Rural & Domestic School


The roots of the Rural School lay firmly in the Sunshine Coast when the first institution of this kind was established at Nambour Primary School in 1917. In the far reaches of the northern districts of the South East Queensland corner, students would travel from miles around for many long treacherous hours on trains, by foot and often even by boat to gain ‘rural’ skills. [REFERENCE REQUIRED]

Photograph courtesy Sunshine Coast Libraries.

Queensland historian, Tony Brady, eloquently describes the philosophy behind the establishment of this extra-curriculum in the abstract of his 2013 thesis, The rural school experiment: creating a Queensland yeoman.


“The initiative started at Nambour Primary School in 1917, and extended over the next four decades to encompass thirty primary schools that functioned as centralized institutions training children in agricultural science, domestic science, and manual trade training.

The Rural Schools formed the foundation of a systemised approach to agricultural education intended to facilitate the State’s closer settlement ideology. The purpose of the Rural Schools was to mitigate urbanisation, circumvent foreign incursion and increase Queensland’s productivity by turning boys into farmers, or the tradesmen required to support them, and girls into the homemakers that these farmers needed as wives and mothers for the next generation.”

1946 A Typical Leatherwork Classes for Boys at Nambour Rural School

Photograph courtesy Queensland State Archives.
See Image Source Page.


Source: Brady, Tony J. (2013) The rural school experiment: creating a Queensland yeoman. PhD thesis, Queensland University of Technology (


It is possible that some students from North Pine may have attended the Nambour School originally and would have travelled on specially constructed rail timetables, even “paddling the river to cross it” (T. Brady (Historian), 2014).

However, there is yet still a direct formal link to be correlated evidently proving that the students of North Pine school did in fact travel to the Nambour Rural School.  Although it is fairly disproven that this was the case very early on, and it was possibly not an option until Caboolture State School was established as a rural training school in 1939. [RESEARCH REQUIRED]

There is evidence, however, that children from North Pine State School were learning domestic skills within the school environment from as early as 1916, as we have photographs of the beautiful, post-Victoriana period sewing sampler of former pupil Mabel Hart (Nee Skinner).

There is nothing to suggest though, that enrolled students of North Pine school were travelling anywhere to learn these skills at this time.  As the rural school in Nambour was not yet open, it is assumed at this point that the Assistant Teacher (often a female) would teach the young ladies these practical life skills. [RESEARCH REQUIRED]


Caption: Ca. 1914 This sewing sampler was hand sewn by Mabel during her school days and shows the different sewing techniques girls learnt in the early 20th century. It is approximately 1 metre in length. Courtesy: Pam Alton (Nee Hart).  See Pam Alton’s (Mabel’s daughter) sewing sampler from the 1950s below.


Even as the Nambour Rural School began, facts garnered suggest that possibly the Nambour Rural school was not servicing the North Pine state school students. Or possibly that this service was not widely communicated in the early times to a broader community beyond the sunshine coast.

We can rationally draw this conclusion as in a 1921 letter from a resident in North Pine and its subsequent response, we can see that indeed young men and women were enrolling at Nambour and travelling via train to Nambour Rural School with subsidies provided by the Government.

However, the young adult who is the subject of this request was likely beyond the age of primary school by 1921 at 16 years.  Given the Rural School at Nambour was opened in 1917, it had been operating a number of years by this time and from the content of the letter written by Mrs F [Florence] Willmer, it seems that she was completely unaware of the existence of the Domestic School until “a friend of mine was telling me about the Rural School”.

From simple research, it was ascertained from enrolment records (Source: Commemorating 125 Years of Service: Petrie State School 1874-1999) that the earliest enrolment listed for ‘Willmer’ children was in 1918 when Eric, Millie and Victor were listed as joining the school community together.

Eric Willmer is over 100 years old and a member of the North Pine Historical Society.  He celebrated his 100th birthday in 2013 (Source: North Pine Historical Society Inc. Minutes, September 2013, Download Word File.)  This proves he was born in 1913 and at the minimum age for enrolment in school at 5 years in 1918, this suggests that Millie and Victor were older siblings and that the children were enrolled at the school together on migrating to the North Pine Region.  Eric is thought to be the oldest North Pine pupil to be still living in 2014.

The Willmer family were the second owners of the North Pine Boarding House which “originally occupied a site on Anzac Avenue near the northern corner of the Young Street intersection” (Source: North Pine Historical Society), they purchased the property in what is believed to be around 1920.  They converted the boarding house to a family home and opened a popular shop in the front where pies and peas were a treat to be bought at the local dance night as the School of Arts Hall was right next door.

Florence Amelia Willmer, known as Millie, wanted to learn dress-making at the Rural School and was granted leave to study free of fees.

This research suggests that the Nambour rural school was not community knowledge at a state school level, but that perhaps as the popularity of the school’s purpose grew, word travelled further afield of the immediate Nambour area.  In this sense, it seems reasonable to deduce that the rural school was teaching pupils from young children, but also young adults who were willing to travel to learn a pre-vocational skill to gain employment with domestic or trade skills.



In 1939 an application was approved by the Government to establish a Rural School at Caboolture North, this was the last Rural School to be developed as there were complications and doubts as to the suitability of the scheme for children traveling long distances, and to the viability of its logistical management. (Source: Brady, Tony J. (2013) The rural school experiment: creating a Queensland yeoman. PhD thesis, Queensland University of Technology)


Caboolture North State School opened on 25 November 1889. In June 1912 the school was renamed Caboolture State School but from 1940 until 1960 the school was Caboolture Rural State School …

Source: Queensland State Archives,


Naturally Caboolture was much closer to North Pine than Nambour, so it was that students during this era would travel on the train from Petrie to Caboolture to learn farming or trade skills, and if you were a girl – domestic duties.

As students would travel straight to the rural school from their home in the morning, where they lived determined how long they travelled and generally how many modes of transport they would undertake to get there:



“When I attended North Pine State School in the twenties, I was taught by Mr Chappel of whom I had a high regard. Before I completed by primary education, my family moved to St. Lucia, but not wanting to change schools, I travelled on the West End Ferry and then on a tram to Central Station and from there to Petrie. Once a week my class travelled to Caboolture for manual training. I did this for nearly three years.”

– Mr Robert G. Chilcott (1974)

Source: Centenary Petrie State School 1874-1974: History of Petrie State School Formerly North Pine State School



There is evidence that some trade and domestic science studies were taught in classes held on the school grounds during 1945 to 1953. The assistant teacher of this era, Miss Zillman, evidently taught the girls’ duties:


“Glenda Mohr was an only child, very quiet, neat, and wore her rich red hair in 2 plaits (most of us did in those days). Glenda had beautiful dolls and toys, and sewed beautifully. She was very popular on Domestic Science days with Miss Zillman, who was sometimes driven to distraction by girls who didn’t stitch too well!”

– Janice Hall (nee Petrie), 1999 – Past Student, North Pine State School, 1945 – 1953

Source: Centenary Petrie State School 1874-1974: History of Petrie State School Formerly North Pine State School


However, it seems that students from Petrie would travel to Caboolture weekly for Rural School until the end of the 1950s:


“Once a week, we used to travel to Caboolture to go to Rural School, the girls to do cooking and sewing, and the boys to do woodwork until a Rural School was built adjoining Petrie School …”

– Joyce Wagner (nee Cairns), 1999 – Past Student, Petrie State School, 1955 – 1963

Source: Commemorating 125 Years of Service: Petrie State School 1874-1999, pp28-30.


Eventually the original Teachers’ Residence was demolished allowing more room for expansion on the school grounds.


“… the Principal’s residence had to be demolished to build this and so a new Principal’s residence was erected.”

– Joyce Wagner (nee Cairns), 1999 – Past Student, Petrie State School, 1955 – 1963

Source: Commemorating 125 Years of Service: Petrie State School 1874-1999, pp28-30.


In 1959 the construction of a separate Domestic Science and Manual Training Block situated between the old school residence and the side road was completed.


“In 1959 special buildings were erected to serve as a vocational centre for Grade 8 students. After Grade 8 was transferred to the High School the buildings continued to be used until 1969 when they were passed from Primary School Control.”

– Merv Ewart, former Groundsman.

Source: 1982 Petrie State School Parent Guide, From the Collection of Jean Charters.


Caption: Photographs showing the newly built Domestic Science and Manual Training Block.
The dirt road seen here is possibly Tandoor Drive.

Source: 1950. Petrie State School, Moreton Bay, July 1959,
Queensland State Archives ( &


The ‘Domestic School’ was built near the spot where the teacher’s residence was, this was in the Dayboro Road and Tandoor Drive corner of the school. Pupils no longer needed to travel to the Caboolture Rural School, and there was possibly a subtle difference in curriculum in that farming was probably no longer taught [RESEARCH REQUIRED].

Sewing, cooking, woodwork and manual tasks were completed on site and a new era of community life had flourished around the old school.


“One day at Rural School, my sister, Janice, was told to wash the tea-towels after a cooking lesson. Janice didn’t feel like doing that so she locked herself in the laundry. The teachers couldn’t convince her to come out so they left her locked in. At 3:00 pm, Mr Robinson went over to the Rural School and told her that school was over for the day and for her to go home. She never did wash the tea-towels.”

– Joyce Wagner (Nee Cairns), 1999 – Past Student, Petrie State School, 1955 – 1963

Source: Commemorating 125 Years of Service: Petrie State School 1874-1999, pp28-30.


By virtue we were also able to photograph the sewing sampler of Pam Alton (Nee Hart), Mabel Hart’s (Nee Skinner) daughter (see her sampler from ca. 1914 above).  Pam attended Petrie State School in the 1950s – you will note the difference in fashions, styles and techniques from one generation to the next.


Courtesy Pam Alton (Nee Hart), 2014. Photograph Kathleen Cameron.


Eventually, the Domestic School was phased out as year eight moved to high school and the buildings were taken over in 1970 by the Petrie Opportunity School (later the Petrie Special School). When the Special School was built in Lawnton in 1986, the Opportunity School moved out and the buildings were inhabited for a short time by the YMCA (for outside school hours care) before they were demolished, making way for the staff car park.


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