Compiled for OzSportsHistory by Brian Membrey


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 School 1494 : The Beginnings

If recollecting the history of South Preston State School, it is only reasonable also include a brief mention of its counterpart, the Preston Primary School (1494) in Tyler Street

While the Gowerville State School catered for the sons and daughters of the more closely settled South Preston, there was nothing conveniently available to those in the much larger central and northern area had nothing more than Peter Dredge's Wesleyan school at the Methodist Church in High Street and the Anglican school attached to St  Mary's on the corner of Plenty Road and Tyler Streets

(It is not clear whether these two schools were run on strictly secular lines or whether children of other denominations were admitted provided they could pay the fee   The two denominations would probably have covered 70-75% of the population at the time)

The Shire of Jika at the time comprised three Ridings : Northcote, Gowerville and Preston and the Jika Jika Board of Advice (designated 160 and based in Northcote) recommended that a school be centrally located in each of the Ridings and a search began for suitable land in "North" Preston

In 1872, a Free Education Act was passed, entitling every child to a non-denomination education free of charge and the Common Boards system was replaced with a colony-wide Education Department

Eventually it was again Samuel Jeffrey that provided the land, but unlike the free land he had earlier provided for the church in High Street, this was purely a business transaction, the sum of £100 believed to be the purchased price

Tenders were called for the construction of the new school "of brick or stone to accommodate 160 children" in August, 1874; nine tenders were received, the successful contractor announced on 9 October as R  B  Parsons of Simpson's Road, Richmond at a price of £825

The school was described 73 feet in length and 30 feet in width, of two rooms, a principal classroom and a smaller room for infants "built of the usual materials", but obviously started well before the tender was confirmed with The Argus suggesting that Parsons had been working on the project for some six weeks "and his under his supervision work has been progressing so well that it is anticipated it will be completed in two months' time"

They say truth is stranger than fiction, and in the case of Robert Burr Parsons, that adage was never more accurate

The day before the result of the tender was announced in the Victorian Government Gazette, Parsons, aged 39 years was admitted to the Melbourne Hospital having sustained a compound fracture of the thigh after one of the wheels of his wagonette came off and he was thrown violently out of the vehicle  He succumbed to his injuries just over a fortnight later and was interred in the Melbourne General Cemetery on October 30

Parsons was returning home from the Tyler Street site and was a victim of the notorious slopes of Rucker's Hill in Northcote; an inquest suggested he had been progressing favourably up until the 26th when he was seized by heart pains and convulsions prompting a fainting attack during which he died

Mr  Teague, the chief surgeon at the Melbourne Hospital suggested that a pulmonary artery was blocked with a clot of blood; the cause of death embolism caused by the accidental fracture of the thigh

Construction of the school was delayed slightly; the work completed in January, 1875 by Burr's foreman, John H Rennie   The existence of a second school in Preston perhaps emphasised the nature of the competition between the original settlement in what we would call Regent and the sub-division a few years later in South Preston; Northcote, by comparison, had a population three to four times greater than Preston, but just one school, 1401 in Helen Street

Tyler Street opened on 14 January, 1875 with accommodation for 160 children   The first headmaster was Andrew Hanna, the teachers his wife Mary and son Henry as an assistant teacher   

To the disappointment of the local Board of Advice, there was no official opening of the school as the Minister for Instruction had apparently promised

By a twist of fate almost as uncanny as that of Robert Parsons, Peter Dredge, the founder of the first school in Preston died just 11 days after the opening of Tyler Street at 64 years of age   He was said to be teaching up until a month before his passing

During the economic depression of the 1890's, the control of Tyler Street was transferred to South Preston, the two schools effectively amalgamated under Henry Hann with Tyler Street teaching grades 1 to 3, South Preston years four through six (there must have been some fit children around Preston during those years

Tyler Street resumed in its own right in 1904 with the addition of four new rooms, but like South Preston was hopelessly unable to cope with the population boom immediately following the First World War (even although the West Preston school in Murray Road had opened in the interim)

A report commissioned by the Council from the Health Office, Dr Denton Fethers in July, 1919 suggested 62 children in Grade V were crammed into a room 16 feet by 25 feet,  with gangways between desks of 12 inches instead of the recommended 36

The combined Grades III and IV fared little better, 82 in a room of 30 by 20 feet, and Denton Fethers noted an average of 10 pupils from this class alone were absent with colds, etc  every day

Eventually the Education Department agreed to add nine new rooms to the school, completed in 1922, but these did not even match the current requirements and by 1926 (when the school had just over 1,000 pupils, 27 on the staff and had outgrown South Preston, another nine rooms were added, this extension opening on 30 October, 1926

From this time on, Preston Primary became the largest school in Preston, certainly from the end of the Second World War dominating most of the local school sporting events, followed by the newer double-storey Bell and West Preston Primaries, both of whom far outstripped South Preston in terms of size and the number of pupils



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