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Bush Schools a big hit

16 April 2012

Big crowds came to the official opening, or came later on to view the exhibition on 'Bush schools of the Hall district' over the weekend of April 14th-15th. After an opening ceremony on Saturday morning marked by the ringing of the school bell, playing of the anthem and raising of the flag, a steady stream of visitors right through the weekend kept the volunteer 'guides' busy. The bell was rung by Kingsley Southwell, a Hall pupil 1948-54, and now the 'guardian' of the sites of Brooklands and Wallaroo schools on his property. The flag was raised by Dave Watson, well remembered by many of us as the Hall school Caretaker for 27 years (1979-2006). His wife Mary taught at the school for ten years or so.

The exhibition commemorated the work of Lyall Gillespie, well known Canberra historian, and author of 'Early education and schools in the Canberra region' (1999). Lyall's family were early settlers in what is now Guhgahlin, and he himself lived for a while in Hall and went to school here. The exhibition selected eighteen of the schools that were documented by Lyall - those closest to Hall - and presented maps showing their location, a 'story board' for each, and a file folder of additional information. A good deal of this material was also mounted on computers - the beginnings of our 'virtual museum' . Genevieve Jacobs (ABC 666 'Afternoons') and Ian Warden ('Gang gang, 'Canberra Times', visited for previews in the preceding week, which helped enormously to publicise the event.

The exhibition was opened by Canberra historian Jill Waterhouse, who knew Lyall well from the 1970's on, wrote introductions to a number of his books, and authored his obituary for the Canberra Historical Journal (July 2006). She has worked and studied at the ANU and at Cambridge, and for some time held the position of 'community historian' at the Canberra Museum and Gallery. She was able to tell us a bit about Lyall, and made clear how appropriate it was to commemorate his work in this way. Chris Bourke, Minister for Education and Training, also gave a short address, in which he gave some colourful stories concerning his father, who was a bush school teacher in country Victoria, and congratulated the organisers for a fine exhibition.

Amongst more that 100 present on Saturday morning were Linda Roberts from ACT Heritage; Dr Malcolm Beazely, founder and Curator of the Australian National Museum of Education (of which the Hall School Museum is a proud member); Ginninderra MLA's Alistair Coe, Meredith Hunter, and Vicki Dunne; Mrs Irene Copping (wife of the 'father' of the Hall School Museum, Laurie Copping); and Nancy Tingey, a past Hall resident and pioneer in recording the history and heritage of Hall and district. Through the Hall Historical Society, Nancy and others laid the foundations for eventual heritage listing of the village. There were also people from many families with connections to one or more of the schools in the exhibition.

In acknowledging and thanking these people, MC Alastair Crombie also made mention of the special contributions of Bill Pearson (story board design and setting up the 'virtual exhibition'), and the Hall Mens Shed, whose members have made a terrific contribution to refurbishment of the Museum and some specialised conservation work. Most recently Hall resident John Gerstenberg completed restoration of the fine old 'tilt and swivel' teacher's chair, which is back on display.

For the organisers - 'Friends of the Hall School Museum' - the most rewarding outcome has been the number of people who come forward with additional information - or questions and suggestions - that will help us to enrich the records of these small bush schools. The full records that we have for each of the schools will now become available in the School Museum, on computer and in hard copy. The weekends special exhibition will remain in place for another month or so, and it will be possible to arrange viewings, subject to the availability of volunteer guides.

The exhibition was conceived more than a year ago, and the work of researching the histories of the schools involved was shared amongst the active group of around a dozen 'Friends' who meet each Thursday morning at the School. Visits were made to the NSW archives, and to the various school sites, descendants of district families were contacted, and Lyall Gillespie's work was mined for all it was worth! Help was sought, and found, on the challenging issues of how best to mount and arrange the material, and a great deal of thought was put into ensuring that the visitor experience would be positive.[Apologies to all those who spilt their tea or coffee due to the table design in our 'coffee lounge'!]

The 'Friends' are keen to recruit new members. If you want to support the voluntary effort that is sustaining and developing the Hall School Museum as a heritage attraction, and increasingly, a resource and research centre for early education, please get in touch and request a membership form (cost $20 per annum).

For enquiries about access to the exhibition (or the Museum, or about joining the 'Friends of the Hall School Museum' please contact acting Curator Alastair Crombie [6230 2977; ; or write to Hall School Museum, PO Box 43, ACT 2618.

Our photo show guest speaker Jill Waterhouse at the exhibition.

Bush Schools of the Hall district

Theft of plaques from Hall Cemetery »

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