A Catholic Public School?

Was this Public School unique?

 In a small valley just to the west of Vacy sits a former Public School that was variously known as Summer Hill, Bunnabunoo and Fisher’s Hill before it finally closed in 1975. Now used by the Girl Guides and of unremarkable design, this school may have a claim to be unique in the history of Australian education – or at least remarkably unusual.

 This Public School was – for at least the first half of its existence, and perhaps much longer – composed almost entirely of Catholic students with Catholic teachers. Even the original application to set up a provisional school in 1871 was made by a Catholic priest. This was a time when the Catholic Church in Australia was setting up its own school system and strongly encouraging Catholic parents to send their children to Catholic Schools in preference to the Public School system.

That the school was attended by mainly Catholic students in an area primarily settled by Catholic families is not remarkable. What is remarkable is that the community strongly supported its Public School and in return, until at least 1929, the education authorities tacitly supported the Catholicity of the community by having only Catholic teachers. This was at first perhaps due to community control over the selection of teachers. But in 1917 the situation was acknowledged when the School Inspector recommended a Catholic teacher be sent as all the students were Catholic (except one, who lived in a Catholic home). One reason given for this policy was the fear that if a ‘Convent school’ were opened, then the Public School would necessarily close.

 It cannot be said for certain that no other similar Catholic dominated Public Schools existed in Australia. But it can be said that the Summer Hill/Bunnabunoo/Fisher’s Hill school was an interesting local instance of the once great Catholic/Protestant divide.