Image The water well at Birdsville Provisional School, c1927

TLF ID R9659

This black-and-white photograph taken by teacher Clifford Everitt in about 1927 shows two young female students standing by a well at Birdsville Provisional School in south-western Queensland. The surrounding landscape is dry and bare. The well is sheltered by a raised covering made of branches and twigs. An old wagon wheel leans against one of the uprights. The children, wearing hats, dresses and long socks, stand on a pile of rocks by the well. There appears to be a crumbling 'pise' wall made of sand mixed with clay at the edge of the well.

Educational details

Educational value
  • The arid landscape and flimsy well shelter shown in this photograph are indicative of the hardship faced by teachers and students in Birdsville at the time. Droughts, violent dust storms, floods, extreme temperatures, flies, slow mail service, lack of amenities, isolation and loneliness tested human endurance to the limit. The average January temperature in Birdsville is 39 degrees Celsius; the highest recorded temperature was 47.9 degrees Celsius in 1972.
  • The isolation and extreme conditions have caused Birdsville Provisional School to close five times since it opened in 1899 with ten pupils. At the time of the photograph the school was in the town hall and had an enrolment of 14. Closures, which leave students with little or no access to education, have resulted from the lack of available teachers and the small number of students. Since 1899 the school has been closed for an accumulated total of 26 years.
  • This image suggests the importance of locating a consistent supply of water in what are exceptionally arid conditions; Birdsville's average annual rainfall is only 160 mm. Residents of Birdsville have had to deal with extremes that range from very low rainfall to the flooding of the nearby Diamantina River from rain far upstream.
  • Birdsville's water supply at the time was generally carted, usually by horse, for a small fee from soakage wells 1.6 km from town. Water was also carted from the Woolwash, a local waterhole in the bed of the Diamantina. When the water was muddy, Epsom salts was used to clarify it. Later, artesian bores with cooling ponds were provided for the town.
  • Clifford Everitt, the photographer and at the time the school's only teacher, was stationed at Birdsville from February 1926 to January 1928. In his memoirs he mentions having taken 15 days to reach the isolated school, travelling by train, mail car and a station owner's car and being delayed by lack of connecting transport, mud, few landmarks, sand dunes, vehicle breakdowns and detours to deliver mail.

Other details

  • Contributor
  • Name: State Library of Queensland
  • Organization: State Library of Queensland
  • Description: Content provider
  • Address: QLD, AUSTRALIA
  • URL:
  • Name: Education Services Australia
  • Organization: Education Services Australia
  • Description: Data manager
  • Person: Clifford Everitt
  • Description: Author
  • Copyright Holder
  • Name: State Library of Queensland
  • Organization: State Library of Queensland
  • Address: QLD, AUSTRALIA
  • Publisher
  • Name: Education Services Australia Ltd
  • Organization: Education Services Australia Ltd
  • Description: Publisher
  • Address: VIC, AUSTRALIA
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  • Resource metadata contributed by
  • Name: Education Services Australia Ltd
  • Organisation: Education Services Australia Ltd
  • Address: AUSTRALIA
  • URL:
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  • © Education Services Australia Ltd and State Library of Queensland, 2013, except where indicated under Acknowledgements