Sawtell Public School

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Memories of past students

In 1999, the school held its 75th anniversary. Many past students wrote memories for the official anniversary book which are shared here. We trust you enjoy reading them.

1929 Win Hulbert

The toilets were pit toilets. Boys and Girls. The girls was a two hole pit, the boys had one plus a gutter. There were 15 children enrolled at the school. We had to bring our brothers and sisters to  make up the numbers to keep the school from closing.


1935 Olga Gillon (nee Sercombe)

Both my sister and myself were included in classes in 1935, our names then being Madge and Olga Sercombe. We considered we received a sound education. Quite a few children attended the school, only two classrooms in all. One teacher taught 1st, 2nd and 3rd classes and the second teacher taught 4th, 5th and 6th.

The three teachers I remembered were Miss Jenna, Mr Johnson and Mr Joyce who were highly respected by all the children. Most children those days were as poor as church mice and the girls wore navy tunics and white blouses, no leather shoes but white sandshoes cleaned with whiting and tied by the laces around our necks going to school to keep them clean as each morning when the bell rang we lined up for inspection of sandshoes, fingernails and hands after which we faced the flagpole for the raising of the Union Jack then marched into our classes. Even those days we had to tolerate the school bullies especially some of the boys who would still remember terrorising the girls. Still they were happy days as we made our own fun before and after school. Playing rounders with old discarded broomsticks or on the beach with trollies made out of syrup or treacle tins and put together with wire and pulled along the hard sand.

Those days gave us a grounding on what it was like to be poor and how to handle money for the years ahead, it was no load to carry. I still thank the Lord for those wonderful teachers so dedicated to their teaching and treating each child as an individual. My sister and myself still take a drive around the old school and marvel at the trees at the bottom of the school ground which were planted when we attended the school many years ago.


1939 Ethnee Worland (nee Dillon)

I resided at Boambee. During World War 11 I had to leave Sawtell and travel to Bonville school in case the Japanese bombed the intervening bridges. Afterwards when it came time to return to Sawtell School, Hugh MacLean could find no records of my attendance there so he didn't want to accept me back.


1946-1947 Merv Hunt and Ray Cooper

Where the canteen is now was then a cricket pitch. When it was raining we'd slide down the cricket pitch, no shoes - I didn't wear them to school till high school - just like you would slide on a dance floor. Hughie Maclean said, "Righto - out of the way", took his shoes and socks off, rolled up his trousers and took a slide. Hughie was the Headmaster at the time.


Hugh MacLean


Planting of the paperbarks.

At that time the whole yard was bare. The yard had been dug up in trenches for the war. It is said that the circle up the top of the hill (Bartlett Park) was always bare and so was the site of the school. The school site was where the local Aboriginal tribes held their games or wars while the women and piccaninnies gathered at the top of the hill. With Ted Adams, Teacher, we collected paperbark seedlings between the school and the golf club, over Chinaman's Creek - the water in the creek was clean then, we could catch mud gudgeons in it. Now there was no town water, only tank water, and it was precious. Everyone had to bring their own water bottle and at the end of the day the water you had left had to be emptied on your own tree, each with a name tag. You made your own galvanised metal name tag with a hammer and nail. Oleanders were planted too, with name tags. We were warned of their poisonous properties. These are gone now. The paperbarks are the ones you on the perimeter of the school.



Licensed under the Creative Commons Attribution 2.0 Generic license.


Sawtell main street 1950

Photograph courtesy of Coffs Harbour Regional Museum

Reproduced with permission

Picture Coffs Harbour

1952-1957 Bok Rowe

I was teaching in the bottom classroom and needed the cane for a misbehaving child. I sent young Wallace Faichney up to Tom Burt, the Principal to bring down the cane to Mr Rowe. Tom was a teaching Principal and was right in the middle of a lesson. When Wally asked for the cane, Tom called him in. "Faichney," he said, "hold out," and dealt him two cuts. Wally said, "But I was only sent to collect the cane for someone else." Tom replied "Well Faichney, there must be plenty of times you've got away with something." "Yes," young Wally said. "Right, we're square," was the response. (Ed - I have heard in good faith that Bok Rowe inflicted other forms of punishment when Principal at Boambee: if you were misbehaving you had to rub your forearm over his close-cut hair.)









Bok Rowe


1952-1959 Dianne Brown, nee Burns

Some old memories: flavoured milk in crates; the long walk to the reserve for swimming classes; twirling around and hanging from the bars like a monkey on the play equipment, jumping over the jumps - and breaking my arm in two places one morning aged about eight - vying for first place in the Fifth/Sixth class against Robert MacPherson, being sweethearts with Jimmy Rowe, son of teacher 'Bok Rowe'.


1956-1963 Christine Tyson nee Moseley

We walked to school and took our lunches as there was no school cantenn. We could order our lunches on Mondays from the little shop, Scholfield's, on the corner of Coronation and 13th Avenue. We had assembly on the asphalt, sang "God Save the Queen" and raised the Australian flag. We then marched to our classrooms to the beat of a single drum, played by one of the students (Susan Ross). At recess we had school milk which was kept underneath the 2nd and 4th class buildings. Other schools complained about warm school milk but ours was OK as it was always cool up under the buildings.

We played  hopscotch, sticks (similar to hopscotch, only you had seven or ten sticks set at equal distances apart that you hopped between. You could remove one stick each go and do a large hop at the end creating a larger distance between the sticks. The winner was the last person who could  hop between the spaces without losing their balance). Rubber ring, singles or doubles, tennis, captain ball, tunnel ball, hula hoops, skipping rope, playing on the parallel bars, see saw, rings or just playing around the trees at the fence line plus jacks and marbles.

Sawtell did well at sports for a small school and always did well in the March Past. Our uniform was blue shorts and white top with a red '7' on the back. Combined schools held the Sports Carnival at Brelsford Park in Coffs Harbour. On sports day in summer the whole school would walk in file to the Sawtell Reserve to swim  in Bonville Creek as there was no swimming pool in Sawtell at the time. Mr Rudgley was our sports teacher.


Mr Rudgley

Boathouse Bonville Creek 1950's

Photograph courtesy of Coffs Harbour Regional Museum

Reproduced with permission

Picture Coffs Harbour


Another lasting memory was planting the pine trees on the bottom park. All children helped plant a tree, three children to one tree. We also had fancy dress nights held at Sawtell Reserve hall with prizes given in the best categories. At Christmas time we had a concert at the Reserve, with each class doing an act on stage and finishing with Christmas carols to end our school year.


1952-1956 CS Rowe (Bok) OAM., JP., Deputy Pricipal

The original gymnasium at Sawtell was the brain child of the sportsmaster Mr Keith Jeffery and came into fruition after much discussion with the Principal Mr Tom Burt and myself, the Deputy Principal and, of course, with P&C members and their agreement. To the best of my knowledge this was the first outdoor gymnasium built in a NSW public school.

Much of the timber was donated by various parents and after its erection some doubts were expressed about safety, but I kept statistics of accidents for the first twelve months and found that it was 'even-steven' with the general playground - just as many were hurt in the normal activities as were in the gym.

Small ti-trees were planted on the edge of the playground. The original idea, planted before I came to the school in 1952, was that the outer trees should be kept pruned down low and the inner group having their limbs pruned thus having a sloped wind break for the playground; this idea was not continued after Mr Burt left the school. The small ti-trees at the northern end of the bottom playground were all planted by Mr Ted Adam, a teacher, in 1951, and in 1952/3 I planted the trees on the southern end of the ground; all these came from seedlings of ti-trees off the Sawtell Golf Course. The trees along the eastern side of the ground were planted after I left the school in 1956, but I understand they were all donated by various parents and citizens.


1950's Doug Cory

Many students would still have some memory of a less desirable habit one teacher of the 50's had. This teacher was Keith Jeffery. He often used to throw chalk over the heads of pupils when trying to control his class, usually with great force. Eventually some parents complained as it became known outside the school. There was some fear that the pupils could be struck in the eyes, although Keith Jeffery maintained he always aimed for the back wall of the class. [Mr Jeffery was also the local scoutmaster -Ed]

Many of the trees within the school were planted in the period 1950-1955 due to the then Principal Mr Tom Burt, Bok Rowe and others. This was also the case for May Street sports field.

The classrooms and building overlooking the backyard of a house fronting 11th Ave., next to the school was built around 1953. I used to live in that house next to the school.


1970's Gwen Lusted

When Mrs Norris retired from teaching needlework to the primary school girls, Gwen Lusted was appointed to the position. she changed the syllabus to Craft and taught both boys and girls. This was a change from face to face teaching and the children liked the freedom of walking around the classroom to work and enjoyed the craft classes each week. Because they were taught a variety of crafts there were rarely any discipline problems. Boys were learning to sew, girls were learning to use hammers and saws, and it was wonderful to see roles that were previously segregated for either boys or girls were now enjoyed by both. The children who finished their projects before others were always willing to help other complete theirs. Not only did this encourage competition and cooperation it meant as soon as the class finished one craft they could begin another. Craft was a wonderful change for the clever academic students who were not always quick to adapt to practical ideas, or working with their hands. Some of the crafts they learnt in these years were leatherwork, copperwork, rug punching, embroidery, knitting, woodwork, bark pictures, copper enamelling, decoupage, macrame, crochet, unicraft, tie dying, nylon weaving, raffia work and several projects  made from recycled materials.


Following this changeover from needlework to craft, Mrs Lusted was asked to give an inservice course at the Sawtell school which was the most successful course given on the North Coast at this time. Over a hundred teachers from Primary Schools from Macksville to Grafton and west to Dundurrabin attended the inservice course and several of the Sawtell students demonstrated their crafts to enable the teachers attending to try various crafts themselves. The children were proud of their efforts and the teachers in turn were amazed at what these children could achieve.


After this successful course Mrs Lusted was made adviser and handicraft officer for the North Coast region, and travelled to many schools in the area to teach craft to the teachers. She continued to teach the primary craft at Sawtell until her retirement.


1975 M.L. Woods

I was the first Infants Mistress at Sawtell. During my seven and a half years there we set up Area Teaching, where children moved from teacher to teacher, beginning at and returning to the Home Room daily. This enabled rooms to be really well equipped as Reading Centres, Maths Centres, Social Science and Craft Centres since they could draw on all the resources in the Infants Department. When I left, retiring from teaching, it was quite natural for many teacher resource books to be left in the Office or Library, and my own Picture Collection, drawn over the years from Child Education publications (being attractively coloured Picture Talk topics) were given to the school. Unfortunately the immediate (upon my retirement) illness of my husband did not allow me to maintain contact, as I would have liked, with school, staff and children.


1955-1962 Elaine Erskine nee Wright

1955 Mrs Dine Kindergarten  

1956 Mrs Batterham 1st class  

1957 Mrs Clarke & Mrs Thompson 2nd class

1958 Mr Rattray 3rd class  

1959 Mr Rudgely 4th class  

1960 & 1961 Mr Wilson 5th class

1962 again Mr Rattray 6th class.  


I remember my first day in Kindergarten in 1955. The Kindy classroom where the new pupils were being enrolled was a grey single room wooden building with a corrugated iron roof, situated towards the bottom of the school beside the gravel driveway. It had a verandah along the northern side with a rail about a yard high. Skipping ropes hung looped over it. Lots of parents and new pupils crowded the steps to the entrance as I stood limply holding the rail watching my mother walk away. Tears threatened. Feeling abandoned and expected to be brave, I held them back.

The first teacher we had only stayed for a few months (Mrs Clarke, perhaps?) and then Mrs Dine came. I liked her. She had small warm hands and was strict. She told us lots of interesting stories about her family, like her father was such a skilled light footed dancer who could do the Two Step on a threepenny piece...WOW...I was impressed! She pursed her lips and frowned when she concentrated and I watched her curiously, wondering why. Two circles were painted on the classroom floor, one inside the other. Pink for girls and blue for boys. We sat cross legged on the floor listening quietly to "Kindergarten of the Air" or lined up on our circle and did the actions as we listened to the cream Bakelite radio above the blackboard. The sound was so poor I had trouble understanding the instructions and mostly followed the other children's lead. Mrs Dine played the piano while we danced, exercising our young bodies and imaginations, pretending to be autumn leaves or elephants. (I suspect my appreciation for classical music came from her renditions of Chopin).