This week the final bell will ring at a tiny school north of Albury, which has been at the heart of a rural community for nearly 150 years.
Only two students remain at Mullengandra Public School and with one heading off to high school next year, the state government is shutting the school down.
The final day of term will be an emotional one for the school’s principal Julie Twitt, who has spent 26 years teaching generations of children raised on surrounding farms.
“Our very last day will be a hard day to lock that door for the last time,” Ms Twitt said. “There’s a lot of great memories here.”
She said it had been an “emotional rollercoaster” trying to keep the school open in recent years, after the Hume Freeway was constructed metres from the school and Mullengandra’s last remaining pub and churches shut.
“The children of the traditional farm owners aren’t coming back to run farms and have families like they used to,” she said
“I’ve taught them too well.”
Difficult decision for Education Department
It’s a hot summer’s day when members of the local community gather in the shade to hear the Education Minister Rob Stokes explain why he’s shutting the school.
“It’s a terrible thing for an Education Minister to be in a position where you have a school with a beautiful rich history, but where the data suggests we are not going to have children to go to this school,” he said.
“When this school opened in 1871 it was a good half-day ride into Albury, but today there’s a school down the road that can be accessed in less than 20 minutes,” Mr Stokes said.
“Everything is a lot closer and that provides more choice, but with more choice comes these sorts of difficult decisions.”
Mr Stokes said the school would remain in public hands, but “no matter what happens I will ensure if this land is ever sold in the future, the Education Department will retain the right to buy it back if the enrolment trends change”.
School at heart of rural community
Bill McDonald started attending Mullengandra Public School in the 1930s.
“We walked three miles to school, three miles home,” Mr McDonald said.
His father, children and grandchildren also went to the school and he said it has been a vital focal point for the community.
“It is a really sad day for me, because in rural communities you need something that will hold them together.”
That sentiment was echoed by Helen Gledhill, whose son is a former student of the school.
“It’s just been a wonderful school for some many kids and it’s just so bloody sad that it won’t be here anymore,” she said.