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‘Another nail in the coffin’: Small town worried for the future as only school closes

Students at Wirrabara Primary School will today be dismissed for the final time as it prepares for closure after 138 years, leaving the town without a school.

Amid nostalgic reflections and celebration, there has been a growing sense of unease about what the closure of the school might mean for the town's future.

Teagan Hollitt, 8, is one of the only 11 students left at the school in the tiny town in South Australia's mid north.

Her ancestor Josiah Hollitt opened the school at its current site in 1921, and she is disappointed that the school board had voted to close it down.

"I feel very cross because the parents who voted yes to close it down [did so] because they didn't have enough money to pay for the school to be open," Teagan said.

The remaining students will have to go to other schools in Laura and Booleroo Centre — both a 20 kilometre bus journey away.

"I haven't been here very long, but I've made quite a bit of friends and I'm sad because I like this school. I don't want it to close," said another remaining student, Crispin Harness.

Wirrabara Primary School class of 2017.

Teacher Jayne Mainprize Potter came from England to begin her career in education at Wirrabara.

Her career took her to other schools, but she returned this year to take up the principal's job and oversee the school's closure.

"I'm quite sad in the sense that I had really good memories of the school when I taught here in 2005," she said.

"So to see the numbers decline to the stage where the school is going to close is pretty sad."

Ms Mainprize Potter said the closure would be felt by the whole community.

School children at Wirrabara Primary School in South Australia.

"I think the students have realised that because of the numbers it was inevitable," she said.

"They have been really sad, but they also are quite pleased at going to the new schools and making new friends. So it's sort of a bittersweet experience."

'We are a declining population'

For former students like Kevin Sizer, there are plenty of memories left behind.

"The proximity of the church to the cricket pitch on the oval was such that there were some lads capable of heaving a ball through the church window, which was one of the targets," he said.

Mr Sizer said the school's closure dealt a serious blow to a town still recovering from the 2014 Bangor bushfires.

"It's just another nail in the coffin of a small country town," he said.

"We are a declining population, we are an ageing population, [we] struggle to encourage young people to stay, young families to move in.

"If you haven't got a school it's just going to make it a whole lot more difficult."

Across town, convenience store and post office owner Vicki Morley said business owners were trying their best to remain positive.

School children during a lesson at Wirrabara Primary School.

"It's never good for a school to close, but it's progress unfortunately. There are just not enough students to keep the school open," Ms Morley said.

"However, the parents still have to bring the students in to catch the bus to whichever school they're going to, so I don't think it's going to impact on us a great deal."

The State Government said it was working with the local tourism and development group to allow use of the community garden and kitchen at the site until it is sold.

Wirrabara locals said they would like to see a new caravan park or movie theatre built using the old school facilities.

But any future plans will depend on how much money can be raised for the projects, and who buys the site.

"They've been very proactive in trying to work out what to do with the school, you know the main thing is the students don't suffer," Ms Morley said.

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