Days of the old school yard: Bullarto Primary celebrates 150 years

November 24th, 2023Days of the old school yard: Bullarto Primary celebrates 150 years

Things were way different back in the 1940s when Graeme Orr attended the local Bullarto Primary School.
Caption: Current Bullarto Primary School students with Bullarto’s Graeme Orr who was a student there in the 1940s, and principal Jo Pegg ahead of Sunday’s150th anniversary celebrations.

Words and Image: Eve Lamb

Things were way different back in the 1940s when Graeme Orr attended the local Bullarto Primary School. The former pupil at the tiny bush school is a well known local farmer and today he’s aged 86. He’s also among past students being invited back to attend the little school’s big 150th anniversary celebration this Sunday November 26.

Current day Bullarto Primary School Principal, Jo Pegg says past and current students, staff and the wider community are all invited to the big celebration that gets started from 10am and goes through to 3pm.

It will feature the opening of a time capsule that was buried on site at the school almost exactly 50 years ago to the day when the school, in 1973, celebrated its 100th anniversary.

“The school will be open for tours which some of our students are preparing to do, and we will have a display of historic photos, a band playing in the afternoon and a massive cake,” principal Jo says.

“We are also going to lay a time capsule as well and we are fundraising so people can buy a named brick which will be put on the news time capsule along with a plaque so that in another 50 years time it can be found.

“We will also have a sausage sizzle, scones with jam and cream and cakes and slices and the kids will have a stall selling items based around their sustainability and nature studies.”

The little school beside the Wombat Forest has a particularly strong focus on nature-based learning and for many, like school council president and parent Robin Hallett-Martinez it’s a big reason why his kids attend.

“It offers a unique space for kids to learn and focus on nature-based and outdoor learning,” says Robin whose eight year old son Dante and daughter Maya both attend.

Jo has been principal at the leafy little school for the past seven years now. She says one of the sweetest aspects of the big birthday celebration will be the fact that not long ago the student enrolment had shrunk to just four and permanent closure was a distinct possibility.

“For me the key celebration is that in 2017 it was potentially closing but instead it’s gone from just four students back then to 22 students today and we’re still here,” Jo says.

It’s a positive trend that now looks set to to continue.

“Next year we’re looking at 23 students so far, and we’re still doing enrolments.”

Jo says the school’s oldest former student who is still living today is Daylesford resident Rita Lynch now aged 92 and planning to play a special part in Sunday’s anniversary celebration.

“We will have the oldest living past student, Rita, and the youngest current student cutting our big birthday cake,” Jo says.

Graeme Orr says he also expects to get along for the big occasion, and to reminisce on his former days at the little bush school that was also attended by his father and his grandfather before him.

Going back even further than that, Graeme’s great grandfather had attended the local night school – “which was just up the road,” Graeme says.

And, yes, the 1800s children attended “night school” because back then they had to work during the day, he confirms.

“I started in1942 in grade one when there was just the one building and just one teacher,” the former Bullarto Primary School student recounts.

“There were about ten kids when I was here but when my grandfather attended there use to be about 100 students.

“When I was here it was war time and we were very patriotic. We used to salute the flag and we had tuck shops to raise funds for the war effort. “We used to salute the union jack. It was scary when the war was on.”

Graeme says many children back then would leave school at age 12, but he went on after six years of primary schooling at the little Bullarto school to do further studies at the Daylesford technical school of the time.

Another big difference back in the day was the use of corporal punishment that was quite frequently deployed to maintain classroom control.

Graeme himself says he was no stranger to its deployment. Obviously, times have changed.

“A lot of students left at age 12 back then but by the time they left they were all very good at mental arithmetic and they all had beautiful handwriting,” Graeme says.

These days, along with all the usual education essentials for 21st century survival, another big extra focus at the little school is music.

Students like eight-year-old twins Will and Aly Dear who are completing year two at Bullarto are quick to tell you what they love most about their school.

“I like that we spend a lot of time outdoors and there’s a lot of space and heaps of animals and music,” says Will.

“And I like how it’s beautiful,” adds Aly.

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