Sunday, April 07, 2013

Boarding, boarding trains & the return of boarding

city borders TAS

I see from the Sydney Morning Herald (City kids get reality check in bush boarding schools) that country boarding schools are once again attracting city kids.

Armidale is the biggest biggest boarding school centre within New England. At its peak, five schools offered boarding facilities, while kids going to Armidale High School could board at St John's Hostel not far from High. Boarding was a major contributor to the city's economy.

When I went to TAS, the school had over 300 boarders, along with a small number of day boys. Our sister school, NEGS, was totally boarding. If you wanted to go to NEGS you had to board even if you were a local. Kids came from all over, including a number of Sydney kids.

At term end, the boarding school trains north and south would wait at Armidale railway station while kids watched by teachers scrambled aboard. These were regular services, there were other passengers, but returning borders predominated. As the trains pulled out, the teachers would leave with a sigh of relief. On the trains, compartments suddenly became mixed as boys and girls joined each other. Cigarettes were lit and parties began.

As a dayboy, I only went on the trains once when going to spend a holiday at a friend's place. Shy with girls, it was on this trip that I met my first real girlfriend.

As it turned out, this was Armidale's boarding peak. Social change reduced the number of parents wishing to board, the education side of the baby boom came to an end and more city schools developed boarding facilities. In Armidale's case, there was further damage from subsidies provided by the Queensland Government to aid country families to send their children to boarding school. You had to go to a Queensland school to get the subsidy. The previously large number of Queensland boarders went into sharp decline.

  Armidale boarding survived this economic and social storm, if only just. The number of boarding schools fell from five to three, but boarding continued. Now the numbers are increasing again. At TAS for example, the number of boarders is now over 200. This is still well below the peak, but the trend is up.

I spoke of the boarding school trains. More broadly, many of the published New England biographies refer to travel to and from Armidale whether to school, teachers' college or university. It's a small part of the broader New England social history.

1 comment:

Keith said...

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Regards, Keith.