By Maidee Smith
The first application for a school at the Ferguson Mill, seven miles east of Cookernup, came from a parent, HE Franklyn, who suggested that a school should be established on a half-time basis with Cookernup. Millars’ Timber and Trading Company manager, H Teasdale-Smith, supported Mr Franklyn’s application and in reply, the Education Department said that a school could be established if the settlers provided the building. A letter was sent on 3 November 1902, informing the Department that the settlers were willing to do this, using timber provided by the manager of the mill, whilst agreeing that the Department should not be charged rent for it.
The Minister agreed to this proposal on 20 November 1902. Building was to commence during the Christmas holidays and it was hoped the school would be finished for the pupils to begin at Easter 1903.
The building was completed by 29 March 1903. As the small school at St John’s Brook (a siding on the railway near Nannup) was about to close, the furniture, equipment and the school teacher were all transferred from there to Ferguson Mill. All was then ready for the school to begin on 13 June 1903, although the water tank had not been erected and the toilets were not finished for another three weeks. The children carried their drinking water from home and presumably ran home if they required the toilet.
There were 13 children old enough to attend the new school:
- I Smith, had three children – Arthur John (10), Alex (9), and Edie Myrtle (7). They lived seven miles from the school at Cookernup and were recorded as Church of England.
- I Brittain had one child – William Ephraim, aged 6. He was a distance of 8 miles from the Cookernup school and a Presbyterian.
- GE Lewis lived eight miles from the Cookernup school and had two children – George Edward Walter (4), and Stanley Friday (10). They were Roman Catholic.
- HE Franklyn was eight miles from the Cookernup school and had two children – Cedric Walter (8), and Marjorie Graeme (7). They were Church of England.
- PF Lawson also lived eight miles from the Cookernup school and had 3 children – Ruby Maud (10), Peter Anthony (7), and Laura Ada aged 5. They were Church of England.
- Mrs Hughes had two children – Maud (6) and Netra (4). They were Church of England.
- H Buck had Vera, aged 13, who was also Church of England.
Seven other families had children who were just under age. The information for the Department was signed on behalf of the residents by John J Smith, Jas. Cain (Mill Manager), C Dalton-Barchom (Mill Book-keeper), PJ Lawson, HE Franklyn and GE Lewis.
The parents were given materials for the school with the help of Mr M Ferguson, and the schoolroom which they built was 25 feet by 18 feet, with four windows and provision for a stove.
The idea at first was for sharing half-time teaching with Hoffman Mill, but by March of 1903 it became obvious that the Hoffman Mill school would require a full-time teacher. The teacher at St John’s Brook, Mr W Folland, would be sent to Ferguson Mill instead of Mrs Shaw going there on a half-time basis with Hoffman. Mr Folland was notified of his appointment on 13 June 1903 and he opened the school at Ferguson Mill on the 22 June.
The rest of the winter must have been very cold in the unlined schoolroom, so the teacher requested that a stove be sent for the winter of 1904. It was sent that March in plenty of time for the winter, but was only in use for a short time before Messrs JM Ferguson and Co. informed the Department, in a letter dated 24 June 1904, that they intended to close down the Mill in about 12 months. The word soon got around that the school was to be closed and Mr Fred Ranson wrote to the Department asking if he could purchase the tank.
The school did close for a time. Mr Ranson, the Head Teacher at nearby Cookernup, where the school numbers were growing, requested the use of some desks from Ferguson Mill, however it was thought that the mill may re-open, so the furniture wasn’t moved at this stage.
In January 1906, Mr HE Franklyn wrote to the Department with the news that the mill was re-opening and there were 12 children requiring schooling. The school re-opened on 23 January 1906, but must have been closed again by September of that year, as Mr Fred Ranson, the Head Teacher at Cookernup, again wrote to the Department asking for the tank from the Ferguson Mill school. The mill must have been dismantled with no hope of re-opening this time, as Mr Ranson stated that he would need a quick reply to his request, so that the tank could come down on the railway, which would only be open for another two weeks, and there was no road on which it could be brought down.
All the school equipment and furniture was duly packed onto rail wagons and by 29 September 1906, everything from the school had been removed to Mr Ranson’s care at Cookernup.
The railway, the only link with Ferguson Mill, was unique and ran through what is now Logue Brook Dam on its way down from the hills to Cookernup. The rails or tramway were mostly made of 3 inch by 4 inch jarrah, on closely placed jarrah sleepers. Remains of this line with a few rusty spikes still in the timber were still evident in the bush in 1961. A keen observer can pick up the line of the formation as it goes through farmland east of Cookernup.
The tramway was worked by means of gravitation, with a brakeman riding down on the rakes of timber from the mill, while horses were used to pull the empty trucks back up the hill. Horses also worked the bush lines into the forest east of the mill, where the timber was cut.
Since 1963, the town site of Ferguson Mill has been submerged by the waters of Logue Brook Dam, so nothing remains of this school site, the homes which surrounded it, or the mill whose working life gave a reason for its being there at all.