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School Days, School Days ... land of youth and dream - Tasmanian Govt. Schooling from its beginnings in the 19th century

Part 1

Publication No. 224   Size: A5   Weight: 320 grams

224a   224b


EVERYONE who reads Tasmanian Ancestry knows about Betty Jones and her fascinating articles on Tasmanian government school education. As each new Ancestry arrives, we look forward to the latest story and wonder, what new topic can Betty find to write about? Will she ever run out? The answer is definitely no. Betty Jones has an inexhaustible supply of stories on all sorts of aspects of schooling, which build up a wonderful picture of what it was like to be a pupil or a teacher in Tasmania. The present volume of 22 chapters covers the period from the beginning of state school education until approximately 1930.

There are some stories about individual schools or districts: Black River State School, 'a useful case-study on the rise and fall of educational facilities provided for children in relatively isolated areas' (Black River is inland from Stanley), Stanley itself and Burnie, as well as the Murray Street Free School in Hobart. However, most chapters cover general topics rather than individual schools. Some deal with the nineteenth century: the schoolroom itself, pupil teachers, the school residence, the school yard and the games children played, discipline and scholarships to secondary (private) schools.

In the early twentieth century education was modernised under William Neale, and Betty writes about many aspects of the New Education: Neale himself, teacher training, correspondence school, boarding houses for pupils, and teaching needlework, woodwork and cookery.

Some chapters emphasise the difference between then and now, sometimes enter­tainingly, often with a more serious note. When we think of nineteenth-century education, strict discipline looms as a topic, and Betty Jones has a chapter on 'Spare the Rod'. Control, she writes, 'relied largely on the personality of individual educators and whatever other means they could muster'. Those 'other means' were all too often the cane or the strap. Surprisingly, corporal punishment, though widely used, was frowned on by the educational authorities, as early as 1839, when the Board of Education stated that detentions were preferred to maintain discipline. In 186 l. the Board discussed abolishing the cane altogether. But horrific stories were told of excessive corporal punishment by teachers. Children wore three layers of clothes or smeared their hands with resin to lessen the pain.

The chapter on 'Instructions to teachers, 1905' is fascinating. It includes these rules: 'Every teacher must devote the whole of the day to actual teaching'; 'when visitors enter the school, children should be taught to behave exactly as all well­-bred people do when receiving a visitor'; 'every teacher should draw children's attention to the necessity of destroying rats'. On Friday afternoons, after school hours of course, teachers had to make a mixture of carbolic acid, kerosene, water and a little soft soap, wring out a duster in this mixture, and wipe down desks, seats, architraves, frames and other woodwork.

The married female teacher had a difficult time, cut off from a career path. So had to make a choice between a career and marriage. Amy Rowntree, the first Tasmanian woman to be promoted to Inspector of Schools (1919), realised this. A professional woman must necessarily be cut off from many of the joys womanhood and there is always a danger that she will become hard and narrow she wrote to the Education Department in 1940. 'Generally such women lead arduous lives’ and a little soft soap, wring out a duster in this mixture, and wipe down des seats, architraves, frames and other woodwork.

The chapters combine scholarship - they are most thoroughly researched, with footnotes - and good writing. Betty Jones is obviously absolutely fascinated by work, and this comes across to the reader. She also writes authoritatively, after a long and successful career as a primary school teacher in Tasmania. Readers can sure that Mrs Jones, guide and mentor to thousands of children, knows what she’s talking about.

When we read Betty's articles in Ancestry we find them enjoyable and interesting - but this book shows that they are much more than that. Read together, they build up an excellent picture of education in Tasmania: its aims, its weaknesses and strengths, and how it changed and developed in the period the book covers.  A wonderful picture of an engrossing subject! Congratulations to Betty Jones or magnificent achievement.

Alison Alexander Patron,
Tasmanian Family History Society Inc.


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