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Remembering Norma Schell

Born on December 15, 1932, at Penneshaw on Kangaroo Island, Norma's parents moved to Stanley Flat when she was only one year old.

Norma Schell became a great social leader in the Clare Valley and the Barossa, who regularly organised entertainments such as dances and musicals, where she was well known for her piano playing.

Norma also played organ at Clare's St Michael's Catholic Church, and St Aloysius' Church at Sevenhill. Her sense of humour and of 'occasion' could not be forgotten by anyone who met her. Norma was a 'Star'!

Norma's story begins in 1934 when her father Stanley Eric Basham, her mother Irene Alice and older sister Thelma Mary came to live in Stanley Flat.

Norma's father had been appointed to the school as Headmaster, having transferred from Penneshaw on Kangaroo Island, where he had taught for several years.

Norma was 12 months old, so this story has to begin with quotations from her mother's personal 1982 story — Irene Alice Basham, known as Rene.


Penneshaw School Headmaster, Stanley Eric BASHAM

See PENNESHAW. (1933, December 23). The Kangaroo Island Courier (Kingscote, SA : 1907 - 1951), p. 2.

"A Penneshaw farewell was given to Mr and Mrs S. Basham and family who are leaving the district.

Mr Basham has been in charge of the Penneshaw School for four years and during that time has proved himself to be a good teacher and citizen.

Mr Basham has also taken great interest in sport during his stay on the Island and be will be greatly missed by the various clubs.

On behalf of then many friends, Mt E . L. Bates presented Mr and Mrs Bashman with a handsome oak clock as a token of esteem.

Mr Basham in a few well chosen words responded expressing regret at leaving the many friends he had made in the district.

Mrs A, Stirling as President, present-ed Mrs Basham, on behalf of the Women's League, with a set of Souvenir China, while little Julia gave her a dainty bouquet. Mrs Basham has always been an active member of the League and will be missed at their meetings.

We wish them every happiness in their future home, which will be at Stanley Flat, four miles from Clare."


Irene Basham's 1982 Story

"Stan put in for a transfer from Penneshaw which we found very remote and lonely, despite the many good friends we had made there.

He had no notification of the transfer until the last week of the school holidays. Norma, was one year old and Thelma was seven years of age.

We did not even know where Stanley Flat was, except that it was near Clare.

We travelled on the Karatta from the island to the mainland. It was a terribly rough passage to Adelaide. I hated it and was always seasick."

'Karatta', the Kangaroo Island ferry

Then we traversed to Clare by car and to our new home at Stanley Flat.

Stanley Flat School
Stanley Flat School Residence - much modified by the 1960s. The School Room of the 1960s is at far left behind the house

"We saw a rather small, weatherboard home attached to a one-roomed school.

The school room was at the back of the home where the four rooms ran one into the other, no passage.

Stan later built a porch at one end of the house, and a third bedroom sleepout on one end of the front verandah.

"My first unpleasant surprise was the nests of big black ants all round the school house. In fact, I lived with ants all of the 34 years we were there. Black ants outside and the white ants that riddled the weatherboard home. The Education Department in later years always did minor repairs to the building."

"After making inquiries as to the name of the Chairman of the School, we found his residence, a big house at the corner of the main road and the school road. Three tall palm trees were in the front garden.

Here we met the Foreman family, to become good friends for all of those 34 years with them — Frank Foreman, his wife and family.

One daughter Margaret was Monitor at the school (a similar position to a Junior Teacher). We formed a lasting friendship from that day on.

We then met Frank Gertau, Chairman of the Hall Committee, and our closest neighbour."

Stanley Basham at Stanley Flat School
Stanley Eric Basham With his 25 year Silver Service Award

Norma wrote "Oh, we had such good times at Stanley Flat and made so many friends there. We were just one big happy family, each caring about the other.

"The Education Department tried to persuade Stan to take the promotions due to him. This meant a transfer and in no way would we leave Stanley Flat. This was our home and we loved the district and its people.

He remained at the school (on a much lower wage than he was entitled to), happy with his friends until his retirement at the age of 65 years on October 11, 1966, after serving thirty three and two thirds years as their teacher.

"Unfortunately, the advent of cars and motor bikes made it easier to get to Clare and other towns.

After the war, people started moving off, and the social life of the "Flat" just fizzled out. Dad retired on the day of his birthday and would not even complete the school year.

We had a party for the children, with a cream cake and raspberry drinks. Only about 24 children were at the school, and four of them were "The Bashams'" grandchildren."

The Final Day at Stanley Flat School:

Schoolchildren at Stanley Flat School
The Stanley Flat School Children sit at their desks, with their Headmaster, Mr Basham, watching from behind.

Norma's Story

"My childhood memories are of a carefree happy and loving family life. I think we had the ideal existence, living in the beautiful district of Clare, which I love. We had so many friends and we wanted for nothing, contented with our lot.

I was only one year old when we moved to the schoolhouse at Stanley Flat where Dad was appointed as Headmaster.

We were all involved with the life of the district and it was a busy life.

My first memories of our home as a child, was the sound of magpies warbling, morning and night, nesting in the pine trees surrounding the house — a lovely sound I still associate with Stanley Flat.

There were never any "backward" children at Stanley Flat, the slower to learn were singled out for extra attention.

I have memories of Dad at his desk table, with the little ones on his knee or standing between his legs reading or writing at his desk table.

Children who graduated to High school from Stanley Flat were expected to achieve good results, such was Mr. Basham's reputation as a teacher.

He maintained that there were no backward children, only backward teachers and parents.

In sport also, they could more than "hold their own"; Dad's method of training was a good and patient one, as he imparted his own natural ability and skill to the children."

A Really Special Outing Stanley Flat School Children with their Headmaster, Mr Basham On board the Troubridge bound for Kangaroo Island

School, School Picnics and Other Marvels for Kids

"The school picnics were most exciting for us kids. On occasions, a bus took us to the beach at Fisherman's Bay and Wallaroo.

We children had races and climbed the mangrove trees at the Bay. On other picnics, we always found a suitable large tree for the rope and tyre swing. I loved the big swings.

And what fun it was to get into a drum or curl inside a large tyre and be rolled down a steep incline, falling out at the bottom, half scared, giddy but triumphant — then back up the hill for a repeat thrill.

All went home after those picnics, late in the day, filthy and exhausted, parents and children alike. But what a day to remember till next time. We went on many picnics and often."

Dances and Music

"The dances in the Stanley Flat Hall were a highlight for all. The show night dance was always crowded. Who knows what new boys we might meet at that dance?

During the war years, I remembering one "topsy turvy" ball, men and women reversing roles and dressing. Mother had a photo of these folk.

Mum arranged the hiring of the hall piano for me to practice on which I did for years, never having a piano ourselves at home, picking up the key from Mr. Gertau and returning it each day.

When I started playing for dances, I played "by ear" as they called it. The "real'' pianists used music, so when the lights were dim, I would be persuaded to provide the music. I can still play some of those particular pieces of music, with my eyes shut.

Of course as I got older, I was annoyed missing out on all the fun on the dance floor."

Norma on piano and Bill Borlace on drums

"Bill Borlace, a returned soldier, took up drumming and he played regularly. In fact, he played drums to accompany me for years, the two of us travelling all over the district providing music for the dances and Balls.

The princely sum of 15/- was given for Saturday nights and 25/- for a long night (till l.30 usually). Jean Schultz (Gertau) played with her uncle Wilf Bailey on drums, and Rex Williams and Kath Baxter played piano for dances in my day. Hard work with a piano sometimes out of tune, ivories of some keys leaving sore fingers, but the extra money I loved to have to spend on clothes.

I loved dancing so had to make that difficult choice, fun or money."

Norma Schell acting

"From a very early age we would go to the dances, sleep in the corner of the hall or sit with rugs around our knees watching our parents dance.

We learned to waltz before school age, and what a thrill it was when another adult asked us to partner them in the Canadian Barn dance, where we got to change partners and dance with everyone on the floor, instead of dancing with another child."

"On weekends we rode our bikes into Clare to the Swimming pool in the summer, and on weekends rode miles about the country side, on the main and back roads.

Of course we rode into school, church on Sundays, and Music lessons in Clare on Saturday mornings. By jove, it was cold at times along the "Flat". Faces and fingers would literally freeze, and we had chilblains on the back of our legs and on toes and fingers."

"I played for dances at Stanley Flat and at most of the other small halls in the district from the time I was about 18 years of age. There was always a dance on somewhere at weekends.

When my children went to school at the Flat, I played for their concerts and special events at the Hall."

Norma was a self-taught piano player, and this was how she wooed her husband, Neil Schell, when belting out a tune at the Stanley Flat Hall dance parties.

"My dear Neil, he would sit there and watch me", Norma said.

Norma's husband, Neil Schell

"The people of the District gave me a kitchen evening before Neil and I were married.

I was then working with Dad as a Junior Teacher at the School.

We three girls celebrated our 21st birthdays and our wedding receptions in the Stanley Flat Hall. Can you blame me for having very sentimental ties with Stanley Flat and that Hall!

Because for 34 years my father taught school here and was very active in every aspect of the district life, we made many close and lasting friendships.

I returned at 21 years of age to teach with my father at the Stanley Flat School, leaving to have my eldest son Geoffrey.

Murray Thomas always generous, lent me a motor scooter to ride from Clare to the school each day. I did that until it became "unseemly" for a pregnant girl to ride a motor scooter.

Then for a short time I drove Neil's Austin traytop truck to work. It was wonderful to teach at our school, and an added bonus to work with my father, a great teacher and friend.

My four children went to school there until Dad retired in l966, a great experience for them and for him. They became very close to their grandfather in years to follow."

Val Tilbrook, Norma Schell and Marg Aitken

Norma taught music to some of the kids at St. Joseph's School and played in the Clare orchestra.

"In my later years, I really enjoyed making lonely people smile when I played the piano at Carinya."

"One standout memory is of all my grandkids up on stage performing all at once, while I played the piano."

Norma Schell and extended family.
Photo published by the Plains Producer, 2 August 2023

At Norma's 90th birthday in December last year, the grandkids were once again on stage, this time with all their children to re-enact those performances.

Norma was also an accomplished painter in oils, and the family has published a book of her works, depicting all sorts of scenes and portraits.

" I do love painting," Norma told Vana Zanette, of the Plains Producer. "All the kids and grandkids have claimed one or two for their houses, and I am still working on some requests."

Only two weeks after this interview, Norma passed on, and her large funeral at St. Michael's, 5th September 2023, had an attendance of about 200 friends and relatives.

We never wish to forget Norma's love of life:

"I have had a wonderful life, and my favourite thing is watching our little ones grow up."


Clare History Group: Federation History CD, 2000

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