Ballina High


This publication presents the schools of the Ballina Inspectorate at this time  Education Week, 1959  and their origins.


The development of secondary education in Ballina has followed closely the fortunes of the district. There have been periods of growth, stagnation and decline. From time to time, pupils have been directed officially or attracted to Lismore.

In the days when Ballina was the third largest port in N.S.W., and the centre of a thriving timber and sugar district, which included the largest mill in the Southern Hemisphere at Broadwater (established 1881), some instruction beyond the primary level must have been provided. Mr. Ewan McKinnon, then chairman of the School Board and a very interested and helpful citizen as far as the school was concerned, wrote in 1889 to the Minister for Education, pointing out "the very conspicuous position held by Ballina Public School at the recent junior examinations of the Sydney University".

Towards the close of last century the local population increased quickly because of a number of factors. The shipping industry was at its peak, the breakwater was under construction, the canal being dredged, and dairying was beginning to take over from cane on the higher lands. This increase in population was no doubt responsible for what we might regard as the official beginning of secondary education in Ballina in 1895. In that year the headmaster of the local school, Mr. Fraser, applied for the school to be made a Superior Public School, that is, a school providing some post-primary education. This request was granted officially on May 30th of that year. A member of the sixth class of 1896, Mrs. H. Pearson, still lives in Ballina, and can tell of some of the conditions existing then. One detail of the curriculum that was followed is that the boys of that class did Latin and the girls French.

Details of enrolments, staff and courses in the postprimary classes in the early days of the Superior Public School are not available, but the curriculum was no doubt based on classical lines and it appears that the teachers still had their problems. One Ballina resident wrote in 1903 to the Department objecting to his daughter being given homework. He wrote: 'A girl of 13 years requires to be taught home lessons on domestic duties. Of what use can Algebra and Latin be to a working -man's daughter? This study, if followed up, entirely unfits a girl for domestic duties and unsettles her mind for housework . . ." The Department refused to exempt the child on grandfather's claim that "The study of home lessons involved excessive brain work". If grandfather could return to Ballina High School today he would undoubtedly approve of the beautifully equipped kitchens, needlework rooms and workshops, and also the fact that Latin and advanced Algebra are studied only by prospective University students.

Even in these early days, country children travelled to Ballina from surrounding towns. Davis Brothers and Burgess, steam boat proprietors, asked, in 1907, for conveyance subsidy for pupils carried on the daily steamer service between Woodburn and Ballina. The application was refused on the recommendation of the inspector, who stated: "This is not a case in which any allowance for conveyance should be made. There are two popular schools in the Lower Richmond, Wardell and Ballina. The rival ferry companies, for some reason best known to themselves, have been carrying children free to these schools from Broadwater, Riley's Hill, Woodburn, and possibly one or two other places where fairly good schools are in operation ... I know and can learn of no child who would be without reasonable means of education if the ferry steamer stopped running at once". It is likely that most of the children from Riley's Hill were from families employed there quarrying stone for the breakwater being built at Ballina.

For 25 years after the establishment of the Superior Public School there seems to have been little increase in the population of the town, and consequently little development in the school. At the beginning of the century the N.C.S.N. Co. provided a passenger service to Sydney, leaving Ballina at 3 p.m. on Tuesday, Thursday and Saturday. There were regular daily services to Woodburn and Lismore. About thirty vessels traded regularly with the port. This activity gradually declined. The completion of the breakwater and canal, in about 1907, no doubt resulted in a loss of population to the town, although the growth of dairying helped to balance the loss.

The local council was ambitious to gain from Peter Board's 1912 reorganisation of secondary education in N.S.W. The Town Clerk, In February, 1913, wrote to the Department: "My council understands that the Minister for Education has in contemplation the establishment of High Schools in different country centres. I would ask for Ballina to be given a High School". He backed up his request by pointing out the advantages of Ballina's geographical position, its nearness to the seaside, its healthy climate and scholastic record. The Department replied that the school was too small even to be made a district school.

At the end of World War I, it appears that secondary education in Ballina was really in the doldrums. Mrs. Russell, then infants' mistress, wrote about the failure of children to remain at school after gaining the Qualifying Certificate because no provision was made for them. She suggested the formation of an Intermediate Certificate class. There was a 7th class, but it was badly patronised, the enrolment in August being only 4. In January, 1919, a Mr. J. Johnston asked for transport subsidy so that his children could go to Lismore for their secondary education. The question of subsidised transport for secondary pupils to Lismore was then considered, but it was decided that the distance was too great and the travel would be too tiring for the children. It is interesting to note that, in the criticism of the 7th class work at Ballina it was pointed out that the smaller schools at Casino and Tenterfield had healthy 7th classes, and a request from Mr. Perry, M.L.A., in 1919 for languages and science to be taught at Ballina was refused. The chief Inspector commented: 'This is really a request to make Ballina a district school. There is a district school (soon to be made a high school) 20 miles away at Lismore. If Ballina is made a district school then Casino would have to be considered, too. Murwillumbah has also similar claims". The establishment of High Schools in Casino and Murwillumbah long before that in Ballina indicates the slow rate of progress of this town in relation to those centres in the last forty years.

Mr. Askham, a University graduate, was appointed as headmaster in June, 1919. His proposal to introduce languages was accepted and in the next year it appears that satisfactory 7th and 8th classes were functioning and following a High School syllabus with the intention of reaching the Intermediate Certificate. Thus appeared to be established classes on traditional High School lines.

In the "twenties" the strategic importance of Ballina declined, motor traffic was taking over from the river, railways were being developed to other centres. According to reports the population increased, but mainly due to the influx of older people, retiring to Ballina. School progress was slow.

New life was promised for Ballina with the turning of the first sod in the Ballina-Booyong railway project in 1923. In that year the school was classified officially as a district school. There was a secondary enrolment of 95 pupils and a staff of four employed in secondary work. The change in classification did not solve the existing problems. Official records during the next few years report lack of accommodation, acute shortage of text books, and too small language classes.

The school was again re-classified in 1926 and became an intermediate High School. Enrolment in June was 111. There were two first year classes, one second and one third year. Many local residents will no doubt remember the then existing conditions described in an inspector's report thus: "Unfortunately, insufficient accommodation is a serious drawback. Only two ordinary classrooms and the science room are available for four High School classes and two classes have constantly to occupy one room in which two teachers have frequently to give oral lessons with a space of only three or four yards separating them, while the science room has to be used for general work. In order not to interfere with each other the teachers have habituated themselves to speaking in subdued tones, nevertheless one additional room at the very least, is an urgent necessity". It was perhaps fortunate that the enrolment hardly increased in the next five years, because it appears that no further accommodation was provided, although In 1929 reference was made to the teaching of needlework In a recess in an upstairs corridor and to the teaching of cooking in 'a Sunday School hall which is some distance from the school and is most unsuitable". Reference to later files indicates that the hall referred to was the Presbyterian Hall and its use was discontinued soon after because it was found to be too hot".

Between 1924 and 1928 negotiations were conducted by the Department of Education to acquire the 5 acres of land on which the present High School stands for educational development. This area was then being used as saleyards. The council was prepared to co-operate but the Lands Department suggested that the Cherry Street frontage should be withheld and the remaining 31 acres would be sufficient for school purposes. Official and local pressure finally forced the Lands Department to dedicate the whole area for school purposes. When the recent and proposed building extensions are considered, it is indeed fortunate that this decision was reached.

The present brick building was built in the early years of the depression by a Sydney contractor, H. Brown, and a team of men were brought from Sydney. Most of the bricks were made in the old brick works at the foot of the Ballina Cutting but some of the face bricks were made in Sydney. The filling of the area was a major job; 4,000 yards of filling were supplied by present Ballina contractor, "Nugget" Saunders. In the early stages the filling had to be carried by horse and dray.

Classes commenced in the new building In July, 1931. What a wonderful place it must have seemed to pupils and teachers after the accommodation problems of the previous decade! There were six classrooms, a science room and assembly hall, and only five classes. For the first time there was a fourth year class and it contained 12 pupils. No provision was made on the new site for teaching manual arts and home economics. Classes in these subjects still had to travel to the old site. This remained the case in home economics until 1955 and in manual arts until the new block was available a few months ago. The new school opened with 124 pupils, but in spite of the establishment of a 5th year class in 1932, there was no significant increase in enrolments for the next ten years. To some extent this may have been due to a diminishing in the influx of country pupils owing to a reduction in the conveyance subsidy.

After 10 years of stagnation, as far as enrolments were concerned, the school and town nearly suffered a grave setback. In 1941, it was suggested officially that all pupils desiring Latin and all fourth and fifth year pupils should be conveyed by bus to Lismore daily, and that Ballina be recognised as a school of a different type. Apparently nothing came of this suggestion. Within two years the enrolment had climbed to 172, Latin classes were reintroduced, and a proposal to convert the original school building in the primary school grounds to a complete boys' technical unit was brought forward. It is interesting to note that there were still spare rooms in both schools at this time.

By 1945, the enrolment was approaching 200, and official reports suggested that the school had now reached its maximum enrolment, but it was desirable to provide further buildings to enable home science and technical units to be in the High School grounds. The staff now numbered 11. In spite of official forecasts, there was a gradual growth in numbers until 1952, when the enrolment was 294 and the staff 16, the two new classrooms near the tennis court were added at this time.

For the next few years there was a small but steady decline in the numbers of pupils and teachers, possibly due to the diversion of the Bangalow and Byron Bay groups to Mullumbimby School. The reason given for this was that these pupils should use the departmental trains rather than be paid subsidy on private buses. Some Ballina children attended Lismore High School.

The creation of full High Schools in Kyogle and Mullumbimby in 1955 and the omission of Ballina resulted in strong representations being made by the council and public bodies for a change in status of this school. The change was made in the following year and 1956 started with 17 teachers and 261 pupils. There has been a rapid increase in enrolments since then, the present figure being about 450. This increase is due to a number of factors, the very great increase in the number of pupils staying at school for the Leaving Certificate, the return of pupils from Lismore High School, the redirection of pupils from those centres on the lower Richmond, Broadwater, Woodburn and Evans Head, which were originally associated with Ballina, and the re-enrolment of many pupils from Bangalow and Byron Bay.

The increase in enrolments has again introduced accommodation difficulties, but the Department is making every effort to overcome them. In the last four years two large blocks have been added to the school buildings. One contains two home science rooms, a needlework room, classroom, fitting rooms, change rooms, laundry and offices. The other one, opened in July of this year by the Minister for Education, has, on the upper floor, metalwork, woodwork, technical drawing and craft rooms, with store and staff rooms. On the lower floor, shelter areas, change and shower rooms and food preparation room. A further block, containing library, two classrooms, two group study rooms, administrative block, store rooms, wash rooms and toilets should be commenced in the very near future. When this is completed there should be satisfactory accommodation for the expected enrolment of approximately 500. The school will still be without a suitable assembly hall, and this is an urgent need in a town which lacks a suitable public hall.

The school is now able to provide a complete range of courses for pupils of all abilities. Full recognition is given to the fact that only a small percentage of those attending will proceed to any form of tertiary education, and the organisation provides ample activities for the spiritual, social, cultural, moral and physical development of the future citizen. Outstanding success has come to pupils in musical, choral and sporting fields. A strong P. and C. Association, backed by an interested community and staff has ensured that first class facilities and equipment are available to pupils.

The development of the school and its dependence on local economic conditions over the last 60 years has been outlined, but the present school's contribution to the town's economy cannot be underestimated. The staff consists of 28 teachers and four other employees and the annual payroll exceeds 40000. In the first term of 1959, 240 country pupils travelled to the High School on buses, for which the Government paid 2,000 in subsidy to local operators. These pupils and their families make a very valuable contribution to the business life of the community.

In the last few years the school has been developed as a centre for community activities outside school hours. Technical College classes in dressmaking, millinery, floral art, shorthand and typing, homecraft, woodwork and children's art have been formed and are conducted regularly. Arts Council activities were introduced to Ballina by the school, which now controls its productions. The Ballina Players commenced operations and produced their first show in the Assembly Hall. The Ballina Choral Society, Historical Society and Junior Farmers' Club were formed in, and still use, the hall for meetings. It is the centre of National Fitness activities.

What of the future? The proposed change in the system of secondary education should not affect the present development, which indicates that for many years Ballina High School will be the training ground for about 70 per cent. of the teenage group on the coastal strip from Evans Head to Byron Bay. Its influence on the community can be very great. May the community assist in the development of an institution of which all can be proud!

North Coast School Histories

North Coast School Histories: as transcribed by Kathy Pearson and posted to NorCo List. STATUS QUO MCMLIX This publication presents the schools of the Ballina Inspectorate at this time - Education Week, 1959 - and their origins.