Colonial schools were subjected to regular inspection and a proposed visit put the fear into any self-respecting rural teacher. An adverse report such as a "problem with intoxication" (Mitta's first teacher) or criticisms of teaching methods or laziness were treated seriously and could result in demotion, transfer or even dismissal.
Newly appointed Henry Rix, Inspector of Schools for the Beechworth District arrived in 1884 and soon commenced his rounds of local schools. William Porteous, Mitta's Head Teacher had been forewarned and of course the school was looking spic, the children were told not to be late and the teaching plans were all up to date.
Porteous was confident but Rix had a mixed reputation for being a stickler for rigid performance on one hand but alternatively, a congenial education innovator.
Prior to his job at Beechworth, British-born Rix taught at various schools and was appointed a mathematics master at Wesley College where he was considered a 'fine man' and a great teacher. Henry Rix was described as a 'nervous, quick-eyed' individual, that 20 years later was to bring on a severe mental collapse. His plus was that he had previously played 29 games for the Carlton Football Club and this proved very popular with the Mitta children.
Henry Rix stayed overnight at the Bridge Hotel where his horse could be rested before moving to the next school. Walking to the school he was met by William Porteous looking immaculate with his freshly-pressed suit and collar, given a tour of the grounds and introduced to his assistant Workmistress. Henry then positioned himself at the back of the schoolroom ready to take copious notes.
First up, grammar and spelling with emphasis on using individual slates, the squeaking and scratching noises louder than the clanging mining battery near the town. Then arithmetic, grammar, writing and lunch break ('dinner and recess') for 75 minutes. The afternoon involved more reading, arithmetic and geography studying a map of Europe then home time at 3:15 with some modest homework.
Rix adjourned to the Bridge Hotel to write up his report, not particularly complimentary as it turned out, especially about the teaching of arithmetic. Porteous took great umbrage to the criticism and crafted a lengthy letter in response that was accepted, and probably even enhanced his teaching record.
From the difficult start, Rix and Porteous developed mutual respect and a good working relationship for the following six years. Rix wrote to the school council (then called the 'Board of Advice') in 1889 recommending that a school library be established, "to encourage the pupils a taste for reading, a love of education that will brighten their young lives". "Ignorant dull-witted citizens are a source of danger in a self-governing community", he said. And what's more, the Department would also supply the book cases if the council would take the sage advice.
The uptight (some would call it 'highly strung') Rix moved on to bigger and brighter things. In 1903 Henry applied for a patent for "Improved set of apparatus for teaching the first steps in arithmetic" and in 1905 wrote a book called "The proposed Australian decimal coinage; a criticism and an alternative proposal." Henry also wrote an educational book called, "The Pictorial Method of Teaching the First Steps in Arithmetic Advanced Kindergarten", published in 1907, which was used in Tasmanian schools. His talents extended to writing the lyrics and music "Australia For Ever" as well as writing numerous education pamphlets for children and teachers.
Unfortunately, Henry's deteriorating mental state (depression and probably dementia) resulted in his death in 1906.
Henry Rix was only one of many who touched the lives of both teachers, children and parents at the remote Mitta School during its amazing 150 year history.