South Arm


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


One hundred and twenty-seven years ago the "Susan", the first vessel to enter the "Big River", as the Clarence was then called, slowly made her way up the river. The vessel was commanded by a Capt. Johnson, and on board was John F. Small a brother of the owner of the vessel. On the southern end of Woodford Island, Small selected a property and built a home for his family. Capt. Johnson selected a property near what is now known as Ulmarra. John Small's home was quite a large building. The walls and roof were made of cedar slabs. The floor was of hardwood and the whole supported by great logs or sleepers. Around the home many fruit trees were planted.

Small originally came to the Clarence in search of timber - cedar - and during his lifetime here was engaged, at various times, in dairying, rice growing and sugar cane growing. It is interesting to note that timber, dairying, and sugar, are still important local industries. Other settlers followed John Small and settled on this part of the Clarence. Among them were Richard Benson, originally of Donegal, Ireland, who arrived in 1856; Patrick Cooney, of Anacrotty, Tipperary, Ireland (1861); Kenneth Gillies, Isle of Skye, Scotland (1857); John Hughes, Cambridgeshire, England (1861); Wm. McGregor, of Argyleshire Scotland (1861); W. T. Rayner, Cambridgeshire, England (1861); Thomas Ward, Drum Castle, County Sligo, Ireland (1866); David Archer, England, and George Watson, Hertfordshire, England (1861). Those were the days of large families and the need for a school was soon felt. Thomas Small, having by now built for himself a more substantial home, gave the original house to be used as a school. Thus the first house on Woodford Island became the first school; a rough school, no doubt, but, in the hands of the skilled craftsmen, much rough material is transformed into objects of use and beauty. The early teachers at this school must have indeed, been craftsmen, for many of the scholars who passed through the school have carved out for themselves quite brilliant careers in various occupations.


The first teacher appointed to the school was a Mr. Wallwork. The Wallworks used portion of the house as a school and lived in the remaining portion. Louisa, Mr. Wallwork's daughter, married William Kearns, who had acquired land from John Small. For a period of 80 years there was a Kearns attending the school, and today Rowan and Jeffrey Kearns, sixth generation of the Wallwork family, are pupils. Teaching must have been in the Kearns blood, for three of the family have since become teachers. Mr. Kearns, now retired and living at Grafton, taught at many district schools. Mr. Roy Kearns is now headmaster of Sydney Primary School, and Mr. Herbert Kearns is now master of Turvey Park School, Wagga.

Of the pupils of the original school, only Mr. Jim Hughes, of Brushgrove, is still with us. Mr. Hughes, now 92 years of age, has vivid memories of school in those far off days.

At that time the administration of the school was controlled by the local Board of Education. The original board was composed of Mr. Small, Mr. Fogo, and Mr. Wm. McGregor. The McGregor family is still connected with the school. Two children, Jill and William, are pupils, whilst their father, William McGregor, has been secretary of the Parents and Citizen's Association for the past 26 years.

In 1880 a substantial new school building was erected. Once again the materials were obtained locally. Sandstone blocks were quarried on McGregor's property; the walls were built of bricks, hand made by a Mr. Harris, and the roof was supported by great cedar trusses. The original shingle roof has been replaced with iron, but the building remains substantially as it was in 1880. The first teacher in the new school was Mr. Samuel Campbell.

Concerning the teachers of those days, it is interesting to note that Angus McGregor, a scholar of the original school, left school at the age of 13, "having learnt all that the teacher could teach him". Some time later, after a period of tuition - 3 weeks - he was appointed as teacher of Taloumbi School (Palmers Channel) and later served for 19 years as teacher in various parts of the State.


Bordering the school playground are a number of great camphor laurel trees, which were planted to mark the 50th year of Queen Victoria's reign. These trees now give the school a most picturesque appearance and make it a conspicuous landmark. To mark the 75th anniversary of the school, an avenue of Pinus radiata trees was planted along the roadway fronting the school.


Besides being a place of instruction, the "brick school on the hill" has become a true community centre. Being the only public building in the area, it has at various times been used as electoral office meeting place for local activities, a scene of festivity on various occasions, and flood refuge for many families in times of distress. It has been used by officers of the Health Department; for film evenings by the Department of Agriculture, and as a meeting place for discussion groups organised by New England University. It is the hub around which practically all local activity revolves.

In these days of fast motor transport, many of the smaller settlements are going out of existence, whole districts are losing their identity, becoming outlying areas of the larger towns. Indeed, in many areas the only tie holding the residents together is the little one-teacher school. In districts such as this, the school is the common bond between families. It plays a very vital part in the lives of district residents. From earliest childhood, people learn to live together, work together, play together. In this training for citizenship, South Arm School has always played its part.

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.