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CANNING MILLS SCHOOL 1936 - 1941
By BERT FOREST Headteacher
Canning mills was once a very big mill town with the timber mill, a hotel, a blacksmith and a school that I know of, and probably other facilities. The mill had been closed long before I got there and Canning Mills had been without a school. At the beginning of 1936 there was no school building, but the area had market gardens and orchards being developed by families with school-aged children. Another group of market gardeners lived a few kilometres west of Canning Mills, not very far from the South Western Railway and they too had children of school age.. Kelmscott school was the nearest to them but it was beyond the compulsory distance of three miles (5kms). The Education Department decided to re-establish a school at Canning Mills and I was appointed there as Headteacher.
I'd been told by the education Department that
accommodation was available with Mrs. C. McKay who lived at the north end of
Canning Mills where there was a small grove of pine trees north west of the
siding. Her husband, Charles McKay worked for the Forestry Department. He was
in charge of a group of forestry workers.
As there was no school building, Mrs. McKay
offered the Department the use of a rather large room on the
The school building consisted of a
schoolroom with a verandah on the north side. Besides the verandah and parallel
to it was an access ramp, running from the downhill side up to the far end of
the verandah. The school ground sloped and there was a fall of about a metre
from one end of the school to the other. The ramp was built so that the slope
was exaggerated and was therefore far too steep.
ORIGINAL MILL MANAGER'S HOUSE THAT MRS. McKAY LIVED IN.
I complained to the Education Department about
this. The Director of Education, Mr. Klein, visited the school over this
matter, which was very unusual. He was not at all friendly and in fact was
quite aggressive. I met him at the foot of the ramp and he said in a
belligerent manner "What is the meaning of this complaint I've received?"
I feel sure that he came to reprimand me for daring to complain about a new
school that had just been built.
SMAILES MILL #2
At this time, a friend of mine from Teachers
College, Percy Stanbury, was headmaster of Carinyah, another one-teacher
school, which was about fifteen miles east of Canning Mills, Carinyah was a
forestry station and it was near Smailes Mill (a timber mill) so the school
drew pupils from forestry families and mill families. Percy's wife, Jean, had
also been in college with us, so I knew her too.
Mrs Hanbury had a large "family" to
cook for. There was: herself, two daughters (Dorothy and Kathleen) and a son
(Maitland), and several lodgers: myself, Syd Smailes. At times her adult sons
stayed there too - John, Charlie, Oliver and Ernie. Charlie worked at the Mill.
He rode horseback on a track that started at the back of the house and led
through the bush to the Mill. The others sons spent most of their time with
their father who was gold-mining at Marvel Loch in the Southern Cross Field.
They came home at irregular intervals, and the house was filled to bursting
point. I slept on the front verandah and dressed in a spare bedroom. It was
only for four nights per week as I went back to my parents' house in Fremantle
Syd Smailes went out of the room on some pretext
and made an invisible "prick" in the skin of one finger. When he
returned he said he would show us a trick. He said he could draw blood from his
finger by just rubbing the back of a knife across the skin. So he tied a hanky
round the bottom of his finger and said to Maitland, "Get me a knife from
the kitchen!" Maitland came back with a large carving knife which just
happened to be a double-side one (it was sharp on both edges). Syd rubbed the
back of the knife on his finger, let out a shout as blood poured out! Poor
Maitland got the blame.
NOTE: For years Millars tried to buy these small mills, but the owners
resisted all offers for a long time.
But eventually sales were agreed to. I have the impression that outputs
were increased tremendously for
time, merchantable logs were cut out and both mills were closed.
At the time of writing about, the Upper Darling
Range Railway was still running. There were three trains per week - on Monday,
Wednesday and Friday. They terminated at Karragullen, which was one station
beyond Canning Mills and the last on the line.
The train arrived at Karragullen at 8.10p.m. and the mail was taken to
the Store cum Post Office and sorted. We sometimes went to Karragullen on
Monday and Wednesday nights to collect it.
CANNING MILLS SCHOOL 1949 #3
Back Row; ARTHUR LITTLEY, DAVID LITTLEY, VILMA TONUSSO, VIANNA BOVANI, ELSA TONUSSO, CEASER PERPOLI, BRUNO POLETTI.
who came from nearby homes where English was spoken,
b. A group
who came from a westerly direction where Yugoslav was the language of the home,
c. A small
group where Italian was the language at home.
One of the older boys, Maitland Hanbury, moved
his desk close to one of the side windows so that he could keep a watch on the
basins. Suddenly the quiet of the classroom was shattered as he gave a yell
.... and the mystery was solved. He had seen a couple of Kookaburras at the
basins having an enjoyable meal!
As most of the children came from market gardens,
I was surprised when they came to me and asked if they could have school
vegetable gardens. It was gravelly ground and was on a slope - the last place
one would choose for growing vegetables. But it was all we had and they set to
work and made small plots where they grew lettuce, peas and other vegetables.
On arrival at school, their vegetable plots were the first thing they
In a one-teacher school the Junior Section,
Infants,Standard 1 and Standard 2 (now called Years 1, 2 and 3), sometimes had
to work on their own while the teacher was fully occupied with the Senior
Section. Plasticine was a very useful medium and I remember the pleasure the
little ones got from Plasticine modeling. They grew quite skillful with it. In
winter the Plasticine would be very hard so they would place it near the
free-standing wood-burning stove to soften it. Sometimes it got too hot to
One day, at lunchtime (noon), I said to the
children "Let's all go into the bush for lunch". So we went just
outside the school fence on the western side and sat around the logs to have
our lunch. After they had had their lunch I asked them to get onto a large
stump and count the tree stumps they could see around them. They did this and
counted thirty-three or thirty-four. I pointed out to them that these were cut
when Canning Mills was a big mill town and the number of stumps showed just how
many big trees had stood in the forest before the timber was taken. They were
amazed and I still find if difficult to realise the density of the forest that
used to surround Canning Mills.
The wealth of timber there in the early years of
the State justified the construction of what must have been a very expensive
railway. I have in mind the construction of the Zigzag section between Bushmead
and Gooseberry Hill. Even in 1946, a train of just a few trucks and one
carriage took forty minutes to climb that section, a distance of 9 miles. The
return Distance also took forty minutes. What a pity it was not preserved for
coming generations to see!
ZIG ZAG RAILWAY #4
Reference: Article: Bert Forest
Images: 1, Tom Price
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