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A Short History of Empire Bay Public School

In 1879 there were 50 children of school-age living within Cockle Creek, as the Empire Bay area was then known, but very few of these children had ever been to school.

On 10 June 1879 a group of residents applied to the Council of Education for the establishment of a public school. The local committee set up at Cockle Creek comprised Alfred Settree Snr, shipowner, Alfred Settree Jr, shipbuilder, James Merrit, storekeeper, William Riley, shipbuilder and Thomas Palmer, shellgatherer.

With a population of 150 residents and enough children, the Department had no hesitation in approving a 2 acre site and a weatherboard school room to accommodate 50 pupils, with a teacher’s residences.

However, the Crown Land Department was slow to survey a property and in late 1880, the residents found temporary accommodation and school room which the Department of Education approved, and they agreed to supply a teacher and furniture. The long desks, a black board and easel were delivered. In April 1881 Mr William Jeffrey, the first teacher for Cockle Creek School arrived and on the 2nd May 1881 Cockle Creek Public School was opened with 42 pupils attending.

By February 1882, the 2 acres of Crown Land was surveyed, and the single room classroom and teacher’s residence was completed and Mr Jeffrey's and the pupils moved in.

Over the next 40 years there was a relentless battle with white ants and continued rebuilding and upkeep was required to repair the damage. One note in 1924 from the teacher, Mr Walker, reported that he must “keep moving our furniture to keep it free from the white ants”.

The 1880 – 1890 period the school experienced many epidemics such as diphtheria, whooping cough and scarlet fever and had to close for weeks on end. In today's 2020 epidemic we can all relate to this situation.

In 1902, the closest Post office was Davistown, and it was proposed to change the name of the school to Davistown Public School, but by 1910 the Empire Bay Post Office was opened and the name was permanently changed to Empire Bay Public School.

During 1935 the Department of Education noted the summer migration of families into the area. The school’s enrolment would expand from the normal winter numbers of 40, to the summer numbers of 60 plus. Additional rooms we added to accommodate for these extra summer intakes.

In 1943, electricity was installed at the teachers residence and 1948 the class room had one power point installed.

Up until 1970, the school’s enrolment averaged between 15 to 40 pupils. With the opening of the Rip bridge the enrolment increased to over 100 pupils. Today, 2020, the school enjoys an enrolment of over 480 pupils and 38 staff.

From the humble beginnings, with a dedicated local community of shipbuilders and shell gatherers, the Empire Bay Public School has grown to be a healthy, vibrant centre of learning and an important part of our community.


  1. “Empire Bay Public School Centenary 1881-1981” booklet.

  2. Jenny Chippendale, Empire Bay Public School

By Robert Thompson

Empire Bay Public School undated.jpg
Empire Bay Public School Circa 1912.jpg
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