What a surprise to stumble upon Advocate writer La Donna’s very long and detailed description of her visit to the opening of Sheffield Area School on Thurs 2 April 1936, It appeared in her weekly column Women’s Social Forum dated 7April 1936, several days after the Advocate’s official report of the school’s opening had been published. La Donna had been invited to attend this opening by Tom Butler, the enthusiastic president of the Sheffield Parents & Friends Ass. because he told her ‘it was to be the first Area School in Australia.’ I have had to condense the size of La Donna’s long article by one third, to make it fit into this double page of the Kentish Voice. Entitled: The First in Australia -The Sheffield Area School – a Visit of Inspection, this is the gist of what she wrote.

Situated in Main Street, and not far from the War Memorial of the Kentish Municipality, with its figure of a soldier wrought in gleaming white marble, the Sheffield Area School is a large building, centrally situated, and standing well back from the road. Above the main entrance gate a large Union Jack was a loyal sight. Other flags fluttered in the mountain breeze and strings of pennants were stretched in their gay colours across the front of the school. The entrance led to a concrete quadrangle surrounded by pretty flower gardens. A temporary platform had been erected immediately in front of the building. It was nicely carpeted and furnished in readiness for the opening ceremony. Tall pedestals held bronze bowls filled with the bright plumed asters, and the front of this stage was decorated with trails of Virginia creeper, mingling with the starlike blooms of a certain kind of clematis. A piano was placed nearby.
Inspecting the School Grounds and Buildings
At 2.30pm I (La Donna) joined the official party for a Ministerial tour of inspection of the grounds and school buildings. The sunny afternoon was perfect for the occasion. Handsome English trees, judging by their girth and height, were planted many Arbo Days ago. Fine specimens of oak are there; poplars showing the happy silver lining-side of their leaves; elm trees turning to gold, the lime, the ash and the sycamore.

We viewed many experimental garden plots, neat and orderly, and sown with samples of grass seeds, cereals, and so on, suited to the climatic and soil conditions of the surrounding districts. Vegetable seeds were also coming up in compact rows, which it is hoped will soon to be able to supply the girl’s cookery classes with vegetables. Here I have to confess that, I lost interest in the agricultural discussions going on around me, as my heart was entirely captivated by wee Robin Blake, aged two and-a-bit, baby-daughter of the Sheffield head master (W. (Jack) Blake), Accompanying her mother, the toddler wore a pale pink smock, with matching bow perched upon her curly head. Tiny pink socks and blue shoes were worn on plump legs determined to keep pace with the sightseers. Living in the schoolhouse close at hand, the girlie, with her rosy cheeks and roguish eyes of brown, is, of course, the idol of the school children. Placing her tiny hand in mine in perfect friendliness, she prattled at some length in her baby-way about “my Daddy’s ‘cool’ (school)”. Then came an inspection of some fifty boys standing beside their new school bicycles all with white mudguards. These bikes had been supplied by the Education Dept for boys from the surrounding districts when it was too far to walk. Each day they ride these bicycles several miles to and from school. Standing together, they formed quite an imposing ‘Cycling Corps’.

Visiting the Manual Training centres
In the Woodwork & Saddlery Room, the schoolboys, in overalls with sleeves rolled up, looked most business-like behind their work benches. One boy was planning a piece of wood, another boring holes to complete a three-legged milking stool. In, true tinkering style, a third was soldering a leak in a useful billy can, heating his tools at a little spirit-stove designed for the purpose. All looked competent, and quite at home in this manual work. Instruction in the saddlery section will be useful to those boys who become farmers when they leave school. A piece of harness was on exhibition, neatly and expertly repaired by a pupil. By comparison, its unrepaired companion piece of some old horse’s trappings was roughly held together with a length of ‘the farmer’s friend’ – a piece of press wire.

Entering the Domestic Science Department, the visitors were met by instructress, Mrs. H. Needham, recently of Hobart, who had a breezy and pleasant personality to which any child would give their best response. Bright-faced girls of twelve and older, were neatly clad in white spick and span overalls. First place to see was the new school kitchen, a most fascinating room. The colour scheme is pale green and cream. Fresh-looking curtains of green check are daintily hung at the large windows, and along the mantelpiece is a set of tin cannisters marked Flour, Sugar, Rice, Sago, Tea & Coffee like pretty maids all in a row. A small green clock ticking away at the end of the line. The hearth and the brickwork surrounding the stove have been painted green. The hearth brush has been treated in like manner, the kitchen scales, the salt box, the colander; and other familiar kitchen objects, each having its own mission to perform. A green kettle holder hangs ready for use, green shades cover electric lights, a roller towel is striped with green. The white pine-topped cooking tables were spotless and fitted with drawers. The shelves below hold pastry boards, rolling pins, and enamel basins and plates of different sizes. A handsome kitchen cabinet with leadlight doors holds the table linen, cutlery, and so on.
Vases of mauve Easter daisies graced the tops of green cupboards against the walls; and one vase, nicely arranged, was the centre of a table, with a collection of light and fancy cakes made by the girls in class. The cakes were beautifully cooked and decorated. There was also
biscuits, scones, cheese straws, cheesecakes, and commendable assortment of preserved fruit, sauces, pickles jellies and jams.

Several ladies took me to peep inside the dining Room where, after the opening, the official party and other visitors were entertained at afternoon tea This room was fresh and dainty, with crinkled streamers of pale green and white hanging above the tables. Each was covered with a snowy cloth, an afternoon teacloth edged with deep crochet placed cornerwise as a centre. Crystal vases held the prettiest of pink sweet peas, and the windows were hung with curtains of green and white chock. All eatables were offered in dishes of silver, crystal, or Doulton china, a dainty doyley on each. Acting as waitresses, the white-clad girls of the Domestic Science room, with Mrs. Needham to guide them, filled the role very nicely indeed. Throughout the afternoon, it was pleasing to note the deportment of the whole school-bonnie girls and boys alike. They did not give the impression of being painfully on their best behaviour, or “on show.” They were well conducted and happy, and whenever addressed informally by any of the Ministerial party, answered politely and naturally.

Before leaving this section, we were shown an interesting display of needlework. Knitted cushions, brightly coloured, were of handsome design. Glass cloths and tea towels, neatly hemmed, were worked with touches of hand embroidery. Small pieces of tapestry were more ambitious, and a coat hanger appeared among the fancy articles on view. There were knitted scarves and kettle holders, and one little girl, by frantically working overtime, managed to finish the first sock of a pair, just in time for the Opening.

Around School Classrooms
Leaving behind the new manual training section, the official party visited in turn each of the four classrooms:
First was Miss Annie Dwyer’s Grades 4 & 5, where Eric Padman made a manly speech of welcome. The room was artistically filled with vases of Autumn warmed dahlias, French marigolds and calendulas. Cosmos was placed under a high shelf, and Michaelmas daisies beautified a pedestal. The walls were nicely hung with framed pictures of several Egyptian desert scenes and a classic copy of Jean Millet’s The Gleaners. The two classes gave a concerted recitation entitled “Tewksbury Road,” and blue-eyed Carnie Edwards recited ‘Boy Dreams” very prettily.

Next came Miss Vera Courtney’s Infant Room. Baby-faces turned to smile brightly at the visitors. A few little people, however, looked shy and over-awed. Verna Rockliff, a dark-eyed little girl, made the prettiest of speeches. She then became leading lady in “Little Miss Muffet,” dressed for the part in a gay floral frock, with rose-coloured sun bonnet. Seated upon the traditional tuffet and eating her curds and whey, how she screamed when Alan Powell as the “big spider,” came along! With the wickedest eyes imaginable, he “sat down beside her to frighten Miss Muffet away”. Then followed ‘Hey Diddle Diddle.” Charlie Wilcox fiddled a tune, while Reg Hope as “the cow,” attempted to “jumped over the moon.” Alan Powell as ‘the dog” laughed so long and loudly, it called forth the admiration of G. V. Brooks, Director of Education. A tuneful duet sung by John Crowden and Betty Nibbs entitled Where are you going to, my pretty maid?” was entertaining.

Then we inspected Miss Phyllis Beard’s Grades 3 & 4 where four children gave an amusing little sketch entitled “How I Hate Cows!” One small boy with great spirit railed against the useful quadruped. These performers were: Bruce Ivory, Margaret Bissett, Lois Wright, and Jack Austin. The room was bright and pretty with berries and autumn leaves, being especially attractive.

Finally we visited Grades 6 & 7 where Mr Blake and his assistant Carl Paice teach the bigger girls and boys. Mottled vases of mauve-blue Easter daisies were placed upon the mantelpiece, with an effective touch. Autumn leaves banked the window ledges, and decked the ventilators around the room. In this Senior room, the Anzac Shield, won at sport by the School was on display. Ken Atkins made a splendid speech of welcome, and several girls and boys spoke admirably. Their delivery and clear enunciation made an impression on the Minister for Education (E J Ogilvie.) who prophesied that the Sheffield School of the future would produce several members of Parliament, with even girls aspiring to Parliamentary honors. His statement created lots of laughter.

The Official Opening
Following the Ministerial tour of inspection of the grounds and school, the Official Opening commenced at 3.15 p.m., A large crowd of parents, friends and the general public had assembled in front of the school, under ideal weather conditions.

The headmaster Wm (Jack) Blake in introducing Tom Butler, president of the Parents’ Ass. likened him to “Tho Rock of Gibraltar” as his interests in the school go back more than half a century. Mr Butler took the chair and presided in happy style. Addresses were given by the Warden (Cr. Adye Smith), Minister for Education (Mr. Ogilvie), who declared the Area School formally open, the Chief Sec. (T. D’Alton), the Director of Education (Mr. Brooks), Messrs F Edwards, J Chamberlain, and Phil Kelly M.H.A, Cr C R Morris, and Inspector P Hughes. On the motion of Cliff Pease, seconded by Reuben Bramich, votes of thanks were accorded the visitors. Their remarks were supported by 12-year-old Ronald Brazier, a pupil who has not missed a day from school for seven years.

A happy little ceremony was performed by three schoolgirls- Fay Powell, Thelma Freiboth, and Win Dyer. Approaching the platform, they presented a buttonhole of a carnation set-in asparagus fern to each of the three following gentlemen: Messrs. Brooks, Ogilvie, and D’Alton. After the speeches, a delightful programme was given by the schoolchildren themselves, that included singing and eurhythmics, accompanists being the headmaster’s wife Gladys (Teddy) Blake and Miss Annie Dwyer. Youthful performers falling into line with military precision made a striking picture.

Then girls and boys of the united school choir sang most tunefully with spirit and feeling the anthem Tasmania calls, To health and wealth and happy hours, To sure prosperity.” Words and music alike are the composition of Cecil Reginald Morris, a citizen of Sheffield.
In neatly pleated uniforms of navy with white short-sleeved blouses and navy ties, black shoes and white sockettes, the Senior Girls delighted with a display of eurythmics, Dancing and gestures of the eurythmic class were full of graceful movement and rhythm giving expression to whatever theme or the music suggested: picking flowers, imitating the graceful flight of birds, of fluttering butterflies. Whatever the idea, it was charmingly given by those girls of grace. In gymnasium attire, with sneakers, making them fleet of toe, the Senior Boys gave a fine exhibition of physical drill. They performed with precision, alertness, and a oneness most commendable. The dance around the Maypole by the Small Girls was adorable. The loosened streamers in the school colours of ‘red & white’ hanging from tall green Maypole allowed the young girls to deftly weave a pretty pattern as they closed in, which just as neatly unravelled when dancers reversed.

At the close of the entertainment, all present joined in the singing of the National Anthem, and hearty cheers were given. How they echoed and re-echoed upon the clear, crisp air of Sheffield. It seemed the voices of old and young alike must reach right to the heights of Rugged Old Roland, regal and aloof, like some giant wall of fortitude and strength in the light of the westering sun.’