A little old school and railway’s big arrival

1867 Green Hills School, written by Bon Phefley

It was bitterly cold that winter. As the morning mist rolled up from the Murray River, fragile rays of sunshine broke through to herald another school day at Green Hills.

Inside the “schoolhouse”, a small thatch-roofed bark hut, a group of youngsters stamped their feet or warmed their frost-numbed fingers by the blazing red gum logs in the huge open fire-place at one end of the single-roomed “house of learning”.

As the master rode up, dismounted and tethered his horse to a sapling nearby, a couple of the “big boys” dashed up from the river. They had been setting a few fishing lines and no doubt would pick up a catch of cod or yellow belly as they trudged homeward later.

School was in. The curriculum was basic. Reading, writing, arithmetic and needlework for the girls. But those sons and daughters of the pioneers of Green Hills lived in exciting times.

In most cases their parents were battling farmers who toiled from dawn to dark. Some worked down river from Woodlands Creek where tonnes of produce, steel rails and cargoes of wood and iron were offloaded at the river port of Redbank.

The great North Eastern Railway project was under way and the various materials would be put to use in that scheme. But in 1867, the railway was still a few years away.

In the middle of that year, the government took over the Melbourne and Essendon Railway Company’s few remaining assets. The privately owned company had run an unreliable seven-kilometre link from the Bendigo line, near North Melbourne to Essendon. After operating in the red for almost four years, the link line had ceased operations on July 1st, 1864. This would be the start point for the North Eastern Railway, by now the subject of great discussion among the residents of Green Hills.

A new school was planned and the name of the scattered settlement would become Wodonga West. The school became a reality in 1870. Wodonga West No. 1058.

When the line was finished, the opening ceremony at Wodonga took place on November 21st, 1873.  While the festivities in town were lavish, Wodonga West did not miss out. Bush picnics were the order of the day and the schoolchildren given a rare holiday, enjoyed such treats as boiled lollies and homemade ginger beer and lemonade.

It was the beginning of an era of progress. The railways even built a “station” at Wodonga West, a lineside timber platform, unroofed, apparently to serve children attending the school. There were no goods facilities. The station closed in 1899.