Frank McGee looked, with satisfaction, at the photograph. It was 1908 and the Tuggeranong School photo showed just 25 students, flanked by himself and his wife Mary. Six of the students were his own children.

Frank, a remarkable man and teacher, was heavily involved with the betterment of his community. Apart from guiding hundreds of his students, over the years, through their schooling, he also kept up to date with the latest world events, scientific advances and local nature studies. It was also Frank who organised the sporting and fund- raising events in the district, especially for the large Catholic component.

The teacher to serve the longest at the Tuggeranong School – he had arrived in 1898 and retired in 1927, Frank also wrote poetry and a community events column which were published in the Queanbeyan Age. He played the violin for many social events throughout the district too.

During the Spanish Flu epidemic after the First World War, he opened the school as an inoculation centre. After he left the district, the school became an electoral centre, and he would have known that at one stage it had also been a postal receiving station. The school was the only public building in the Tuggeranong Valley, apart from the tiny 1902 Catholic church Frank had helped to procure for the many families of Irish heritage, such as his own, in the area.

Since the death of Queen Victoria in 1901 and her son, Edward, becoming the King, many changes and inventions which we now take for granted were becoming popular worldwide. The students in the school photo would be the first of the Tuggeranong young people to benefit from the Edwardian Age.

Some of the changes they were to welcome included electricity, automobiles, aviation, telephones, votes for women, the Olympic Games, the exploration of Antarctica, the development of astronomy and photography and the wireless. On the home front life was made easier with the manual washing machine, and the vacuum cleaner and even the invention of the tea bag!

The cinema was developed in large urban areas, and people went on ocean liner cruises – despite the Titanic disaster of 1912. Shopping emporiums developed, also in large urban centres, and record players came into people’s homes. Pianolas were now popular and on a smaller scale, postcards and cross word puzzles were enjoyed. All these things, sooner or later, would change life in the remote Tuggeranong Valley.

Early in the century a revitalized leisure time meant that sports really took off, especially for women. Cycling, swimming, tennis and golf were very popular - even ping pong (table tennis) became a craze in 1901. Rugby League and Rugby Union teams were keenly followed, as was soccer. The little- known sport of vigoro, a type of women’s cricket which did not rely on large numbers of competitors, was played at Tuggeranong School.

In 1910 a tennis court appeared at the school and there is a wonderful photo on display in the parlour at the Tuggeranong Schoolhouse, which I now run as a museum, which shows a tennis party on the veranda, ready for a game, the ladies resplendent in long dresses and big hats!

Also in this room are a phonograph, wax Edison cylinders, a stereoscope and photos, and an old -fashioned typewriter. In a central room there is an old treadle sewing machine and an early manual vacuum cleaner is in the breezeway. The kitchen sports an enclosed wood- burning stove and an assortment of labour- intensive irons. A toy steam engine and an early crystal set in the children’s bedroom would have been considered appropriate boys’ toys by a forward - thinking Frank.

Sadly, although in other urban settings there was electricity, gas and internal plumbing in homes, there was no electricity to this site until the 1950s and public water supply had to wait until the 1980s.

The district was the home of William Farrer, the world- renowned scientist who, with diligent research, had developed and perfected a rust resistant strain of wheat which would be of benefit world- wide. Unfortunately, he died suddenly in 1906. A photograph of him was donated to the school soon after his death, where the child and grandchildren of one of his main off - siders attended, and there is a copy on display in the schoolroom now.

In 1906 the Canberra region was a hot contender to be the National Capitol of Australia. By the time this school photo was taken both the House and the Senate had agreed on the site, a year later NSW then agreed to transfer the territory. The Territory included 1714 residents, including all those in this photograph.

The downside was that the land within the Federal Capital Territory would be acquired by the Commonwealth, and then leased to landholders. Some of the local landholders saw what was coming and had sold up and moved, over the border into NSW, or elsewhere. Diminishing numbers of schoolchildren had meant that Frank had to teach half time at Tharwa School and half time at Tuggeranong from February 1907 until April 1908. He took his own children with him back and forth to Tharwa by horse and sulky.

A study of the ages of the 25 students reveals an age range of between 15 years, (Kathleen, the oldest of the seven McGee children), and possibly even 3 years for the little lad sitting far left, bottom row. James McGee is the child second from the left bottom row, aged 4, as is the boy sitting next to him, Lawrence Gallagher. Lawrence would achieve great things as a priest becoming a Monseigneur, but it is scowling little Jim who would become internationally respected, as a scientist.

Too late Frank would have noticed the hand of Peter Gallagher, cheekily standing just in front of him, pressing down hard on his son’s head. Jim had a stellar career becoming one of the greatest scientists Australia has produced. Involved in the development of radar, infra- red photography amongst other inventions, Jim achieved fame through his involvement with one of the greatest domestic technologies of the twentieth century – television! Even more remarkable for the fact that he had grown up in a home without electricity.

Frank McGee’s ruse of inflating his attendance numbers worked – he never had to teach half time schools again. However, although according to a copy of the 1923 inventory of everything in his classroom, the teaching environment was pretty spartan, compared to the classrooms of today, Frank made sure that his students knew of world events and the changing world around them.

No longer to be small time or tenant farmers or housewives like generations before them – the students in this photo became graziers, builders, nurses, teachers, priests, scientists and, particularly, public servants in the capital city of Australia, Canberra!

A copy of an illuminated manuscript awarded to Frank McGee by a grateful community hangs proudly in the schoolroom where he presided for 30 years.

History With a Difference