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


On a high hill overlooking the town of Woodburn stands the Central School, a symbol of the district's progress and a living monument to the early pioneers who carved their homes out of the virgin bush.

The history of Woodburn Central School dates back to 1869, a vested site of two acres being acquired by Government grant in February of that year. However, although the establishment of a provisional school at Woodburn was authorised in 1869, the school does not seem to have opened until 1871. In 1870 the Inspector stated in his annual report that a "new and commodius" schoolhouse was being built, but there is no evidence that the school was opened before 1871, and then it was conducted in the Presbyterian chapel. In his report of 1872, the Inspector complained that the building was "overcrowded with chapel seats and pulpit". He also stated that there was neither bell, wash place, out-office, water supply nor fence.

It is difficult to ascertain exactly when the school was moved to the vested site, as the records are defective at this point, but it appears that it was at some time between the end of 1874 and November, 1876. However, according to Mr. Arthur Betteridge, an old resident of the town, the original school was built about 1872 by the early settlers, the teacher being supplied by the Government. The building, which served as both school and residence, was constructed of pit-sawn slabs and occupied the site where the school residence now stands.

The school enrolment rose from sixteen in 1871 to twenty-four in 1872 and forty-three in 1873. Probably due in part at least to the conditions under which it was conducted, the school does not seem to have reached a very high standard at first. The attendance was said to be "low and irregular", the school records were not properly kept, and the schoolroom was untidy. The Inspector's report for 1873 states: "The pupils are not, as a whole, neat and tidy, and the various class movements are irregular and noisy." However, by 1876 it was reported that three-quarters of the pupils were regular in attendance and all were punctual.

The first teacher at Woodburn School was a Mr. Rogers, who was in charge for approximately six years before he was accidentally drowned from a punt while crossing the river. Mr. Rogers was succeeded by Mr. McPhee, a short, stout, dark-complexioned Scot. Mr. McPhee married a sister of the late James Gollan, father of Mr. W. Gollan, who until recently was Minister for Lands in the N.S.W. Parliament. Mr. McPhee had, as assistant teachers, firstly his cousin, Mr. Jock McPhee, and later a Miss Miller.


As the district grew and became more populous a new and bigger school was built in 1880, Mr. McPhee being its first headmaster. Pupil-teachers who assisted him were Walter McLaren, Miss Dora Power and Miss Campbell. When the new building was erected, the old school was bought by Mr. George Davis (better known to the oldtimers of the district as "Sally" Davis, because of his connection with the Salvation Army, and also to distinguish him from the other Davis families in the town), and rebuilt as a residence in Broadwater Road, Woodburn, by Mr. George Rippon, who later settled in Broadwater. Subsequently it was purchased by Mr. Betteridge, senr., and it was the residence of the Betteridge family for many years. It is at present occupied by Mr. J. Felsch.

Mr. MePhee was succeeded by Mr. Peter Van Epen, who was headmaster from November, 1883, until April, 1904. Mr. Van Epen was a Dutchman by birth, and had spent many years in what was then known as the Dutch East Indies before coming to Australia. Although English was to him an acquired tongue, he was employed as a schoolmaster by the Department of Public Instruction on his arrival in this country. He was an extremely able and humane man, with an extensive knowledge of medicine, and during the period he spent at Woodburn he ministered to the sick and ailing for practically no gain to himself, there being at that time no medical man between Coraki and Ballina. Mr. Van Epen had as his assistants Eric Strong, son of the Presbyterian minister in Woodburn at that time, and Miss Hermann, who was in charge of the smaller pupils. This lady had the reputation of being "very severe", and the youngsters were reputed to be "rather scared of her". Miss Hermann was succeeded by Miss Wills, who was greatly loved by the children and who later married Billy Hill, son of Mr. Stephen Hill, the storekeeper.

The school and the old weathershed stood as they were built until about 1903 or 1904, when an addition was made to the western end of the building, thus making the "Big" room much larger. At the same time the lighting was improved, and also the ventilation, the large ventilators along the top of the building being installed.

SCHOOL FARM ACTIVITY The part of the site on the western side of Uralba Street, at present used for agriculture plots and as a horse paddock, was acquired as a school reserve in August, 1909, and the part facing Woodburn Street was resumed in May, 1923. A further two quarter-acre blocks, at the southern end of the site were acquired in 1956. No doubt former pupils will remember the ti-tree scrub which once covered the lower portion of the school playground before it was cleared and levelled-an ideal spot for "Bobbies and Bushies".

The district continued to grow, and in the period between the two World Wars a weatherboard building, consisting of two classrooms, was erected to meet the demands of increased enrolments. Following the second World War the growth of the school was greatly accelerated, and the closing of small schools at Buckendoon, Brickella, New Italy, Swan Bay and Kilgin led to a considerable increase in the enrolment at Woodburn Central School. To cope with this, extra accommodation had to be provided, and classrooms were removed from Knockrow, Brickella and New Italy and re-erected at Woodburn during the period of 1950-53. In 1952 a well-equipped Domestic Science block was added to the school. A Farm Mechanics block, which was opened in August, 1954, also filled a very urgent need, as prior to this the weathershed had to be used for Farm Mechanics. The School enrolment continued to increase, and at one stage secondary classes were forced to occupy a room at the rear of the residence. However, in August, 1958, a new Infants' block, consisting of two beautifully appointed classrooms, a store room and a staff room, was opened by Mr. I. Robinson, the local member of Parliament, thus providing adequate accommodation to meet the school’s needs. The whole of the school, interior and exterior, was repainted at the end of 1958, and it now presents a most pleasing appearance.

The present enrolment of the school, which serves the Woodburn, Evans Head, Riley's Hill and Broadwater areas, is 260 pupils, of whom 87 are in Post-primary classes. The teaching staff at present comprises the following: Headmaster, A. H. Ringland, B.A.; Deputy Headmaster, F.W. Wilcox.; Secondary class teachers: R. Wallace, H. Farrelly, V. E. Smith and Mrs. L. Schulstad. Primary Class teachers: L. Cains, Mrs. T. McDonald, Mrs. M. Sharpe, Visiting specialist teachers: C. Everingham (Farm Mechanics), Miss M. Ruming (Domestic Science, Needlework), and Mrs, L. Ringland (Needlework).

Former headmasters of the school are as follows Angus McMullen, Matthew Blair, William Hunt, Warren Brown, Leslie Johnson, Louis Frank, Harold Bax, Henry Jacob, William Gilmour, Herbert Southwell, Glenleigh Hall, George Arnison and John Yabsley, as well as those already mentioned elsewhere.

An excellent co-operative spirit exists between the school and the community, and a ready response is always forthcoming from the public to any organised school activities. The Parents and Citizens' Association is a very active body, and over the years since its inception has done much in the interests of the school and the Pupils enrolled therein. The present members of the executive are: Mr. J. McDonald, President; Mr. A. Newman, Secretary, and Mrs. Y. Everingham, Treasurer. A Mothers' Club, formed in 1958, has also been most helpful in providing additional school equipment and amenities; the executive officers of this body are Mrs. L. Newman, President; Mrs. Griffiths, Secretary; and Mrs. McDonald, Treasurer.


It is interesting to note the part played by the school during floods, which have at times ravaged the district. Owing to its elevated position, the school has often served as a place of refuge for families who have been forced to evacuate their homes. For example, in the serious floods of 1954, the school was closed for almost a week, the classrooms being occupied by various groups of homeless flood victims, who slept on mattresses on the floors, tables, desks, etc. Animals, such as pigs and cows and horses, stranded by the floodwaters, also found refuge on the school hill.

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.