Phyllis Gibb

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Born Phyllis Scurr in Glen Innes, NSW, and educated at Fort Street Girls’ High School in Sydney, the young Phyllis Gibb trained to be a teacher at Sydney Teacher’s College. Like so many newly qualified teachers in the years between the wars, she was posted to rural NSW, gaining her early teaching experience in tiny one-classroom schools in remote townships. 

When she returned to continue her teaching career in Sydney in the early 1930s, Gibb took a position at the Child Welfare Department Homes in Glebe, then a poor area of the city. In 1935 she married Presbyterian minister Malcolm Gibb and the Gibbs then went where Malcolm’s ministry took them: first to Moree, then Cessnock and then to Broken Hill. They had one daughter, Jeannie. 

With her passion for education and compassion for underprivileged children, Phyllis struck up a partnership with Broken Hill radio station 2BH and presented a regular slot: Radio Sunday School. The program became popular and led to her appointment as first principal of the School of the Air, which first broadcast from Broken Hill on February 23rd 1956. 

The School had 80 students when it began, broadcasting on-air classes twice a day, three days a week. The ‘classroom’ covered over 700 square miles, reaching students living in outback regions that were otherwise disconnected from conventional schools. Between 1956 and 1964 Phyllis Gibb and the School of the Air transformed the lives and educations of hundreds of students. The curriculum covered regular school subjects as well as offering music, drama and speech lessons. 

In 1963, Phyllis Gibb was awarded the MBE for services to education. She retired to Melbourne in 1964 after forty years of teaching. In 1986 she and her daughter Jeannie, also a teacher, co-authored a book: Classrooms a World Apart: The Story of the Founding of the Broken Hill School of the Air.  

Her contribution to remote education and to the outback communities she served, earns Phyllis Gibb a place as an unsung heroine and pioneering woman of Broken Hill. 

Audio transcript available.