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CH@T - Community Hub at Taggerty

Taggerty Primary School

Taggerty School No. 2544 opened in 1875, with an prospective attendance of 42 students, including 17 students from five local families (Batchelor, Starling, Nichols, Irwin and Scott). Tenders for construction of the school building were advertised, and the successful tenderer was Mr Thomas Carison of Alexandra for a total cost of 314 pounds, 14 shillings and sixpence. The original Taggerty school was a two-roomed wooden building to accommodate 40 students, with a two-room residence attached. Mr. John Edward Mills applied for the position of Head Teacher at Taggerty (and also Buxton school), and commenced in that position on 24th November 1875, the official opening date of both schools. Mills taught at both part-time schools, even though his request to the Education Department for a travel allowance for riding his horse between the schools was disallowed.

The early days of the school(s) were difficult, as illustrated by the teachers' reporting of problems with floods, lightning, bushfires, snakes and inadequate facilities for feeding their horses. Apart from the latter, not much changed over the next 100 years. By 1885, Taggerty was now partnered as a part-time school with Acheron, while Buxtom partnered with Marysville. The prospective attendance of 42 students never quite eventuated, and the average number in the 1880's was about 20, enough for it to be made a full-time school. By the 1890's it was down to 12 students, with the threat of going back to a part-time school looming over their heads. By 1896, the school was showing its age, as illustrated by the fact that "White ants had destroyed framework and flooring, foundation blocks are rotten and the shingle roof is leaking beyond repair". Repairs, including a new iron roof, gave the school a new lease on life. In 1897, a quarter acre at the south-east corner of the school was excised for the erection of the Mechanics Institure and Library; a situation that continues today.

The turn of the century saw no let-up in pressure on the school. Average attendance was still only 12 students. Under threat of reversion to part-time status in 1904, the parents of students agreed to pay £12 per year to keep the school open as a full-time school. In 1906, however, Taggerty was made part-time and partnered with Acheron again. Over the next five years, the attendance at Acheron declined, while that at Taggerty increased to over 20, so Taggerty was again made a full-time schoool in 1909.

Over the next 50 years, the two major themes were the ongoing battle with student numbers, and the increased role of parents in funding and doing work to keep the school operational. A school vegetable garden, improved water supply systems, sewerage, swimming pool in the Little River, air-raid shelter in 1942 and phone connections were some of the major improvements to be seen. In the late-40's, proposals were made for the establisment of a Consolidated Area Achool in Alexandra, with intentions to move the Taggerty School students to Alexandra. However, by 1950, the enthusiasm for this idea had wained.

By 1959, the numbers of students had increased sufficiently for an assistant teacher to be appointed. In addition, the old school was now too small, and a room in the Taggerty Hall was used for classes, until a new two-room school was completed in 1966, with the cricket pitch and football posts installed in 1967. In 1979, a new toilet block was completed, and in 1986 the Acheron portable building was shifted to Taggerty and joined to the exisitng building. In 1988, the area at the eastern end of the school gorunds was designated as a school arboretum, with native plants planted among the existing trees. At the same time, the area to the north was registered as a school plantation, but only a small area was planted. Due to opposition from various sources, the remainder was levelled and turned into a school oval.

In the early 1990's, the school was under pressure for having too much space (or too few students for that space) and despite public and media opposition to initial attempts to remove the portable, it was eventually shifted away in mid-1991. There was also pressure as a result of State Government pressure to close or amalgamate small schools. While several local schools were annexed to larger schools, Taggerty managed to survive this ruthless time.

In 1996, the Taggerty Primary School Support Group (the old Parents Club) continued with fund-raising, and erected a notice board on the the front fenceline, sections of which were used for commercial advertising. In 2000, a new playground, toilet block and undercover area were installed, in the same year as the Olympic Torch was carried past the school by Peter Kerr, an ex-student of the school.

The turn of the next century saw a renewal of the battle with student numbers, with a reduction to single digits by 2008, which brought renewed pressure for closure. However, Black Saturday 2009 gave Taggerty Primary another lease on life, when many other primary schools in the area (especially Marysville) were destroyed by fire. Luckily Taggery school had ample space, especially after another portable classroom was shifted to the site, and student numbers increased dramatically as students were re-located to Taggerty school. However, the inevitable happened as time went by and the other schools were re-built, and the numbers at Taggerty again fell. This time, with changing demographics in the area, there was to be no reprieve when students numbers fell to 3, and in 2017 the decision was reluctantly made to close Taggerty Primary School for good.

The original Taggerty School No. 2554 (circa 1910), with about 25 students in the photo (Taggerty Hall in the left background).

(from the front and back covers of "Taggerty Primary School 1875-2000: A History of the School and the District")

With the close of Taggerty Primary in 2017, the future of the school site remained uncertain. Three options were being discussed as possibilities:

- leave the site unused, with inevitable deterioration, as seen for other school closures in the region

   (e.g. Thornton)

- sell for site to a private developer for commercial or residential development

- keep the site in public hands, but re-purposed for a community purpose

For some time, the Taggerty Community Progress Group (TCPG) had been thinking about the establishment of a Community Centre, to relieve pressure on the Taggerty General Store which had developed over the years (especially since the Black Saturday bushires) as a de-facto community centre. So planning meetings took place, both in Taggerty and with other Community Centres in the region, with a view to establishing such a Community Centre, which quickly became known as CH@T - the Community Hub at Taggerty.

As a result of these meetings, negotiations were entered into with the Department of Education for permission to use the school site as the ongoing home of CH@T into the future. Eventually, a decision was made to establish Murrindindi Shire Council as the formal custodian of the site, with a two-year peppercorn sub-lease to TCPG during the establishment phase of CH@T. Negotiations are currently underway to have CH@T recognised as the long-term tenant of the site.

Sat-Sun 11-12 March 2023, Lost Trades Fair, Bendigo (#193)

Friday 31 March 2023, Alex Library Accoustica, Alexandra (#194)