How would you fare if, like Alan Parkes, you were sent to “Bourke and Beyond” to run a small school in your first year out of Teachers’ College?

Anne Writes: This is a guest post by a fellow student from the Armidale Teachers' College Class of 1961-62. I have merely reformatted it here. When I graduated from Armidale Teachers' College in 1962, I was just nineteen, like most of my fellow students. Coming from the country, I thought being sent to Granville Central School in the Western Suburbs of Sydney, was hard enough. Alan Parkes, who had opted to teach in Small Schools, was appointed Teacher in Charge at Louth Public School, south west of Bourke. Not only did he stay there for three years, but the school thrived and enrolments increased!

NSW Outback

Alan presents the following reflections about his first appointment to Louth, looking back on the three years he spent at this remote school after graduating from Armidale Teachers' College in 1962.


I can distinctly remember receiving my first teaching appointment, shortly after my 19 birthday. The letter simply read, “You have been appointed as Teacher in Charge, Louth Public School. Transport: Rail to Bourke…Mail car Bourke to Louth.”

Fortunately I had my own car (a brand new VW Beetle costing 953 pounds (approx. $1900), which was roughly my annual salary in 1963). I remember heading off from Lismore on the North Coast, (about 1000klms away), for the great adventure of my first school.

From Lismore the bitumen road ran to just west of Moree (around 500 kms) and the remaining 500 kms was unsealed. The landscape was vastly different to what I was used to—vast treeless plains & then red sandhills with low scrub, saltbush/bluebush.

I found my VW had a top speed of 72 miles per hour (116 kilometres p/h) on the bitumen flats west from Moree. I must admit I drove very sedately on the gravel roads to protect my new car and, after 3 years at Louth, my car was still in pretty good condition.

The first school term started a week later for schools west of a certain longitude, roughly 150 degrees East. I left Lismore on Friday 1st of February ready to start on Tuesday the 5th of that month.

Unfortunately, I hadn’t reckoned on Western New South Wales having 6 inches (150mm) of rain in January, 1963! I was held up for a day or so but still made it to Louth on the Monday afternoon. My new Volkswagen was certainly a mess by the time I arrived in Louth.

Enrolments & Support

On the first day, enrolments totalled nine students, however during the year, numbers swelled to more than 30. I can remember numbers staying above twenty for the remainder of my three years.

With these numbers the school was able to function well, and activities such as, Sports Days, Fancy Dress Balls, a Christmas Tree and Celebrations, and a School Concert were able to be organised.

We had a particularly strong Parents & Citizens Association. We met regularly, usually at night. Members were dedicated & hard working. The P&C Association did the catering for the Louth Races in those years, which was a tremendous achievement indicating the solidarity of the Louth community. As a result we were financially strong and the school was very well equipped.

I cannot remember being bothered by the fact that I had students spread across anything up to 10 different grades from Kindergarten to Year 9 (Intermediate Certificate), with the older students completing High School by Correspondence, under my supervision. As a matter of fact, a real sense of co-operation existed within the school, with the older students assisting the younger ones with their work.

There was no school residence and for most of my time I boarded at the store with Paddy and Mrs O’Bree, and later on when the store was sold, with Jack and Mara Fraser.

I have many fond memories of Louth, and the saying “Once you have crossed the Darling, you will always return”, certainly holds true for me. My wife and I have been back many times.

Some Fond Memories…

  • Preparing sandwiches at Mrs. Jones’ place the night before the Louth Races. It was always hectic as the Parents & Citizens (P&C) Association did all the catering in those days & we couldn’t start preparing until supplies came on the Mail Truck around 8 o’clock Friday Night.
  • Mixing the Government’s FREE MILK (powdered in our case) in a large stainless steel cylinder (almost a metre high and 20cm in diameter), complete with plunger and it holding about 20 litres. The P&C provided chocolate and strawberry flavoured “Quik” to make the taste more pleasant. The trouble was that there was no hot water to dissolve this mixer in; it was just rinsed with cold water and used again the next day. Fortunately, no one got sick.
  • The Anzac Day Service, followed by a sit-down luncheon and the traditional keg, held in the hall.
  • Jessie dropping the full quart (litre) stoneware bottle of ink and it smashing in the classroom. Poor girl, she had just mixed together the ink powder and water. The stain is probably still there on the wooden floor.

  • The dead frog in the tank.
  •  Pumping water into the school’s tank from an almost stagnant waterhole in the river in the 1965 drought. Once again, no one got sick, although the whole town relied on such water. We measured 3 inches (75mm.) of rain for the year.
  • Cars driving on and then straight off the punt during this drought in 1965, when the punt sat on the bottom of the river. Charlie Potts, the punt-man, was on a pretty high contract price with the Department of Main Roads, on about 3 times my salary, because he had to operate 24 hours a day, 7 days a week. For most of late 1964 and early1965 the punt sat on the bottom and Charlie enjoyed his sleep-ins and still got paid because he was on contract. The bridge opened in March 1965.
  •  The look on Charlie the punt-man’s face when someone “knocked off” the punt gong a few days before the punt went out of service with the bridge opening. The gong was a plough disc which was struck with a large metal bolt. This gong later re-appeared as the school, used as bird bath and is still there. At the time the culprits, Keith, Jack Fraser and myself, did not see it as stealing but simply as preserving an important part of local history. Thanks to John Maguire for welding it up.

  • Saturday Picnic to the Aboriginal Cave Paintings on Winbar,
  • Someone bringing the wild goat to the School’s Fancy Dress Ball, as part of their theme. I think it was Chris Maguire. Some of the children from stations would join in our activities, such as Fancy Dress Balls, Concerts and Christmas celebrations..
  • Young Ronnie, aged 14 years, having to get the day off school to drive his mother into Cobar, (140 kilometres each way on gravel), to see the doctor. I think he had a special licence as his Dad was constantly away droving and his Mum couldn’t drive.
  • Movie nights at the school, thanks to Bill Buckley’s movie projector & generator. No TV or electricity in those days. Films were obtained from the BP Oil Company.
The Flying Doctors Service
  • Bill’s trusty generator providing power for the dentist (associated with the Flying Doctor Service). The Flying Doctor didn’t visit Louth during my time, however the dentist would fly in each school term . The clinic was set up at the School….I think Louth kids’ teeth were the best looked after in the state in those days.
  •  Carting the school’s 12 volt car battery over to “Shindy’s” Inn to get it charged to power the school’s film strip projector.
  • Saturday Night Euchre Tournaments/kids game nights, organised by the P&C.
  • The long cylindrical canvas water bag hanging on the verandah for cool water in summer
  • Changing School operating hours in summer to start at 8am. And finish at 1pm. In order to miss the afternoon heat. This took some convincing to get the Education Dept. to accept…in actual fact I don’t think they ever approved it… the P&C took the bit in its teeth & we just went ahead with it after all parents signed a form agreeing to it.

  • The Anglican Minister… (Bush Brother Order)…. Arriving in his Tiger Moth plane for Scripture. Just as he landed on the rough strip, (immediately behind the school in those days), some of Shindy Mitchell’s sheep darted across in front of the fast moving plane. He was still white when I greeted him at the school gate. “ Did you see those bloody sheep” was all he could mutter. Up until then I didn’t think Ministers swore.
  • Noel Digamore, (Cobar Mail Truck), arriving on the Saturday morning… the day of our lunch-time Christmas Tree & Sports Day… without the presents which were always selected, wrapped & labelled by Brennan’s Dept. Store in Cobar. Fortunately the store managed to find someone travelling out to Louth & the presents unexpectedly arrived in time.
  • The impromptu BBQ organised after the above Christmas Tree… The trouble was we had no meat, so Leo Glass quickly obliged with a goat from the chiller. Only a couple of us knew & many questions were asked where we got the tender lamb from.
Alan Parkes in Front of Louth Public School in 196