Briagolong Primary School celebrates 150 years

BRIAGOLONG Primary School is inviting former and current students and the wider school community to its 150th birthday celebrations this Sunday.

The Rural School no. 71 was opened in February 1871 on what was then known as Top Plain, and is thought to be the second school to open in the district.

No government funding was available, and a wooden building was constructed by the local community.

Later that year, the school was vested in the recently established Board of Education, funding was made available and a contract was awarded to build a new brick school, which now forms a central part of the school.

The first head teacher was William Parker, with an enrolment of fewer than 20 students.

But teaching wasn’t the only concern back in the day, with the head teacher fulfilling several roles, including deputy registrar of births and deaths until 1884, and running the post office up until 1893.

Mr Parker was succeeded by Margaret Fitzgerald in 1873.

By 1900 the number of students at Briagolong Primary School had risen to 100, and a component of nature study and horticulture was introduced into the curriculum.

The school continued with the gardening theme into the 2010s, when a Stephanie Alexander garden and cooking facility was built.

In the early days, holidays were often determined by the needs of family farms.

Holidays were usually given at the discretion of the teacher releasing the children to help at home with picking hops, which was a local industry.

A teacher’s residence was built in 1873 using and remodelling an old wooden classroom, and a wooden extension was added to the brick building in 1914.

The school has continued to expand, initially with the introduction of portable classrooms, then in the 1990s when the local community built a mudbrick art space.

In the 2010s, the Building the Education Revolution program resulted in new permanent classrooms added, and a refurbished office and staff room.

Epidemics are not a new phenomenon, and in 1914 the number of students dropped from 100 to 10 because of a measles outbreak, while in 1937 polio resulted in the school again closing.

An attempt to consolidate the school with others in the region in the 1950s was met with opposition by the local community, and as a result when the Boisdale Consolidated school opened in April 1954, Briagolong Primary School continued to operate independently.

As the school embarks on its 150th year, principal Mark Donald said it continued to flourish and provide children with an environment that felt typical of a small country town, but with modern day facilities.

Visitors are welcomed at the front gate by a recently-upgraded entrance, new front garden and walkway with seating, and towards the rear of the school there is a brand new sensory garden filled with a mix of fragrant and attractive plants either side of a dry river bed, tying the school in with the surrounds of the Blue Pool and nearby quarries.

Other improvements to the grounds during the past couple of years have included the installation of a new playground, chosen by and fundraised for by the students and community, as well as a new sport shed to house equipment and ‘human-powered vehicles’.

Mr Donald said the school continued to have a strong focus around literacy and numeracy, providing students with a literature-rich environment that contributed to results that were consistently above the state average.

“Students in the upper levels have one-on-one access to IT devices and the junior levels have one device for every two students,” he said.

“An in-depth specialist program runs each week, with all students participating in art, music and physical education.

“Biannual school productions and the human powered vehicle program give students an extra chance to participate in extra-curricular activities and link in with already strong community ties.”

Mr Donald said Briagolong Primary School had always prided itself on its community links and its efforts to instil this in the student population.

“Not only do the students represent the school, they have a sense of pride knowing that they also represent their town,” he said.

“After a tumultuous past two years where they have endured the Gippsland bushfires and COVID-19, the school has managed to navigate these and continue to grow in all facets.”

After tackling COVID head-on and providing an engaging online program, the school was recognised for its efforts, and a staff representative was invited to Government House.

Students and staff are inviting people – including prospective families for 2022 – to celebrate with them, as well as to go along and enjoy the festivities.

The celebrations will begin at 11am, with the opening of a 1996 time capsule from noon.

After that, there will be speeches, performances and a cake-cutting at 1.15pm.

There will also be historical and photographic displays, the opening of the new sensory garden and a barbecue lunch provided.

The celebrations will finish about 3pm.

People can register interest in the event, or request to tour the school on another date, by phoning 5145 5260, or emailing briagolong.ps@education.vic.gov.au.