Oldest school turns 200

Jack Galvin Waight
Country Organiser

Amberley Moffatt, Tasharna Stockdale and Matilda Guernier at the school's Bicentennial bush dance

Thousands of people joined Australia’s oldest continuously-running school, Newcastle East Public School, for its 200th anniversary celebrations on February 6.

The school represents a proud history of our nation’s greatest asset — public education.

Principal John Beach, staff and Newcastle East Public School committee members organised a range of events to mark this significant occasion.

Their hard work was rewarded as thousands of community members attended a range of events, including the opening of a sculptural installation, a new history of the school launched by former prime minister Julia Gillard and a formal dinner with former High Court judge Michael Kirby as guest speaker.

Other participants included Federation President Maurie Mulheron, General Secretary John Dixon, members of the Executive and of the Newcastle Teachers Association, local politicians and school directors.

Former High Court judge Michael Kirby was keynote speaker at a sold-out dinner in Newcastle City Town Hall. His spoke about the importance of public education in a democratic society and how we need a well-informed populous to make rational decisions. He paid tribute to the vital role of public schools over the past 200 years, their educators and students.

He also spoke about the importance of Gonski needs-based school funding and perhaps summed up the night best when he said: “It is from public education that we learn the great lessons of egalitarian democracy. This celebration is not just about Newcastle East Public School, but celebrating public education in general.”

The outstanding work of the school’s principal, Federation member John Beach, received tribute on the night from the P&C. In an article in the Newcastle Herald, John said, “Public education took a nation of people who were all illiterate to a country that’s got 99 per cent literacy, and that’s virtually all through public schooling.”

At the launch of To Climb The Hill: A People’s History of Newcastle East Public School 1816–2016, former Prime Minister Julia Gillard spoke extensively about the importance of needs-based funding, the Gonski reforms and public education and linked the book to the work at the United Nations on the provision and right to education in the Third World.

Newcastle East Public School started life in a slab hut with 17 students and a convict teacher in what was then a remote penal settlement. This charity (or free) school was established by NSW Governor Lachlan Macquarie in early 1816 for the “currency lads and lasses” of convicts and later children of free settlers. Currently the school has 250 pupils and continues the proud tradition of excellence in public education.

Newcastle TA purchased the book, and it is available for members to borrow from Federation’s library. The book traces the school’s history through the eyes of its students, the city of Newcastle and the development of the public education system. The common theme is the availability of schooling to all, without exclusion for reasons of religion, disability or wealth.

President writes: To climb the hill