First teacher at Malakoff Road State School in 1913

Bella Silver in 1914 and on wedding day in 1925

Malakoff Road State School’s first teacher Miss Bella Silver (left) with a friend most likely at Pialba, Queensland, about 1914; and on her wedding day in September 1925 to John Alexis Dobbs Coker.

By Warren Nunn

WALTER Chamberlain was a determined man; so too were his neighbours and friends _ solid citizens like John Condon, Fred Campbell, John Tomkins, Stephen Wallace, John Hoefler and John Hunter.

Farming life in the early 1900s on the Darling Downs was relatively kind to these men and their growing families but providing education for their children was a far more difficult proposition.

It was a strain for the few who were prepared or able to afford to board children in the nearby towns of Dalby or Bell.

It seems strange now but 100-odd years ago travelling even a couple of miles daily was an arduous task for adults, let alone children.

Dirt roads, roving stock, the inherent dangers of the Australia bush; all these things concerned fathers and mothers alike.

Lobbying for a school building

From the public record of correspondence, it seems that Walter Chamberlain, whose property, Singer Dalla, was on Malakoff Road, north of Dalby, was the driving force behind a “building committee” lobbying the Queensland Education Department for a state school.

He was committee secretary and his first letter, dated 1 July 1912, read:

“I shall be obliged if you will please furnish me with the conditions under which the Govt erect and maintain country schools. Full and detailed information is solicited, more especially with regard to the following points:
    (a) Number of children necessary to warrant the erection of a school.
    (b) Nearest distance of proposed school to any existing school to warrant erection.
    (c) Lowest age of children permitted to attend school.”

So began the process by which the tiny one-teacher Malakoff Road State School came into being.

Malakoff Road School students in 1927

This image of the Malakoff Road State School taken around 1927 was provided by Mrs Helen Wilson, nee Campbell. She identifies the following people from left, John Hoefler (with bike), Heather Maynard (with slate … possibly), Audrey, Daphne and Gladys Wormwell, riders Isabel and Helen Campbell, unknown, unknown, Ed and Alice Clifford and unknown. (Unknowns could be: A. Reid, Gordon and George Maynard or R. Twidale)

Malakoff Road School sketch

Based on the 1927 image, artist Chris Souilijaert created this line drawing of children at Malakoff Road State School near Dalby, Queensland.

There’s nothing that special about Malakoff Road but it represents so many other small schools that flourished for a time but disappeared when modern transport and economies took over.

But Malakoff Road is special to Dobbs, Silver, Bauer and Nunn families, because Margaret Isabella Silver, was its first teacher. It was special to her, too, because on 2 December 1913, Malakoff Road was where Miss Silver began her teaching career.

Life was never easy for Miss Silver boarding with families and having to move on to another district for the next several years. Born in Millmerran, about 160km (100 miles) from Malakoff Road, she was to teach at several other schools before being posted much further north to Central Queensland in 1923.

Even though the Malakoff Road school was approved and built within 18 months of Mr Chamberlain’s first letter, there is sufficient evidence to suggest that the transition from idea to reality was not a smooth one.

What’s in a name?

Even settling upon its name wasn’t easy because two options — Plain View and Hillside — were unavailable. It came down to a choice between Cattle Creek and Malakoff Road.

Initially, the area did not have the required 20 school-age students until a new family with three children arrived.

Families represented when the school first opened included Campbell, Condon, Chamberlain, Tomkins, Wallace, Hoefler and Hunter.

It must have been a special day and exciting time for everyone that December when Miss Silver opened the school and held the first class.

Dairy entries

Her private dairy reveals she only arrived at Malakoff Road the day before, so she would have had little time to prepare. She appears to have boarded with the Condon family.

She recorded only a couple of entries in her diary of her time at Malakoff Road School.

They were:

December 1, 1913: Travelled to Dalby & out to Malakoff Rd.
    Dec 2nd: Opened School.
    Dec 2nd-15th Taught school.

She was at Malakoff Road at least three years.

In the records that remain which are held at the State Archives, Runcorn, Brisbane, several letters in her handwriting give some insight to school life.

The first of her letters, dated 29 January 1914, gives details of a meeting for the purpose of electing the school committee.

The committee members were: Stephen Fountain Wallace (Chairman), John Condon (Secretary), John Joseph Hoefler (Treasurer), John George Tomkins, John Hunter, John Young Black, and Fredrick William Campbell.

Some improvements

In a letter to the education department, Miss Silver wrote asking for “enough iron to put on the west side and half way up the north and south sides of the school”.

“The committee are willing to erect the same free of cost, if it is provided.” The iron duly arrived and, on 25 May 1915, she again wrote to advise that the committee had completed the task.

Earlier, in January, Miss Silver requested gardening tools which were sent to the Dalby Railway Station. The consignment included 1 rake, 1 hoe, 1 fork, and 1 coil of ‘K’ wire netting.

Malakoff Road School building in 2005

In 2005, the Dalby Soccer Club was using the old Malakoff Road State School building. Note the large beer company sign.

J D Story, the department Under Secretary wrote that:

“Your attention is directed to page 12 of the ‘School Garden’ which deals with the care of tools.”

One can only wonder at how weatherproof the building was because after a storm in November 1915, Miss Silver wrote a letter advising that rain blew in damaging maps and pictures on the walls.

She also wrote that: “It also beat in so much that the children had to stand in the centre of the room to avoid getting wet.”

It must have been a wild thunderstorm common at that time of year.

The following year a problem arose with horses getting into the area underneath the school, so a request was made for 25 yards of netting.

School days end

The school was closed in the 1970s but those who did attend naturally have varied memories of Malakoff Road.

There was no highway where the Dalby-Bell road now runs past the old school site.

In fact, it was on the black soil that school sports days were held.

One constant “observer” of all that happened at Malakoff Road was the enormous white gum that stands to this day.

Building now a boozer

The Malakoff Road school building was still in use in 2005; by the Dalby Soccer Club as its “refreshment” area.

Adorned with a large Fourex (Queensland’s iconic brewing company) sign and badly in need of a coat of paint, the building that once housed eager young scholars was being put to a completely different use.

That situation could not have been further from the minds of those who were there in 1913 for the launch of the building for its original use.

How things change…

Malakoff Road School site in 2005

Image taken in 2005 of the site where the Malakoff Road State School once stood. At the time the word ‘school’ was just legible on the sign.