Leith Watkins, Karangi Public School 125th Birthday

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On Sunday 10th June 2017, Karangi Public School celebrated its 125th birthday. FOCUS spent some time chatting to 90 year old past student and lifetime P&C Association member Leith Watkins about what it was like to attend the school in the 1930s, how things have changed, and the fight to keep Karangi Public School open.

What is your connection to the Coffs Coast?

I was born in the Karangi area in 1927 and attended the Karangi Public School. My grandfather came up from Sydney to buy a farm on a horse and dray. He started the dairy farm, then my father took over, and I took over from him in the 1960s.

Can you share some memories of your time at primary school?

In those days, it was a wooden building with one classroom and a smaller room for other activities.

We had a garden as a part of the school. There was one for the boys and one for the girls, and the headmaster would come around and give marks for the best garden each week. We grew mostly lettuce and vegetables, and the girls grew mostly flowers. In the summertime it was very dry, so the boys had to cart buckets of water up the hill from the creek for both gardens.

I looked forward to sports, mainly cricket. Mr James was a very good cricketer, and we made a half cricket pitch in the school grounds by hand. We dug out the fine dirt from white ants nests in the paddocks, and used it to make the pitch.

We didn’t wear a uniform, unless we went out for sport. Our colour was purple, and we had a white singlet with a purple K on the front and back.

We always had a school concert at the end of the year. Mr James got us all involved in some way. We dressed up and did skits, and the mothers would come down to the school and make all the costumes. I liked singing and dancing, and I was best at reciting poems.

They were good days. There was a very friendly atmosphere.

How has the school changed since you were a student?

The biggest change is what the kids have to learn with. We had a pen and pencil and a ruler. The school desk had inkwells in them, and you had to be in at least 3rd form before we used the ink. We had a projector, and movie reels were sent from the Education Department. We also learned spelling, reading and history over the radio.

Are there any lessons learned that have stuck with you since then?

Respect for others and good manners, especially respect for your elders.

You were made a life member of the P&C Association. Can you tell us more about your involvement?

When I was a student, Mr James got us to make a junior P&C, which was properly set up and run with a President, Secretary etc. and we learned how to conduct formal meetings. I was President of that for a time, and then as an adult became President of the actual P&C Association.

At one point when I was President, there were only nine students at the school. It was in danger of closing down, and we had to plead with the inspector to stay open. We realised that if the school closed, it would have taken a fair bit to get it open again.

The P&C had special meetings and parents in the area also rallied around, until we managed to get enough students, and they finally granted us permission to keep the school open.

What does it mean to you that the Karangi Public School is still going nearly 90 years since you were a student there?

I think it’s certainly a good thing for the district. There are a lot more people living in the area now, because a lot of the farms have been subdivided. The school and teachers got a pretty good name, and people were even coming from Coffs to attend. It nearly died out, but it’s started over again.

Thanks Leith.

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