Teacher recalls fighting flames

Former head teacher of Bayles Primary School Garry Robbins returned for the centenary. 283411_43 Photo: SHELBY BROOKS

By Shelby Brooks

Garry Robbins came back to Bayles to clear something up.

He wasn’t responsible for the fire that destroyed the primary school in 1970.

“I had nothing to do with it,” he declared during the Back to Bayles Centenary ceremony.

Not that anyone had thought he was to blame.

Garry was the head teacher at Bayles Primary School at the time of the blaze.

He was appointed to the school in 1967, the same year taking on a coaching position at Catani Football Club.

He stayed at the school for six years, alongside Mrs Marie Egan who had been teaching there since 1929.

“She was a lovely little lady,” Garry said.

“During the Second World War she became head teacher of the school because so many men went to war.“

Garry recounted rather humorously for the crowd of attendees at the centenary how he had awoken the morning of the fire around 5am to loud noises.

He lived in a home next door to the school.

“We didn’t have a telephone to call anybody because my phone rang through the school,” Garry said.

“So I got in the car and drove out the back of the school with the horn blowing like mad, making as much noise as I can and obviously someone heard it.”

“All I’d like to say about the fire is it happened but it was going to happen anyway.

“But I am very sad about that because I know what the kids and the families and the town went through at that stage.”

Garry said everything was lost in the blaze.

“I was just in shock, I was just trying to keep going,” he said.

“I lost everything in the school, there was not a single record or account left.

“We had to build as much of that up as we could.”

Within a week, the school had moved into the Bayles Public Hall, with Garry and Mrs Egan teaching at opposite ends of the small building.

Fortunately, a lovely farmer installed irrigation across the inside of the hall which a tarp was hung from to help divide the space.

They taught that way for a year.

“You could only do that if you had full support of the community and they were pushing for a new school,” Garry said.

“The education department wasn’t sure they would give us one but luckily the district inspector said he would build us a new school.”

As for the football team, they seemed to flourish under Garry’s guidance.

“They were a bottom side and within two years we had made the finals. We didn’t go any further though,” Garry said.