ACT News


Gang-gang: Hughes school's edible mosaic

If brightly-coloured clothing really did make a noise (and we do talk of loud clothing) the 1960s-style dress that principal Kate Smith wore for yesterday's Hughes Primary School 50th anniversary shenanigans would have been audible in Bungendore.

The school opened in pioneering Hughes, then an outer suburb, in 1964 and so as part of Thursday's celebrations, school staff dressed in the spectacular clothing of the 1960s. One long-legged female teacher even wore a mini-skirt, requiring me to stifle (by biting my notebook) an unprofessional and boyish gasp of admiration.

You know you are getting old when youngish people wear, as fancy dress and for a laugh, the things your generation (my generation) wore in earnest because they were so fashionable.

Kate Smith's dress was so literally bedazzling that, entering the school's foyer, and a little blinded by her as she greeted me, I nearly walked on to a giant cupcake school birthday mosaic arranged on the foyer's floor.

"There are 1,512 [cupcakes] I think," the principal advised as, so as to be able to look at her while she spoke to me, I put on my dark glasses.

"We set out to beat the Guinness record for cupcake arrangements but we found out that we needed over 20,000! But we decided to still keep the cupcake idea (in fact they were called patty cakes back there in the 60s) to create a patty cake mosaic."


Parents were asked to contribute white-icinged cupcakes while some staff made cupcakes in darker colours, the school colours, to form a giant "50" against the edible, white background.

To give my eyes a rest I promised to catch up with Smith a little later and moved on to the Reminiscence Room, a classroom temporarily converted, for the birthday, into a kind of Hughes Primary School museum. The school is blessed with its own historian, Jenny Tyrrell who since 2001 has been attending to the history-conscious school's records and artefacts.

Here we digress for a moment to say how much we hope and pray that all of Canberra's new-suburb schools, getting underway out in suburbs some of us becalmed in Old Canberra have never even heard of, are paying attention, now, to their own histories. One day they will be as venerable and as historically fascinating as the Hughes School is today. Will they, in the 2060s, be partying by dressing up their staff in the ridiculous fashions of 2014?

For incredibly, against all the odds of time, decay and weevil attacks, Hughes still has (and they're on display in the Reminiscence Room) among other things the very first attendance books first filled in (by teachers with fine handwriting) on the school's very first day, 28 January 1964. The first pupil in this first primary school book is Slavko Bostjancic. In his date of birth column we find he was born on 12.6.1951, and in his religious denomination column we find that he was a Catholic. And the collection of 1964 registers used to contain, Tyrrell reports, frowning, a little, a Punishment Book in which were faithfully recorded the canings given in those Dark Ages.  That book, which Tyrrell saw, has long since gone walkabout and she's not pleased at this loss from the collection.

Another amazing survivor of 1964, dangling from a  line in a display of Hughes school uniform down the ages, is an exquisite little infant boy's school blazer (with the school emblem on its pocket), so tiny that it is almost like a doll's jacket. What has become of the mite who wore it on his first day at school in January 1964.

The school was the first building erected in the new suburb, so as to be ready for the urchins of the pioneers the NCDC was able to lure to this desirable spot on the city's fringe. Pioneering residents of the suburb included the young federal Minister for the Interior (just 33 when he got that job) the personable Doug Anthony and his wife Margot. Doug Anthony's decision to live in this frontier suburb (he and Margot, renting at first and then purchasing, moved to a modest dwelling set on a prime block at the head of Kent Street) was thought a very important piece of role modelling, setting an example of how appropriate, how civilised it was to live at new Hughes, so close to sheep.

Their son Larry went to the Hughes school.

Doug Anthony (his out-of-Canberra home in a far away Murwillumbah in northern NSW) was to reflect later that his decision to live in Hughes, with his family, was one of the best decisions he ever made. It meant that the family stayed together, without the family-straining horrors of absences and travel that bedevil parliamentarians and their loved ones.

The fact that Doug Anthony sometimes cycled to and from work (today's Old Parliament House) and on one of those trendy little Moulton bicycles (as much a part of their times as dresses like principal Smith's) shows that Hughes wasn't really so far from civilisation.

Bit it did sometimes seem like it. Recordings of pioneer Hughes residents, being played in the Reminiscence Room, include one woman remembering how "You'd shop at DJs [in Civic] and hand them your credit card, and they'd say 'Hughes? Where's that? Somewhere out there with the sheep?' "

The Hughes Primary School 50th birthday celebrations continue over coming days and everything about them is on the school's website at