Then and now: Eungai Primary students get a local history lesson

Cleo Day, Kayla Czisz, Carmel Mcpherson, Declan Irvine and relieving principal Mark Taylor
Cleo Day, Kayla Czisz, Carmel Mcpherson, Declan Irvine and relieving principal Mark Taylor

On Friday, students at Eungai Primary came face to face with their counterparts from a century ago.

Eungai Rail resident Carmel Macpherson (nee McGee) attended the school's special assembly bearing a photo taken of students from around 1913. Her mother (Stella) and aunt (Emily) were two of them.

"We believe it was taken in the year before World War I broke out," Carmel's son Peter said.

"But what has been told to us is that the Governor was visiting that day, and so all the kids were dressed up in their best clothes and even wore shoes - not many did in those days."

Class of 1913...possibly. Stella and Emily Whalen are in the second row, fourth and fifth from the left.

Class of 1913...possibly. Stella and Emily Whalen are in the second row, fourth and fifth from the left.

Carmel and Peter also explained to students what life was like growing up in the interwar period in Eungai.

Carmel's father, Pat McGee, was the local baker - the only one in the district. He sold his first loaf of bread on March 25, 1934. Carmel still has the recipe her father used to bake his 150 loaves.

Eungai Rail was lucky to get fresh bread daily.

He'd do his rounds to Stuarts Point and Allgomera on a Monday, Wednesday and Friday on his horse and cart. And on Tuesday, Thursday and Saturday it was Warrell Creek and Tamban's turn.

The old cart horse knew the routes so well, he was able to walk from house to house and wait without any direction.

Carmel was the youngest of five children, and remembers working on the telephone exchange down in Kempsey in her first job.

Peter graciously explained to the students what a telephone exchange operator did - a sort-of precursor to Siri - a notion so far removed from the children's world of mobile touchscreen technology.

"It's lovely to be able to pass this on to someone who will find it useful."

"It's lovely to be able to pass this on to someone who will find it useful."

Carmel said she doesn't know where her mother kept the photo all those years, as she only remembers her showing it to her at the age of 85.

"But do you know, she could name every single child in the photo without missing a beat," she said.

And many of the surnames might ring some bells; Johnston, Burns, McIlwain, Woods, Whalen, Channells...

At the end of her presentation, Carmel presented the school with the photo and a collection of local history books she's been collecting over the years, including one titled 'Family Farm and Forest - a History of the Eungai District'.

"It's lovely to be able to give these things to people who will cherish them," she said.

Relieving principal Mark Taylor said the school was grateful for the gift and would proudly display the collection in the front office from here on in.

Afterwards the children had plenty of presentations of their own.

In an assembly which is believed to be the longest and most spectacular in the school's 126-year history, parents and guests were treated to a choral performance, a dramatic enactment of 'Are You My Mother?' by P.D. Eastman, skipping skills that boggled the mind, a contemporary dance routine which explored the effect of humankind on our natural environment, and an ensemble of painted parrots which would not have been out of place in an art gallery.

The little school hasn't just been flourishing in the creative industries, the soccer team has also had a fantastic result this year, finishing in the top eight small schools in the state and advancing to the quarter finals.

Perhaps in another hundred years someone will present their photographic mementos from this talented cohort to the class of 2119.

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