An Early Memory
My association with James Ruse Agricultural High School commenced in February 1957 when, as a 12 year old, I enrolled with about 80 other boys for my first year of high school. The enrollment happened at the present school site which, at the time, was an annex of Carlingford District Rural School.
The first enrollments
The enrollees of 1957 were not the first students to arrive at this location. In August 1956 that honor went to five classes of boys across three separate Years who transferred from Carlingford District Rural School to the school’s annex, some four kilometers away, at Felton Road, Carlingford.
When we arrived at the annex in 1957 two senior years were in residence. The most senior Year of the transferring students left the school at the end of 1956 and the other two Years after completing their Intermediate Certificate in 1957 and 1958 respectively. All of the students who transferred in 1956 were gone by the end of 1958. This meant the First Year students who first enrolled in1957 were the first cohorts to complete a full high school education, to matriculation level, at the school.
In 1959 our school, which started as the annex of Carlingford District Rural School, became an independent high school, named James Ruse Agricultural High School. James C. Hoskin arrived in the same year as its first principal.
Our early teachers
From our first year we were fortunate the majority of staff, apart from being skilled and enthusiastic teachers, were also committed to the school’s broader development. They accepted additional responsibilities, for which remuneration was probably not forthcoming, to ensure the school worked efficiently and its surrounds were developed and beautified. Mr. Charles Mullavey was the teacher in charge, in 1957, with the remaining staff being Messrs Bowen (English/History), Grogan (Agriculture), Littler (English/History), Parsons (Mathematics), Pike (Metalwork), Shearman (Biology) and Simmons (Woodwork). Mr. Stockman (Mathematics/Science) joined the staff during the year.
A wonderful relationship developed between teachers and the student body. This relationship was fostered by teachers and students working side by side on a number of school improvement projects. These included the creation of a school assembly area, tree plantings and the establishment of gardens, construction of the school oval and development of the school’s farm. The respect which grew between teachers and students moved into some longer term friendships. Personally, I had regular contact with three teachers for many years and one of these, Frank Parsons, to this day, some 60 years later. Frank continues to have contact with a number of the school’s ex-students.
We started with nine on the teaching staff in 1957. This number grew to 17 by the time it became James Ruse Agricultural High School in 1959 and to twenty one when our Year left the school following the Leaving Certificate in 1961.
When we arrival in 1957, apart from land of about 7 hectares, the school consisted of a single story weather board building comprising five classrooms with a cramped staff room at one end. In addition, there was a single ablution block.
Also, there was Barrengarry House and stables, built in 1885 by an early owner of the land, but by 1957 both were in need of extensive renovations to be fully serviceable. Despite the home’s condition, volunteers prepared student lunches from the rear of the building, until the school canteen was completed. Farm equipment was stored in the stables.
Additional building construction was underway. So shortly after our arrival the manual arts block was completed followed by the school canteen and weather shed, science block and then the library. These were all single story buildings with a weather board cladding.
The original classroom block was located approximately in line with, and adjacent to, the front of Barrengarry House on its eastern side. This building, in later years and well after our time, was demolished and replaced by a two story brick construction bringing with it additional classrooms and other facilities.
By the time our Year had completed the Leaving Certificate and left the school at the end of 1961 sealed roads and pathways had been constructed, as had tennis courts, cricket nets, a glass house and further beautification of the grounds with additional lawns and gardens. Barrengarry House and stables had been renovated with the House used for the school’s administration. The first of the multistory brick classroom blocks had just been completed providing additional classrooms and special facilities for the teaching of agriculture, biology and wool science.
By the end of 1961 the farm area had undergone considerable development. A wide variety of fruit and nut trees had been planted to join the pre-existing peach orchard. An arboretum of significant native trees was established, as was a vegetable garden which supplied produce to the school canteen. Trial plots of cereals, pasture grasses and legumes were sown to help students recognize economically important plant species. A poultry unit had been built and stocked. The plan for a piggery was in place. The grazing paddocks had been fenced and watered. The first two dairy heifers had arrived but we were still waiting for the first sheep.
My fellow students
In hindsight, we were faced with significant challenges as new students at a new school. The facilities on arrival were poor. However, I have little recollection, and believe it also applies to the majority of my fellow students, that this was a cause of concern to us. We obtained considerable satisfaction, which still exists today, at being part of and contributing to the school’s early growth and development. It was a unique experience, one which we treasure.
Also, there was no Year senior to ours in each of our last three years of schooling. We were the senior year in each. Through these years, there were no senior mentors to assist and provide guidance in all manner of things such as on the sporting fields, in student behavior, on school processes and traditions which one would normally find in a fully developed high school. However, with the support of teachers and parents I believe that as a Year we did well in these areas and laid the foundation for what the school has become.
In the early years, while success was not readily forthcoming against other schools on the sporting fields, this did not mean it didn’t exist. In 1960 a tennis team won a zone competition, the first win for any team from the school at that level of competition. In the same year individuals were selected to represent Sydney and NSW in CHS rugby league.
However, while early successes were limited, some positive signs existed for the future. By 1963 the school was starting to excel in a number of sports with rugby union being probably the standout. After beating Hurlstone Agricultural High School’s 1st XV for the first time it drew with Parramatta High School, the eventual winners of the competition in that year. Also, the school had its first CHS rugby representative.
The swimming pool and athletics track were other notable areas of early success. There were successes at zone and regional level in athletics. Our first CHS swimming champion was realised in 1963. An ex-student of the school won a gold medal at the 1966 Commonwealth Games in Kingston, Jamaica in the 1650 yards freestyle.
It was not only on the sporting fields, where the fledgling High School, was starting to make its mark. The Carlingford Junior Farmers Club was based at the school from 1959, the school Cadet Unit was established in 1960, the first school Play Day was held in 1960 while in 1961 The Pirates of Penzance was staged. This being the first of the highly successful school musicals held annually ever since.
Academically, 1961 was a significant year for the school. This was the first year students from James Ruse Agricultural High School sat for a tertiary study entry examination. This external examination, then called the Leaving Certificate and now its equivalent being the Higher School Certificate, was a major test for both students, teachers and parents. A total of 18 students successfully passed the Leaving Certificate and of these 13 passed with honors in Agriculture, one of whom coming second in the State. Overall, this was a sound academic foundation on which to build a level of excellence for which the school is recognised.
The school’s Year Book was first published in 1959. Student records for 1957 and 1958 are poor. An estimate of student population in 1957 is about 200. Records show that by 1959 the number was 316 and by 1961 there were 362 students.
The school population
A unique feature of the school population was its spread across the Sydney Basin. By way of example, my Year in 1959 numbered 67 students. These students came from 49 different Sydney suburbs. Only three came from the school’s suburb of Carlingford and two from Epping, a neighbouring suburb. This type of distribution was a feature of all Years in those Pioneering years.
Getting to school
Each day, many hours were spent travelling to and from school. My travel time totalled four hours which included two separate bus and train journeys in each direction. This example was by no means uncommon with a number of my fellow students taking longer. This feature of the school brought with it its own form of student selectivity. It was only those students strongly committed to undertaking agriculture, as a subject, who would be prepared to make this level of commitment over five years.
Indeed, it was an honor and privilege to be part of the early history of James Ruse Agricultural High School. To have witnessed the successful careers of my fellow Pioneer students in various fields, but particularly agriculture, would have given James C. Hoskin enormous satisfaction. The ongoing social interaction, some 57 years after leaving school, between Pioneer members is indicative of the comradery and respect which still exists.
Alan Bell, Student 1957 to 1961 ( School Captain 1960 & 1961) Compiled January 2019.