School Histories

Cookernup School

By Maidee Smith

The first request for a school at Cookernup was on 23 April 1894 when the settlers in the area wrote to the Education Department stating that they were willing to construct a school. The petition for formation of the school was on 10 May 1894 and stated that there were eight boys and ten girls of school age. They were:

  • James Clarke, 2 miles from school, had Annie Eliza (15), Kate Jemina (13), Lilliam Sofia (11), E aged 9, Ruby Helen (6), James (4), Congregational.
  • William Adams, 2¾ miles from school, had Martha (11) and Maud (8), Church of England.
  • LF Logue, 2 miles from school had Ernest (15), Church of England.
  • W Marriott, 1¾ miles from school had Thomas James (14), Emily Nina, (13), Douglas H (11), Hubert Kenneth (9), Amiel Annie (7) Sydney Lennox or Lennard (4), Church of England.
  • Meredith, 1½ miles from school had Clement (9), Edith (7) and Luton (5), Church of England.
  • Emily Adams and Alfred Mort, both about 13 years old

The parents promised work and materials to the value of £80 and asked how much the Department would contribute. The sum was £40 and the Department would supply the land through the Lands Department. Much discussion then took place as to which site should be chosen. Mr W Marriott was not satisfied with the five acres offered by the Lands Department, while the original site suggested, on Clarke’s Brook, was not suitable to the rest of the settlers. Another suggestion was the ‘Cookernup Townsite at the 81 mile peg on the Perth Road’, while the Wellington Board of Education wanted them to decide on a School at Cookernup as this would ‘stop the agitation for a school at The Harvey’.

The school was finally approved for townsite lots 27 and 28 on 9 January 1895. The tender was won by Mr Clarke for the construction of the school, his price being £95 plus the rail fares of his workmen. Due to extra work being undertaken, the cost rose by £19/10/- and there were delays in the completion of the job.

On 30 May 1895, Susan Mitchell, who had been at the Bridgetown school, applied for the job of teacher at Cookernup. She was examined by the Education Board and was appointed to the school on 1 August 1895. The schoolroom was finished prior to this but the desks were not forwarded from Joyce Brothers until the 26 July 1895 and other goods were received by Miss Mitchell after her appointment. As such, the school was not ready for opening until 12 August 1895. The children’s desks were 8 feet long and the infants’ desks were 7 feet long, but not enough had been sent. Extra seating was asked for – to seat another six children over seven years old and another six children under seven years of age.

In September 1895, there were 26 children enrolled at the school, proving that it had really been necessary in the area. By then, there were not enough inkwells either and twelve more were required.

The opening of the Harvey school on 25 July 1899 took six pupils from the Cookernup school, but there were still 35 pupils enrolled. With five children of his own, the teacher George Ward, found difficulty in accommodating his family in the school quarters which had been built for a single person. Though the premises were not very old, he wrote to the Department complaining bitterly about the condition in which he found them. The quarters consisted of two rooms and a verandah. The living room was 13 feet 6 inches by 12 feet 6 inches and there was no kitchen. Rather cramped for a family with five children!

He also complained that the floors had not been nailed down and the skirting boards were loose as well. However, the worst problem was the infestation of bugs.

Mr Ward duly treated the walls to kill the bugs but the preparations used made unsightly stains so he had to write to the Department again and ask for the walls to be painted. The treatment was not long lasting apparently as head teacher Mr Harry Harms wrote in October 1900 that the quarters were full of bugs and being eaten away by while ants.

There was also some concern about the schoolroom being overcrowded and poorly ventilated. In 1905, on behalf of the parents, Mr J Major Rogers, Honorary Secretary of the Cookernup Farmers’ Progress Association, wrote to the Department expressing the parents’ concern at the poor ventilation in the school. Nothing was done about it, despite complaints, and the head teacher, Mr Ranson, recorded the temperature in the room on 24 January 1907 as 113oF.

A petition was sent to the Department in December 1906, complaining about the crowded conditions and lack of ventilation. It was signed by Joe Jackson, Geo. Meredith, Jane Jackson, Cecilia J Meredith, Graves B Mitchell, WA Bartlett, Bertha Mitchell, MM Bartlett, Susan Courthope, GD Brand, F Schoch, E Walker, E Schoch, JT Walker, E Robinson, A Gammage, JG Robinson, M Storer, W Jackson, HP Doxey, A Jackson, May Doxey, T Smith, M Williams, JJ Smith, J Maxwell, A Powell, WP Maxwell, Walter Powell, Eustace Ranson and Fred Ranson.

Letters were also sent by Mrs Courthope and Mrs Rogers who hadn’t signed the petition. These finally bore fruit and alterations were authorised to improve the conditions. The school, built by settlers, was not to the standard Public Works Department plans, and the roof was too low, which, with the overcrowding made it so hot in summer. The room was originally 24 feet by 24 feet with a lean-to verandah, but as the classes grew, the wall had been knocked down and the verandah enclosed. Consequently, on one side, the roof was 13 feet high but at the other, only 10 feet high. In this room there were 46 children and another six waiting to be enrolled. In December 1909, the children were moved into the agricultural hall for their lessons while alterations were in progress. The Department paid £1/14/‑ rent for the hall and was annoyed when the contractor was slow in finishing the work. By 1911 when Mr PD Hill was the head teacher, he was again asking for repairs and additions and also complained that he had moved into quarters which were infested with bugs.

The Department required every item of expenditure to be authorised. Accordingly, on 24 October 1911, Mr. Hill sent a telegram requesting immediate permission to incur expenditure to remove a large snake from the girls’ toilet! In a farming community, one wonders why he had to pay anyone to kill a snake. The approval was granted the same day, by which time the snake had settled under the structure so Edward Courthorpe was duly employed to remove the closet, kill the snake and replace the structure for the sum of £1.

When the Ferguson Mill school finally closed, the water tank was brought down and re‑erected at Cookernup. However, the water supply and the condition of the tanks were as much a source of worry as the overcrowding in the school. All the school stock was also stored at Cookernup for a time, but was sent on to the school at Southern Cross. Nothing was ever discarded in those days.

More alterations and additions were made in April 1912. The contractor was HW Devbikin and his tender was £227/16/3. While these improvements were being made, the teacher wrote to the Department asking that two wash tubs should be put in the wash house. The Department’s terse reply was ‘it was not usual to put wash tubs in quarters the size of Cookernup’. As most teachers seldom stayed for long, I suppose they didn’t want the expense of installing their own, so no doubt the wives used a galvanised iron tub for their washing.

In October 1916, reference was made to a music teacher who visited the school on Friday afternoons; so our modern ‘visiting specialist teachers’ are not so new at all.

In March 1921 a severe bush fire started on the railway line, about 12.40 pm and was fanned by a strong south west wind which sent it through the school grounds. The premises were saved by a gang of men who were working nearby. Repairs were necessary as the toilets and the fence were burnt down.

During 1922, a parent, Mrs Schoch, kept pestering the head teacher and the Department to allow her son to be put up a class ‘as he was so clever’. Neither the teacher nor the Superintendent could justify this by his marks, and these were sent forward to the Department showing them in comparison with those of Henry Weeks, Arthur Weeks, Tom Corker and Rosha Adams. The refusal of the teacher, supported by the Department, to accede to the mother’s request added fuel to a fire of discontent in the community against the teacher. It culminated in his eventual removal and the problem simmered down. The school teacher in 1923 was Mr JM Rogers who resided in his own house, so the Department rented the school house to Mr Cook who had recently sold his farm and was building a new house in town. Mr Cook was a member of the Harvey Roads Board.

For the first time in 1926, a school doctor, Dr Stang, came to examine the children. She was very critical of the poor lighting and recommended that the desks be turned around. In 1929, another School Medical Officer, Dr. Ruth Anderson, again criticised the lighting and said the blackboards should be moved to a new position, so they would be in a better light.

In 1928, another parent, Norman Buchanan of ‘Ferndale’, Cookernup, was incensed by the treatment of his children at the school and wrote to the Department saying that ‘due to the cruelty by the teacher to his children he would keep them at home’. The teacher was Claude Deverley and at the time he had 19 children enrolled. The numbers were fluctuating all the time and by the end of 1931, many children were old enough to leave school. Those still enrolled included Betty Fowles 14 years, Ethel Weymouth 10 years, Evelyn Dennis 14 years, Brose McQuade 8 years, Lizzie McEwen 15 years, Netta Mitchell 7 years, Harold Rice 14 years, Mary Craigie 13 years, George McEwin 14 years and John Knight 13 years. The teacher that year was AOV Knight and he was being transferred to be replaced by Mr RC Jennings.

A population ‘explosion’ occurred in September 1932 when the Main Roads Camp on the Perth to Bunbury Road reached Cookernup. There were 13 children from the camp arriving for school on 13 September. The accommodation available was for 34 children and this increased the enrolment to 37. The children were fitted into desks as it was only until they moved on to the school at Harvey. These children were Grace and James Stadward; Winifred and Edith Dawes; Sidney, Thomas, Eileen and Walter Mountford; Kathleen and Joyce Wake; George, Mary and Betty Earnshaw; Sidney Laurance and Iris Stephens.

There were complaints from the Department in 1936 that the children were not attending school regularly and had very weak excuses. On the roll at that time were Margaret Rogers, Joseph Jackson, Marianne Marston, Max Marston, Elizabeth Clifton, Daphne Clifton, Dowker Hardy, Deirdre Hardy, Iris Randall, Judith McCann, Ermida Brescianini and Jack Eastcott.

There was still a problem with the water supply, and at times it had to be carted to the school tanks as they ran dry. In September, the Parents & Citizens Association (P&C) asked if they could build a cycle storage shed as at least 20 cycles a day were leaning on the fence, or lying around. They were given permission to do so. Water had to be carted again in 1943, and the new teacher’s wife was very unhappy at Cookernup. Their water supply was uncertain, the state of the teacher’s quarters so bad that she had threatened to leave her husband and go home to her mother. He wrote to the Department explaining his problem and asked for a transfer. It is believed Mr King was granted a transfer as war time conditions took a great toll on the staff. The P&C wrote in June of 1943, ‘During the past eight months there have been four head teachers and in the past 2½ years there have been five’.

The current teacher, Mr Hutchinson, wanted to make a swimming pool for the children. Without the approval of the Department, he set about digging a hole 20 feet by 15 feet and had made it about two feet deep. This was mostly full of mud and the parents felt it was very dangerous. He was instructed to fill it in. The P&C however, supported the teacher. Mr Wilkinson‑Webb was their secretary and wrote to the Department asking for them to supply a swimming pool. The Department replied in February of 1944 that there were no funds available for such a project.

Again in 1946, 400 gallons of water was carted to the school and in 1948, 800 gallons were required. In 1950 it was 400 gallons, when in March of that year there was no water in the tanks. After much pressure, negotiations began with the Public Works Department to provide a supply to the school.

Years before, in 1925, the parents had joined in an ambitious scheme that the Government began, called ‘The Pine Plantation Scheme’. Local P&C Associations were encouraged to plant pines from five to 50 acres in size to be cut down in the future ‑ the proceeds being for the school. In 1948, it was decided to remove some of the pines from around the Cookernup school but they discovered that their 19 pine trees did not qualify under the old scheme, and were a ‘mixed lot’ which would have little commercial value. Millars estimated they could cut about 20 loads of timber from them, but the trees were really past their prime. The Department insisted that tenders should be called and Millars, Bunnings and Mr A Pilgrim, who had a small mill at Harvey, tendered for the timber. The Department said they would let the P&C have half the proceeds, but the trees were really the property of the Department. The cheque the P&C finally received was for £19/1/9.

During 1948, the P&C Association provided a projector for the school but found it unsatisfactory without dark blinds and so asked the Department for some ‘blackout’ material.

A bus service was introduced to take grades five and six to Harvey from 2 February 1953. The Cookernup school closed on 18 December 1953 and the children have been going to Harvey ever since. The school building was to be used elsewhere while the quarters ‑ which had caused so much trouble over the years ‑ were to be used by a married teacher from the Harvey school. This was David Compton who left for Kalgoorlie in 1955.

In 1955, the parents petitioned the Department to re‑open the school and a meeting was called. At the meeting, the District Superintendent for Education, Mr John Mack, said ‘only a small majority were in favour of re‑opening the school at Cookernup’, so the request was refused. Again in 1956, another request was made for re‑opening as ‘49 children travelled to Harvey by bus’ but this too was refused.

The Department considered removing the school building to Hoffman Mill, as the mill school was riddled with white ants and Millars, who owned the building, refused to do any repairs. However, it was suggested by Ivan Manning MLA that the Cookernup School should be re‑opened for the infant classes, but this was also refused. He said the school at Treesville would be suitable for Hoffman. Finally, the school was advertised for removal, and the tender accepted was from Mr H Klimatas of Bulwer Street, Perth, who removed it to the school site at Hoffman Mill on 18 April 1957 where the ‘new’ school building was officially opened by Mr I Manning MLA on 5 October 1957.

The old building finished its school life on 21 December 1962 when the stock and equipment were removed to the Harvey school and the school at Hoffman finally closed.

Mrs Geroge McEwin (née Jackson) – Memories of her Cookernup school days as related to Maidee Smith

Anne McEwin (née Jackson) was born in 1922, the tenth child in a family of eleven. Her grandparents were from England with her Grandmother’s maiden name being Symonds. They settled near Cookernup on a farm and from there the children walked to school – it was about five miles. Her mother, Jane Jackson, taught sewing to the girls at the school, while the other subjects studied were reading, writing, arithmetic, history, geography, and nature study.


Mrs Jackson’s Sewing Class 1912

Once a week, Anne was allowed to buy lunch at the local store which was owned by Mr Fiskin. For lunch, she would have a treat of three pence worth of picnic assortment or fancy mixed biscuits. This would be quite a bag full in those days, though next to nothing now.

Her clothes were all sewn by her mother and most children went to school with bare feet. It was so wet in winter that their feet were better bare rather than in wet shoes all day. During the summer, sandshoes (now known as sneakers) were worn. They always had good shoes and clothes for ‘Sunday Best’.

Being one of a large family, their attendance at the Cookernup school stretched over many years. The first of the Jackson family attended in 1904 and a family member remained at the school until it closed. The eldest son of the Jackson family, Joseph, was killed in the First World War.

Some of the teachers remembered by Mrs McEwin were Messrs Elkington, Knight, Jennings, Foxtrot and Miss Corker.

Many school friends still reside in the district and they meet now and then. One of these old friends is Charles A Wickham. He went to Wagerup School. His parents were Isabel (née Palmer) and Montagu Wickham, whose farm was ‘Wonston Farm’ at Yarloop. Charles had been named for his grandfather, Charles Wickham, and they had all come from England. Young Charles rode to school on his horse and an outstanding memory of those early days was of his teacher, Mr Fiebig, who had been interned during the First World War as he was a German. At school with him at that time were the Jacksons, Syd Adams and his sisters, the Meredith girls, the Cook girls, Fiskin girls and the Robinsons.

Mrs McEwin’s friends remembered from her school days include Barbara Hayward, Nell and Clarrie Reigert; Betty and Pet Clifton; Betty and Charles Fowles; Ernie, Harold and Arthur Rice; Pam and Judith McCann; Tom Corker; Pat and Allen Buchanan; Josie, Peg and Pat Rogers; Phil, Steve, Marg and Jane Trevenen; Mim and Mark Marston; Bill, Mary, Milly, Les, Dot and Jean Craigie; Bub Robinson; Les Schock; Arthur Osborne; Joyce and George Payne; Mick Eastcott and Clara Jenkinson.

Anne Jackson married George McEwin whose family had come to WA from Victoria. All their children attended the Cookernup school. Her sister, Faith, also recounted some memories of her school days. Faith married a Rogers and they moved away from the district. Mr Ranson was her first teacher when she began school at the age of six years. He taught her for three years, then Mr Fiebig for two years, followed by Mr Cullen for three years and finally, Mr Hill for the last two years before she left school.

Mrs Rogers was 80 years old in 1980, and the girls in her day at school wore print dresses with a white pinafore over them. They walked to school each day, two and a half miles each way and would take a cut lunch as it was too far to go home at lunchtime. While at school she studied hard and was always commended for being well behaved – not ever getting the cane, which was given so freely in those days. She still sees some of her school friends, such as Kathleen and Matilda Bartlett; Rene and Ilma Meredith; Winnie, Addie and Blanche Firkin; Dorothy Cook; Maude, Sarah and Emily Robinson; Freda and Kitty Rogers; Lottie Nicholson and Agnes and Vera McQuade. Mrs Rogers remembers her school days as being a very happy time and feels the schooling they all received made them grow up as good citizens. Another sister, Helen Jane Jackson, married a man named Fowles and they also moved away to Perth. She recalls the family farm was named ‘Spring Creek Farm’. Her Jackson grandparents had been educated in England, but her parents had been educated in Victoria. She remembers several of her teachers – Mr Rogers, who owned a farm at Cookernup, as well as being a teacher; Mr Elkington, who lived in the schoolhouse and then Mr AO Knight who also resided at the school house. The sewing mistress was Mrs Rogers while they were there, but before that they had Mrs Rice and then her mother, Mrs Harriet Jane Jackson.

The walk to school seemed a long way to the girls, and they would pass the time telling stories or reciting poetry. All the children played together once they got to school, some of the games she remembers are rounders, cricket, football and red-rover-all-over.

She still sees some of her old friends occasionally, but some are now dead. Names she remembers from those days are: Nancy Corker; Florence and Eileen Weeks; Joyce and George Payne; Dick, Phyl and Steve Trevenen; Roy Kindom and his twin; Les Schock; Evelyn (deceased), John, Dennis, Bill, Millie (deceased) Mary and Dot Craigie; Ernie, Harold and Arthur Rice; Jean Ward; Betty and Charles Fowles; Lottie, Lizzie and George McEwin; Bub Robinson; Violet Page and Ada Still.


A reunion was held on 6 March 1983 at Cookernup and the attendance book was signed.

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