17 May 2024

Towradgi Public School celebrates 70 years of kindness

| Zoe Cartwright
Start the conversation
Former student - and later teacher - Dianne Shiels with current principal Jacqui Cavill at Towradgi Public School's 70th birthday celebrations

Former student – and later teacher – Dianne Shiels with current principal Jacqui Cavill at Towradgi Public School’s 70th birthday celebrations on 15 May. Photo: Zoe Cartwright.

Seventy years ago, Towradgi Public School’s first students walked through the door.

There have been more than a few paint jobs since, and today the school is surrounded by houses and high-rises, rather than scrub or paddocks, but staff and former students say a legacy of quiet kindness has persisted over the decades.

The school was officially opened on 30 April 1954, although it was established in temporary dwellings in 1953.

Former student – and later teacher – Dianne Shiels first walked through the doors in the 1950s, shortly after the school opened.

She remembers drab school buildings that were warmed by the personalities of teachers and students.

READ ALSO Fibro homes are fading away but memories of families and friendships remain strong

“It wasn’t painted brightly like it is now, but we always had fun, even though it was very strict,” she said.

“I used to talk a lot, especially in second and third class, and I remember getting the cane on the back of the legs.

“But I loved it here; it was a friendly atmosphere, I had wonderful friends, and I never experienced bullying until I went to high school.

“It was a great time.”

Quoits, folk dancing and cocky, Laura, were popular and naughty kids were given chores, not detentions.

“They were given jobs to do, like gardening and helping with the bins,” she said.

“I can’t speak for the kids themselves because they experienced it, but I used to look out the window a lot and wish I was outside with them.”

Fresh cold milk was on the menu every day, and she has fond memories of a favourite teacher, Mrs Millman sitting on the table with her feet on a chair reading The Wizard of Oz and Alice in Wonderland.

After she graduated Dianne lived on Carters Lane and returned to Towradgi Public as a prac teacher. She went on to specialise in K-2 and had a long teaching career including as a teacher educator consulting in the US and lecturing at universities.

She was inspired by the kindness of her teachers.

“When I started out I was told I wasn’t firm enough, but the models I had as teachers weren’t horrible cranky teachers, and I think my style paid off in the end,” she said.

“Towradgi was always what we call now multicultural, but everyone was grounded in the same really solid 1950s values and I think that thread carries through to today.”

Dianne worked with current principal Jacqui Cavill, who has been at the helm for the past five years.

She said the school’s unique location meant its history reflected waves of immigration through the Illawarra.

“The immigrant hostels at Fairy Meadow and Balgownie are what populated Towradgi initially, so the school has always been multicultural, but Towradgi itself has gone from a sleepy country town to a vibrant part of Wollongong,” she said.

“So students would come for a short time and then leave when their families found permanent housing.

“It’s less transient now but we still get a lot of students from overseas backgrounds because we’re close to the university.

“We also embrace the Aboriginal heritage of the area, and we believe it’s all of our jobs to give our students the best tools and knowledge to embrace that heritage.”

READ ALSO Budget delivers promised tax and energy bill relief, plus cheaper medicine

The school sits on Dharawal land, home to the Wadi Wadi people of the Five Islands Dreaming.

Teaching today is more flexible than it might have been 70 years ago, with more consideration for culture, disability and gender.

“In the past it was about the way teachers wanted to teach rather than how students learn,” Jacqui said.

Attending the celebrations were members of the school community who have had three generations attend Towradgi Public School, Pauline Green, who has taught at the school for 27 years, and students who were there on the first day the school opened.

“We joke it’s a heavenly place for teachers,” Jacqui said.

“I’ve worked in lots of different schools and I’m just awestruck by the students here – their kindness, their acceptance of each other and their ability to be resilient and support each other and look out for each other.

“I think that’s the culture of the school that’s always been here and it just keeps continuing.”

Start the conversation

Daily Digest

Want the best Illawarra news delivered daily? Every day we package the most popular Illawarra stories and send them straight to your inbox. Sign-up now for trusted local news that will never be behind a paywall.

By submitting your email address you are agreeing to Region Group's terms and conditions and privacy policy.