A brief history
The establishment of a residential State High School at Yanco in 1922 was the product of several important developments in NSW education and agriculture. In 1900, the pastoralist Samuel McCaughey purchased North Yanco station. He constructed a red brick homestead and some 200 miles (320km) of irrigation channels to irrigate some 40,000 acres (16,600 hectares) of property stretching northwest from the Murrumbidgee River. Some of these channels are still in use today.
After a nine year drought and much political argument, the NSW Government decided to create an irrigation area north of the Murrumbidgee River in 1906 which would have a regular water supply from Burrinjuck Dam. The North Yanco property was resumed from McCaughey in 1910. McCaughey retained a small area of some 700 acres (290 hectares) for his personal use under a rental arrangement with the state government. His death in 1919 saw this last parcel of his former lands revert to government control in 1920 after a clearing sale had been held.
Leeton, a town barely a decade old, had limited education facilities at the beginning of the 1920s. Seeking a local high school that would serve to train future farmers, a group of Leeton citizens approached the NSW Government for such a facility. At this time the concept of agricultural education was hardly new. It was an established fact in Europe. Even NSW had its first specialist agricultural high school, Hurlstone. The state government accepted the Leeton delegation's request.
The residual McCaughey land had a cash book value of £28,200 ($56,400). It was transferred in 1921 from the Water Conservation and Irrigation Commission to the NSW Department of Education, realising local hopes for the State's second agricultural high school at last. Under the active and personal interest of Tom Mutch, Labor Minister for Education, Yanco Agricultural High School opened in February 1922 after state-wide advertising of available boarding places. There were 70 residential and 12 day students enrolled in the first intake. Tom Mutch would maintain a close involvement in Yanco's development during the formative period of the 1920s.
The school initially offered three years of junior high school in a residential setting, leading to the Intermediate Certificate. Thereafter, students could leave to work on the land or transfer to Hawkesbury Agricultural College to complete Leaving Certificate studies and then matriculate to the University of Sydney.
Staff and students were to find conditions difficult during the first few years. McCaughey's homestead provided accommodation, a kitchen and dining room. The shearer's quarters, some distance from the homestead, were converted into classrooms.
Hurricane lamps gave light and meals were cooked on an open fire in the yard during the first months. As farm equipment was limited, students cultivated the fields with spades and hoes.
Despite many limitations, Ernest Breakwell, the first Principal, oversaw the beginning of an ongoing building program at Yanco. A purpose built dormitory block, Mutch House, a school hall and a Principal's residence were completed in 1927. Sporting areas were development between the school and Euroley Road to the west.
The depression of the 1930s saw a fall in enrolments as parents chose to keep their sons at home on farms. Prosperity slowly returned and the school's size was increased with the introduction of senior students in 1934 under Principal, Oliver Gardiner. A sporting house system was introduced and an annual Beach Carnival inaugurated by Jack Woods, a teacher and former Sydney surf live-saver. The first Leaving Certificate group graduated in 1935.
By the late 1930s a further developmental phase, under Principal Percival Hindmarsh, saw the building of a new class block. This replaced McCaughey's former shearing quarters, which had served as teaching spaces for over 15 years. McCaughey's forge room, the site of today's maintenance complex, was demolished and replaced by a new industrial arts teaching complex further south. The ‘Hackey' intended as a temporary structure, remains in use today.
The advent of war in 1939 led to further difficulties for Principal, James McEwan King. King had created a student cadet unit in 1939 and saw many of its former members, along with his own two sons, volunteer for war service. King found his teaching and farm staff significantly reduced as the armed forces sought recruits. Taking the attitude that ‘making the best of the situation' was a significant school and personal contribution to the war effort, the Kings threw themselves into the task of ensuring the school weathered wartime deprivations.
In 1940 the school's name was changed. ‘Yanco' was replaced by ‘McCaughey Memorial' in a move Country Party Minister for Education, David Drummond saw as ‘more gracious and fitting'. The name change was considerably unpopular and ultimately short lived. With a change of government in NSW in 1941, the new name was abandoned.
The end of the war in 1945 brought new hopes for school development. Under Principal Tom Mason, an annual gala day and fireworks display was commended in March 1947, to raise funds to build a war memorial swimming pool. This became a reality in 1961.
Other sporting facilities including the development of basketball and tennis courts and the construction of a sports hall became the object of the School Council and the Old Yanconian's Union over the next 30 years. Old Yanconians also raised funds to construct a war memorial in the 1960s. Also during the 1960s, School Council working bees were organised by Principal, Richard Giltinan, to develop new sporting fields between the Principal's residence and the front gate.
Increased federal and state funding for education from the 1960s saw considerable expansion in facilities in a third building phase. A medical centre, a residential staff common room and two additional dormitory areas, Breakwell and Gardiner Houses, were completed by 1964. The dormitory spaces eased already severe overcrowding in dormitories and corridors. Later in the decade a science and library block was built and a senior accommodation area, Hindmarsh House, opened in 1976 to provide single room study facilities for Year 12.
Although school enrolments reached a peak of 342 in 1969 this was not sustained over the next three decades. Student numbers fluctuated between 250 and 340. During the 1970s the Department of Education also recognised the need to provide additional staff facilities and accommodation on campus. This led to the appointment of mix of married and single staff to the school and a less dramatic turnover of staff each year. With the huge and continuing financial investment at Yanco and changes in society's attitudes to single-sex education, the issue of co-education also emerged for the first time in 1977.
While Hurlstone Agricultural High experienced the trauma of rapid transition to co-education in 1979, Yanco was afforded time to consider the consequences and importantly, to plan for its eventual introduction in 1993. A new dining room and kitchen complex that could accommodate up to 400 students was completed in 1988. While not part of a later building program that accompanied coeducation, the construction of this facility signalled future departmental intentions for school expansion. The Old Yanconian's Union, too, provided funds to construct a barbecue facility and tables on the front lawns of the school to mark the bicentennial of European settlement in Australia.
A government media release in September 1991 ended any further speculation about when coeducation might occur. Principal Brian Roberts and the school community had come to accept that change was inevitable and in January 1993, 15 girls were enrolled in each of Years 7 and 11. Coeducation was accompanied by a substantial building program ($4.2 million) that included construction of a Technological and Applied Studies block, an additional class block incorporating specialist Art and Music spaces, and Mason House to accommodate 90 female students. The medical centre was extended and boys living areas were upgraded. Full coeducation was achieved in 1996.
Funds obtained from the sale of the school's dairy cattle and its milk quota were invested in a new piggery and breeding complex in the early 1990s. In more recent years, the school P&C assisted in funding an upgrade of the school tennis courts. A synthetic surface now provides a playing surface for tennis and netball all year and court lighting has extended their use further. A major refurbishment of the school swimming pool and school hall occurred in the late 1990s while an Equine and Show Stock Centre was opened in 2007.
After many years, Yanco Agricultural High School continues to provide a fully academic and practical public education with an emphasis on agriculture for any student within NSW.
The school has developed the Uroly Murray Grey and McCaughey Limousin cattle studs and the McCaughey White Suffolk sheep stud. The school's highly successful show stock team prepares and exhibits cattle at regional, state and interstate shows and continues to win praise and trophies for equine activities and cattle preparation, display and handling.
The school offers equine and horse management studies within its teaching programs. Equine Studies in the senior school incorporates TAFE Certificate II qualifications. Its equestrian students represent the school at gymkhanas throughout the state and take on the role of a ceremonial honour guard for vice-regal and other important occasions.
Significantly the school continues to provide a comprehensive coeducational experience in a residential setting for students from more isolated areas in the state. Surrounding River Red Gum forests provide environmental study areas for visiting schools and function as recreational areas for Yanco students.
The academic, agricultural and sporting traditions of Yanco are both long and extensive. The school has achieved a measure of distinction in public examinations and competitions. Its sporting teams have won local and State competitions including the Buchan Shield in Rugby Union and the University Shield, on six occasions, in Rugby League.
As a consequence of these endeavours, Yanco Agricultural High School as continued to be held in high esteem by the local and rural communities of NSW. More recently Yanco students have been involved in developing links with the village of Luro in East Timor. Considerable involvement in community activities also continues to be a mark of past and present Yanconians.
This history was written and prepared by:
Head Teacher, English and History
Old Yanconian's Union