For years it stood abandoned, accommodating nothing more than generations of rodents, the odd snake and bales of hay until being rescued by photographer Andrew Payne.
Andy was returning home to Sydney back in 2009 after chilling out at his Hallidays Point holiday home when curiosity got the better of him – a crude for sale sign erected along The Lakes Way, Darawank.
The object of his interest was the tiny Darawank school building, which was built in 1891 and farewelled its last student less that 100 years later in 1958.
Sitting on just under one hectare the school opened with more than 30 kindergarten to Year 6 students, but was forced to shut down due to dwindling pupil numbers.
While today’s students catch the school bus, thumb a lift or drive themselves, Darawank’s 19th century pupils walked, rode their horses or rowed from the other side of the Wallamba River to a small, wooden jetty opposite the school.
Keeping to the authenticity of the structure, Andy plans to recreate a jetty from saved timber.
It’s hard to envisage this tiny community was once a thriving and productive village surrounded by dairies and a sole oyster farm.
The interlocking, double-brick structure was built on-site in about five months by Forster shipbuilder Henry Miles.
According to historical records, on November 6, the school’s sole teacher F. Booth wrote to the chief inspector of schools to say he had taken possession of the school on November 2, 1891.
Before the school house was built students were educated in the nearby Presbyterian church, with the Department of Education paying a peppercorn rent of five shillings a week.
It was another 17 years before the school residence was built for just under 280 pounds.
The residence is now occupied by Andy.
Before Andy began renovating the historic building it was barely visible, hidden by a thick cover of vegetation and weeds, while the interior had been used by the previous owner to store bales of hay, bags of cement and an assortment of disused farming equipment and implements.
Camping out on-site the restoration project took three builders and four laborers more than 12 months to complete.
During this time Andy continued to work from his Sydney photo studio.
Growing up in a 480-year-old, thatched cottage in Wiltshire, England sparked Andy’s love for all things historic, while working for interior design and gardening magazines provided him with the knowledge to tackle restoration projects.
During the past 40 years Andy has bought and restored a number of houses, cottages, and a warehouse, while he is in the throws of rebuilding Keepsake Cottage, which once stood in Tuncurry.
Earmarked for the Tuncurry tip, Andy bought the crumbling structure for $1000 and had it transported to Darawank.
The cottage is one of the oldest buildings in the Great Lakes.
Andy arrived in Australia as a 10 pound Pom in 1974 in a not so conventional way
He and a mate made the trip from London Perth aboard a Russian freighter 180 pounds and became an Australian 12 months later.
Becoming a citizen wasn’t a hard decision, Andy said.
“I left on a wet, cold winter’s night and arrived to Perth’s clear blue Swan River,” he said.
This Saturday, November 3 Andy is hosting a reunion for former school students in the one-time school building.
More than 20 have already expressed their interest in attending the casual event, which begins at noon.
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