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Compiled for Darebin Heritage by Brian Membrey

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School 824 : Memories, Official Sports


With a drop-off in interest in Association football in the early 1950s, Preston Park's biggest crowds usually came on a Wednesday in late October or early November .. ahhh ... memories!

These were the days set aside for the Preston and Northcote Annual State School "sports" - mostly standard running, skipping and jumping athletics events for various age groups, but with a few interesting team sports thrown in.  The age groups extended up to under-15 as some state schools at that time extended to year eight, although the minimum leaving age was 14.

One report surviving from the Northcote Leader in 1951 set the attendance at a total at around 7,000, of which "more than 5,000 came from ten surrounding schools who lent a gala atmosphere to the ideal sports ground as they clapped, screamed or yelled interjectory remarks at opposing athletes".

This was a year fairly typical of the times.

Some 60 events were conducted; the most successful Preston State School in Tyler Street, their pupils winning eleven events (this was pretty much standard - it was the largest in terms of students and were still dominant five or six years later when the author competed).

The team events included relays (run face-to-face, not in the more complicated circular fashion), the boy's football exchange, which was similar to a relay, but instead of passing a baton, a football had to be hand-balled from a distance of three or four metres, a "cross chase" for girls (from memory, two groups of five facing each other and passing a basketball in criss-cross fashion from one end to the other and back), tunnel ball for boys, and skip ball for girls - a similar principal to tunnel ball, except that rather than adopting the rather unladylike practice of tunnelling the ball between their legs, the girls had to turn and throw the ball to the next in line.  

There were also a couple of marching events, usually to give kids without a lot of athletic ability a chance to participate in the sports.

For the record, the competing schools in 1951 were : Bell, Helen Street, Miller Street, Pender's Grove, Reservoir, South Preston, Tyler Street, Wales Street, East Preston and West Preston - it was suggested in the article that every school participated in all 60 events on the day.  (Althougn “Preston and Northcote, there was no participation by either the Northcote or Thornbury (Hutton Street) schools).

South Preston by this time was one of the smaller schools competing : the double-storey schools, Preston Primary (always known locally just as Tyler Street), Bell and West Preston had by then far outstripped 824 by weight of numbers - Tyler Street invariably winning both the sports and the inter-school football competition.

The Annuals Sports Day appears to have inaugurated around 1917 with both Northcote and Preston schools noted as competing at Northcote Park, but this may have been a one-off carnival as that particular event it was held  to raise money for the war-time Patriotic Fund.  Sports for the Preston schools appear to have commenced in 1921, the competing schools along with South Preston just Tyler Street and West Preston.  

They may have remained in some form, but the earlier sports appear to have had a few more individual events - throwing the cricket ball, a long-kick competition, etc.  Although the date is not certain, the concept appears to have been expanded after the Second World War to combine both Preston and Northcote schools.

There were also swimming sports, again Preston and Northcote.

Given the more restricted accommodation at swimming pools, I think these were held at both Northcote Baths (then in Frederick Street) and at the Preston Baths in St. George's Road, the place-getters at each site then meeting in a final with the winners later representing the school district in Victorian championships.

There was also a makeshift football competition played only between the six or seven Preston teams.  South Preston played using portable goalposts on Bell Park (now the G. H. Mott Reserve, corner of Bell and Patterson streets) which had been set aside for many years as exclusively for women's sports.

Strangely, I cannot remember a cricket competition - there was also certainly a pitch at Bell Park, used by the Preston Ladies Cricket Club as early as 1922 when it was noted it was formed largely on the basis of equipment donated by the Preston Cricket Club and South Preston State School.

There were trials held at South Preston in preparation for the school athletic sports, but no other intra-school competitions such as the "house" matches in later years at Preston Tech or Northcote High.

The "houses" at Preston Tech. were Boronia, Kurrajong, Waratah and Wattle. I have no recollection as to how kids were assigned - I was in Wattle and there are references as early as 1938,  just a year or so after the Tech. opened, to the same four names.  

Preston so dominated the technical school competitions during the 1950’s and 60’s that for football and cricket, it fielded two teams, "A" and "Z", and unlike the houses, allocation was based on a simple, but ultimately flawed system.

"A" comprised those with surnames A to M, i.e. the first half of the alphabet; "Z"  the rest. The flaw was that in those days of almost exclusively Anglo-Saxon names, the true median point alphabetically was the letter K - there are few names commencing with O, Q or Y, virtually none with X or Z.  

As a result, "A" finished up with about 60% of the students and almost invariably played off of in most of the finals, as often as not against the outnumbered "Z" who probably had no idea as to why they were always playing second-fiddle!

Maybe somewhere out there is someone who attended Northcote High that can supply some feedback on the sporting life in St. George's Road.  Both venues were probably somewhat blessed by having a ready-made sports ground next door.


Other than the School Swimming  Sports, there were also regular summer trips to Preston Baths, the minimum objective your Herald Learn-To-Swim Certificate if you could manage 25 yards from a standing start.

For some it was easy, for others like me with the natural buoyancy of a house-brick, it was dog-paddle or any other means possible.

For the more aquatically-gifted, there was also the Junior (50 yards after a dive) and Senior Certificates (beyond my comprehension sans outboard motor, but I think it may have had a life-saving component)