Historic Bombala school given a future as part of the community

Bombala Infants School, ready for new energy. Photo: Ian Campbell
Bombala Infants School, ready for new energy. Photo: Ian Campbell

Plans are underway to turn the Bombala Infants School into a place of learning again, with a safety net in place guaranteeing a positive outcome for the community.

Locals were taken by surprise when an auction sign went up on the school’s fence back in June.

The site overlooking the town first opened as a place of learning in 1863. James Poulton, the school’s first teacher had 75 kids to mark off his role on day one.

As an aside, school fees amounted to ninepence per week for the two eldest children in each family and sixpence per week for each additional child.

Solid as a rock. Photo: Ian Campbell
Solid as a rock. Photo: Ian Campbell

In the mid-1990’s the school was closed and childhood education in Bombala consolidated on the Bombala High School site.

TAFE moved into the space for a period of time offering a range of vocational and special interest subjects, however changes within TAFE and the opening of the Trade Training Centre at Bombala High took momentum and opportunities away from the historic site.

With the State-owned building empty and unused its future was put out to the market, swift community action halted the sale with the Member for Monaro, Nationals Leader, and Deputy Premier John Barilaro gifting the building to Snowy Monaro Regional Council.

Not much has changed since kids last played here. Photo: Ian Campbell
Not much has changed since kids last played here. Photo: Ian Campbell

The group that formed to stop the sale is now looking at its next step and a new chapter in the buildings 144-year-old story.

Sue Haslingden from the Bombala and Delegate Region Arts and Culture Advisory Committee says with the new Council in place it’s time to get going.

“My three children went to school here, a lot of families have incredible ties with this beautiful old building, ” Sue says.

Sue is a former Bombala Shire councilor and has just been elected to the merged Snowy Monaro Regional Council, she also remembers taking part in art and photography classes at the old school under TAFE.

“Once the art classes stopped we just found rooms here there and everywhere and applied for arts funding to bring instructors in a few times a year,” Sue says.

“We approached TAFE about using this space, but it would have been at a commercial hire rate, so it just wasn’t viable for us.”

Sue Haslingden, part of the Bombala and Delegate Region Arts and Culture Advisory Committee. Photo: Ian Campbell
Sue Haslingden, part of the Bombala and Delegate Region Arts and Culture Advisory Committee. Photo: Ian Campbell

A resumption of arts and cultural activities is seen as part of the old school’s future.

“Over the years we’ve lost Ando Public School, Bibbenluke has just gone, this building is such a part of Bombala,” Sue says.

“This building was put here by the community, the building itself was funded through fundraising and back in the early days even the teacher was funded by community efforts.”

The thought of the building being sold and the proceeds deposited into the combined TAFE coffers was a ‘red flag to the community’ Sue says.

“It was a real concern that the money from the sale wouldn’t be turned back into our community,” she explains.

The building is home to two vast learning spaces. Photo: Ian Campbell
The building is home to two vast learning spaces. Photo: Ian Campbell

With a business plan already in place through the gifting arrangements between State and Local Government,  the Arts and Culture Advisory Committee is now waiting to get the keys and put the plan into action.

“We would like to see this place as the home of a local progress association, as a place for tourist and cultural events, and as a community meeting place for a range of interests and groups,” Sue says.

Appointing a project officer to activate and manage the space is one of the first steps to drive the idea forward.

“The town needs a place for a range of groups to call home, this will be a hub for the Bombala community,” Sue says.

An exit clause has been negotiated that guarantees funds from any future sale of the building would be returned to Bombala.

“So if our business plan doesn’t work, and we find we can’t maintain it or it’s not viable, in three years time we can sell it and the money stays in the community,” Sue says.

With plans for an opening event growing, Sue says, “Watch this space!”

Anyone for cricket? Photo: Ian Campbell
Anyone for cricket? Photo: Ian Campbell

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Time shift: the wonder of Kosciuszko’s caves. By Kate Burke

Jersey Cave, Yarrangobilly, Kosciuszko National Park. Image: Kate Burke
Jersey Cave, Yarrangobilly, Kosciuszko National Park. Image: Kate Burke

In an already diverse landscape, Yarrangobilly Caves adds an x-factor to South East NSW that is rare and special.

Despite being brought up Catholic, I haven’t had religion for a long while. Still, I remember fondly the time spent in old, cool churches – the smell of stone, the peace, the sense of endless time.

The late folk singer Michael Kennedy described how nature’s beauty can evoke a spiritual response – “Ceiling clouds swirl, aisles of bloom curl round the wild cathedral.”

Natural spaces, like places of worship, can provide sanctuary and help us connect with who we really are.

During the recent school holidays, my family and I visited Yarrangobilly Caves in Kosciuszko National Park.

On the way from Cooma we drove through the epic and faltering landscape of Adaminaby and Kiandra, old goldfields with diggings and ditches full of snow.

Brumbies wander this country with majesty and bouncy playfulness. Their colours blend with the patchy wild scrub; despite being equine intruders, left over from last century and stranded in the wrong land, they’re elegant.

We paid our cave entry fees, and did a tour of Yarrangobilly’s Jersey Cave, which takes about an hour and half.

Beautiful, still rock pools are edged by limstone dams. Image: Kare Burke
Beautiful, still rock pools are edged by rimstone dams. Image: Kare Burke

I hadn’t been underground for years.

I used to do it a lot, at Wee Jasper and Wyanbene and Cooleman, as a teenage scamp who liked to wriggle through crawl spaces. This was much tamer, but an incredible experience nonetheless.

Caves are like slow, slow gardens.

It’s springtime, and I’ve been watching my sunflowers shoot up over the last few days. They manage a centimetre overnight, no worries.

The “cave straws” that reach down from the cave ceilings of Yarrangobilly – which look as you’d imagine – like straws, take 100 years to grow a single centimetre.

Many of the cave straws at Yarrangobilly are much longer – 20 or 30 centimetres; 2000 or 3000 years old.

My kids are 6 and 4, and they are surprisingly quiet and attentive (when they’re not wrestling each other for the torch).

They seem to understand the fragility of the formations. They know that the oil from their fingertips could stop them forming, and don’t reach for them. It’s surprising.

The names of cave formations are evocative – flowstones, shawls, pillars.

They’re all incomprehensibly ancient, but look like they could have grown through winter, like icicles or frozen waterfalls.

I’ve often felt as though caves are alive. Image: Kate Burke
I’ve often felt as though caves are alive. Image: Kate Burke

Beautiful, still rock pools are edged by rimstone dams and grow dogtooth spars – angular, squat crystals that cluster. These pools are otherworldly.

Some flowstones look like intricately woven fettuccine, cascading over metres.

All have formed as the fossil-rich limestone of the valley is dissolved by acidic rainwater, and redeposited as calcite.

According to National Parks, local Wolgalu people didn’t enter the caves much at all – formations survived thousands of years of indigenous custodianship.

But like so many caves, Jersey Cave was raided for souvenirs over the last 150 years. The cave is still stunning, but some caverns are stained darkly by the smoke from bygone kerosene lamps.

I’ve often felt as though caves are alive. Or that, at least, they can tell us something important about ourselves.

They tell us that we are small, transient, destructive, and peace-loving.

Some flowstones look like intricately woven fettucine, cascading over metres. Image: Kate Burke
Some flowstones look like intricately woven fettuccine, cascading over metres. Image: Kate Burke

We’re a confused bunch, and caves can provide a beautiful space to meditate and contemplate.

Perhaps we’ll always feel like impostors in such spaces. But thankfully these caves are now protected, and we can continue to visit and appreciate their lasting beauty.

Yarrangobilly Caves are open daily for you to explore and ‘feel’ for yourself.

Ranger talks really add to the experience as does a swim in the thermal pool!

Click here for more details

Kate Burke is a sought-after vocalist and musician based in Candelo and is completing her Masters in Science Communication at the Australian National University. This article originally appeared on ‘Raisin – Regional Science and Innovation’