One Mile State School 1877
One Mile State School 1877 John Oxley Library

This Gympie schools's first student lived in a bark hut

ONE Mile State School celebrates its 150th birthday this year.

On Saturday, September14, the school is hosting an Historical Fete from noon-4pm to celebrate its vital role in the history of Gympie.

There will be historical displays, carnival rides and gold panning as well as heaps of other activities to entertain the young and young-at-heart.

One Mile State School's first headmaster James McLeod (seated centre) and other staff members.
One Mile State School's first headmaster James McLeod (seated centre) and other staff members.

Everyone is invited to join in for a peek back at the history of the oldest school in Gympie - come along and relive your childhood, catch up with old friends or meet new ones.

Over the coming months, we will be running a series of articles highlighting some of the history and events surrounding the One Mile State School.

In the beginning

THE One Mile was a busy place after the discovery of gold in 1867 brought 30,000 people to Gympie.

Mining operations, rows of shops and houses had sprung up in the wake of the gold fever that saved the-then flailing Queensland economy and government.

One Mile State School looking along what is now John St.
One Mile State School looking along what is now John St. Contributed

A small private school near One Mile Gully had been in operation for several months, when the government announced it would build a school with free education for all, making Gympie the first goldfield in Queensland to have a government school.

First head teacher

THE original school building (later moved to the Mary Valley and subsequently burnt down) was opened in the middle of September1869 by the first headmaster, James McLeod.

Upon his arrival, he found nothing but a bare room littered with empty bottles. In three days, he managed to produce red cedar desks and forms by rounding up local carpenters. As for blackboards, slates, books, there were none. Nonetheless, the school enrolled 39 pupils on its first day - September20, 1869. One year later, the enrolment was 360. The crushing of metal, the ringing of picks and the explosion of dynamite from the nearby mines made schoolwork difficult.

One Mile (with the school in the centre of the photo) submerged by water in the 1983 flood.
One Mile (with the school in the centre of the photo) submerged by water in the 1983 flood.

(The only pupil present on that very first day to return for the school's 75th anniversary in 1944 was MrW. Simpson, whose family arrived in Gympie in the alluvial days (before reef mining started) and lived in a bark hut. One of his younger brothers was born while floodwater was inundating the home. His children later attended the school, walking eight miles from The Dawn and back each day.)

The boom in enrolments led to the establishment of a new building for the girls and infants under the leadership of MrMcLeod's sister, Jane Anne McLeod. Both buildings were extended and when they were outgrown, a new building was added in 1891. Enrolments reached over 1000, forming possibly the largest school in Queensland at the time.

One Mile State School's first headmaster James McLeod (seated centre) and other staff members.
One Mile State School's first headmaster James McLeod (seated centre) and other staff members.

The new building, graced by a towering spire, is the current administration office, staffroom and classrooms. It has become an iconic symbol of One Mile School.

Mr McLeod was to remain at his post for 45 years. 'Daddy', as he was affectionately known, is remembered as a noble man with a kindly sense of humour. Four truants who defied him on the riverbank by diving in and swimming across fully clothed, expected a 'tanning' the following day, but they remembered far longer the individual talk he gave each one instead. "Impatient of tyranny in others, he avoided it himself.”

The head teachers of the Girls School generally had shorter careers because, on the event of their marriage, they had to resign. MissMcLeod was succeeded in 1884 by MissMary Emily Caine whose strict organisation and discipline required that all staff had to appear before her each Friday afternoon to account for all school stock used and unused during the week.

Miss Margaret Hood took charge in 1890 and remained for more than 38 years. She was seen as a rank eccentric because of her belief in woman's equality with man. She also had "extreme” ideas about how the aged should be treated. She loved to use drama in her teaching methods and many concerts and cantatas were produced during her time. These events won high praise and added further prestige to the rapidly growing school. The senior classes were often the largest, containing many girls who had finished their schooling but did not want to leave. Employment was not generally an option for them.

Second headmaster

MR McLEOD was eventually replaced as head teacher in 1915 by MrBen Ferguson who recalled that most boys came willingly and eagerly to school.

But he remembered well the Beer Box Truant: "One of my boys had been playing truant and after several days' absence, I saw him, in the distance, riding on a delivery cart, and I went out on the road to intercept him. When I stopped the cart, there was no sign of the boy - he had disappeared. I scratched my head, searched the cart and in a beer box, I found the truant. The punishment he later received deterred him from playing truant again.”

Swimming lessons were held on Friday mornings, in a favourite spot along Deep Creek about halfway to Monkland. Learners were helped by those who could swim.

One older boy recalled a young, quiet and well-mannered boy who got into trouble halfway across the creek and was rescued, and as he lay spluttering on the bank, let out a string of foul language. His reputation as a "sissy” was no longer.

Tuesday afternoons were designated for a few boy scholars to attend the School of Arts (the current Gympie Regional Gallery) for woodwork instruction under Harry Trott. The boys left One Mile early at 2.30pm to walk to their destination for a 3pm start. Along the way, the boys would call in at various cafes, the favourite being The Belgian Tea Rooms. They got to woodwork class just in time to get their names marked off the roll at the end of the lesson.

One Tuesday, three boys were rounding Geary's Corner at 4.45pm for this very purpose when another boy came running shouting, "Ben's waiting for you blokes!”

Sure enough, the headmaster was there. "Where have you been?”

"Looking for timber, Sir,” they replied meekly. Their ears were still ringing half an hour later. It turned out that Ben had travelled by bike along River Rd and was the first one to arrive.

Punishment was making up double the time missed and long detentions. Harry Trott subsequently had full classes for the first time in years.

Miss Essie Mulveny took charge of the Girls School in 1930. In 1932, a tornado swept through Gympie and, because of MissMulveny's calm and careful handling of the children, lives were saved and injury avoided.

She made all the boys and girls lie flat on the veranda of the Girls School. Sheets of galvanised iron and housing materials flew overhead as the tornado surged through.

In next episode of One Mile's history, MrMatthew Fenelon succeeds MrFerguson in 1941 and leads the local Teachers' Association through the turbulence of Japanese threats during World War II.

Remember to mark the date, September14, for One Mile State School's 150th Historical Fete from noon-4pm. The school is very interested to hear from past students and staff who would like to attend or have may have some memories or memorabilia to share. Please contact the school on 54802777 or email for more information.

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