Oldest Gympie school

JUST two short years after James Nash recorded his gold find in a tributary of the Mary River, Gympie Central school was established, in the same spot it sits today, on October 18, 1869.

Originally boys and girls were in the same classroom but, two weeks after opening, segregation occurred for two years before they were reunited again in 1872.

Soon after, a playground for the exclusive use of the girls was built, followed closely by a new building for girls and infants and internal fence that saw the boys and girls completely separated.

The external fence, however, in the five years since the school opened, had fallen into such a state of disrepair that the school inspector reported it needed constant attention "to keep out goats”.

By 1886 the original school, where the boys were being taught, was in a sorry state, according to an inspector who described it as a "dark, windy, cold room, wants painting badly ... building badly damaged by weather, tongues of board should have been up instead of down, as at present grooves retain water”.

The boys' school was a simple rectangular room with a veranda running right around it, measuring 50x20ft under the roof.

The girls' and infants' school was in much better repair, and was a rectangular room with a veranda at the front and down the right side and measuring 40x20ft under the roof and made of pine walls and floor, hardwood shingles on the roof and galvanised iron-roofed verandas.

By 1898 the schools, now nearly 30 years old, were in a serious state with a report sent to the government stating "the verandah of the boys' school is collapsing”.

The following year a new building was opened for the boys. The girls' school, which was built to house 80 students, had more than 200 attending.

To help alleviate the problem, the infant students were moved into the former boys' school and the area became a school precinct with separate boys', girls' and infants' schools.

At this stage, the area was schooling students up until completion, but this all changed in 1912 with the opening of the new Gympie High School.

It started up in the newer boys' school and the younger boys were moved back to their old school while the infant school was re-amalgamated with the girls'.

A photo taken about 1900 of the Central School precinct looking up O'Connell St with the boys' school (dead centre) and the girls' school (centre left) and St Patrick's Church in the far distance, cresting Calton Hill.
A photo taken about 1900 of the Central School precinct looking up O'Connell St with the boys' school (dead centre) and the girls' school (centre left) and St Patrick's Church in the far distance, cresting Calton Hill. Contributed

That was the situation until five years later the old boys' school, now nearly 50 years old, was destroyed by a fire in August 1917.

An article from the Gympie Times dated Thursday, August 23, 1917, described the events of the fire:

"When the brigade arrived, the force of the water was so feeble that nothing could be done to stay the flames ... the firemen (were) barely able to save the girls' playshed ... the school records were lost. An 11-year-old boy admitted that he had started the fire ... when the flames mounted up he had got frightened and ran to the fire brigade station to give the alarm. By a coincidence it was the same boy who gave the fire alarm exactly a week ago, when a fire had started under the school, though he asserts that he knows nothing of the origin of that fire.”

According to records at the time, rewards were offered to people who reported fires.

Two students at the time, Roy Long and John Balthes, remembered that a boy at school, Goggy, was thought to have started the fire.

"There was no school ... we don't have to go to school. Isn't this great!,” Roy remembers thinking at the time.

Sadly for Roy that wasn't to be because all the boys were temporarily put into the girls' school until the new Gympie High School in Cootharaba Rd was opened and the boys went on to reoccupy the former high school.

In 1922 a new building was erected on the site of the original boys' school and reshuffling occurred again.

The new building comprised the remaining section of the girls' school and part of a Monkland School building was brought over.

The girls were moved to the former high school building where the boys were originally.

And that is pretty much the way things stayed until the amalgamation of the boys and girls in 1944, with the infants moved into the new building vacated by the boys.

However, the school was starting to well and truly show its age and no amount of shuffling was able to disguise just how dilapidated it had become.

A report in 1946 from the superintendent of primary education stated: "The merest inspection of the Gympie Central School buildings was sufficient to convince one that these structures should be replaced.”

The following year on March 14, 1947, a foundation stone was laid in a dummy wall that was later removed.

But it wasn't until 1950 that the new building, the double-storey brick building that still stands to this day, began operating with the official opening taking place on Saturday, October 27, 1951.

A new infants' school was built and opened in 1960 and was being used even before the glass had been installed in the windows - and the former infants' school became the Opportunity School the following year.

During the early 1970s, a library was added to the school and the former infants' school - now the Opportunity School - was sold and removed, to be replaced by a new brick building designed for team teaching which was completed in 1974.

The pre-school was added to the grounds in 1983 after negotiations spanning eight years.

Gympie Times

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