Thursday, November 5, 2015

Miss Florence WILKES, of Greenacre, Schoolteacher

Florence WILKES was a Primary School Teacher with a difference. She taught, for many years, one of the two Opportunity Classes that were provided at Berala Pubic School, near Lidcombe, for "advanced" pupils from the surrounding district, in 5th and 6th classes.

I had the privilege of being one of her pupils in the class 5 OC in 1959 and 6 OC in 1960, sandwiched between my earlier grades at Rose Hill Primary School (just across the railway line from the Racecourse there), and my five high school years at The King's School in Parramatta.


I don't yet know where Florence Edith WILKES was born, but the event took place on 9 November 1919, according to her Teacher's College Admission record (and her Monumental Inscription - Rookwood, Anglican Remembrance Lawn 1), and quite possibly in New South Wales (under the 100 year privacy rule, Birth Indexes for the year 1919 will not be publicly available until 2019). Her birth was not recorded in England, although it is possible that she may have been born on the voyage of her parents out to Australia.

Her father, Thomas WILKES, worked in the Bankstown area as a Poultry Farmer; he was born in Birmingham, Warwickshire, in March quarter 1890 [Volume 6d, page 118], and he was enumerated at Moland Street, Birmingham, in the 1891 and 1901 Censuses, aged 1 and 12 respectively, with his parents Thomas WILKES, a Wood Turner, and Eliza (formerly HOMER); Thomas served in W.W.1, probably in the British Army.
A Thomas WILKES, aged 24, Cycle Maker's assistant, emigrated to Sydney on the S.S. Osterley, departing London on 16 January 1914. This may have been Florence's father, as he is very close to the right age, and his occupation adds further to the possibility (his two sisters Mary Ann and Clara were both employed in Cycle making in Birmingham in 1911); if so, he probably returned to England to enlist for service in W.W.1 (there is no mention in Australian Army records for his enlistment in Australia or service in Australian Units).
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Florence's mother was Annie RUFFELL, who was born at Cove, Hampshire, on 28 January 1891 (see her M.I. at Rookwood, Anglican Section 7, plots 1174-75); she was enumerated at Cove Green, Cove, Hampshire, 1891 and 1901, aged 2 and 10 respectively, with her parents Alfred RUFFELL, Labourer and Navvy Foreman, and his wife Hannah.
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Thomas WILKES and Annie RUFFELL were married at the parish church of Worplesdon, Surrey, on 31 December 1918, he aged 29, Soldier, of St John's, Lambeth, his father a Master Joiner now deceased, and she aged 27, Spinster, of Worplesdon, her father now a Builder.
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They emigrated to New South Wales, and were living at 31 Northcote Road, Greenacre Park, from as early as 1922 [Electoral Rolls for Reid Division, Bankstown Subdivision], where Thomas was recorded as a Poultry Farmer, and Annie as Home Duties; they were still there in 1966; Thomas died on 19 Jul, 1970, aged 80, and was buried at Rookwood, late of Greenacre [M.I.]:

His widow Annie was subsequently enrolled with daughter Florence at 11 Lauma Avenue, Greenacre (1972 and 1977 Rolls); she died at Mosman on 3 September 1981, and was buried in the plot adjoining her husband [M.I.], having survived her daughter Florence by nearly 4 years.

Florence appears to have had at least two siblings:
1. Thomas H.G. WILKES died at Bankstown, 22 February 1924 (Registered #4229 - parents Thomas and Annie), probably an infant; he was buried in the family plot at Rookwood on 23 February, aged 16 (cemetery register entry, but unclear whether days, weeks or months); his details are not mentioned on either of the inscriptions.
2. Gerald Alfred WILKES, born at Punchbowl, 27 September 1927; Canterbury Boys High School; he first appeared in Electoral Rolls in 1949, as a Student at Northcote Road with his family; he graduated in Arts at Sydney University in 1949, and took an M.A. in 1952, with First Class Honours in Literature, while a teaching fellow there; in Aug 1953, as an English Lecturer, aged 25, he won a National University Scholarship to study literature at Oxford, and was awarded a Ph.D. there in 1956; he became the foundation Professor in Australian Literature at Sydney University; he was married at Ashfield, on 17 August 1953, to Marie Olive PAULEY; and by 1958, they were living at Eastwood, with their two children.

Florence's uncle, James WILKES, also emigrated to N.S.W., in or before 1914; born in Birmingham on 3 October 1887, he served in W.W. 1 with the A.I.F. as a Gunner, and was wounded in France; he was married at Merrylands, in 1918, to Edith Isabel APPLETON, and they lived at North Strathfield, with their daughters Eunice Frances Isabel WILKES (later the wife of William J. E. FOWLER) and Helen Clare WILKES (later the wife of Donald RILEY). James died at the Repatriation General Hospital, Concord, on 4 November 1948, and his death notice in the S.M.H. recorded him as the brother and brother-in-law of Mr and Mrs T. WILKES (Florence's parents), Mrs C. BARNEY (probably Clara, aged 10 in 1901, living with her parents and elder brothers James and Thomas - Clara BARNEY died at Auburn, 16 August 1954, parents Thomas and Eliza), Miss F. WILKES (perhaps Florence, but probably instead an aunt Florence, aged 3 in 1901, living with her parents and older brothers James and Thomas), and Mr and Mrs W. DARBY (probably Ethel WILKES, aged 9 with her widowed mother in 1911, who married William DARBY at Glebe on 19 July 1924, and died at Parramatta on 8 April 1969, parents Thomas and Eliza).


Florence's early creativity became evident to her parents, and to the editors of the Australian Women's Weekly. At age 13, her "...very pretty story" won a 5 shilling prize, and was published on Saturday 15 July 1933, at page 41:

By Flossie WILKES (of 31 Northcote Road, Chullora, via Enfield).
It was a cool evening, one which follows a hot, stuffy day, and Jean was watering her garden. No one was in sight, and as she turned from one of the flower beds, she heard a little voice - "Jean!" She saw nothing. Presently she heard the sound again. It seemed to come from the flowers. Was it possible? But yes! Jean bent forward towards the little rose-tree right on the extreme edge of the bed. "Jean," came the silvery tones again. "Will you give me some water, please, for I am very thirsty?"
"Certainly," replied Jean, and she ran off to fetch some water from the nearest tap.
"Thank you," murmured the rose, "now I'll tell you my story," she began. "A long time ago I was a fairy, and my name was Heart of Rose. I was very mischievous and I played pranks on the other fairies, till at length the Queen turned me into a rose-tree and put me here, where I am scorched by the sun. No one sees me and I get little water. See, I have a little bud, but I'm afraid that it will only be a very small flower, and oh!", she sighed wistfully, "I'd be very happy if only I had beautiful flowers like the other rose-trees!"
"I'll help you," said Jean, eagerly, "I'll water you carefully."
"Thank you," whispered the rose-tree; Jean waited for her to continue, but the rose was very silent.
A month later, her beautiful snowy blossoms showed that Jean had not forgotten her promise.

And two years later, on 10 Aug 1935, The Australian Women's Weekly published one of her poems:

By Flossie WILKES.
I wonder where dreams come from?
     I wonder where they go?
I've often asked my Daddy -
     He doesn't seem to know.
He says they're only shadows
     Of the things that are to be;
Like wind among the treetops
     Or the music in the sea.
But I don't think they're shadows
     I think they're elfin sprites
Who dance their fairy revels
     Upon my bed at night.


According to her Teacher's College Academic Record (courtesy of Nyree MORRISON, Archivist, Sydney University), Florence received her secondary schooling at St George Girls High School, an Academically Selective Public High School, located in Victoria Street, Kogarah.

She achieved an aggregate of 383 in her Leaving Certificate examination, presumably in 1936.

Florence was admitted to the Sydney Teacher's College on 3 March 1937. This College had been founded in premises on Parramatta Road (Broadway) in 1906 under Alexander MACKIE as Principal; it occupied custom built premises in the grounds of Sydney University in 1925; and by 1933 was offering "...a two year course to prepare teachers for primary and kindergarten work" (as well as 3 year diploma and 4 year degree courses for secondary teachers).

She received an overall Teaching Mark of B- to B (74%) in her first year, and B (75.8%) in her second year (1938); she was ranked highly in History (80%, Class 1, 1937) and in English (75%, Class 2, 1937; 81%, Class 1, 1938).

In May 1939, Florence was appointed by the N.S.W. Education Department as a Primary School Teacher at Revesby Public School [Newcastle Morning Herald, Friday 19 May]. This is the first mention of her teaching career in newspaper scans, as found on the National Library's "trove" web-site.

In Feb 1941, it was reported that:
"...Miss WILKS has taken up duties at the Molong Public School to fill the vacancy occasioned by the transfer of Mrs PAULETTE to Kempsey."
[Molong Express and Western District Advocate, 1 February 1941.]

Molong was creative ground for the new arrival.
Florence attended the annual meeting of the Parents and Citizens Association, at Molong Public School, in March 1941; by August 1941 she had become the assistant to Miss ANSTEY, Lady Cub Master for the Molong Cub Pack, when they organised a Birthday party for the Pack at which collections were made for bundles of clothing or money to buy same to be sent to " Cubs and others who have been victims of the hellish air raids" in England, and who were both praised for "...their efforts to train the youngsters of this town" [Molong Express, etc, Saturday 9 August]; in October 1941 she ran a spelling bee at the Annual Scots Fair in Molong, which was won by 8 year-old Mat DOVER, with consolation prizes to Betty YORK, Bill DUNN and Joyce HIGGINS [Molong Express, etc, Saturday 25 October]; in July 1942, Florence was elected Publicity Officer to the Molong Branch of the Red Cross Society [Molong Express, etc, Friday 17 July]; and in 1943, she first appeared in Electoral Rolls, as Florence Edith WILKES, Bank Street, Molong, Teacher.

In March 1943, Florence was transferred to the Eurimbla Public School; great consternation was created by her departure when the Education Department failed to replace her at Molong; and she was enrolled for a second time in 1943, at Hill View, Eurimbla, Calare Division.

By June 1944, Florence had been transferred yet again;
"PERSONAL. Miss WILKES, who was appointed teacher here in succession to Mr HARE, now has charge of the Gunning-Bland school, and, in a recent letter to friends in the district, states that she is happy at her new school, where she has an enrolment of twenty pupils"
[Molong Express, Friday 23 June 1944.]

Her staff record at the Department of Education records her as Assistant, Class 4, at Revesby Primary, under Date of Notification of 3 July 1945. [This information was provided by Brenda McLENNAN, Library and Data Services, Centre for Education Statistics and Evaluation, Bridge Street, Sydney.]
It looks like she returned to the scene of her first posting.

Florence appears to have taken a break from school duties during the year 1948, as we find in the "Personal Pars from Eurimbla" item in the Molong Express [20 August 1948]:
"...writing to Mrs C. RUTTER recently, Miss F. WILKES, former teacher at Eurimbla School, said she and her mother shortly intended making a tour of the New England district and Brisbane."

By 1949, Florence was back living with her parents, at 31 Northcote Road, Chullora, along with her brother Gerald Alfred WILKES, then a Student.
She won one of the daily prizes of 2 pounds offered in the "name a foal" competition run by the Sydney Sunday Herald, on behalf of the Red Cross, for two foals, one sired by Fisherman out of Lively Lass and the other by Prince Charming out of Black Widow - her suggestions were "Compleat Angler" and "Dark Stranger" [S.M.H., Monday 26 September 1949], although there is no indication as to whether the foals ended up with either of those names.
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Her staff record at the Department of Education contained the following additional entries:
1. Assistant, Revesby G., under dates 4 December 1951 (notification) and 29 January 1952.
2. Assistant, Berala O.C., 12 January 1954 (notification) and 2 February 1954.
3. Dept M., Yagoona, 31 January 1967 - entry struck through and endorsed as "Cancelled."
4. Dept M., Padstow Park, 30 January 1968 - entry also struck through and endorsed as "Cancelled."
5. Assistant Principal, 2 Banksia Road, 7 November 1967 (notification) and 30 January 1968.

Her record further notes that she was trained at Teachers College, 1937 to 1938; Teachers Certificate, with a Date of Award of 1 July 1943; "C" P.P.L., award date 1 January 1953; 3YT (11th year rate), Date of Award 1 January 1966; and that she successfully completed a B.A. degree at the University of New England in 1968, entered under a Date of Decision of 15 August 1969.

The last year date on her record was 1970, with an Efficiency Award APR/2P/E(Pr).

The above information indicates that Florence probably taught Opportunity Classes at Berala from the beginning of 1954 until the end of 1966.
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Florence died at Greenacre Hospital on 21 October 1977; after a funeral service at St David's Church of England, 180 Noble Avenue, Greenacre, she was buried at Rookwood Cemetery, in Anglican Lawn Section 1, Plot 899, Row 22. There is an inscription, recording, with classical allusions, her birth on 9 XI 1919, and her death on 21 X 1977:



Irene BUCKLER, of Glenwood, in reply to a blog-post of Maralyn PARKER dated 30 Oct 2008, in praise of her Teachers, wrote:
"...Then there was Mrs STUDDARD (Chester Hill High School, English again), who patiently guided me through my purple-haired rebellious years, and Miss Florence WILKES (Berala Public, Opportunity Class), who wrote stories for The School Magazine and was idolised by all (including me) many teachers, so many marvellous memories. Teachers are a class act!"
Irene added further details in her November 2011 reply to Dao:
"...when I attended an OC class, there were only a few of these classes to cater for the entire Sydney area - I think (and someone will correct me if I am wrong) there was only one OC class per region - making them much harder to access, I gather, than they are today. For the record, I went to Berala and my teacher was the unforgettable Miss Florence WILKES who loved 'Drumstick' ice-creams and orchestral concerts (we attended so many!), lived at Greenacre and regularly wrote stories for The School Magazine..."

Alan W. STEPHENSON, National Conservation Officer of the Australasian Native Orchid Society, in his nomination of Colin BOWER (one of my fellow students at Berala) for the R.D. FITZGERALD Trophy, for excellence in Australian Orchids, wrote:
"Dr Colin (Col) Charles BOWER... showed enough aptitude at primary school in Fairfield to be admitted to an “opportunity class” at Berala Public School. There was an emphasis at Berala on biology and Miss WILKES, a knowledgeable and inspirational teacher, sparked Colin's interest in natural history, opening up a whole new world through bush excursions..."
I have no recollections of Biology lessons - perhaps I fell asleep during them!

Tyrrell SALTER, a 1959-60 class-mate, remembers Miss WILKES "...very fondly, and as a benign and motherly figure." Tyrrell, in her 28 January 2016 e-mail, recalled "...there being a great library at Berala, unlike that of the school I'd come from... Miss W. devotedly manned the library every lunchtime."

The southern fa├žade of the 1924 school building in 2015.
The 5 OC photo below was probably taken from near the corner of this part of the 1924 building and looking towards the boundary fence through which this shot was taken - the trellis behind the 1959 group photo then ran parallel to the wall, but near the fence.

From across the playground, this view of the eastern end of the 1924 building shows the end wall, under the hipped roof, which is in the first photo above, with the top half hidden by the tree foliage.

The original 1924 Berala Public School building, viewed from the south-western street approach.
The 6 OC photo below was probably taken from a point inside the fence on the extreme left of this picture, looking down the hill.


A former class-mate, Stephen GREEN, has very recently made contact with me, quite out of the blue, and embarrassingly, with 55 years of life events flowing under this bridge or that, I had forgotten all about him.

And I find that many of the names now elude me, although I know I will recognise most of them when the list of them is complete.

I do still have the two class photographs, slightly soiled and creased.

Miss Florence WILKES is, of course, standing on the right (as we look at the picture), then aged 40. Yours truly is the shortest boy standing in the middle of the third row, directly above the sign-board behind Susan NASH with plaits (I think that is her) - on my left, as I am advised, was Robbie (as I remembered him - otherwise known as Billy) PARKER, the unfortunate boy who fell from a train and was killed.

Here, I have migrated to the back row, second from the right-hand end, between John TILLEY and Colin BOWER (he is next to Miss WILKES).

On the personnel front, I remember the names of class-mates Billy LAING (third row, second from left), Kevin MENDELSOHN (third row, third from right), Colin BOWER (back row, extreme right, next to Miss WILKES), and John TILLEY (back row, third from right).
I also remember Rosslyn DAVIES (front row, 4th from left), Robyn GUNN (second row, extreme left), Susan NASH (second row, fourth from left), Karen (I think wearing spectacles - perhaps LYNCH), and Gloria (possibly GILLIES).
Which is far too few - with humble apologies to the remainder, for my early onset dementia.

Stephen GREEN (back row, second from the left) has re-acquainted himself, and now I am reminded by him also of Danny O'BRIEN (back row, extreme left) and Warren TIPLADY (back row, third from left); and he further identifies other names for me - Roger PARRY (between Warren TIPLADY and John TILLEY), Grahame TOWLE (right of Billy LAING), Ian PATERSON (left of Billy LAING on the end of the row), and a Richard BLAND (with a question mark - right of Kevin MENDELSOHN and in front of yours truly); also Lynn PROCTOR and a girl named LOUGHMAN (perhaps just LOUGH?).

Tyrrell SALTER has also now added a few more girls names to the list - names which had slipped from my memory, but which were instantly recognisable when I saw them, although several of the nick-names were new to me - Gloria GILLIES and Karen LYNCH, both of whom went on to Parramatta High School with Tyrrell and Stephen GREEN; Susan (Tommy) NASH; Rosslyn (Bunny) DAVIES; Valda LOUGH; Ruth McLEAN (holding the 6 OC signage); Joy WEDDERBURN; Lynette GARNER; and then there was Glenda, Diedre and another Susan, but without remembered surnames.

I met up with Bill LAING and John TILLEY at the Summer School for Science Students at Sydney University in early 1965 (Leaving Certificate year); and several more entered Sydney University with us a year later, including Robyn GUNN (Electrical Engineering), Kevin MENDELSOHN (Medicine - he now practices as a G.P. with emphasis on E.N.T, in Atlanta, Georgia), Colin BOWER (one of the Biological Sciences - he was later an Entomologist, and won an award for work on Orchids), and I think Rosslyn DAVIES (Arts).

I do have some fond memories of my two years at Berala.

It was a two train journey, firstly from Harris Park to Lidcombe, and then change for the Liverpool via Regents Park line to Berala - with occasional glimpses of the steam driven Melbourne daylight express bolting through Lidcombe on its journey south. I am still a bit of a railways "tragic" - have always loved the way the old steam engines had their working bits on the outside, in full view!

I learnt to square dance, although it did nothing for either my confidence or my future careers.

I rather enjoyed the monumental projects that were required of us from time to time - one I remember was on Australian pastoral resources and products, and I think I pasted sample skeins of merino wool into the centre pages just for illustration - and the title of that project was "Australia Rides on the Sheep's Back" (as I am, just today, reminded by Lyn NOLAN, then of Chester Hill, who was in the next of Miss WILKES's classes of 1961-62).
Another, for some unusual and perhaps covert corporate reason, was on the manufacture of a very sugary soft-drink, licensed from its American manufacturers, with the "secret ingredient" that never occurred to me until my adult life had become an illicit recreational drug of choice for many (but not myself, he protesteth very loudly) - and it is likely that we had visited their bottling plant (as did the class of 1961-62, as Lyn NOLAN also remembered).

I think I remember fete days, when we made and/or sold hard and soft toffees and other dentists delights for some school or charitable project or another - but I may be conflating memories from Rose Hill.

And there were the excursions.
One I remember well was to the Agricultural College out west of Sydney (Hawkesbury, I suspect), where one of the girls (Susan NASH, if my memory serves) had her hock broken in a collision with a vehicle.
Another, as I am reminded by Stephen GREEN, was a visit to colonial era houses in historical Parramatta, including Elizabeth Farm (Governor Lachlan MACQUARIE's residence, named for his wife) and Experimental Farm Cottage (James RUSE's early farm grant), being approximately equally spaced from my own then residence at 32 Alice Street, Harris Park, with our view over the flood plain between Coal Cliff Creek and the upper navigable reaches of the Parramatta River, and some of my family waving to us from the back veranda as we inspected Hambledon Cottage (residence of the MACQUARIE family tutor).
And the Museum - spiders, if I remember rightly.

But perhaps the most rewarding of all of our excursions were the Symphony Concerts at the Sydney Town Hall - again, Lyn NOLAN (1961-62) reminds me that Miss WILKES even prepared her charges for choral participation in these concerts - and for me, as for others, a continuing deep love of sacred Choral Music seems to have been a result.

Sadly, towards the close of our year in 5 OC, "Billy" PARKER fell from a train and was killed - I would have been travelling with him, as I normally did, but I had spent that day at home sick with gastric troubles.
Bryan Robert PARKER died "...on 10 December 1959 (as the result of an accident) at St Joseph's Hospital, Auburn, of 9 Leura Road, Auburn, dearly loved son of Bob and Gwen PARKER and loved brother of Allen, aged 11. At Rest" [S.M.H., Friday 11 December], and after service at St Thomas's Church of England, Auburn, was cremated at the Rookwood Crematorium on the 11th.

And I suspect there was a bit of bullying - again, perhaps I am conflating memories of Berala with those of Rose Hill - but I do remember being lined up with the other "book-worms" against a brick wall, being pelted by tennis balls by a small posse of the more sporting types with strong throwing arms, and thereby acquiring the bully's brandings. I don't believe that I suffered any long-term damage as a result.
But we do seem to have been treated as a "tougher" breed back then - even being allowed to walk unattended from home to station and station to school, and back again, 5 days a week, 40 weeks a year, without any fear of becoming victims of predators, and also well before the days of 2 car families (on my first day at Berala, I was shown the way on the train by my mother, who appears to have trusted me to get back home again without her assistance).
Although it wasn't always walking - Tyrrell SALTER remembers me running for the train after school down a lane-way lined by a brick wall - perhaps the dawdlers missed a train, and then a connection or two at Lidcombe.
And Stephen GREEN remembers his friend George PENDER (who does not appear in either Class Photo) tripping over a slippery dip in Berala near the station, while running late, and breaking his arm.

If any of you 1959-1960'ers are out there, and don't mind your identity being revealed, please add a comment below and point yourselves out!
And if you wish to remain anonymous, but would like to make contact, please e-mail me at

Chris PIGOTT, formerly of 32 Alice Street, Harris Park, and now of Potts Point, N.S.W.

1 comment:

billnalynette said...

Dear Chris,

Today I googled Berala Public School as part of a search to find pictures to show my youngest grandson who has been given a school assignment of interviewing a grandparent about their primary school days. Imagine my surprise when my explorations led me to your blog entry about Miss Florence Wilkes and I found myself staring at my school photos from 1959 and 1960!

I am Lynette Cottam. When we together in 5th and 6th class I was LYNETTE COUCHMAN. In the 5OC photo I am 4th from the left in the second row and in the 6OC photo I am third from the right in the second row.

Two special friends of mine whom you have not listed are SUZANNE COLE and SUSAN JOHNSON. Suzanne is 4th from the right in the front row in 5OC and 2nd from the left in the front row in 6OC. Susan is 2nd from the right in the 2nd row in 5OC beside "Bunny" Davies, and 2nd from the right in the front row in 6OC, directly in front of me.

Another boy I remember and had contact with during high school days is ROBERT BOLAND. He is on the far left in the 3rd row in 5OC, and 2nd from the right in the 3rd row in 6OC. He, Billy Laing and I were all students of Berala Public School before we were placed in the opportunity class for 5th class.

I remember many of the events and people you wrote about, especially Bryan Parker because Miss Wilkes moved me to sit beside him for the latter weeks or months of 1959 because she was trying to stop me talking to my desk-mate. The move achieved the desired goal :)

I also fondly remember Miss Florence Wilkes. She was a teacher extraordinaire. I was particularly struck by the fact that she sent each of us a congratulatory card after our Leaving Certificate exam results were published in 1965.

I went on to study for a BA, majoring in mathematics and Latin, at Sydney University and became a High School mathematics teacher. I taught for 3 years at Wentworth Central School [at the junction of the Murray and Darling rivers]. Subsequently I spent 29 years as an evangelical missionary in the Highlands of Papua New Guinea. I spent 11 of those years teaching at a school for the children of missionaries. My husband and I retired to the Hunter Valley in NSW three years ago.

There is much more I could write but I shall leave it at this for now.

Lynette Couchman Cottam