by Jenny Golding
Updated 9 August 2022
Dardanup’s graceful old State School building, built in 1896, is Queen Anne Style and is heritage listed. It is one-roomed, built of brick and would originally have had a galvanized roof. Narrow verandas on two sides support two small enclosed storage areas.
The first teacher at the little school building on this site was Miss Mary Ann Cleary, a descendant of one of the pioneer Irish families encouraged by Mr Thomas Little, from the 1850s, to settle in Dardanup.
Education in Dardanup had been with the Catholic Church from very early times; in Thomas LIttle’s private home, then in the original Catholic Church building, and after that in a cottage next to the church.
A Catalogue held by the State Records Office states: “Dardanup Primary School was formerly a private Roman Catholic assisted school from 1853 to 1879. The school opened as a public school in the last quarter of 1880 with 12 children”.
The State Library of Western Australia provided the following information from John Rikkers, Western Australian Schools 1830-1980:
- 1880 – Continuation of the former Private (RC Assisted) School 1853-1879
- Opened, “in the fourth quarter” for 12 children with Miss J McGuire in charge. “Held in the RC building”
- 1882 – Miss M A Cleary Enr. 11/8
- 1895 – Ditto Enr. 10/7
The spelling of the teacher’s name in 1880 is McGuire in this report but it is likely that she was a member of the family referred to as Maguire in Dardanup. An “assisted school” was a private school receiving some financial assistance from the government.
There were eleven boys and eight girls attending school in 1882, twelve and six in 1884, ten and seven in 1895.
The Education Report for 1896 includes the information that a site for a new school building had been obtained and the teacher, Miss Cleary, was to be paid £74 / 5 shillings. Five shillings was spent on building repairs and £12 on rent, presumably for the Catholic School buildings.
There are many fond memories cherished by former school attendees. Particularly colourful is that of Mr Bill Prout, who remembered the excitement which came in the form of North West bullocks bought for slaughter by Morrissey Bros butchers, and rushed through town each month after long travel by boat and train. Men on horseback, shouting and cracking whips, herded newly arrived, bellowing, galloping, horned-animals past the school to a nearby holding paddock. Children were either kept in school during the dusty uproar or sent home early!
The Venn children spoke of “Granny” O’Neill, a much loved district mid-wife living near the school who welcomed students at morning recess to hot biscuits and bread baked in her large oven, central to a homely kitchen.
Another memory appears in George Fee’s diary December 15 1909: “ … after the Christmas Tree, I, at Miss Burdoch’s request, presented Miss Eileen O’Neill with a prize medal for attendance”.
Teachers who followed Miss Mary Ann Cleary in this building included: Messrs Terrence Hayward whose wife taught sewing, Kruger, Bird and Connolly, Mr. Broomfield, Messrs Strugnell, Lambert, Brown and Lewis, Miss Rebbechi, Messrs Bury, Brown, Nelson, Stockdale, Vandouidos, Whitely and Simpson, Mesdames Parry, Baldwin and Fogarty.
In 1929, children from both Dardanup schools and surrounding localities celebrated the first 100 years of European settlement.
The building closed as a school at the end of 1971, when four schools, Dardanup, Waterloo, Wellington Mills and Ferguson, were amalgamated into the one school, newly built on Hayward Street in Dardanup.
The revered old building is now the Visitors’ Centre, sheltered by an old oak tree and set in a lawned area with a Memorial Rose Garden and beautiful camelias. Volunteers, many of them descendants of pioneers, welcome visitors and share their knowledge and care for a very special, historical town.
- Education Report 1896 – State Library of WA
- John Rikkers “Western Australian Schools 1830-1980” Volume part 2: and 3:
- Mr. W. Prout interview
- Jenny Venn interview
- Dardanup, South Western Times (Bunbury, WA : 1917 – 1929), Saturday 21 September 1929, page 3
- Flynn, N (ed.) Fee’s Dardanup Diaries: George Alexander Fee 1886-1942 of Roseland, Dardanup, WA (2002) in 2 volumes, Milligan House. Transcribed by Marilyn Jones, Patsy A. Middleton and Lyn Adams.