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History of Our School

History of West Pennant Hills Public School

Early Dayssketch of original building

At a time when the combined population of Field of Mars Common and Castle Hill numbered less than 3,000 people, Henry Parkes approved in 1850, on behalf of the Board of National Education in New South Wales, the appointment of local patrons for the commencement of Pennant Hills Public School. Botany, Fort Street, Smithfield and Pennant Hills were the first metropolitan schools under the control of the newly constituted Board.

When Sydney was first established, ‘Pennant Hills' applied to the range of hills stretching north from Parramatta. The school first opened under the name of Pennant Hills Public School when the township of Pennant Hills was later centred on the ridge at the intersection of Pennant Hills and Castle Hill Roads, which was a trading point on the way north. The school name changed to include ‘West' in 1925 when a new school was built closer to the railway line and was to be known as ‘Pennant Hills East' and our original school, ‘Pennant Hills West'.

A single teacher in a one room classroom for 87 pupils grew to a school of over 1,200 students in the 1960-70's. In the days before portables; the weather shed, cloak rooms and even the Bethleham Church hall, on the other side of Castle Hill Road, were used for lessons. It has taken 40 years to decrease in size to its forecasted optimum capacity of just over 650 students.

The Church, however, never used it, so the teacher quietly used it as a paddock to keep his horse in, and for many years the horses of teacher and pupils cropped the grass where Mrs Thame's office now stands. Around 1880 it seems to have been fenced and made part of the school grounds.

Another teacher whose name is unknown followed Mr Tuke in 1858, and another in 1861 who, by some mysterious means, managed to get the scholars to learn more than their big brothers and sisters had learnt. The school population rose to 70, and now the old building was too small.

West Pennant Hills Public School has long been recognised as a popular and well regarded centre for education and has attained many academic, sport and arts achievements.

The district now known as West Pennant Hills was originally known as Pennant Hills, and the first name of our school was Pennant Hills Public School. It was built in the same grounds that we now use as a playground.

Twice since then the school building has been demolished, and a new school has been built.

A gentleman named Mr Bond sold or gave the land to the Board of National Education in 1850, and that same year the first school was built at a cost of about £150 of which the Board paid £50 and the local people paid the rest. Only 20 years later the building was found to be 'injurious to the health of teacher and scholars, and the business of teaching cannot be carried on with any degree of comfort'.

The first teacher was Mr Charles Tuke who commenced teaching on 1 October 1850 at a salary of £40 per year. Mr Tuke stayed for eight years, teaching at first 87 pupils as best he could, but by 1852 the number of pupils had sunk to 56, and it remained round this figure for the next 15 years.

Many of the children seemed to have left to enrol at the Church of England Denominational School at Pennant Hills South (now called Carlingford where the old church may still be seen). The school at 'Pennant Hills South' was actually held in the Carlingford Church, and many local people sent their children there by horse and buggy, long before the days of bicycles as we know them now. Many other children probably rode on horseback. The church school had more pupils than the ' Pennant Hills School ' for many years, and we can easily understand the reason for this by reading the Inspector's reports. In 1858 the Inspector reported 'the children are very backward', and the next year he said much more: 'The pupils are irregular and the boys disorderly and not sufficiently clean.'

 We can imagine boys, and girls too, staying at home very often to help plough, or to pick oranges or lemons in the orchards, or to find the cow that had strayed, or to clean the hen-houses, and even to help to mind the smaller children in the family, for in those days of a century ago most families had six or eight, or even nine or ten children. The original gift of land by Mr Bond was the north-west corner of the present site, stretching from a spot near where the FriendShip now stands to near the bus stop on Castle Hill Road. The piece of land on which the K -2 buildings now stand was given by Mr Bond to the Presbyterian Church to build a church school there.another school building

The Church, however, never used it, so the teacher quietly used it as a paddock to keep his horse in, and for many years the horses of teacher and pupils cropped the grass where the Year 2 classes now stand. Around 1880 it seems to have been fenced and made part of the school grounds.

Another teacher whose name is unknown followed Mr Tuke in 1858, and another in 1861 who, by some mysterious means, managed to get the scholars to learn more than their big brothers and sisters had learnt. The school population rose to 70, and now the old building was too small.

By 1871 the building was pulled down and 'new and suitable buildings' were erected in that year. The date was cut into a large block of stone and placed at the front of the residence with great pride. There were still very few public schools in all New South Wales at that time.

When the second school building was erected in 1871 the teacher was Mr Thomas Mossman who had come in September, 1869.

Mr Mossman lived on the job. The new school was joined onto the residence which had five rooms: a parlour and a front bedroom measuring 11 ft x 10 ft, a dining room rather smaller, a second bedroom measuring 8 ft x 10 ft, and kitchen at the back which was 12 ft x 10 ft. The ceiling was 8 feet high.

The whole building was made of bricks, but these were of poor quality, and no dampcourse had been laid. Within six years many complaints came from the teacher that the whole building was damp. Mr Joseph Shields, a local farmer, cleaned and painted the walls for £50, so for some time the place at least looked good to live in.

In those days a Church of England clergyman came all the way from Ryde to give the children religious instruction. While he was teaching in the schoolroom, the teacher was giving lessons to the Methodists, Presbyterians and others in the same room. One parent objected to this arrangement, so later the clergyman taught his Scripture in the teacher's residence.

Mr Mossman and his family must have had an unhappy and unhealthy life in the badly built schoolhouse. When he left (and soon died) in 1882, the next teacher, Mr Beuben Hayter refused to live in the house. By this time the school had about 90 pupils, and Mr Hayter left his wife and five children in Sydney while he boarded at a farm in Pennant Hills. He complained bitterly about it and asked to be moved immediately to another district, but he was left there until February of the next year when Pennant Hills School saw no more of him.the original schoolhouse

In one letter Mr Hayter described our school and the dwelling as it then was: 'The water in wet weather oozes over the walls, and the paper half way up the wall is nothing but wet muck; the roof, too, is leaky and wants seeing to. There is also an old well in the paddock the covering of which was rotted away and is very dangerous for children: the oven in the kitchen is worn out, the fences are rotten and dilapidated, and there is no check against boys and others roaming at will about the premises, and my predecessors used to be constantly having things stolen.'

The indignant My Hayter was moved to another school, but it was decided to improve the residence. A room was added on the south side, a nice large room measuring 16ft x 13ft, which was later divided into two rooms. Perhaps it was because of the poor quality of the local bricks that this room was built of wood. Its great disadvantage was that this room only opened onto the outside of the house. So to enter this room from the rest of the house it was necessary to walk outside, possibly in the rain. There was no verandah.

This was 1884. So now the big single schoolroom had six or seven classes, all taught by one man. The children sat on long forms, five or six to a form. There were high windows at both ends of the schoolroom but only small ones in the long sides. Six brick chimneys soared into the air, five of them from the residence. We can imagine the schoolboys of those far-off days taking turns at the wood-chopping near the schoolroom and also near the teacher's kitchen. The tall gums of the surrounding hills grew fat in the good heavy soil and firewood must have been cheap.

Few teaching aids covered the walls of that old classroom. The chief teaching aid in those days in most schools was the large thick cane (bought usually at city stores, a dozen at a time, for they wore out quickly). It was not that the teacher was a bully. Almost everyone in those days believed that children needed harsh punishments.

'Spare the rod and spoil the child' was the rule at home as well as at school. Many parents kept whips, thick walking-sticks, fat solid buckled belts, and even a handful of birch-rids. Many children were caned for every day of their school lives, and went home to the same, or worse.

The Infants' classroom had been added to the school building on the request of Mr Charles Schowe, the headmaster who arrived in 1885, and the local residents. Earlier headmasters were:

1850 (October) Mr Charles Tuke
1858 unknown
1861 (June) unknown

1869 (September) Mr Thomas Mossman
1882 (September) Mr Reuben Hayter
1883 (February) Mr James Buckland

Mr Schowe was very interested in everything in the district. He is the earliest headmaster who can still be remembered by local residents who are still living.a local sawmill

In August 1890 he wrote to the Chief Inspector in Sydney telling him that the population was growing and would continue to grow. The Hills district was increasing in importance. There was greater farm production. There were better roads. The railway line at Carlingford was expected to be extended to Dural at any time now. Mr Schowe advised the Chief Inspector to buy more land for the school playground to accommodate the great numbers of children who must surely enrol soon.

The land on the north side of the Church Street could not be acquired because the playground must be in one large block. The creek which is now contained in 21" pipes under the basketball fields was then almost impassable thicket, so the land where the present cricket pitch stands was difficult to reach. However, it would have to do. The children must have greater playing space. Mr Schowe had ideas for other activities, too. 'This land will be used,' he said, 'for future extensions to the buildings, greater playground space, a girl's flower garden, a boys' spade farm, and a bee farm.'

Mr Schowe must have been a very persuasive gentleman for in November 1890 the 'bottom half' of our present playground, on the eastern side of the creek, was bought by the Department of Public Instruction from the estate agents, Mills and Pile, for the sum of £341.

Meanwhile Mr Schowe and the local residents were beautifying the grounds. He suggested in 1890 that trees be planted, school gardens be planted, and that pupils should be taught bee-keeping.

The District Inspector supported Mr Schowe. So did Mr Purchase of Parramatta and Pennant Hills. In August 1890 Mr Purchase gave the school 45 trees;11 Aleppo pine, 11 pinus insignis, 12 Moreton Bay figs and 11 Norfolk Island she-oaks. The Department provided each tree with a wire enclosure to protect if from rabbits, for this was the time of great rabbit infestation in Australia. The children planted and tended the trees which soon became a feature of the district. Several of those children are still alive today. Mr Shields planted the great gum tree which still stands near the 'milk gate'. As always, some of the best work in improving the school has resulted from the co-operation of local citizens and Department, pupils and teachers.

It was in 1890 also that the roof of school and residence was again repaired, the window-sills caulked and the entire outside walls painted. But the roof still leaked and the house was still damp. After this facelift the school remained untouched till the end of the century.

Although the railway line was not built to Dural, part of Mr Schowe's prediction came true. Between 1890 and 1900 many new cottages appeared in the bushland between Eastwood and Hornsby. New centres of population began at Beecroft, Thornleigh and Epping. Thornleigh Public School opened its doors in 1891. Beecroft Public School followed in 1897. These schools took many pupils who previously had travelled daily on horseback or 'Shank's pony' from those districts. Once again our school went into the doldrums. By 1898 the enrolment had fallen from 122 to 65 children.

As time went by the advantages of living near a railway station coaxed new residents to build their houses at Beecroft, Pennant Hills and Thornleigh, so the schools at those centres grew larger and larger. Only the foundation stone and a rather ramshackle school building remained to remind travellers that the school at Thompson's Corner was by far the oldest in the district.

The final indignity was heaped upon our school in 1924 when it lost its name. Pennant Hills East School became Pennant Hills Public School, while our school changed its name to Pennant Hills West Public School .

Our district became the outer suburb of an outer suburb. The 6 acres of it was secretly used as a rubbish tip. Orchardists driving horse and cart and load of oranges to the station took short cuts across the playground and wore deep ruts in the clay soil. The fences leaned drunkenly to right and left. When in the early sixties, the time came to build a cricket pitch and use the lower playground, thousands of broken bottles, bits of wire and rusting tins had to be removed.

For many years the smaller classroom was not needed, so it was used as a store room. The 50 or 60 pupils used the larger, older classroom. Sometimes, however, the new classroom was used for craft work or for Scripture classes.

In 1898, not long before he left the district, Mr Schowe was still hoping against hope. He wrote in despair to the Chief Inspector.

The Rosehill railway line must certainly pass very near our school. The terminus will never be allowed to remain idle at Carlingford. The line must be put to some use: it must go onward to Dural. Then this school will become one of the largest in the district. Even at present it should remembered that the road between this school and Pennant Hills station will be the favourite locality for residence sites, not Beecroft.

The Chief Inspector did not agree with him. Neither did the homebuilders. They continued to settle at Beecroft and Pennant Hills. The great opportunity to build a loop railway line in the Hills district was lost, however. Later, land became too expensive. Mr Schowe's disappointment reacted badly on the efficiency of the school and on his relations with the parents of the district. Some friction resulted, embittering his last years here. Like many teachers of his day (and many parents too) Mr Schowe was feared, avoided, and even hated by many. Yet he had done his best for the school and the district in his own heavy way. But he had failed.

In April 1899 Mr Samuel Pike took the place of Mr Schowe as Headmaster. Repairs worth £117 were immediately carried out on the school building.Samuel Pike

The roof was re-shingled, and windows were made larger for better lighting. A ceiling was built into the main classroom. 'This will abate the bird nuisance,' wrote Mr Pike.

Undoubtedly, also, it made life in school a little less interesting for the pupils. Nature study left the classroom, and the children could no longer watch the swifts and starlings, and sparrows building their nests and feeding their chicks as they stole a glance upward from their sum books.

An additional bedroom, 15 ft by 12 ft was added to the residence. This was the 'wooden room' on the plan. Those days were more spacious than today. How many modern homes can add a bedroom of that size? But then families were large enough to need them.

A New Century

For the first fifty years of the twentieth century the district around Thompson's Corner remained a rural area, producing and sending to market large consignments of oranges which were stacked high on Thornleigh and Pennant Hills railway stations early most mornings. Steam trains took them to Sydney as fast as the modern electric trains travel.

As the new century dawned there was a great upsurge of interest in education in Australia. The free public school system instituted by Henry Parkes had been followed by his Schools of Arts which, he hoped, would become centres of culture in every town and village. They were before their time.

After the year 1900, while other schools near the railway line grew year by year, Pennant Hills Public School at Thompson's Corner remained small, isolated and almost forgotten. A school was built nearer to the railway line, taking the name of ' Pennant Hills East Public School '.1918 class

For many years the Headmaster, Mr Pike, and his assistant teacher taught in the same big classroom. Although 50 to 60 children were usually on the roll the attendance was often no more than 40. Much time was spent in gardening, both flowers and vegetables, and the school was now widely known for the beauty of its surroundings. Mr Pike also owned a museum of natural and historical objects, which he apparently left at the school.
In February 1907 the local Fruitgrowers' Union asked for permission to hold their meetings in the school. No other hall was available in the district, but permission was declined because 'other local bodies might want a similar concession' and 'a political tone often enters into the discussions of these meetings.'

 In 1912 the new Headmaster Mr Robert Smith replaced Mr Pike. Immediately the Parent & Citizens' Association was formed, and the first Secretary was Mr L G Smith.
At once the Association asked the Department for help in making the school and grounds one of the best in the district. Mr Smith wrote asking:
a) that the eastern part of the playground be fenced (declined);
b) that wire netting be supplied for the children's gardening plots to keep out rabbits and straying stock (this was done);
c) that glass showcases be provided for the museum (declined); and
d) that more furniture be provided for the small room to separate the Infants from the Primary children (declined).

The infants remained with the primary children, sitting, one row above another, on their terraced forms and dual desks. Sometimes the small room was used for manual work.

Two concerts were now given each year, with the school overflowing with parents, pupils and babies. At least one concert was held in the open air, using the teacher's verandah for a stage. The P & C asked the Department for a new school building. The old school might be used as a School of Arts, they argued. But money was short. Australia was building its first Navy and training a new militia. In the new year the First World War broke out. The old school had over forty years yet.

In 1912 Mr Smith built at his own expense a shed to house his horse and buggy. It consisted of partly new and partly second-hand galvanised iron, round timber, old weatherboards and slabs, solidly put together. When he was transferred he sold the shed to his successor, Mr Frazer, who offered it later to his own successor, Mr Hayes. Mr Hayes did not want it, so Mr Fraser sold it to a local resident, Mr Oxley, for £6. Mr Oxley left the district, so he offered it to the Department for £5/10/-. The Department  (of Education) agreed, paid the money, and the shed remained.

In July 1919 the P & C asked for repairs to the fence. 'At present,' they said, 'it is in a disgraceful condition. The portion facing the main road is almost flat on the ground. Nearly all the posts have rotted away. They playground is being used as a rubbish dump. The present teacher and pupils have beautified the grounds with very ornamental flower and vegetable gardens, but these are destroyed by roaming dogs and straying stock'. The Inspector agreed. The tender for £115 of Mr F Walker was accepted, the Lands Department resurveyed the grounds, and by the end of the year a new timber fence was erected.

Settlement was still slow throughout the twenties and thirties. Tar-sealed roads were followed by a concrete road in the Great Depression, built by Unemployment Relief Labour.

The first big influx of children occurred after the Second World War. An aluminium building of four classrooms, office and staffroom was followed by a beautiful two-room Kindergarten building, and the old school and residence were demolished. The shed had vanished, and the well was filled.

In a few years the P & C Association supplied much fine equipment to the school; a silent projector, a sound projector, a piano, a typewriter, a hand duplicator, several radio receivers and record players and much sporting material. But the district was now expanding quickly. Many children who lived close to the school were attending Beecroft Public School.1938 class

Rapid Growth

The crisis came in 1959. To ease the strain on Beecroft's accommodation, the Department directed 85 children to re-enrol at Pennant Hills West. This precipitated the 'Wilkes' case, but a more lasting effect was a great surge of new buildings here. Two more Infants buildings and three more Primary buildings followed one after another.

The Infants Department (first Mistress Mrs J Perrett, later Mrs J Thame) was separated, with its own energetic Mothers' Club. Yet so great was the building boom that the Presbyterian Hall was hired as a classroom and another class was housed in a hatroom for six years, 1959-65.

The Grounds Committee planted over 200 hakeas and other trees to a plan designed by Mr Watson of the Royal Botanic Gardens, being careful to retain the giant pines and gums that had graced the area for three-quarters of a century. The steel fence encircled the playground in 1963, and in 1964 the Department placed the creek in concrete drains underground and provided two bitumen basketball courts. The Grounds Committee planted great areas of lawns and soon made every inch of the playground available for play.

The Association, the Ladies' Auxiliary and the Mothers' Club raised, for several years between three and four thousand pounds annually, making the school one of the best endowed in the state. Each department developed an excellent library (Infants Mrs James; Primary Mrs McMahon).1968 class

Records of staffing throughout the years are incomplete. The first Deputy Principal was Mr M Purser, 1960; the first Deputy Mistress of the Infants Department was Mrs B Nay; the first Deputy Mistress of the Primary Department Mrs E Westwood.

New rapid growth in the development of West Pennant Hills has resulted in further growth of our school. A brick wall surrounding the K -2 playground and tall fencing has provided safety and traffic noise reduction. Since the 1990's, through govt funding and the hard work of our P & C Association, the school has had a new library, a new hall with a large C.O.L.A and several demountable buildings to provide additional space for the Creative and Performing Arts programme, After School Care and additional classes. In 2013, wifi was installed to accommodate the technological devices used by students and teachers. Rainwater tanks and solar heating cells have been installed.

West Pennant Hills Public School celebrated its 150th Anniversary, its Sesquicentenary, in 2000 with plenty of activities held during that year. At that time the headmaster was Mr Terence Malone who had commenced in 1996 and continued through to 2007. In October 2007 Mr Malone retired and Ms Kerri Brickley was appointed principal. Our current principal is Mrs Donna Harris who was appointed in 2012.

A book, written and researched by Philippa Smith, detailing the School's history from its early origins was published and is still available from the School.

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