleb Virgo £1251, Joseph Blake £1270.  The Council affixed its seal to Taylor and Forgie’s tender agreement on 25 November, 1876.

Taylor and Forgie, who are still in business in Gawler, wasted no time in getting on with the job and progress payments were made 2 January, 1877 (£200), 12 January (£250), 12 March (£205), 16 Aril (£200), 14 May (£300-12-6: final payment).

The Council of Education met on 7 May, 1877 and appointed Mr August Wittber to open the school on 1 June, 1877.  We can imagine the excitement and pride with which he moved into his new home and prepared to open his new school on 1 June, 1877.  His wife, Sarah, was appointed teacher of sewing.

Apparently there were unruly children in those days and Mr Wittber had to deal severely with one of them, so severely that the parents complained but Mr Wittber survived the complaint and went on to complete two years of service at Smithfield and eight years at Salisbury.

That he was a good teacher cannot be doubted.  Of the 108 children on the roll in 1977, 80 had attended some other school; the school was kept open on 138 days, 76 pupils were presented for examination by the inspector, who judged that 65 (86 percent) were worthy of promotion – a record which no one surpassed between 1877 and 1900.

Tuesday, July 8, 2014

A brief history of the Smithfield Primary school Part I


The early history of education in Smithfield is shrouded in conjecture and only a few facts emerge, while quite a few questions remain unanswered.

In 1852, John Smith, from whom Smithfield takes its name, kept a ledger and one day he took the time and trouble to draw in it a map of “SMITH’S CREEK” the town’s early name, as 1200 acres of it belonged to him and much of his holding was let to tenant farmers.

In the southeast corner of Section 1719, on the west side of the Main North Road, directly opposite Purdie Road, he shaded a small oblong and clearly marked it “SCHOOL”.  The site is in front of the house now used as a hostel by Barkuma and most of it is buried beneath the sound barrier raised to shield the new homes form the noise of traffic.

The obscurity which surrounds the history of education in Smithfield is due to the lack of private and official records, and the loss by neglect or dishonesty of vital school journals, roll books, inspectors’ examination registers, and the original school admission register.  The last-named covered the years 1877 to 1896 and contained the names of the first pupils enrolled at the school, while the first three would have been the source of interesting historical data.

The Gawler Bunyip contains few references to SMITH’S CREEK or SMITHFIELD in the period up to 1877 and none that I could find about schools in this area.

Even records of the Central Board of Education contain no references to Smithfield until 1857 but the Education Reports and Government Gazettes are more helpful, though occasionally confusing as in the case of James Catts.

The educational system was to blame for much of the confusion as the earliest schools were held in chapels and private dwellings as well as in “vested” schools erected by Boards of Trustees on land already bought by the trustees, aided by grants from the Central Board of Education.

There was no college for training teachers but so long as they could provide suitable premises and furniture, and had a modicum of learning the Central Board of Education would grant them a license to teach.

Between the years 1850 and 1875 there were at least ten licensed teachers in the area between Salisbury and Gawler with schools at Precolumb (1856), Uley Bury (1856), Smithfield, Peachey Belt, Virginia, Gawler Plains, Angle Vale, Bassett Town, Burton, and Elim.

Precolumb, Uley Bury (restored by the District Council of Munno Para, 1977), and Smithfield are, as far as I can ascertain, the only century or older rural school buildings still standing in this area.

The first licensed teacher hereabouts was J. William Buchanan who, from 1851 to 1854, conducted a school at Gawler Plains.  In 1854, he resigned his license.

He was followed by James Catts, who served the district until 1869 (25 years) when he vanished from the educational scene without trace.  He must have been a good teacher for the Central Board
of Education received a “memorial from several inhabitants of Gawler Plains in favour of Mr Catts who is desirous of removing from that place”.
If the records are correct, there was a period when James must have felt like a cat on hot bricks for he is shown as being at Gawler Plains (1854-57), Smithfield (1857-58), Gawler Plains (Aug 1858), Smithfield (Dec 1859).

Tuesday, July 1, 2014

Railway stations in Elizabeth

Elizabeth South Railway station, 1958

The railway line between Adelaide and Gawler was officially opened as far as Salisbury at the end of 1856. By October 1857 it had reached Gawler with Smithfield Station in between. For almost one hundred years there were no other stations along that stretch of the line, until the building of Elizabeth brought a new demand for increased railway services. As Elizabeth South was the first suburb to be constructed in Elizabeth, the first station, Elizabeth South Station went into operation on November 21st 1955, just five days after the inauguration ceremony in the new town. At first the station consisted of plank platforms with hurricane lamps hung on the name boards.

The permanent building was erected three or four years later. In those early days of Elizabeth the roads were unmade and commuters to the City had to tramp through mud and slush to reach the station in the winter months. A common sight every day as the collection of Wellington boots and old shoes left in tidy rows under the platform by their owners who boarded the train in their good city shoes and collected the old ones for the muddy walk home on their return. By September 30th the following year, 1957, there were sufficient people living in Elizabeth North to justify the opening of a second railway station which was named Womma Station. In anticipation for the opening of the Town Centre shops later in 1960, the Elizabeth Railway Station was opened on June 27th and on the same day, Elizabeth’s fourth Station,  Broadmeadows (named Elizabeth North at first) was also opened.

Tuesday, June 24, 2014

The Right Rev Howell Witt

Wednesday, 12 August 1998
HOWELL WITT, Bishop of North West Australia from 1965 to 1981, was not one for standing on ceremony.

Moving from a dockworker's home in Newport, South Wales, to Bishopries in Australia was not a journey he had ever imagined in his youth. It was always his dearest wish to enter the priesthood, and he brought to the role an astonishing enthusiasm for life, a clownish talent and a classless ability to mix with everyone, young and old, which leavened a central, simple religious faith.

He was born in 1920 into a Methodist family and, after gaining an arts degree at Leeds University, he moved to Mirfield College in Yorkshire to prepare for holy orders. He was ordained in 1944 and went to his first curacy in Uk, in Monmouthshire. Here he gained an insight into working beyond normal parish bounds, which stayed with him for the rest of his ministry.

His vicar spotted his talent for playing the fool and instructed him to put on a play at the local Borstal and at the vicarage fetes. Young people adored his playfulness, including those who were once allowed to tie him up on a Saturday morning in the vicarage and then forgot him for several hours whilst he tried to struggle free. On that occasion he was not entirely amused.

From Uk he moved to Camberwell in London, but in 1948, when the Bishop of Willochra, South Australia, was in Britain recruiting clergy, Howell's old vicar suggested him. Precise information about the proposed job, except that it was at the Woomera Rocket Range, was difficult to come by and one of the many items Willochra neglected to mention was that Howell would have to join the Australian army on arrival. Under protest, Howell signed up, but wreaked revenge when Willochra, who visited much of his diocese on horseback, wandered into Woomera and was picked up by an army captain who came to Witt for
confirmation of the Bishop's identity. Howell said that he had never met the man.

 Woomera was a time of improvisation. A barber's shop served as a church and church vessels were cobbled from anything to hand - a bottle of wine, a cheese dish and a beer mug forming the essentials of the Eucharist. This scenario was often repeated "outback". Even the Duke of Edinburgh visiting the North West Diocese found that the service was being held in a local police court.

In 1957 Howell volunteered to be Priest-in-Charge of Elizabeth, a new town outside Adelaide set in a treeless, dusty plain with "one telephone box and no cemetery". It was full of unhappy immigrant families from Britain. Once again he was operating in a place which demanded improvisation and an outgoing social role. Schools and sheds hosted Sunday Schools and church services. When the first of two churches was built it doubled as a dance hall, with dances being passed off as church service by Witt in order to circumvent the law. This work produced two ulcers, but it also produced grateful congregations who benefited from their priest's leadership.

In 1965 he was elected Bishop of North West Australia, a diocese quarter the size of Australia and the largest in the Anglican Communion. He accepted with reservations and an unusual humility.

The Bishop's Palace was a boarding house in Geraldton, far north of Perth, but the Bishop was rarely at home. Doreen, his wife, held the fort while the Bishop visited outback sheep stations whose residents rarely saw a "sky pilot". He tried his hand at sheep-dipping, goat-hunting and when visiting the seaboard handled the bait for the lobster and crayfish catchers. For seven months of the year he travelled but found time to write a column for one of Rupert Murdoch's newspapers, was filmed for the Australian Broadcasting Company and in 1980 published an autobiography entitled Bush Bishop - a fulfilling if gruelling life.

In 1984 he was offered and accepted a move to the more conventional Diocese of Bathhurst in New South Wales, delighted to find a "three-loo modern house" and the comforts of a medium-sized town.

In 1985 Howell was badly hurt in a car crash but he soldiered on to 1989, when he retired to Perth.

Howell Arthur John Witt, priest: born Newport, Monmouthshire 12 July 1920; ordained priest 1945; Chaplain, Woomera, South Australia 1949-54; Rector, St Mary Magdalene's, Adelaide 1954-57; Missioner of St Peter's College Mission 1954-65; Priest in charge, Elizabeth 1957-65; Bishop of North West Australia 1965-81; married 1949 Doreen Edwards (died 1983; three sons, two daughters); died Perth, Western Australia 14 July 1998.

OBituary written by Christine Davies