A Tale of Three Schools: Toolangi, Castella and Granton

by Bernie Miller  

When I began researching the history of the school in the Toolangi-Castella area, I was surprised to find a history of three schools, not one. Two of these schools closed more than 90 years ago and their stories provide some insight into the waxing and waning of the logging industry in the district.

At the turn of the nineteenth century and early part of the twentieth century, it was often a struggle to obtain teachers for more remote schools and the Education Department solved this by operating some schools part-time, with one teacher shared between two small schools. For these schools, hours were either five hours daily for 2.5 days or, if the schools were reasonably close, five half days a week. Travelling teachers received a mileage allowance.


Toolangi State School 3237

In the late 1880s when the watershed area of the Plenty Ranges was closed to logging to protect Melbourne’s water supply, loggers and paling splitters moved into the Toolangi area of mountain ash forest. The 1890s depression had contributed to significant cuts to education and thus parents in remote areas who sought schools for their children were required to erect school buildings at their own expense, on land purchased by the department (Pockett et al, 1995). This was the case for the Toolangi School and the Smedley, Biggs and Wilson families of Toolangi together petitioned the department to supply a teacher. These families, and others in the district, erected the first school, built of palings. With Nellie Walsh as the first teacher, it opened on 12 July 1895 (Blake, 1973).

During the early years, Toolangi school operated on a part-time basis, first sharing a teacher with Chum Creek State School and then with Granton State School. In 1920 the Toolangi School closed for a year, due to low enrolments, and remaining students were transferred to Castella State School (Blake, 1973). Toolangi school re-opened with sufficient enrolments in 1921 and shared a teacher with Granton State School from May 1921.

In 1907, to meet growing needs, locals had erected a larger school building, which they leased to the Education Department. This served as Toolangi’s school and public hall, until a new school building was constructed by the Education Department in 1941. The old school building was then moved up the road to the Public Hall Reserve and served as the public hall until the erection of the present C.J. Dennis Hall. In 1964 another classroom was added to the school to cater for increased enrolment. Toolangi School has continued to grow and flourish, while the Castella School and the Granton School have long closed.


Castella State School 3954

As logging increased in the Castella area, new families came with the mill workers. On 4 November 1916, District Inspector A. Burgess recommended the establishment of a full-time school at Castella. Representatives from local families formed the Castella School League and built a schoolroom 25 ft x 18 ft, on an acre of land donated by Miss Eleonore Fairlie Marie de Castella (oldest child of Paul de Castella of Yering Station fame). The Education Department purchased a further two acres from Miss de Castella and the school was opened on 7 July 1917, by the first head teacher, Mary Hussey. In March 1921, visiting District Inspector Drew suggested Granton State School 4044 be worked part-time with Castella, but this did not eventuate, as Toolangi School had re-opened in 1921 and it was arranged that Toolangi share a teacher with Granton from May 1921 (Blake, 1973).

By March 1928, Castella Head Teacher Muriel Harris reported that student attendance had dropped to only seven pupils. When the District Inspector visited later that year, he reported an attendance of only six children, who could all be conveyed to Toolangi State School. He advised the closure of Castella School. The school was closed on the Minister of Education’s Order on 1 August 1928. In May 1959 the local Castella Hall Committee purchased the school building from the department for £80 and by June 1960 the three acres of land was transferred to the Lands Department.


Granton State School 4044

As the population at the larger mill sites grew, they drew families when accommodation was provided. The scale of Granton Mill, six miles northeast of Toolangi township, provided such accommodation. On 18 October 1920, the manager V. Morath petitioned the Education Department to establish a school. The Granton Mill company made a recreation hall available as a schoolroom on the site and provided accommodation for a male teacher. Head Teacher Arthur Williams opened Granton State School on 1 February 1921 and from May that year the department directed that Granton School be worked half time with Toolangi School (Blake, 1973). This shared arrangement continued until 9 April 1926, when the school closed. It re-opened later that year, but eventually only two children remained and it closed permanently on 17 June 1927. Pearl Mason (nee Vincent) moved with her family as a 10-year-old to Granton Mill in 1924, when the mill population was only about 30 men, women and children. Interviewed in her 80s, Pearl recalled a tiny remote mill community, cocooned from the outside world, the only access along rough bush tracks or on the horse-drawn trolleys of the timber tramways and her teacher, Mr Rigby, riding in on horseback from Toolangi School every weekday afternoon, except when it snowed (Clark, 1994).


Blake, L. J. (1973) Vision & Realisation: A Centenary History of State Education in Victoria, Vols 1-3, Melbourne, Education Department of Victoria
Clark, M. R. (1994) Growing Up in Toolangi, Melbourne, Age Newspaper 12/3/1994: Historic Victoria
Pockett, R., Priestley, J., Cox, J. & Cameron, K. (1995) Toolangi Primary School, the First Hundred Years: A History of Toolangi Primary School no. 3237, Toolangi, Victoria 1895-1995, Toolangi, Centenary Organising Committee