I was lucky enough recently to get the chance to tell a story or two at the Swannanoa School 150th reunion, as recounted below.
Thirty six years ago, in 1987, Swannanoa School was tiny. School concerts and prizegivings were held in the old hall across Tram Rd.
I remember that hall well; in my last year at Swannanoa I was the lead in the school play – possibly only because my father Gordon was chairman of the school’s PTA at the time. Gordon and my mother Wendy were horrified on the night of the performance when I gave every indication that I would refuse to perform.
On the eve of the end-of-year-concert I had to be encouraged, perhaps even told, that I simply had to turn up and do my bit. Happily, I did show up and the story of Rumpelstiltskin went on.
Back then, virtually everyone at Swannanoa was from a farm, or at least a rural block of land. And of course, we got around on the school bus – a little old machine, brown or beige-coloured as I remember. The bus was driven by either the principal, Basil Shead, or Lorraine McLeod, who lived at my family farm, Larundel, between Tram and North Eyre Rds, just west of Browns Rd.
The school roll was only in the low 30s, so Swannanoa was pretty serious about recruiting students. Every pick-up on the bus was crucial. Mr Shead played cricket with my dad Gordon for the Swannanoa Senior team – the club’s only team. That link was important, because it led to Basil picking up all the Fulton kids (4 over time) – and the McLeod girls, Ainsley and Kirsten – and the nearby Southcott kids – Hamish and Diana. Later it served the same function for the Gilchrists, Peter and Andrew.
Strictly speaking, Larundel farm was on the eastern edge of West Eyreton, which was also struggling mightily with a low roll. Basil at Swannanoa engineered it so the bus would pull into Larundel off North Eyre Rd, perhaps picking up neighbouring kids at the gate, then push on down the lane which went through the farm and out the other side to Tram Rd.
Sometimes, if there were sheep in the yard, the bus would swing by the narrow drive right by our house, picking up metres from the door. I’m not sure what the Education Department would have made of it but it was mighty effective.
It was a real country school, so small that you knew all the teachers as people. It wasn’t unknown for the Fulton kids to pop over to Lorraine McLeod’s cottage and see their teacher unwinding with a drink or two.
The school was also so small that when someone held a birthday, a wide variety of kids would be invited, including siblings, so that no one got offended. It felt like everyone pitched in, from school working bees to other Swannanoa specialities, like Pet Day and craft shows.
At one of these school events I was awarded a stuffed Mickey Mouse, which I hugged tightly on my way home on the bus. When the bus pulled up by our petrol pump I jumped off and ran right out I front of the bus yelling ‘Look Mum, I won a Mickey Mouse’. Luckily the bus driver was awake and no harm was done.
It’s really special to be here today, sharing stories and remembering a very different time in the school’s history. Thank you so much to the organisers – and personally, to the teachers and families who made Swannanoa such a great little country school. It’s especially neat to share it with my parents, Gordon and Wendy.
Well done, to the organisers who’ve pulled off this event after so much disruption from Covid-19. The school is still a huge part of this community.