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Ravenswood State School, Residence and Former Pool

  • 600455
  • School Street, Ravenswood


Also known as
Ravenswood School and Residence I Ravenswood State School Swimming Pool (former)
State Heritage
Register status
Date entered
21 October 1992
Education, research, scientific facility: School—state
6.1 Building settlements, towns, cities and dwellings: Establishing settlements and towns
9.1 Educating Queenslanders: Providing primary schooling
Construction period
1873–1897, Ravenswood School and Residence (1873 - 1897)
Historical period
1870s–1890s Late 19th century


School Street, Ravenswood
Charters Towers Regional Council
-20.09661165, 146.8870198


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Criterion AThe place is important in demonstrating the evolution or pattern of Queensland’s history.

The school complex is important as an example of an early school in a remote area, demonstrating the importance placed by government not only on education, but on the contribution made to the economy of the colony by such mining towns as Ravenswood. Its construction, extension and following reduction accurately reflect changes to the size and composition of the population and therefore the development and decline of Ravenswood as a goldfield and township.

The Ravenswood State School Swimming Pool (former) (c1925) is important in demonstrating the widespread early 20th century movement to establish in-ground swimming pools for recreation and instruction and to improve health and safety in Queensland. Constructed largely by Ravenswood State School students and their teacher using discarded bricks from local mines, the pool, in its form and materials, is an early, rare and distinctive north Queensland example of its type.

Criterion BThe place demonstrates rare, uncommon or endangered aspects of Queensland’s cultural heritage.

The Ravenswood School residence, constructed in 1873, is important as the oldest known residential building in a North Queensland town and its plan, roof form and construction details pre-date the standardised forms of later North Queensland houses. It is also the only one of the first government buildings erected on the field to survive.

Criterion CThe place has potential to yield information that will contribute to an understanding of Queensland’s history.

Because of their age and the fact that change has been well documented, the buildings, particularly the residence, have the potential to yield information regarding early building techniques and the way in which houses were extended to meet changing needs during the nineteenth and 20th centuries.

Criterion DThe place is important in demonstrating the principal characteristics of a particular class of cultural places.

The Ravenswood school is important as a good representative example of a school of its era and has had long continuity of use. The residence provides an excellent example of the way in which basic houses were enlarged in the Queensland tradition.

Criterion GThe place has a strong or special association with a particular community or cultural group for social, cultural or spiritual reasons.

The School is important for its connection with the community in and around Ravenswood as a provider of public education for several generations.


School and Residence

The school and residence are components of an educational facility that has served Ravenswood since 1873. The existing early building at Ravenswood School is an 1880s extension of the original school built in 1873 and the residence dates from 1873, with extensions made over the years to accommodate changing needs.

Gold was discovered at Ravenswood in 1868, a few years after pastoral settlement of the area had begun. A tent settlement quickly sprang up and was surveyed in 1870 and gazetted as a town in 1871. Although many miners left for other fields when it was found that the gold at deeper levels was difficult to separate from the ore body, Ravenswood continued to prosper and more families moved into the town as it developed. The need for a school was soon apparent.

At Separation of Queensland from New South Wales at the end of 1859, two National (government) Schools existed in the new colony. In 1860, the Primary Education Act was passed, introducing a comprehensive system of State schools alongside a minimal provision for church schools. A Board of General Education was set up to administer annual grants, assist in building vested schools, and provide teachers. A few National Schools were built under this system, though the financial crisis in 1886 slowed up the project. However, Queensland was the first colony to provide free primary education from January 1870. A Royal Commission on Education in Queensland was set up in 1874 and resulted in a State Education Act which took effect from 1 January 1876 and provided for a Department of Public Instruction under a minister and a system of State primary schools.

In 1872 a Ravenswood School Committee was formed and tenders were called for the construction of a school to meet the needs of the growing community. The government provided a teacher and books, but expected communities with more than 30 potential pupils to put up a third of the school costs. The Committee raised £306/18/- and covered the interim period by holding classes in the old 'Emerald Isle Hotel', purchased for the modest sum of £18.

After considerable disagreement between the committee and the Board of Education regarding the cost and suitability of plans provided by each, the school and residence were erected in 1873 and opened in January 1874 as a double classroom school with an enrolment of 70. As the school was constructed prior to the passage of the Queensland State Education Act it was known as the National School of Ravenswood.

The school was initially within a school reserve of 2 acres and 22 perches of Crown Land, however, in 1875 the Ravenswood Divisional Board applied to the Minister for Works and Mines for a further grant of land in anticipation of continuing growth and the need to provide for a future girls' school. In 1887 the north corner of the school reserve was cut off by the Mines Department for street purposes and over the next forty years the boundaries fluctuated, echoing the booms and depression period experienced by Ravenswood.

Ravenswood's economy received a boost in the mid 1880s by the arrival of the railway in 1884 and the use of improved means to extract gold from ore. A new generation of public buildings began to replace those from the early days of the field, including a police station and courthouse, post office and hospital. In 1889, the school reached its peak enrolment of almost 400 children. It was extended according to standard plans and by 1905 had 8 classrooms and a gymnasium. Ravenswood enjoyed a boom between 1900 and 1908 as more modern techniques were applied to ore processing. However, the cost of extraction and continued exploration rose as returns fell and after the end of the First World War it became apparent that the field would not pick up again. In the 1920s buildings as well as people moved away from Ravenswood and were relocated to other towns. In 1929 enrolment in the school fell to below 100 and in 1930, Ravenswood became the first town in Queensland to lose its rail connection.

As the population declined, the extensions were progressively removed, although the foundations of extensions are still visible. A modern classroom block and other facilities have since been provided at the school.

The school residence is the oldest building in Ravenswood and is thought to be the oldest surviving house in a North Queensland town. Because of its age, the residence predates the standardisation of design which strongly influenced domestic building throughout Queensland; the use of an exposed frame, for example, which was to become prevalent in North Queensland a decade later. The extensions to the residence and the reasons for each extension are fully documented. It remains today almost as it was on completion of the last extension in 1897 and is a catalogue of identifiable nineteenth century builders' techniques from 1873 to 1897.

It was constructed originally as a lowset timber framed house of four rooms under a transverse gabled roof with an internal fireplace for cooking. The walls were clad externally with weatherboards but the interior was unlined. No separate kitchen was constructed and although it is believed that the first teacher appointed ate at a hotel, not an uncommon arrangement where a teacher was a single man, the design was more appropriate to a southern climate. The house was also constructed with only a front verandah, though after a complaint from the secretary of the local committee, a verandah was added to the rear later in 1874. On the appointment in 1877 of a teacher with a large family, a separate kitchen was requested on the grounds that "...this climate does not admit of cooking being done in the midst of sleeping apartments" A building from another site, described as "an old weatherboarded house, shingle roofed", was then attached to the house by a covered way. At some time a section of the rear verandah was enclosed to form a servant's room, possibly at the same time as the addition of the kitchen.

The ceilings of the core section of the house were lined in 1883 and repairs made to storm damage in 1880 and 1884, the brick chimney being demolished following the severe storm of 1884 and not rebuilt, but no major changes were made until 1887 when the old kitchen was replaced by a new structure with a covered way and brick fireplace, the rear verandah room was moved to the other side of the building, a window was cut into the southeast bedroom wall and the core walls were lined internally with tongue-and-groove boards. Hans Thomsen and John Thomas, Ravenswood builders, carried out the alterations.

In 1889 the then head teacher requested "more suitable and worthy accommodation", which reflects the general upgrading of public buildings in Ravenswood during the 1880s and the peak enrolment for that year of 390. The department responded by adding an asymmetrical extension to the front of the house, demolishing the front verandah and constructing an almost square living room with verandahs along the front and one side.

The last extension was made in 1897, when a whole side of the residence was extended by eight feet to the north-east including a verandah on the third side of the living room. The verandahs were ceiled at that time. The house has since been altered only by the arrangement of some internal partitions and partial enclosure of the rear verandah.

Externally, the teacher’s residence remains the same as it was in 1897. It is no longer in use as a teacher’s residence.

Swimming Pool (former)

Ravenswood State School swimming pool (former) is located at 36 School Street, Ravenswood on a local government swimming reserve to the northwest of the School and Residence. Located on the opposite side of the street to the school, the pool was built c1925 through the efforts of the head teacher and some of the boys at the school. The pool lay empty for many years before it was reconditioned as a water reservoir for mining operations in 1950. The land upon which it is situated was gazetted as a local government swimming reserve in 1979, although not used again for this purpose.

Queenslanders have a long tradition as a sports-loving people engaging in a wide variety of sports and quick to adopt new forms of activity. Queensland’s climate was conducive for swimming and could be undertaken with the minimum of amenities, although there were dangers associated with swimming in rivers, creeks and the sea. As a result, floating baths or enclosures were erected on river banks and at beaches to improve the safety of swimmers.

A new attitude towards swimming and more particularly bathing emerged during the 1880s. Amid a growing awareness of public health, in-ground swimming baths were promoted as a means of improving health and also a safer environment for swimming than in creeks and rivers. The first in-ground pool was erected in Rockhampton in 1883 and baths were subsequently erected around the State.

The hot climate in north Queensland made swimming a particularly desirable activity. Early documented efforts at creating swimming facilities include a small swimming bath in a local Charters Towers creek as early as 1877 and by the 1880s the nearby Planter's Dam and the Burdekin River further afield were popular. In 1900 Charters Towers opened its first baths after many years of lobbying by locals.

Swimming became enormously popular in the early 20th century, following its inclusion in the modern Olympiad held in 1896. In Queensland, a modern progressive education included swimming which was taught in schools wherever access to a swimming pool (natural or artificial) was available. In 1908 the rules of swimming and other aquatic sports were standardised and in Queensland, metropolitan teachers who were keen to encourage swimming amongst school children formed the State Schools Amateur Swimming Association. By 1914, 34 clubs had been formed, catering for boys only. In 1911 a State Schools Girls’ Amateur Swimming Association was formed, with 28 schools affiliated by 1914. In 1915, the Hon HF Hardacre, Minister for Public Instruction, regarded swimming as ‘preferable to other physical drill during the hot summer months' and that he ‘would like to see a swimming pool in every school ground in Queensland.[1] From 1917, Voluntary Summer Schools of Instruction in Physical Training were offered to Teachers with swimming a compulsory subject.[2]

Almost all of Queensland’s early state school pools were located in Brisbane. The first school to acquire a pool was Junction Park State School (QHR650023). The concrete pool, catering for 700 pupils was constructed by local builders and opened by the Minister for Public Instruction in February 1910. Wooloowin State School (QHR601565), keen to promote their school as one of the most modern in the state, completed its pool in 1916 with funds raised by the building committee. Ascot State School (QHR650044) completed their pool c1920, within 12 months of the school opening as part of a grand grounds improvement program. The fourth state school pool, at Cannon Hill State School (QHR602854), was completed in 1921 with the help of the school community, volunteers, parents, funding from the Department of Public Instruction and donations from the local brickworks, and the fifth was completed at Wilston State School (QHR602855) in 1923.

Swimming was given further impetus by the 1924 Olympic Games held in Paris where the standard was set for Olympic sized swimming pools. In 1925 Windsor State School (QHR600991) built a 30 metre concrete pool costing £2000 funded by the School Committee through a bank loan.

There was no such support for the construction of a pool at Ravenswood State School in the 1920s when the mining town was in serious decline. In 1922 when the new head teacher James Charles Egan arrived, he was filled with despair at the fact that I had struck a town which the inhabitants were leaving as rats desert a sinking ship. Only those remained who could not possibly get away and to make matters worse the Department removed most of my school buildings creating the impression that they knew that the town was dying and that I had been sent to Siberia. In addition, the school committee had resigned in high anger at the removal of their best school building  and Egan found himself alone in a strange place among strange people.[3]

During the mining boom at the turn of the century Ravenswood had numbered almost 5,000 and the School, established in 1872, reached its peak enrolment of 400 students in 1899. Ravenswood goldfield had been the fifth largest gold producer in Queensland but the boom did not last. Large scale mining ended in 1917, and the population and town shrank. Before the closure of Ravenswood’s railway branch line in 1930, hundreds of the town’s timber buildings were dismantled and railed away.[4] By 1924 the population had fallen to 609.[5]

Egan had been transferred from the Thornlands State School where he was also a swimming enthusiast and highly-regarded member of the Thornlands district swimming club. Upon his arrival in Ravenswood he initiated two unsuccessful attempts at establishing a pool in the local waterways. Undeterred, he subsequently secured a water supply for a pool in close proximity to the school through negotiations with the mine administrators to provide a junction in a water pipe being laid nearby to supply a tank on higher ground. All that remained was to find the means to construct the pool.

Egan’s plan to establish a local pool only found the support of the local boys. He tried on several occasions to engage the parents but to no avail. Scheduled meetings were not attended and Egan advised the boys that he would have to abandon the idea. He recalled in his article in the Townsville Bulletin…The following Saturday morning while sitting on the school verandah studying I was startled by the rattle of goat carts and the voices of boys shouting to their teams. In a few moments the boys had arrived in front of the school, their carts laden with bricks.[6]

The boys would not be dissuaded and with Egan pegged out a pool and roughly excavated a 15 x 5 yard pool in their spare time. With a few of Egan’s personal friends and the local store manager the excavation was squared up, sand was carted up from the creek and finally with a subscription list, Egan was able to hire two men to build the brick walls and floor. The mine manager arranged for the filling of the pool a fortnight before Christmas 1925 and for the pool to be open a few hours every day while Egan was on holidays. A concert and subscription list cleared the debt and by the end of the season Egan had 80 swimmers.

Maintenance of the pool, which was surrounded by brick paving and enclosed with corrugated iron dressing sheds and fence[7] was carried out by Egan, with the help of a few boys. The pool was cleaned and refilled every Saturday. Egan described the pool as a lesson in self help to the children and a lesson to me that to be successful we must be so - not because of outside help but in spite of it.[8] Egan was transferred from Ravenswood to Oakey in mid 1926.[9]

How long the pool operated after Egan’s departure is not known but it was recommissioned in 1942 and enjoyed by the pupils of St Anne’s School Townsville who were relocated to Ravenswood away from the coast line due to the threat of invasion of northern Australia during WWII.[10] In a 1950 report in the Northern Miner on a gold strike near Ravenswood and on the redevelopment of the Saratoga Mine by Messrs Cook, Eardman and Plaza, Mr Eardman recounted that the pool he had helped build as a school boy 25 years ago, and which had stood empty for many years, was to be patched and reused as a water reservoir for their battery operations.[11]

In the 1960s and 1970s, Ravenswood’s population fell to its nadir of 68, but the locals were determined to preserve their authentic frontier town and provide new amenities and services. The Ravenswood Progress Association was formed in October 1975 and their first project was the construction of a new pool, intended for the State School but available to the general public. The School’s Parents and Citizens committee purchased land with its own water supply for this purpose off Deighton Street near the showgrounds where the current pool is located.[12]

In 1979, a reserve of approximately 1860 square metres was set aside as a reserve for local government (swimming pool) purposes within the Ravenswood Mining Field.


Ravenswood State School occupies an elevated and sloping site that includes allotments to either side of School Street in the north Queensland town of Ravenswood, approximately 100km south of Townsville. The school is in a prominent position overlooking the town and surrounding mining landscape (of scattered ruins, mullock heaps, distinctive chinkee apple trees and rubber vines).

The main school reserve is located to the southeast of School Street, on a 13000m2 allotment bound to the east by Elcoate Street, to the north by John Street and to the south by a reserve. It comprises a Timber School Building and a Residence, standing at the northern end of the allotment. The Swimming Pool, located to the northwest and on the opposite side of School Street, occupies an 1860m2 site. It comprises an in-ground Swimming Pool (former, c1925) excavated into the sloping terrain. The Timber School Building, Residence and Swimming Pool retain an important visual connection with each other (although this is partly obscured by vegetation in 2017).

Timber School Building (1873, extended pre-1905)

The Timber School Building is a single storey, rectangular building with its main axis to the street. It has a timber frame clad with weatherboards and is raised on high concrete stumps to create a shaded space underneath. The steeply pitched gabled roof is clad in corrugated iron extending to a skillion roofed verandah at the front and a rear enclosed verandah. The verandahs are supported on timber posts and have timber balustrading.

Residence (1873, extended 1897)

The Residence is a single storey, rectangular house with its main axis to the street. It is timber framed, set on low stumps and clad in weatherboards. Its form is unusual as a result of repated extensions and it has open verandahs with horizontal balustrades on two sides. The roof is steeply pitched and is multi-gabled and clad with corrugated iron.

Swimming Pool (former, pre-1926)

The Swimming Pool (former) is rectangular in form, with its long axis running approximately north-south. It measures 13.63 m x 4.95 m (45 ft x 16 ft), and stands empty. The pool walls and floor are of reused red bricks, sealed in a cement render (the render is worn down in some locations, exposing the brick). The width of the walls are approximately the size of a standard brick (230 mm), and are raised above the sloping ground at a height of 0.23 m on the western side and 0.45 m on the eastern side. The floor of the pool slopes down toward the south, with a depth ranging from 1.06 m at the northern end to 1.49 m at the southern end.   

Access is provided via three concrete steps in the northeastern corner of the pool. A rectangular concrete foot-wash basin is located adjacent the steps, on the northern side of the northern wall, and rows of brick pavers surround the pool on all sides.

Non-significant features

Modern buildings and facilities on the school site are not considered to be of cultural heritage significance.

Metal and timber bracing elements supporting the eastern and western walls of the pool, and a metal sign post to the west of the pool are recent additions and are not of cultural heritage significance. 


[1] Wooloowin State School, Brisbane Courier, 8 October 1915, p.10
[2] The Education Office Gazette, October 1917, p.448
[3] Ravenswood Swimming Pool, Townsville Daily Bulletin, 24 July 1926, p.6.
[4] QHR630038 Ravenswood Mining Landscape and Chinese Settlement Area
[5] Annual Report of the Under Secretary for Mines, 1925, p.80
[6] Ibid.
[7] Niche Environment and Heritage, pdArchitect in assoc, Ravenswood State School and Residence | Heritage Conservation Management Plan, July 2017 p.18.
[8] ibid.
[9] Transfer of Teachers, Warwick Daily News, 19 June 1926, p.5.
[10] Dalrymple Shire, Council Meeting, The Northern Miner, 13 May 1942, p.1; Application to Enter: Ravenswood State School Swimming Pool (former), p.13.
[11] Swimming pool as reservoir, The Northern Miner, 20 September 1950, p.1.
[12] Ambitious Plans for Ravenswood, The Townsville Daily Bulletin, 12 November 1975, p.5.

Image gallery


Location of Ravenswood State School, Residence and Former Pool within Queensland
Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 International (CC BY 4.0)
Last reviewed
1 July 2022
Last updated
14 November 2022
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