Life on the Range – Chapter 5
Avenue Church and School
On December 9, 1886 the South Australian Government proclaimed the town of Downer (renamed Avenue Range in 1940) around the existing Avenue Range railway siding, about 14 kilometres west of Lucindale.
Four years later a settler, W.S. Tavender, built the Downer School, south of the railway line. But this closed in 1901, when owing to disagreements, John Hensley Junior, of “Cairnbank”, built a new school on Council of Education land.
Hensley employed the builder Dick Wakefield, builder’s labourer Tom Osbourne and stone carter Andrew Clark to build the school about 13 kilometres west of Lucindale. Clark carted the stone from “Jacky White’s Drain”, named after one of the earliest permanent residents of the South East. John White settled in 1843 and, within another three years, had a total of 126 square miles in the Hundreds of Townsend, Minniecrow and Conmurra.
Several years later Andrew Perry added the chimney which, one local oldtimer recalls, “smoked like the dickens depending on the wind direction, which was much worse sometimes than others”.
Miss Stephens was the first teacher when the school opened in 1901. As far as remembered by Mrs. Hilda Thomson (nee Thomas), who attended the Avenue Range School in 1906-1915, church services were also held there from the first year of the building.
Old books and school records have been lost but a few memories of the early days have survived. Desks seated six pupils and on Sundays they were turned around. Being low, they served as pews with back rests for the congregation.
Three kersene lamps hanging from the ceiling provided light on dull days and at night. The porch was an open verandah with a dirt floor. Miss Matheson (1906-1910) drove out from Lucindale each day and the boys in her tiny class put her sulky in the porch for shelter. Some pupils rode or drove horses to school and left them to roam in the schoolyard. During the lunch hour they had to take the horses to a small trough by a well in Thomas’ paddock. It was great fun to ride back for the afternoon lessons with as many children as would fit on to a horse’s back.
Trees were planted on Arbour Day, making the schoolyard eventually one of the prettiest blocks in Avenue. There used to be a big flagpole. The flag was raised on Empire Day (May 24), Queen Victoria’s birthday, a small ceremony was held and everyone enjoyed a half-holiday. An underground tank supplied the water. Highlights of the school calendar were visiting days, concerts, sports days, nature walks and snakes under the floorboards’
A popular annual concert was held in the school after the shearing at “Cairn bank”, which at its peak shore 60,000 sheep. All the hands took to a makeshift stage to entertain the surrounding families.
Hensley presented the school building to the Methodist Church in 1915 when he and his fam’ily moved to Bordertown. June Patterson was the last teacher when the Avenue School closed in 1955. Most pupils transferred to Lucindale School.
Methodist church services continued until 1977. Only two weddings were held there: Lillian Thomas and Percival Dow married on February 8, 1922, and Patricia Watson and Tony Barnes were married on September 4, 1976. In the second wedding the bridegroom, from New Zealand, fainted and caused some anxious moments but he was able to make his vows.
The last Methodist service was held in the building at 2.30 p.m. on June 19, 1977. After the Methodist Church was incorporated in the Uniting Church in Australia, the last regular Uniting service was held on October 30, 1977. The church finally closed with a Christmas Day service at 8 a.m. on December 25, 1977.
Mr. S.E. (Ted) Tavender, first pupil, with Mrs. Nosworthy (nee E.M. Flint) the first teacher. Photo taken in 1936.
AVENUE SCHOOL TEACHERS
Miss Christiansen 1916
Miss Byass 1918 to 1919
Miss Hemmings 1921 to 1924
Miss White relieving for short period
Amy Humphries 1925 to 1927
Connie Robinson 1928 to 1930
Edna Vickery 1931 to May 1935
A. Watkins May 1935 to December 1935
Irene Brooksby 1936
Valmai Thomas 1937
Belle McLean 1938 to April 1942
Ronda Brennand 1942 to May 1943
Audrey Rowe July to August 1943
Beth Rowe September 1943 to 1946
Mignon Rayson 1947 to 1948
Marion Keats 1948 to 1950
Una Evans 1951 to 1953
June Patterson 1954 to 1955
Knitting Group from Avenue Range School in 1917. Teacher: Adelaide Christiansen. Back Row: L Schrapel. Gordon Rivett. Leo Ruth. Jack Ruth, Ivy Turnbull. Vic Turnbull. Adelaide Christiansen. Front Row: G. Ruth. Ruth. Edna Schrapel. Muriel Lock. B. Schrapel. Bina Natt.
A Few Memories of my Time at Avenue Range
I was only there for one year, 1937 – a long time ago. I used to go to church with the family. It was held in the old school building. I also went to C.W.A. with Mrs. Copping sometimes -it must have been on a Saturday.
I have happy memories of the school children, the Rivett children, from across the road and their cousin, Ted Rivett, Brenda Altman and Dorothy Thomas and Keith and Brian Copping.
I used to enjoy a chat with Miss Thomas (now Mrs. Thomson), the post mistress of the little Post Office near the school.
I boarded with Mr. and Mrs. A.O. Copping and family, at “Cairnbank”, and remember being made very welcome and treated as one of the family. Mrs. Copping was a great cook, making lovely cakes and most appetising buns.
Mrs. Capping’s father, Mr. Hemmings, used to drive us to school in the gig, during the winter months. In good weather I sometimes rode a bike while Keith and Brian rode a pony.
Valmai Knowling, nee Thomas
Memories of Avenue Range School 1947-48, Mignon Rayson
One hot summer day early in 194 7, the Kingston train rocked and rattled along the track, with its load of teachers arriving for the school year. The cheerful guard, Mr. Shurdington, exchanged pleasantries with the old hands and welcomed the two new chums. As the train paused at Lucindale station, a local lad yelled to his friend, “I wonder which one we are getting! The goodlooking blonde or the other one?” To his obvious relief, the willowy blonde alighted, and the little plain one was wafted away towards Avenue Range.
In spite of this inauspicious beginning, my two years at Avenue were thoroughly enjoyable. The children were delightful, and on mail nights the entire farming community congregated at the Post Office to exchange local gossip while Mrs. Hilda Thomson sorted their letters and listened sympathetically to everybody’s troubles. There was always plenty of entertainment at the Hocking homestead -two memorable occasions were when the shearers raided the clothesline and tied my undies to the top bough of a pine-tree and the night when 3 year old Rexton set fire to the house while experimenting with matches.
Probably the most exciting episode occurred when I was marking essays in the school at dusk, while a freight train crawled towards the coast. (These travelled so slowly that it was possible to jump off the train at Bull Island, pick blackberries to eat, and hop on the back step as it passed). Suddenly I had an eerie feeling that I was not alone, and I crept along the side of the building and found a strange man crawling through the long grass and shrubs behind the school. He jumped up and ran towards me as I leapt on my old bicycle and pedalled furiously down the hill, bouncing over rocks and skidding through the open gate. The school was left open that night, and next day a prison escapee was apprehended by police. His intentions may have been quite harmless, but there was also the possibility that I narrowly escaped the notoriety of becoming the Avenue Range Hostage.
All the young people of the district were involved in the building of the tennis courts, but as our enthusiasm exceeds our expertise, the first heatwave reduced the surface to a texture resembling soft licorice. Max Smith, who was playing tennis without shoes, later found he had developed durable black soles to his feet!
While I was living at “Teremina” I occupied a bedroom with a most distinctive rose-patterned carpet. In 1978 I was sitting for a Psychology examination in a private home in Hamilton, Victoria, and commented on the antique carpet which had just been laid. It was soon revealed that my supervisor’s mother-inlaw had inherited the carpet from a relative’s estate -what a strange coincidence that it should again lie beneath my feet thirty years later and in another state.
A member of the Avenue School Committee was Mrs. Mary Smith, an experienced teacher whose advice was invaluable. I remember one day when I remarked that a certain student was “getting-on my nerves” and she smiled and said, “There is nothing the matter with your nerves. The student is getting on your temper, which is quite a different matter”. During thirty years of teaching I have never forgotten this gentle warning.
One morning I noticed a ditty inscribed on the back of the school toilet, and called in the students in order to identify the culprit. Imagine my discomfiture when Vida Smith announced that the poem had been there for years and had been written by the young man I had gone out with on the previous night!
One sad morning Mrs. Paltridge had to call at the school to tell her son that their home had burned down during the night, and that the only possession he now owned was a raincoat from the back verandah. I remember her courage and calmness as she tried to protect her child from distress, making light of what must have been a great calamity in her life.
School inspectors loved the Avenue children and their friendly attitude, so that inspections were quite relaxed events. I recall the delight of one of them, when an innocent little girl wrote a charming illustrated essay about the strange behaviour of cattle she had noticed on the way to school. He insisted on adding it to his file of inspection reminiscences.
During the period at Avenue Range I became local reporter for the “Kingston Weekly”, a job fraught with unexpected dangers. I remember Keith Smith’s irate reaction to criticism of his bowling in a cricket match, and the resentment of a certain lady whose evening gown was described inaccurately after a local Ball.
The experience of teaching at Avenue Range School inspired me to embark on further tertiary studies in order to become a senior secondary teacher. This was a very positive result, and perhaps it was the remark of that unknown Lucindale youth which was instrumental in shaping my future.
Avenue School 1951-1953
I had just received my appointment to the one-teacher school at Avenue Range. Avenue Range? Never heard of it! Couldn’t remember seeing it on our big map of small schools at Teacher’s College so had to buy a map to find out where it was situated. I had lived on a dairy farm at Mount Gambier and Avenue was not so very far away but, oh, to get to it in those days! School was due to open on a Tuesday after the Christmas holidays; I had been instructed at College to arrive early and familiarize myself with the school etc. For me this meant catching the Adelaide-bound train from Mount Gambier, travelling to Naracoorte, waiting all day and then catching the evening rail car to Kingston, which passed through Avenue. This I did but I can’t remember how I filled in that day -subsequent days in time I can remember but not that one. The rail car was quite full and I do remember bumping, shaking, bouncing and rattling on that narrow gauge line, stopping at odd places.
The train slowed down and peering out the window I saw a fairly old building on top of a rise surrounded by nice big trees. That must be the school, I thought. I had gone to school in Mount Gambier and had only been in a small school during my teacher training. Yes, it was Avenue, a railway siding in the middle of where? There were cars and utilities and people who were waiting to collect mail, parcels etc. from the train. Later I was to realise just how much a part of my life that train was to become.
Miss Rosemary Smith, Mrs. Dot Mcinnes and Miss Mary Le Strange, the post mistress, were the first people I met. It was explained to me that it was not convenient for the Smith family, with whom I was to board, to have me just then as they were installing a new wood stove, so I was to stay with Mary and Mrs. Thomson at the Post Office house.
That evening asleep in a lovely comfortable bed I was awakened by an electric light being switched on and a startled voice asking, “Who are you?” Mrs. Thomson had arrived home from Adelaide and had found a complete stranger in her spare bedroom.
The Smith family were living in an old house on the Tavender property “Walteela” about 2 miles of unsealed road from the school and as I had always ridden about 2 miles on a bitumen road to schod myself, was fortunately used to bike riding.
Tuesday came and I was ready to begin my first day of teaching. Both children and parents arrived at the school, the latter, mainly to enrol little Grade I children. How small those children seemed to me, not much more than babies. The first week passed with the usual hassle of getting to know names and personalities of children and the distributing of new books. So school life settled down.
The folk at Avenue were an extremely friendly and sociable group of people and this spilled over to the school children, who on the whole were a wonderful group of children with whom to work. The three older children, Joe, Graham and Marjory were a tremendous help as they not only did their own work well, but were ah:Jays willing to lend a hand with the lower classes, eg. listening to reading or tables, Grades 1, 2 & 3 were good to teach as the children were bright and in sufficient numbers to make the work more interesting.
We did not have a wireless at the school and as I could not play a musical instrument, decided, with the school committee, to purchase a small radio so we could hear select programmes and special broadcasts for singing and musical activities. To help pay for this piece of equipment we held a couple of table tennis evenings, one in Stan and Mary Hocking’s garage and one at Bull Island, to raise the necessary money. The Avenue children had very little in the way of equipment as compared with schools today but they always made their own fun during the school breaks.
Some of the children had a considerable distance to travel to school and, as Avenue was not as yet serviced by any of the school-bus routes, it was generally accepted that the bicycle was the best means of transport. The Thomas children Malcolm and Heather rode the furthest distance and sometimes had trouble ?ith the magpies swooping them during the nesting season. In the case of the Richman children, they travelled to school by horse and buggy. (The buggy being without a hood). Joe travelled with them too. The children managed very well and in my time cannot remember any serious mishap. Not so in my case!
One of the Smith boys kindly offered me a lift to school one morning, just putting my bicycle on the back of the Austin 3-ton truck, without roping it down. Sure enough, over that bumpy road, the bike flew off the back of the truck anq was mangled beyond repair. I had never liked that bike very much and was glad to replace it with a new second-hand one.
Avenue was foremost a Church which was leased by the Education Department as a school so the annual Harvest Festival was a great event. Before all the lovely fruit and produce was auctioned, the children gave a few short items which made the evening more entertaining and sociable. For the Lucindale Show which was held in the spring then, the children usually sent along a display of their school work.
Just a few weeks after I had been at Avenue I was confronted by a sleepy lizard on the front porch. Not having had any experience with these creatures, I got one of the older boys to cart it away on a shovel. I can remember having only one snake “scare” at the school. A snake disappeared down a hole at the back of the school, outside the boundary fence. The older boys vyatched the hole while I ran to the Post Office house for a kettle of boiling water. I am fairly sure that snake got away!
One more little story I must tell. I had begun seeing quite a bit of a certain young man and I think this prompted this discussion which I overheard. A couple of the chidren were trying to work out how old I was. One little chap said he thought I was 29 and then an older one said No, that wasn’t right as I hadn’t voted. The Avenue school was also a Polling Booth and in those days one had to be 21 before they could vote. The older boy was nearer the mark.
Perhaps I could mention some of the folk closely connected with the school. Mrs. A.O. Copping (an ex-school teacher) was the school committee secretary even though her family had long since grown up. Mr. Bill Hunter often gave the school a supply of firewood which he had cut with an axe. Mrs. Mary Hocking very kindly made hot Milo for the children in the cold weather (this was our own “free-milk scheme”). Mary Richman always sent along a lovely sponge cake for the children to share when one of her own children had a birthday. Daph and Bert Tilley lent their woolshed on many occasions for the folk of the district to have a dance and raise money for school funds.
I also had my 21st birthday in that shed thanks to the Tilleys and the people of Avenue.
Aunt Hilda and Mary were always sympathetic listeners when I called at the Post Office and “unwound” a little before startingthe ride home to Walteela. Mary often set my hair too, so I could go to a Ball on a Friday evening.
All the parents strongly supported the school and with their assistance in pro· viding motor vehicles we were able to go on educational visits to nearby towns and an occasional picnic to the beach at the end of the year.
In December we always had a special Christmas Break-up with the children each receiving a gift which had been specially packed by one of the big stores in Adelaide. The children would put on a short concert for the benefit of the parents and Mrs. Thomson played the organ for us on these occasions.
It was during my time at Avenue that Mrs. Aitchison Grieve, Joe’s mother, passed away. It was a sadness felt by all, Mrs. Grieve had brought back from Adelaide for me, one of the prettiest dress lengths which I had ever owned.
Mr. and Mrs. Charlie Smith divided their time between “Walteela” and their. home in Kingston. With five children Keith, Max, Kathleen, Rosemary and Vida in the house at “Walteela”, I had “ready-made” “brothers and sisters” which I thought was w’onderful as I had only one sister, who was much younger than me. Life was never dull. Kathleen, Rosemary and I were keen basketball players and were members of the Lucindale basketball team which wonthree premierships in consecutive years. We enjoyed tennis too, _either at _ Lucmdale or the social matches we often had on the Avenue court. The latter was a favourite meeting place and at afternoon tea time when the cricketers joined us, Mary Hocking would send over lovely buttered scones topped with a slice of tomato.
My days at Avenue finished when I became engaged to a boy froma neigh-bouring district. Then, it was expected for a girl to resign from teaching if she was to be married. I can remember telling the Inspector this news during his last visit for the year.
Just before school “broke-up”, the last time for me, Kathleen and Rosemary gave me a kitchen evening at Walteela, which I appreciated very much.
I had had a wonderful three years at Avenue with the children and especially with the people of Avenue.
Una C. Curkpatrick, nee Evans
Avenue School 1954-1955
My memories include riding a bicycle to school with the Richman children along a dirt road, hot in summer and fog bound in winter. When the new road was being built a driver called Hedley with a beautiful red setter always happened to be going past with an empty gravel truck at 4 o’clock. With roads so muddy, we were glad of the ride home with our bikes in the back.
Mrs. Thomson always played the organ for our Christmas concerts which . we put on even though there were generally only a dozen pupils in seven grades. One day we went out to play games leaving a naughty boy inside as punishment. However, he had the last laugh, as he locked the windows and door leaving us on the outside until he was ready to let us in.
At a fireworks night I met a Welshman named Taffy who was kind enough to sink a bore in the schoolyard so we could have a vegetable garden. The Paltridges donated a hand pump which was installed along with some wire netting surrounds and our garden was duly started.
The Thomas children came down with mumps one year and passed it along. When my time came I couldn’t get to a doctor for a sickness certificate so was obliged to the visiting Baby Health sister who did the honours and attested that my swollen face really was mumps.
Christine Rivett was a new grade I who loved to act out play schools at home. I used to watch her imitating me word for word which was often quite salutary and amusing at the same time.
Being able to shop etc. only in holiday time I arranged a much needed visit to the hairdresser during term time. This meant closing the school for the day and taking “Leaping Lena” to Naracoorte. Of course the men from the Public Works Department chose this day to come and discuss building new toilets. The first man they asked told them exactly where I was but they were tactful enough to make no mention of it.
Before closing the school due to lack of pupil numbers, I had my 21st birthday. The mothers were kind enough to come to the school with afternoon tea and give me a pleasant memory of that time.
I always remember the many freesias and other bulbs making a carpet under the pine trees and the occasional echidna burrowing down in the earth, disappearing under our very eyes. School life wasn’t exactly easy although I was young enough to be resilient to the hardships and to enjoy the tennis, table tennis, basketball, dances etc. which were all available somewhere near by.
June Parham, nee Patterson
School Days – Keith Copping
Being three miles from Avenue Range and having to ride a horse to school and there being no other children on this road, I did not start school until the January after my sixth birthday. Dad rode to school with me and picked me up afterwards for the first two days and then I was on my own. I still remember being afraid of getting lost. Dad had arranged for some of the older students and the teacher to catch and saddle the horse for me. My first teacher in 1933 was Miss Edna Vickery and I thought she was heading for middle age. It was only some ten years later that I discovered that she had her 21st birthday while she was at Avenue! The senior citizens of the school when I started were Ray Hocking, Thelma Rivett and Sam Altman. Of Ray and Thelma, one left at Easter time and the other at the May holidays. Bill Rivett was in Grade 5, Ted in Grade 4, Noel Rivett in Grade 3 and Beryl Rivett and Brenda Altman in Grade 2. At times we had Rex and Colin Jones, cousins of the Hockings, at school. I was a left-hander and naturally tried to write left-handed, but I got a rap over the knuckles with a ruler until I learned to write right-handed.
In May 1935, Miss Vickery was replaced by Miss Watkins who finished the year and was replaced by Miss Brooksby. 1937 saw Miss Val Thomas from Wellington running the school. She was engaged to Ron Knowling from Mundulla. In those days there was no easy road to Desert Camp. Instead, to get to Bordertown one would go to Naracoorte taking 1 ½ to 2 hours depending on the vehicle and current road conditions, and then a two or more hour drive to Bordertown. I can still remember the excitement on the two faces when Ron made the long trip to pick up his soon-to-be bride. 1938 saw the arrival of Miss Bell McLean as the teacher at Avenue.
At one time a family named McIntyre moved into the old railway cottage near the crossing. Mr. McIntyre was a truckie in the Highways Department and had an eight year old son, Edwin. At that stage Darcy Rivett was only in Grade 1 or 2 but had no fear of picking up stumpy lizards and young Edwin was terrified of the lizards. Darcy would pick up a stumpy and start towards him and Edwin would rush home, screaming swearwords, “You ____ I’ll tell my ___ _ old man on you”. In the end Darcy would just pick up a lump of pine bark and it did the trick.
Mr. Oz Rivett had his Dodge truck on the Highways and apparently Darcy developed an interest in trucks at a very early age. On his second or third day at school he arrived dragging a macaroni box on a piece of string, explaining that it was his truck.
Avenue Range Church and School – Brenda Hensel
For many years the focal point of Avenue Range was the Church and School which was built in 1901 and was also used for meetings, dances and voting.
Zephania Rivett of ‘Downer Farm’ who was my grandfather, was a Church Steward and an active member for many years around 1915.
The younger members of Zephania’s family of eleven – Will, May, Pere, George, Soph, Ethel (still living), Myrtle, Jack, Os (my father), Bob and Gordon – all went to school there. The youngest, Gordon, left in 1917 and his brother George’s eldest child, Gert, started in 1923, followed by Thelma, Bill and Ted leaving a lapse of only six years when no Rivetts were attending the school. In 1930, Os Rivett’s eldest child, Noel, began his schooling followed by his brothers and sisters, Beryl, Darcy, Brenda, June, Edna, Helen and Joy. The youngest of the family, Jeff, was too young to be educated there. The Avenue Range School often had very small attendances and at one stage when the enrollment was six pupils, five of them were Rivetts.
I have some good memories of my early years spent at the School and Church. When my husband and I returned to the district in 1954 we worshipped there and our children John, Rosalie and Margaret were christened there.
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