When Ethelbert Ambrook Southee, after whom our town's second public primary school is named, was born in 1890, there were no phones, cars, planes or electricity, disbelieving children were told at a special assembly to mark the school's 50th birthday last Friday.
"Can you imagine, having no phones? Oh my gosh, it was pretty tough in those days," said Bev Tucker, Mr Southee's granddaughter and one of several honoured guests at the assembly.
"My grandfather was the eleventh child of a local butcher, but one of only four that survived - they really were hard times."
Mrs Tucker went on to tell her audience, which included many former teachers and students, how her grandfather had a love of learning and became a Rhodes scholar at Oxford, excelling at agricultural science and winning a double blue in athletics and rugby union.
On graduating he fought for the British Army in World War I before returning to Australia where he became principal of Hawkesbury Agricultural College, a position he held for 33 years.
"If he was here today he'd see a different world," Mrs Tucker said. "He would be amazed at the advances that have been made, especially the instant access to information that's available now through the Internet."
Other speakers at the assembly included Tina Wales, a former school captain (1980) and Barry Cant, principal of the school for 25 years and still a part-time teacher there.
Mr Cant recalled that when the first classrooms were built the school was going to be called Cootamundra South Primary School, but the editor of the Cootamundra Herald and first P&C president Barry Clarke wrote a letter to the minister for Education asking that the school be named after Cootamundra's only Rhodes scholar, E A ("Bert") Southee.
"To everyone's pleasant surprise the Minister, Charles Cutler, agreed forthwith, approving the name in August 1968.
"For many years it was believed that Mr Southee died before he knew he had a school named after him, but it's recently come to light that he was told just before he died in December 1968, and that he was very proud."
At the 50th anniversary dinner at the Ex-Services Club on Saturday night, Barry Clarke's son, Jon, presented a frame containing the perfectly-typed letter from his father and Mr Cutler's positive response, to the school principal, Leonie Stevenson.
He recalled that his summer holidays in 1969 and some years to follow were marked by at least three days a week taking a trailer with water around the school yards to water the trees.
The dinner was attended by 114 former teachers, students, parents and friends, with proceedings run smoothly by former assistant principal Trevor Glover.
Speakers included former principals Barry Cant and Zita McLeod, former students Adam Drummond and Kylie Murray, parents' representative Chris Leahy as well as Bev Tucker and current principal Leonie Stephenson.
A giant birthday cake was cut by 1988 school captains Skye Mendl and Brad Bateup, and a stirring rendition of the school song ("On the side of a hill, we work with a will") was sung by a nostalgically smiling audience.
Mrs Tucker amused all with some stories about her grandfather at Hawkesbury, including some boys being granted permission to see a film called Random Harvest on the basis that it would be OK as it was about agriculture, and the ordering of a bottle of gin and tonic for the visiting Duke of Gloucester.
Mrs Murray, a student in 1988, recalled that the kids at Southee felt they were better than the kids at the other schools because "we went to the new school".
"All the other schools were old and they'd been there for like a hundred years."
Many also enjoyed a tour of the school on Sunday.
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