DALLAS Hickey and his brother Michael are among a dwindling number of former students of three small schools that dotted Mt McKenzie in the 1920s, ‘30s and ‘40s who are determined that the history of those school days is not lost.
While the photos were scrounged from old photo albums of some of the former students who still live in the area, many of the details are due to Michael Hickey’s astounding memory.
Now 85 years of age and living in Brisbane after retiring as overseer of the Brisbane City Council’s parks and gardens, he was able to compose a full list of the students who attended each of the schools at one time or another.
Of course with a family of 10 children, the Hickey family itself contributed much of the student population, joining up with other familiar Mt McKenzie family names like Loveday, Chorley, Skinner, Stack, Rock, Pillar, Holley, Graham and Merchant.
Dallas Hickey said the practice of the day was for a grazier to build a small school on his property for the education of his own children and those of the neighbours, and the government would provide the teacher and supplies.
Nonington School was built by Fred Skinner and Bill Hickey on Mr Skinner’s property prior to 1920 and operated until 1934. It overlapped with the school on Bill Holley’s property Rock Vale which was built around 1924 and closed at the August holidays in 1941.
The third school was built on the property Narrawa belonging to Hickey patriarch James in 1942 or ‘43. It was made of cypress pine purchased from Sam Armstrong’s sawmill in Tenterfield.
Michael Hickey, who constructed the school along with his brother Peter and Fred Rock and Ron Graham, recalls that Tenterfield carrier Don Mitchell carted the timber to the site of the school, and that his father paid Mr Rock wages of one pound (around $1.50) per day for eight days.
Dallas Hickey said the main disadvantage of having up to 14 students in such a small school room was that the teacher’s cane could reach almost anywhere in the room.
“There was a little chip heater to keep us warm in winter, but it was very hot in summer,” he said.
The teacher, often a former student, would teach grades one to six and supervise older students continuing their studies via correspondence. Dallas said there was a lot of unofficial home schooling around then, with his older sisters Vida and Una teaching him and some of his siblings at home after he left school.
Starting age was officially seven years, but Dallas said he started at six to boost the numbers so the school qualified for a government teacher. He left after grade five, having learnt the basic ‘three Rs’ of reading, writing and 'rithmatic, but not much else, receiving a rich education in life experience since.
“I never picked up a pencil between the ages of 11 and 18, when I joined the railway,” he said.
Wagging school was out of the question as home was only 300 yards away and mum could keep an eye on her offspring. Learning was mostly by rote, and maths was Dallas’ favourite subject and he was particularly fond of times tables.
“I knew up to my 20 times table by the age of nine,” he said.
“I was so keen I was reading my tables one day while bringing in the cows and walked into a blackberry bush.”
That was back in the days of writing in ink with pen and nib. The same ink was used to recoat the blackboard at the end of each term.
“It was hard, but I loved it,” Dallas said.
Trips to town were by horse and sulky, but the Hickey sulky only carried three so the children would take it in turns. It was a seven mile trip over rough gravel roads, with the route out of town sealed only as far as the cemetery.
Dallas said there weren’t a lot of discipline problems despite the challenge of outdoors children being confined to a desk.
“It was always drummed into me that there was a limited time to learn, so you’d better hook into it.”