Our fascinating history of remote learning

This is not the first time that Ascham girls have experienced remote learning over the last century. In fact, there have been several periods where interruptions to schooling and remote learning have had to take place, especially for our boarders.

This fascinating potted history of the events has been compiled by our Ascham Archivist, Ms Marguerite Gillezeau.

In 1919, with the advent of the Spanish influenza epidemic, Ascham was disrupted for the first six months of the school year. Initially, the School opening was pushed back from Feb 4 to March 4, then, although two-thirds of the boarders and most of the day girls turned up on the first day of School, new restrictions came into force and numbers of both day girls and boarders dropped dramatically. Day girls and boarders were kept apart in separate accommodation, classrooms and playgrounds for 6 months, disrupting all school activities, sport and learning. Each morning, the girls and teachers had to pass through disinfecting rooms spraying eucalyptus vapour and required to wear masks during the day. The boarders at school felt very isolated and our yearbook records that they became very depressed.

During the Depression of the 1930s, Ascham managed to maintain its numbers, although many parents lost their jobs. Boarding numbers dropped but the boarding houses stayed open and fared much better than other boarding schools such as Kambala and Abbotsleigh, which suffered terrible losses to their boarding community. However, the financial impact of the Depression was very hard on Ascham and led towards the formation of the School Council in 1937 after Headmistress Miss Bailey admitted she was struggling to manage on her own.

During World War II, all Sydney boarding schools, particularly those within the vicinity of Sydney Harbour were advised to evacuate their boarders. Miss Bailey lined up accommodation for the boarders at the start of 1942 in a large house at Woodford which at the last minute was requisitioned by the army, just before the start of the school year. Miss Bailey sent out desperate communications to the country families and received word back from the Allens in Berridale, near Cooma that they were able to accommodate 25 boarders aged 10 to 15 in very rustic conditions (including no electricity and rationed water) in one of their farm cottages. Another 40 girls aged 9 to 13 (including some day girls) were sent to a more comfortable hotel-like establishment in Blackheath, an arrangement that proved so successful that they stayed there for 15 months until the end of Term 1 in 1943.

This left 140 day girls at Ascham, 24 boarders (mainly Senior girls) and 42 girls doing their schoolwork via correspondence whose lessons sent to them in the post. As with the country families during WWI, many were short on labour on their properties due to the men going to war, so the girls were required to stay home and work the land.

The girls left at school had to endure food rationing along with the rest of the country, as well as air raid drills. They even used the air raid shelters built in the school grounds on the night the Japanese entered the Harbour, which most found very frightening and exciting (especially after the event), except for the boarder from Queensland who slept through the entire drill and was never allowed to live it down for the rest of her life!

In conclusion, apart from a month at the start of 1919, Ascham boarding houses have never been completely closed, but there have been several times when numbers have been greatly reduced and/or girls were evacuated. However, the School has always risen again and grown in strength and community.

Header photo: Ascham boarders evacuated to Kiah Lodge, near Berridale during World War II engaged in a working bee, 1942.
Below: Ascham boarders at Kiah Lodge near Berridale, 1942, riding to church with their hosts, the Allen family. 
Also below: ‘Redleaf’, Blackheath, the property where 40 Ascham girls were evacuated during 1942–1943.

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