Agnes Pini was a well-respected member of the Proserpine community.
Agnes Pini was a well-respected member of the Proserpine community. contributed

Tribute to cherished teacher Agnes Pini

AGNES Pini made no secret of how much she loved living in Proserpine and the people in it.

The community she loved so much was shocked and saddened to learn of the sudden death last Sunday of the former high school teacher, keen volunteer, friend and family woman.

Agnes' funeral was held last week at the Proserpine Cultural Centre. In the eulogy delivered at the funeral, her children remarked that celebrating their mother's life in the cultural centre of Proserpine was appropriate because her faith went beyond the confines of a church and very much embraced the wider Proserpine community.

Agnes was told when she moved here at 21 that she would have to live here for 40 years to be considered a local.

She met that benchmark a long time ago but really became a local far earlier through her commitment to the town and through her leadership and engagement in the community.

If there was a charitable fundraiser, cent sale, fashion parade, fete or performance, Agnes was there.

Agnes Helen Hayes was born on October 22, 1939 one of nine children born to Thomas and Helen Hayes.

Her father was a teacher and so they moved around frequently throughout her childhood. The family eventually settled in Shorncliffe in Brisbane and mum completed her high school education at St Rita's college, Clayfield.

After school Agnes went to Teachers' College at Kelvin Grove and her first posting was at the Proserpine High School.

Her children found a speech she gave at the celebration of 50 years of the Proserpine High School, in which she said she was proud and humbled to present awards to departing teachers.

Agnes said the following:

"I arrived in Proserpine on a Saturday in January 1961 - the train was 23 hours late. As transferred teachers we had to find and fund our own accommodation. The Palace Hotel, now the Irish Pub, was the recommended choice. I was twenty-one and in a place where I did not know a soul. It was an adventure.

"On the Monday, I arrived at school where 90 students and four teachers all had to cram into a broken down building - now the kindergarten. Three weeks later we were told that the new school could be occupied and told to go there.

"Teachers and students gathered their books and left for the new school. As teachers, we had a sense of history about this move and thought it should be acknowledged.

"The teachers, having decorated Neville Wilson's car with balloons and streamers, led a procession down Main St into Chapman St followed by cheering bell ringing students on their bicycles, to claim possession of the school building, known as A Block. It seemed a seamless transition as we simply walked into the class rooms and resumed our time table.

"A Block had three general class rooms, a small science lab a typing room and two locker rooms for students. One of these locker rooms immediately became a staff room which was furnished with four student desks.

"As there was neither a principal nor senior teacher with responsibility in this staff room, we four inexperienced teachers, all in our 20s were more or less left to our own devices to run this school on a day to day basis. The principal came down on a bicycle to teach a Math's class and then return to Main St.

"At irregular intervals he dropped in on our classes to check the students' work. One day, the principal dropped in to my maths class and his first words were 'girls can't do maths'.

"When I asked politely why this was so, he could not tell me. After the principal had gone, I advised the class of 26 girls and four boys, to ignore that remark. I told them that girls can do anything as long as they wanted it badly.

"This was four years before Germain Greer published The Female Eunuch. Ten years ago a student of that class was visiting relatives and rang to see if she could come and visit. She had returned to study after her children were at school and had become a teacher. She wanted to tell me that my comment about what women could or could not do resonated with her. In 1961 women received the sack once they were married.

"Initially, both teachers and students wallowed in the space this new school offered. Space, however was our only luxury in this no frills school with no phone, no library (we started one in the second locker room,) no sporting facilities, (we had some equipment,) no landscaping-just uneven ground with rubble everywhere- and a building site next door. Work had started on B Block to be ready for 1962. We had no running water upstairs and had to go down to fill the jug to make the coffee that keeps a teacher's motor going. Water was shortly connected to the science lab. Any school notes were typed manually by Helen Simpson, the commercial teacher, and then 'roneoed' on a temperamental Gestetner Machine.

"We had no overall plan for how this school would run - as we were not even aware we were running it. Everything seemed to evolve out of necessity. Each idea was run by the principal for approval which was usually granted on the proviso that we would do all the work. We realised that we could not wait for the government to do things as the most of the junior students would be moving on after one year

"Taking small steps we set about turning this new building into a High School where the students would have great school pride, achieve well academically, have good sports participation both intra and inter school and be introduced to some cultural activities.

"We were keen and committed and the students were delightful, respectful, friendly and cooperative. Together we achieved. We worked as a harmonious team for the most part unfazed by any political correctness. We simply respected one another. Students could choose one of four streams of subject Academic, Commercial Domestic Science and Industrial. There were no electives. Each stream had eight subjects with the Industrial having nine. English was compulsory in that if you did not pass English, you did not receive a Junior Certificate even though you may have passed the other seven subjects.

"Academic assessment was by external public exam and the results were published in detail in all of the newspapers. In the two years I was here our students compared more than favourably with the schools from the rest of the state. Our initial sports' periods were spent picking up rocks to enable games to be played. Picking up rocks and then planting and watering trees then acted as a form of detention. A sport's cry, based on the Maori Haka was written by Gwenyth Barnes and learned for our inter school meet with Bowen and Collinsville. It worked. We won the three shields Basketball was introduced to the school and played along with net ball, football and cricket .We had inter house competitions of sprints, jumps and ball games.

"A sporting highlight was the visit of Wes Hall the fast bowler from the same West Indian Team that participated with Australia in the famous tied test.

"A badge was designed with a motto and is still worn today. A school song was written and sung at the first ever Speech night or awards night. We had a school social each term, held at the RSL. Prior to this social the students sports' periods were held at the RSL where we taught them ball room dancing which they continued to practice in the lunch hours under the school.

"At the Speech Night, we made sure every student was on stage in one of the items. This was to be a cultural experience for them. The stage, by the way was the back of a truck parked in the grounds of the Primary school

"Each class had a verse speaking recital and a play plus an individual recitation. We had a school choir and the Marsellaise was sung in French and English along with the School Song and a couple of other songs. The Domestic Science Students paraded the clothes made in class and a group of boys did a tumbling routine all on the back of this truck. You could not do this today.

"We had a breaking up day excursion to South Molle island courtesy of Wally Bauer whose son was at the school. We didn't ever saw a parent at the school. In those days parents only came to complain and a no show was a good show.

"The week had forty periods and we each taught thirty eight. I taught English, French, History, Geography, Maths A and Maths to sub junior (year nine.)

"In hindsight we were privileged to have had the experiences we had. By the end of 1961, this school was imbued with school pride had achieved both academically and in the sporting field. Students were given some cultural experience as well. Proserpine State High School in the making was setting the standard for this school. We were successful because we were committed to bringing out the best in our students and they responded."

Agnes told her children that upon arrival in 1961 on the train, she was greeted by a taxi driver in bare feet! She asked to be taken to her hotel, which was the Palace. When shown to her room, she asked for her key but was told there was none.

She was a city girl and the country ways were new to her. She had a lot to learn. In her first weeks teaching she was disciplining a class and told them to stop looking out the window at the "plough". The students had a good laugh at her expense. As she would come to know very well later in her life, the plough was in fact a rotary hoe.

As was required by law at the time Agnes left teaching when she married local cane farmer, Albert Pini, in 1963 but returned to it when their children were teenagers after undertaking postgraduate study at the University of Qld.

Her extraordinary intellect was recognised when she was awarded a university medal at the end of her degree. She was a gifted and enthusiastic teacher and clearly left a positive impression on her students, many of whom remain in Proserpine.

Agnes was a serious reader and a lover of poetry. At her funeral her daughter recited one of Anges' favourite poems, "Crossing the Bar" by Tennyson. Agnes had a keen and incisive intellect and loved the cut and thrust of good conversation.

She also loved a joke - the last conversation Agnes and Albert had was about a joke she had found in the Sunday Mail.

Agnes met Albert at a local dance. They were married on 5 January, 1963, and settled at Strathdickie, where they had a cane farm. During the next seven years the family quickly grew and Agnes threw herself into the challenge of raising six children born in seven years (Michael, Judith, Barbara, Catherine, Bart and Daniel) while supporting Albert in running their cane farm.

In 1978, Agnes and Albert built a motel in town - aptly named the A & A. The name incorporated their initials but also meant the motel was listed first in the phone book - she was a savvy businesswoman.

Agnes had a rich and varied life and she was renowned for many things, including her cooking, particularly her fruitcakes. However, not every one of her fruit cakes turned out to be the excellent product we all know them to be. When she was first married, she made a fruit cake and it didn't turn out, so she threw it out the back of the house at Strathdickie hidden way up in the guinea grass. Albert happened to be slashing this grass a couple of days later and hit something which made a loud noise - thinking it was a rock he got off the tractor to find the fruit cake! We all know that this is a rare blemish in her excellent skills as a cook and provider.

Later in life, Agnes was fortunate to have six grandchildren- children of Daniel and Carmella. She flourished in her role as Grannie and gave her grandchildren her hundred percent unconditional support and love. She was always unfailingly patient and would turn up as Chief Cheerleader in any event in their lives no matter how small or mundane.

Agnes will be remembered for her monopoly on the front row of the annual dance concert for the last nine years in a row.

Agnes loved boardgames and cards. She was a passionate bridge player and a keenly competitive member of the Proserpine Bridge Club for over 40 years.

Agnes was a devout catholic and hers was a faith that was not confined to the walls of a church. Her children noted that they had trouble locating a photo of her alone. She was not part of the "selfie" phenomenon either often taking the photo, or, if, in a photo, wanting others there with her.

Agnes always saw herself as a part of something bigger - family, friendships, church, town. This is what drove her community spirit and involvement in groups such as St Vincent de Paul, the CWL, the Proserpine Bridge Club and Probus.

She was still going to the local gym - more for the social engagement then the physical exercise. Agnes pragmatism, compassion, wisdom and sense of fun made her a loyal and trusted confidante to many. She was blessed with many wonderful friends who will miss her warmth, vitality, generosity and good humour.

Deeply mourned by Albert, her children, grandchildren and extended family, Agnes Helen Pini will also be greatly missed by many in Proserpine.

- Tribute supplied by Agnes' family


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