Despite coping with multi-age class sizes of well over 100 students per teacher, as well as the dry, hot, dusty isolated conditions of the outback, students at Silverton School achieved comparable education with any other school at the time.
In fact, many of the students and teachers associated with this remote school went on to achieve remarkable things.
The schoolroom of the late 1800s and early 1900s was much more regimented that the classrooms of today. Teachers focused upon the three R’s: reading, writing and arithmetic. Behaviour and discipline were very important, especially due to the large class sizes.
Students who broke the rules would be punished, which included tasks such as picking up rubbish, standing in the corner or writing lines of sentences over and over again hundreds of times. Students could also be caned or made to wear dunce’s caps if they failed to reach required standards.
Many parents aspired to a good education for their children so that opportunities might open for them. Education was seen as a way out for brighter children that would give them the chance to escape the hard life that was often associated with mining.
Schools like Silverton often provided an excellent education through quality teaching.
Mr Mackie and Mr Watts were competent and capable teachers in Silverton in the late 1880s. Mr Watts’s assistant was Mary Cameron, later to become Dame Mary Gilmore. Mary Cameron was also secretary of the Silverton Literacy Society encouraging anyone with an interest in writing. Another skilled teacher was Thomas Nyholm who taught at Silverton in the 1930s and early 1940s and also played sport for the town. Thomas and his brother Ronald were born in Broken Hill. Ronald, an Australian chemist, was a leading figure in inorganic chemistry in the 1950s and 1960s, became a Professor and was knighted for his achievements.
Silverton School has also had its share of noteworthy students. Emily Witty (nee Rawlins) became a published poet and composed the Australian Emblem Song (the Wattle Song). James Crocker became Envoy Crocker in the Salvation Army in Broken Hill. The Crocker family were noteworthy. Walter Russel Crocker became a Diplomat and Ambassador and Lieutenant Governor of South Australia. Walter Crocker was also knighted for his achievements. Many more students became well known and did the school proud.
It shows that no matter which school you go to, with the right teacher and the right encouragement from parents and the community you can go far.