Embarrassing start for popular school

By Southern Riverina News

Jerilderie Public School will be celebrating its 150th anniversary on Sunday, September 22 this year.

According to the NSW Department of Education’s website, the actual commencement date for the Jerilderie Public School occurred in July 1869.

Local historical data, however, has the school commencing one month earlier, with the appointed teacher starting his duties on June 16, 1869.

Apparently in their haste to get the school started as soon as possible, the first appointment to the school was insisted upon by the local school committee, overriding or ignoring the School Inspector’s recommendation of appointing a person still in training at the Teachers’ College in Sydney.

Shortly after commencing duties in June 1869, an inquiry was conducted into allegations that the teacher originally appointed “had used obscene language and been repeatedly drunk”.

The teacher’s services were terminated when he confessed to being drunk but, according to records, he would not admit to the use of obscene language because “he could not remember”.

So the school finally recommenced operations on July 19, 1869, with the appointment of William Stuart. He was the brother of the local doctor, who also happened to be a member of the School Committee.

With such a glowing reference — nepotism notwithstanding — the School Inspector either endorsed the nomination or he was left with no room to manoeuvre, for the appointment was subsequently approved.

While some people may read whatever they like into this rather sad and sorry episode in the school’s early history — and indeed, criticism could be levelled at the author of this article for even raising the matter, if only for the purposes of authenticity.

But it should be looked at in the context of the school opening a mere 10 years after the town of Jerilderie was founded, and just 21 years after the Colonial Government officially allowed settlement ‘‘beyond the limits of location’’, or west of Mount Bowning, near Yass.

Originally, the area between the Murrumbidgee and Murray rivers was largely ignored in favour of lands along the two rivers, or because of favourable reports of the more fertile lands to the south of the Murray.

Indeed, another 20 years was to elapse before some form of local government was to come into this Southern Riverina area, in the form of a Municipal Council.

According to research, the first Municipal Council of Jerilderie, commencing in November 1889, consisted of a person (the Mayor no less) who had sold stolen horses on behalf of Ned Kelly and Steve Hart, a flour miller who (it was said) was only on council to assist his own business activities, a butcher who was to declare himself bankrupt to avoid prosecution for shady operations, a builder whose wife had taken out an order preventing any hotelier supplying him with alcohol, and two other aldermen who could no longer stand living in the town, taking themselves off to reside in the surrounding countryside and in the process, rendering themselves ineligible to serve on council.

One could argue that the Municipal Council, and the leading lights of the community including the town’s first school teacher, was a fair representation of a frontier town’s inhabitants!

I am currently in the process of updating the history of the school for the school’s P&C, and would welcome any anecdotes from former students or teachers.

■Laurie Henery is Jerilderie’s resident local historian.