Clifton Hill and surrounding suburbs mid 19th century
In 1874 when the school was built, the area we now know as Clifton Hill — the triangle bounded by Merri Creek to the east, Heidelberg Road and Queen's Parade to the north and west and Alexandra Parade and the Eastern Freeway to the south — was largely uninhabited. By contrast, the subdivision and sale of land in what are now the suburbs of Collingwood and Fitzroy began much earlier.
The first land sales were held in 1838 although the economic recession of 1842 — 1844 delayed development and at the end of 1849 most portions remained unsubdivided. In 1851 Collingwood, or East Collingwood as it was then known, was almost uninhabited apart from a few cottages and inns, a glass factory and the homes of several pastoral pioneers who had settled along the Yarra in the 1840s.
The boom in population in areas close to the city began with the influx of immigrants following the discovery of gold in Victoria in 1851. The inner suburban areas close to the City of Melbourne attracted producers who needed to be close to their place of employment — subdivision of land began apace. Land was cheap and provided the opportunity for new immigrants to become freeholders or to pitch their tents 'where the Crown Lands Commissioner dare not molest them.'
The population of East Collingwood increased from 8,738 in 1854 to 10,786 in 1857 and had reached 12,653 by 1861. In 1855 East Collingwood became a separate municipality and for the next 20 years would have the highest population of all Melbourne's suburban municipalities. East Collingwood became simply Collingwood in 1873 when the area was officially designated a town. The new municipality's next step was to annex the Clifton Hill area, which was still mostly Crown Land and the site of the Melbourne City Council's bluestone quarry on Merri Creek. East Collingwood needed this area for three reasons. Firstly, the traders of Smith, Wellington and Hoddle streets were anxious to extend these thoroughfares northward to connect with the trade coming along Heidelberg Road. Land sales had begun in present day Northcote in 1839 but the land to the north remained rural and comparatively isolated.
Rapid development had resulted in small allotments and insubstantial single story dwellings, usually wooden, with only one or two rooms. Moreover the suburbs had already developed as strongly working class. Throughout the 1850s and 1860s the heads of households in Collingwood were predominantly clerks, artisans, carriers and labourers. Professional men and shopkeepers preferred to live in Fitzroy.
Clifton Hill mid 19th century — a rural oasis
Meanwhile Clifton Hill remained something of a rural oasis if not altogether idyllic. In the 1860s butchers from Melbourne and Collingwood grazed cattle on Crown lands. Pig keeping was not prohibited in the Collingwood municipality until 1880 and the largest concentration of pigs in this area was at a piggery near Charles Alexander's abattoirs in Ramsden Street. Alexander was a Fitzroy butcher who began operating in 1857 and continued on the site until 1887.
The smell from this establishment, which included a boiling-down works as well as a piggery and slaughterhouse, was the subject of complaints from the inmates at Yarra Bend Lunatic Asylum across the river. In 1861 Collingwood built public abattoirs near Alexander's — on the site of what is now Hall's Reserve — which also operated until the 1880s. From 1861 to 1866 the East Collingwood Council used its depot on the banks of the Merri Creek for the dumping of night soil.
The Darling Gardens site of 15 acres was permanently reserved for public gardens in 1866. In the late 1860s the council allowed trenching of night soil in parklands at Clifton Hill, including the Darling Gardens, but this became impractical in the 1870s because of the increasing population.
The Yarra River and Merri Creek attracted industries such as fellmongers, wool washers, tanneries, slaughterhouses and soap and candle works because of the free water supply. The waterways also served as a sewer and garbage dump. In those days the centre of Reilly Street (now the grassed central strip of Alexandra Parade) was also the major open drain running from Smith Street to the Yarra. The drain was 10 feet deep, lined with stone, partly fenced and crossed at intervals by bridges.
The drain was not completely covered until the turn of the century. Sewage was discharged into the drain, as was refuse from industries in the area such as slaughterhouses, the gas works and the Clifton Hill brewery.
Pressure from councillors, mostly Collingwood businessmen hungry for customers, forced the government to begin selling Crown land in the section east of Smith Street, north of Reilly Street and south of Heidelberg Road to Roseneath Street and east to Fenwick Street was subdivided and sold as the Clifton Hill estate but sales were few.
The area was known as the 'Dark, Dangerous and Dirty Darling ward' lacking amenities such as roads, gas, water, police and postal and banking services which were available in the more established areas of Collingwood. In 1877 Mr. John Marrett, who lived at 1 Hodgkinson Street, felt compelled to complain to the Education Department about the roadway in Wellington Street adjacent to the school. He advised that when it was wet it was impossible for the children to cross the road without sinking over the top of their boots in the mud.
However, Clifton Hill expanded in the boom of the 1880s. In 1880 Richard Hodgson built his shot tower in Reilly Street. The Post and Telegraph Office in Heidelberg Road opened in 1883 and in 1884 Yates Boot Factory opened in Page Street. In July 1884 John Spring, the Head Teacher at Gold Street wrote to the Department of Education advising them that the school was now in the postal district of 'Clifton Hill'. Later development and more controlled subdivision meant that Clifton Hill developed as a more comfortable and respectable area than Collingwood Flat.
By 1897 in the old Collingwood, that area of the municipality south of Reilly Street, there were typically 15.1 houses per acre whereas in Clifton Hill densities were as low as only 6.4 houses per acre. Clifton Hill was now a residential suburb that could boast a good class of houses and numerous handsome shops. Not the least of the advantages of the new suburb being its elevated position that afforded an excellent view of the metropolis.
The design and construction of a school in Clifton Hill
Under the Education Act of 1872 the government had full responsibility for the design and construction of all new school buildings. The new Education Department recognised the in adequacy of the buildings currently in use and the urgent need for more and bigger urban schools, capable of accommodating 800 to 1000 students.
With only plans received from the London School Board to serve as a guide and estimates from the Public Works Department which were much to high the then Minister, James Wilberforce Stephen, decided to appoint his own architect, Henry Robert Bastow. Since Bastow himself had no experience of designing school buildings local architects were invited to submit competitive designs for schools falling into three categories — a single storey building for 1000 students, a building for 1000 students over two floors and a school to accommodate 500 students.
Subdivision plans dated 1864 show no provision for a school in Clifton Hill. However by 1873 the Department had set aside allotments of Crown land on Wellington Street as a school site. In May 1873 the Department applied for two further allotments so that the school reserve now had frontages to both Gold and Wellington Streets. In August of that year the correspondent for the local Board of Advise, Mr. James Mirams, wrote to the department requesting that it proceed at once with the erection of a school building.
Tenders were duly called and the contact was awarded to I.T. Holt of Canton whose quote of 5155.17.0 pound was the cheapest of the ten submitted.
It is unclear what plan Mr. Holt used when deriving his building estimates. The winning entries in the Department's design competition were not published until 1 November 1873 when the perspective views were published in the Australian Sketcher. W. H. Ellerker, who had won first prize for his design in the third category and second prize in both of the other two categories, was given the commission to build the new school at Gold Street in Clifton Hill.
At first it was intended that Gold Street would be built to the design for a 500 pupil school but when it was realised this would not be large enough his design for a two storey building to house 1000 students was used.
Ellerker's original plan for a school for 500 pupils, built at Buninyong, became the basis for at least sixteen other schools including Lee Street, Canton, built in 1878. Variations to the design included the window arrangement, the brick pattern, the shape of the bell turret and the inclusion or omission of porches. The plan for the building at Gold Street was simply the plan for Buninyong repeated on two levels with wider corridors to accommodate the necessary staircases.
School number 1360 opened for business on 1 April 1874
School number 1360 was completed in six months, with Ellerker himself helping to supervise the work, at a final cost of 5285.2.10 pounds and opened for business on 1 April 1874. This may seem a surprisingly short time — six months from letting the contract until the school was occupied and perhaps some of the ongoing problems with maintenance of the building stem from hurried workmanship.
On the other hand we should also remember that all the internal walls of the building were unlined and unpainted, there were no built in cupboards or fixtures such as blackboards in any of the rooms and when it was first opened the building had no electricity and no sewerage.
It is not clear why Ellerker's design was chosen for Gold Street in preference to any of the others. It did not necessarily make any better use of available space or fit into the difficult shape of the site. Nor is it immediately obvious why the building should have been orientated to face south. Whether it was intended to extend the area of the school site at some future date is not clear from the extant correspondence.
The Department left the orientation of the new buildings to the discretion of the building inspectors who clung to the 'unquestioned law' that all buildings were built parallel to the boundary lines. Certainly the Department and the building inspector should have been aware that without the purchase of adjacent land the front of the building would ultimately be obscured from view by houses built facing on Noone Street. Similarly the positioning of the building so close to adjoining blocks in Page Street suggests that there may have been some vision of extending the site along the boundary.
John Spring, the Head Teacher, recommended the extension of the site and assured his superiors that 'posterity will appraise your forethought, whilst the present generation will not be unmindful of the concession'. However, when land adjacent to the school, fronting on to Page Street and running all the way to the corner of Gold Street did become available for purchase in 1883, the Department did not proceed even though the school was by that time accommodating many more than the recommended 1000 students. Some small extension was made to the school grounds in the late 1960's.
An Inspector's Report of 1971 refers to 'P.W.D. action in demolishing and levelling the recently acquired adjacent property'. This increased the Page Street boundary of the school from its original 99 feet (150 links, 29.7 metres) to the present 121 feet 8 inches (36.5 metres). A hundred years after the opening of the school when plans were drawn up for major additions to the original school building land to the east of the site was again designated 'future play area extension on acquisition of properties' although the acquisition has never taken place.
Perhaps the answer to the puzzle surrounding the orientation of the building has less to do with practicalities than with aesthetics. At the time the school was built it stood in splendid isolation on the rise, the façade looking down on the crowded streets and humble dwellings of Collingwood flat. Typical of schools of the period it was built with solid bluestone foundations that, along with the contrasting and rather austere brickwork, suggest both strength and durability, permanence and solidity.
The design of the building was a reflection of the times
The imposing exterior was intended to provide the community with tangible evidence of both the seriousness and importance of the new Education Act. For all its solemnity the original building was visually pleasing with its symmetrical frontage, the uniform rows of cream bricks, the dog-toothed brickwork over the window heads, the gabled roof line and the picturesque bell tower.
The elegance of the exterior contrasted with the spare and functional interior. Two parallel sets of rooms sharing a windowless wall made up the central part of the building. The two wings at either end of the building were made up of two large schoolrooms each sixty five feet long and twenty feet wide separated from the central block by wide corridors which gave access to all the rooms. The design of the building reflected the educational priorities, the teaching methods and the school organisation of the time.
The dimensions of the rooms were determined by both the dimensions of the standard desks used and the convention that the desks always ran down one long wall. This layout of the desks in turn determined the position of the doors and fireplaces. The previous Board of Education had adopted English standards for classroom design and the new schools built under the Department of Education conformed to these principles established in the 1800's.
Each of the large classrooms accommodated 5 blocks of fixed wooden desks each twelve feet long arranged in three tiers on raised platforms each three inches higher than the last. Children sat at these desks on hard wooden, backless forms. This tiered seating allowed each of these classrooms to accommodate 150-160 children although as many as 200 were often squeezed in. There were no separate rooms for each class. Classrooms were meant to accommodate a combination of classes instructed by one teacher and several pupil teachers.
The teacher in the room needed to be able to supervise all the pupil teachers. The pupil teachers in turn needed to be able to see the work of those at the back of the room as well as able to make themselves heard without having to raise his or her voice. Similarly students were expected to concentrate their attention on a particular pupil teacher. Curtains were meant to hang from the ceiling, separating groups within the classroom, coming to just ahead of the front desks so as not to impede the teacher's supervision of his assistants.
When Mr. Charles Tynan, District Inspector, made his first visit to the school on 20th April 1874 he was immediately critical of the layout of the large rooms. He advocated the removal of one of the blocks of fixed desks so that a curtain could be hung down the middle of the room. Despite the fact that some provision had been made for curtains to be installed they were not provided for many years. The Head Teacher was still requesting curtains or partitions to divide large classrooms in 1911. Partitions were finally installed as part of the major renovations in 1920.
The design criteria had also specified that each child should be allocated an area of 10 feet- or two children to each foot in length of the classroom. This allocation was to be of some significance when enrolments at the school soared. Attendance could rise to one child per eight square feet before the Department would deem the accommodation inadequate. The tiered seating allowed for the accommodation of the maximum number of students leaving some floor space at the front of the room for easels and blackboards and for the teacher to stand at a 'proper' distance from the students. This area could also be used to give pupils standing room and, in Tynan's suggested layout, could provide space for detached forms placed 'anterior' to the fixed desks.
Some of the smaller rooms would have been fitted with galleries that were the preferred seating arrangement for the infant's classes. Galleries allowed large numbers of children to be seated so that everyone could see. Galleried rooms were not meant to be continuously occupied, and were considered to be ideal for group sessions such as singing, verse recitation and oral arithmetic. There is no remaining physical evidence of the original layout of the classrooms at Gold Street.
However with references to the plans for Bunninyong it seems likely that the western ground floor room would have housed the infants. The infants' room may have been fitted with two galleries at either corner of the room with some desks and seats occupying part of the floor space. Fixed desks and galleries remained a feature of the school until at least 1907.
Light, heat and ventilation in the classrooms
Other requirements for the school designs that also influenced the layout of the schoolroom were those relating to the windows. It was quite clearly stipulated that no windowsill was to be less than four feet off the ground. Scholars were not to be distracted by the view and were to be hidden from the gaze of the outside world. In addition rooms were to be lit from either behind the children when seated at their desks or from the roof.
Students faced a large expanse of blank wall that allowed for displaying diagrams, maps and pictures. Natural light coming from behind the students was meant to ensure that blackboards and items on display would be well lit. The result was that children were reading and writing in their own light and teachers had to endure looking directly into the glare from outside. Windows at the end of the room were meant to supplement the lighting and to compensate for some of the disadvantage to the students. However given the length of some of the rooms it is doubtful that natural light was sufficient.
Since, in Ellerker's design, all the windowsills were a uniform height in the galleried classrooms, the galleries actually ran in front of the windows and the glass may have been battened for protection.
Having enough windows to provide adequate lighting for the classrooms posed other problems. Another of Tynan's recommendations was the need for blinds on the north eastern wall of the building 'as the rays of the sun are so oppressive as to compel the children, the infants particularly to keep their caps on during school hours'. The Department resisted any temptation to go the expense of installing blinds. Instead windows were 'frosted', that is stippled with green paint that kept the sun out but presumably made the rooms uniformly and permanently dim.
Frosting the windows may have solved one problem but only created another maintenance problem — re-frosting of the windows was regularly required. Electric lighting was not installed until 1927 and even then only in the office, the teacher's room and in one of the two larger classrooms.
The problem of ventilation, heat and direct sunlight in the classroom would recur over the years. In 1910 the Head Teacher, Henry C. Hanna, wrote to the Department requesting external blinds for some of the classrooms. He feared that during the summer the heat would 'greatly affect the health and comfort of many children' and complained that 'the sun's rays also enter and almost roast the inmates'. The problem of cooling the upstairs rooms persisted until air conditioning was finally installed in the rooms at the western end of the building at the beginning of the twenty first century.
Conversely there was also the problem of how to keep the 'inmates' warm in winter before gas heating was installed in 1966. Although the rooms had fireplaces, they did not always have fires. In response to a letter from a parent claiming that their child regularly complained of the cold John Spring wrote -
The money allowed by the Department is not sufficient to provide fires everyday in every one of the seventeen fireplaces…The firewood allowance has always been fully expended by me and in several cases has been exceeded. Unless, when it is very cold, it is wholly unnecessary to have two fires in one room, and in some rooms, particularly those into which the sun shines during the greater part of the day and which are full of children, fires are rarely required. At all events the money allowed is fully expended and fires are lighted and distributed to the very best advantage. At least I think so.
General maintenance and repairs
A litany of complaints about general maintenance and repairs began early in the school's history. Head Teachers received a monthly allowance for maintenance, the amount of which was determined by the average student attendance. This allowance was meant to fund a vast range of needs from providing wood for the fires down to cleaning chimneys and windows, keeping closets and cess pits clean and buying essential supplies such as stationery, chalk, pens and ink. There was never quite enough money to adequately finance all the necessities and fund repairs and improvements that were required.
Successive Head Teachers faced similar problems — slates blowing off the roof during storms, taps not working, pipes leaking, palings on the fences needing replacement, the roof leaking, the ceiling falling in, repainting required, broken blackboards, broken chairs, dirty walls, replacement sash cords in windows, and repairs to locks on doors and cupboards, to door handles, to ventilators, to water taps, to lavatory basins, to forms, to desks, to hat pegs, etc. etc. The eventual resolution of some of these problems throws light on both the workings of bureaucracy and the changing priorities of the Department and the school community.
When the school was first built the Department did not see the need to provide a clock. The school bell was the only means of marking the passing of the hours for the students and for many of the teachers. As a consequence of its regular use the bell rope needed replacing every few months. John Spring complained that if the school bell was not heard in the neighbourhood parents were inclined to believe that the school was closed and not send their children to class. Students of the 1940s remember Mr. Rankine, the grade six teacher who occupied the bell room having to check his own waist coat watch to control the bell times. When Valentine Walker wrote requesting the installation of an electric clock in 1949 he was required to submit separate quotations from registered electrical contractors and a sketch plan showing the proposed location of the clock. Once this information was provided 'consideration will be given to the granting of a subsidy towards the cost of supply and installation of the clock'. Clearly even then a clock was regarded as something of an unnecessary luxury.
Some problems were simply the result of building techniques and the materials available at the time. The treads and landings of the wooden stairways in the original building were protected by a covering of lead sheeting that needed to be replaced regularly. This was overcome with the removal of the wooden staircases in 1950, by which time they were also considered to be something of a fire hazard, and their replacement with concrete steps. Similarly problems with the roof were overcome to some extent with the replacement of the slates with tiles in 1966.
When the building was first completed the internal walls were not plastered only distempered. This surface was not washable and the pigment rubbed off as the children rubbed against it. Spring complained in 1880 that the walls had not been white washed since the school had opened. It is likely that the walls were plastered and the wooden dado added in 1920.
The most constant and most expensive problem was that of broken windows. Breakages were the bane of John Spring's life in the 1880s and 1890s. He blamed the local larrikins and went so far as to offer his own money as a reward for information leading to the conviction of offenders. Some local youths were taken to court and appropriately charged. The expense of repairing the windows was not due solely to the regularity with which they were broken.
Spring complained that, although his allowance was no greater than that of any other Head Teacher, his windowpanes were not only larger but more expensive to replace than those in other schools because they had been fitted with 'cathedral glass'. Similarly Robert Camm 25 years later complained that he was spending around £10 per year on window repairs, his costs exacerbated by the exposed position of the school, the large number of windows and the large panes of glass. This problem was not solved until wire mesh was installed to protect windows — a solution which continues to be effective.
Toilet facilities at the school were another cause of much concern and trouble, at least until the school was connected to the sewer in 1907 and the original 'sanitary conveniences' were finally pulled down in 1937. Until then the girl's and boy's 'privies' were located in the Page Street yard, hard against the boundaries of the school playground. On at least one occasion they were the target of vandals. John Spring arrived at the school one Monday morning to find 'all the pans belonging to the boy's water-closet scattered about promiscuously'.
Further he wrote 'my heart sank within me when I beheld the partitions between the urinals covered with obscene language of the most revolting character'. The siting of the toilets had not been a problem when the school was built because no houses adjoined the school boundary. When Mr. Higgins finally built his house in Page Street and found the girl's 'closet' within five feet of his residence he began a long and unsatisfactory correspondence with the Department complaining about the smell that he found to be 'so offensive as to be quite sickening and consequently dangerous to health'. Despite the fact that Mr. Higgins' complaints were thought to be quite justified no action was taken. There was no breach of either the local Collingwood Building Act or the Public Health Act even though the closets 'abutted' a main thoroughfare and were so close to dwellings. Although Collingwood Council asked the Department to consider erecting the closets on a less conspicuous portion of the school grounds the Department's attitude was that the problem was the responsibility of the Head Teacher. Mary Higgins was still complaining about the smell in 1888.
The extant correspondence makes no mention of the needs and the health of the children who used the privies or the thoughts of their parents. Nor is their any comment from the staff of the school that used the same facilities. The antipathy of the Department to this particular problem seems hard to justify. Certainly they were not unaware of the potential health hazard nor the nuisance caused to the neighbourhood. Nor was Gold Street the only school with similar complaints. Perhaps the Department simply had too many problems to deal with and not enough money to go around them all.
We should also remember that nineteenth century standards were rather different to our own.
A caretaker at Gold Street
John Spring was firmly of the opinion that the presence of a caretaker at Gold Street would help to prevent the acts of vandalism that he regularly reported to the Department. Without some such presence the school was 'at the mercy of the hordes of blackguards who infest the district' outside normal school hours when Spring himself was in charge.
Schools built later in the century made some provision in their plans for accommodation for a caretaker. After 1883, when the Public Works Department assumed responsibility for the building of schools, caretaker's quarters took the form of separate cottages. Schools built between 1876 and 1883 included a pair of small rooms in the main school building for the caretaker. After a string of requests the Department finally agreed to the erection of a two room cottage at Gold Street in 1882.
The site made the provision of caretaker's premises difficult. John Spring recommended that the Department consider extending the site. He suggested building a four room cottage with a view to one of the rooms being 'set apart as a retiring room for the female teachers, the married ones of whom require occasionally to be taken out of school in a fainting condition'. Whilst the main school building made some provision for an office for the Head Teacher there were no spare rooms for the use of staff. Unimpressed by these recommendations the Department proceeded to site the caretaker's cottage in the middle of the Page Street yard situated between the girls and boys toilets and reducing the infants play area substantially. There is no correspondence to suggest that the caretaker shared Mr. Higgin's opinion of the smell from the neighbouring 'facilities'.
The advent of the caretaker did not mean an end to vandalism or other problems associated with the use of the school grounds outside of school hours. Despite a substantial wooden fence around the perimeter the school yard was easily accessible and the haunt of the drunken and immoral. In 1928 the then caretaker, Mr. Keith was prepared to resign his position over the condition of the shelter sheds. In his opinion the filth that gathered there, which he could not bring himself to describe, was not 'fit for any decent caretaker to have to clean'. Trespassers also continued to cause considerable damage.
Newspapers reported the disgraceful state of the schools boundary fence that was slowly being demolished and used by the local community for firewood. During Christmas holidays at the end of 1932 Stanislaus Riley and two other boys spent the morning at the school taking a pick to four terracotta ventilators and hacking a corner brick out of one of the walls. They then headed down to the Merri Creek to spend the next four hours trying to catch yabbies.
In 1935 there were again complaints that the shelter sheds had been forcibly entered and, it was suspected, used for 'immoral purposes'. The then Head Teacher, Mr. A. Anderson, raised the matter with the Department, and the Chief Commissioner of Police was requested to take 'suitable action' to ensure that trespassing and damage were prevented in future.
The caretaker's cottage was described as 'two small wooden rooms' with a tiny yard fenced off from the main playground. There appears to have been no separate kitchen. Cooking was done on a camp oven and although requests were made to build a brick oven in the yard it is unclear whether this ever happened. The accommodation for the caretaker always seems to have been less than adequate. Requests were made to renovate and enlarge the premises in 1908 and again in 1916 to provide room for the then incumbent and his seven children. By 1936 the School Committee was recommending that the cottage be demolished.
Described as being in an 'insanitary and unbelievable condition' and unfit for human habitation the building was finally condemned and eventually demolished in 1938. After the initial enthusiasm engendered by the need for schools under the new Education Act, the Department had to face the severe economies of the 1890s. Meanwhile Gold Street, like many other schools, was faced with outdated buildings and ever increasing numbers of students.
The school's first major overhall came after many years of demands to improve facilities
Whereas in 1874 the notion of free education for all was something of a novelty, thirty years later the community appears to have not only accepted a decent education as their right but was prepared to demand of the Department that it fulfil its obligations. Complaining about poor ventilation, lack of binds and crowded classrooms a deputation from the Collingwood Board of Advice met with the Minister for Education in 1911.
The Minister made clear that the Department's priorities were firstly to provide schools where none existed and secondly, and then only if there were money available, to remodel schools erected thirty years ago 'with a view to bringing them into proper hygienic conditions'. Whatever the intention the Department, faced with economic difficulties during the war years, made no progress. In 1918 the school community approached the Minister again.
Their complaints echoed those of Inspector Tynan forty four years earlier. The representatives explained to the Minister that classrooms were too large and were poorly ventilated. Three classes were being taught in the one classroom and although by this time there were curtains to divide the classes this arrangement was no longer satisfactory. Children worked in their own light whilst the teachers contended with the sun shining in their eyes. The children needed shelter pavilions for wet days otherwise they ate their lunch in the classrooms or on the staircase. Since nothing had been done about moving the toilets they were still too close to adjacent properties.
Although the toilets now flushed they did so automatically, every twenty minutes, day and night, which caused the neighbours to complain about the noise. The school building needed cloakrooms. The gravel schoolyard wanted proper drainage. The roof and guttering needed repairing. The walls of the building be demolished they would be happy with nothing short of a 'general renovation'.
The minister duly visited the school with the result that the first major overhaul since the building was completed was carried out in 1920 while the students found temporary shelter at the Baptist Tabernacle in Sackville Street and in St. Andrew's schoolroom across the road. Internal walls were moved to produce more even sized rooms in the central part of the building and dividers were installed in the big classrooms that formed the wings at either end. All the windows along the front of the building and some of those at the back were lowered so as to improve lighting and ventilation.
Cloakrooms were added so that hats and coats need no longer hang in the classroom. A separate office was built at the front of the school for the Head Teacher and teachers' rooms — one for male staff and a separate room for the female teachers — were added at the back of the building. To add to the comforts for teachers, internal toilets were also added on both floors. Built-in cupboards and fitted cupboards first appeared in classrooms and it seems likely that the walls were finally plastered at this time. These significant improvements were completed in August 1920 at a cost of £5060.86.
By 1937 the school community was again crying out for urgent improvements and the Minister of Education again visited the school. The result was the demolition of the caretaker's cottage that helped provide much needed playground space and the erection of a new toilet block. By late 1943 the buildings were described as being in 'a deplorable condition' and a complete internal renovation was approved but it seems that no major structural changes were made. Little change has occurred to Ellerker's original building since.
The most recent significant changes occurred in the 1970s
It is still possible to identify the original floor plan, to see where fireplaces were in each room and even to ring the bell although it is hard to imagine that the building once housed more than one thousand scholars!
The only significant change to the accommodation at the school came with the additions made in 1977. Whilst the provision of the multi-purpose room, two new classrooms and an art room certainly improved the facilities available to both staff and students the new building effectively destroyed the imposing symmetrical façade which was such an important feature of Ellerker's original design. One hundred years on these new rooms with carpet on the floor and floor to ceiling windows demonstrated the educational priorities of the 1970s just as clearly as the old building demonstrated those of the previous century.
Our old school building is not perfect but it has stood the test of time. It provides an important link with the beginning of state education in Victoria and constant reminders of how both schools and our daily lives have changed over the years.