Florence WILKES was a Primary School Teacher with a difference. She taught, for many years, one of the two Opportunity Classes that were provided at Berala Pubic School, near Lidcombe, for "advanced" pupils from the surrounding district, in 5th and 6th classes.
I had the privilege of being one of her pupils in the class 5 OC in 1959 and 6 OC in 1960, sandwiched between earlier grades at Rose Hill Primary School (just across the railway line from the Racecourse there), and my five high school years at The King's School in Parramatta.
I don't yet know where Florence Edith WILKES was born, but the event took place on 9 November 1919, according to her Monumental Inscription at Rookwood Remembrance Lawn (Anglican), and quite possibly in New South Wales (Birth Indexes publicly available only up until 1915).
Her father, Thomas WILKES, was a Poultry Farmer; he was born in Birmingham, Warwickshire, in March quarter 1890 [Vol.6d, p.118], and he was enumerated at Moland Street, Birmingham in the 1891 and 1901 Censuses, aged 1 and 12 respectively, with his parents Thomas WILKES, a Wood Turner, and Eliza (formerly HOMER); Thomas served in W.W.1, probably in the British Army.
A Thomas WILKES, aged 24, Cycle Maker's assistant, emigrated to Sydney on the S.S. Osterley, departing London on 16 January 1914. This may have been Florence's father, and his occupation suggests that is likely (his two sisters Mary Ann and Clara were both employed in Cycle work in Birmingham in 1911); if so, he probably returned to England to enlist for service in W.W.1 (there is no mention in Australian Army records for his enlistment in Australia or service in Australian Units).
Florence appears to have had at least two siblings:
1. Thomas H.G. WILKES died at Bankstown, 22 February 1924 (Registered #4229 - parents Thomas & Annie), probably an infant.
2. Gerald Alfred WILKES, who was first enrolled at Northcote Road with his family in 1949, as a Student, and later (by 1958) lived in Eastwood, with his wife Marie Olive (PAULEY - married at Ashfield, 17 August 1953) and their two children.
Florence's uncle James WILKES also emigrated to N.S.W.; born at Birmingham on 3 October 1887, he served in W.W. 1, with the A.I.F., as a Gunner, and was wounded in France; he was married at Merrylands, in 1918, to Edith Isabel APPLETON, and they lived at North Strathfield, with their daughters Eunice Frances Isabel WILKES (later wife of William J.E. FOWLER) and Helen Clare WILKES (later wife of Donald RILEY).
James died at the R.G.H. Concord, on 4 November 1948, and his death notice in the S.M.H. recorded him as the brother and brother-in-law of Mr and Mrs T. WILKES (Florence's parents), Mrs C. BARNEY (probably Clara, aged 10 in 1901, living with her parents and elder brothers James and Thomas - Clara BARNEY died at Auburn, 16 August 1954, parents Thomas and Eliza), Miss F. WILKES (perhaps Florence, unless instead an aunt Florence, aged 3 in 1901, living with her parents and older brothers James and Thomas), and Mr and Mrs W. DARBY (probably Ethel WILKES, aged 9 with her widowed mother in 1911, married William DARBY at Glebe on 19 July 1924, and died at Parramatta on 8 April 1969, parents Thomas and Eliza).
In May 1939, Florence was appointed by the N.S.W. Education Department as a School Teacher at Revesby [Newcastle Morning Herald, Friday 19 May 1939]. This is the first mention of her in newspaper scans, as found on the National Library's "trove" web-site.
In Feb 1941, it was reported that:
"...Miss WILKS has taken up duties at the Molong Public School to fill the vacancy occasioned by the transfer of Mrs PAULETTE to Kempsey."
[Molong Express & Western District Advocate, 1 Feb 1941.]
Molong was creative ground for the new arrival. She attended the annual meeting of the Parents & Citizens Association, at Molong Public School, in March 1941; by August 1941 she had become the assistant to Miss ANSTEY, Lady Cub Master for the Molong Cub Pack, when they organised a Birthday party for the Pack at which collections were made for bundles of clothing or money to buy same to be sent to "...brother Cubs and others who have been victims of the hellish air raids" in England, and who were both praised for "...their efforts to train the youngsters of this town" [Molong Express, &c, Saturday 9 August 1941]; in July 1942, Florence was elected Publicity Officer to the Molong Branch of the Red Cross Society [Molong Express, &c, Friday 17 July 1942]; and in 1943, she first appeared in Electoral Rolls, as Florence Edith WILKES, Bank Street, Molong, Teacher.
In March 1943, Florence was transferred to the Eurimbla Public School; great consternation was created by her departure when the Education Department failed to replace her at Molong; and she was enrolled for a second time in 1943, at Hill View, Eurimbla, Calare Division.
By June 1944, Florence had been transferred yet again;
"PERSONAL. Miss WILKES, who was appointed teacher here in succession to Mr HARE, now has charge of the Gunning-Bland school, and, in a recent letter to friends in the district, states that she is happy at her new school, where she has an enrolment of twenty pupils"
[Molong Express [Friday 23 June 1944.]
Florence appears to have taken a break from school duties during the year 1948, as we find in the "Personal Pars from Eurimbla" item in the Molong Express [20 August 1948]:
"...writing to Mrs C. RUTTER recently, Miss F. WILKES, former teacher at Eurimbla School, said she and her mother shortly intended making a tour of the New England district and Brisbane."
By 1949, Florence was back living with her parents, at 31 Northcote Road, Chullora, and her brother Gerald Alfred WILKES, then a Student.
She won a prize of 2 pounds in the "name a foal" competition run by the Sydney Sunday Herald, on behalf of the Red Cross, for two foals sired by Fisherman out of Lively Lass and by Prince Charming out of Black Widow - her successful efforts were "Compleat Angler" and "Dark Stranger" [S.M.H., Monday 26 September 1949], although there is no indication as to whether the foals ended up with either of those names.
THE OPPORTUNITY CLASS OF 1959-1960.
A former class-mate has very recently made contact with me, quite out of the blue, and embarrassingly, with 55 years of life events flowing under this bridge or that, I had forgotten all about him.
And I find that many of the names now elude me, although I know I will recognise most of them when the list of them is complete.
I do still have the two class photographs, slightly soiled & creased.
Miss Florence WILKES is, of course, standing on the right, then aged 40. Yours truly is the shortest boy standing in the middle of the third row, directly above the sign-board behind Susan NASH with plaits (I think that is her) - on my left, as I am advised, was Billy PARKER, the unfortunate boy who fell from a train & was killed.
Here, I have moved towards the right-hand end of the back row, one removed from Miss WILKES.
I do have some fond memories of my two years at Berala.
It was a two train journey from Harris Park to Lidcombe, and then change for the Liverpool via Regents Park line - with occasional glimpses of the steam driven Melbourne daylight express bolting through Lidcombe on its journey south.
I learnt to square dance, although it did nothing for either my confidence or my future careers.
I rather enjoyed the monumental projects that were required of us from time to time - one I remember was on Australian pastoral resources & products, & I think I pasted sample skeins of merino wool into the centre pages just for illustration. Another, for some unusual and perhaps covert corporate reason, was on the manufacture of a very sugary soft-drink, licensed from its American manufacturers, with the "secret ingredient" that never occurred to me until my adult life had become an illicit recreational drug of choice for many (but not myself, he protesteth).
I think I remember fete days, when we made and/or sold hard toffees & other dentists delights - but I may be conflating memories from Rose Hill.
And there was one of our excursions, to the Agricultural College out west of Sydney (Hawkesbury, I suspect), where one of the girls (Susan NASH, if my memory serves) had her leg broken in a collision with a vehicle.
And sadly, Billy PARKER fell from a train and was killed - I would have been travelling with him, as I normally did, but I had spent that day at home in bed with gastric troubles.
I remember Kevin MENDELSOHN, Warren TIPLADY, Colin BOWER, Bill LAING and John TILLEY, and now Stephen GREEN has re-acquainted himself - and I also remember Roslyn DAVIES, Robyn GUNN, Karen & Gloria (possibly GILLIES). Which is too few - with humble apologies to the remainder.
If any of you are out there, and don't mind your identity being revealed, please add a comment below and point yourselves out - you now who you are!
And if you wish to remain anonymous, but would like to make contact, please e-mail me at email@example.com
Discretion is my middle name, or I think it was.
Chris PIGOTT, formerly of 32 Alice Street, Harris Park, and now of Potts Point, N.S.W.