The Early Days of Greenwich Public School
In June 1876, a provisional school with 16 students was started in a small building on Greenwich Point provided by the local patrons. In 1880, after enrolments almost doubled, it was declared an official primary school and moved to a different location on Greenwich Point.
In July 1875, residents sent the first application for a professional school for the Greenwich area to the Council of Education. A provisional school required an average attendance of fifteen students or more and a location further than two miles (3.2 Kilometres) from the nearest school.
Nine families initially promised their children’s attendance. However, the school’s teacher, Mrs Walker soon offended some parents with her “gossiping propensities’- causing them to withdraw their children. Falling short of the required numbers, the school closed.
Residents lodged a second application in June 1876. With Miss Mary Ann Dunn as their teacher, sixteen children endured cramped conditions within a room at the corner of George and Mitchell Streets measuring a mere thirteen feet by ten (4x3 metres).
The provisional school was officially established on 1 October 1876 and serviced students from long Nose Point, Birchgrove, Onions Point, Woolwich, Cockatoo Island and Greenwich Point.
In 1877, the Council of Education decided that the provisional school needed another site. It acquired a block of land on the corner of Robert and Mitchell Street for 500 pounds.
The number of enrolments continued to rise, and, on 1 June 1880, the school was declared an official primary school. Mrs Munro became the new teacher.
The primary school educated between the ages of 6 and 14 and attendance was voluntary until 1883 when the Public Instruction Act made it compulsory.
1881 – 1908 Growth of Greenwich
Greenwich Public School repeatedly outgrew its facilities as enrolments steadily increased from 25 to 150.
In January 1882, a brick building was completed on the school site at Robert and Mitchell Streets at a cost of approximately 760 pounds. It contained a schoolroom able to accommodate 40 students and a teacher’s residence.
By 1891, however, enrolments surpassed 70 students. The school inspector reported that the number of pupils was too large for one teacher and the room “too small for orderly and efficient management”. Due to the tough financial times, Greenwich was provided with a wooden house recycled form Macquarie Street South Public School- an early example of the use of demountable! The building was transported in six pieces and erected in 1895.
By 1907, the Headmaster complained that the school had become “unbearable” with some 150 children in one room equipped with only 16 desks. Debate over the site for a new school took place as settlement became more concentrated in the upper and middle parts of Greenwich due to the relative expense of the Point.
1909 – 1949 A Modern Building
Greenwich Public School moves to a new location on Greenwich Road. The new building was like nothing ever seen before.
In 1909, a new building with harbour views, was completed on Greenwich Road. It had two storeys and five classrooms. Two rooms on each floor were arranged to be merged into one, so if any teacher happened to be absent, another teacher could manage the two rooms.
The Sydney Morning Herald described it as:
“Instead of venetian blinds sprawling fanwise over the mostly broken windows, there were windows all arranged to the left of the children, so as to throw shadows away from their papers when they wrote, and not get in the way of their eye sight… Desks modern, walls smooth cement, wood cleared away from the doors and windows to given no chance for dust and microbes,… with continuous chalk trays, upper floors of steel reinforced concrete, with a covering of tallowwood, fire-proof stairs; above all, a complete natural ventilation …and a colouring chosen to make the rooms look cheerful, and not like a police court. The corridors are wide, and hat and cloakrooms are added”.
The Sydney Morning Herald, 2 November 1908
However, in four years’ time, growth exceeded capacity yet again. An inspector noted that 16 students were being taught in a weather shed adjacent to the new school that had no protection from rain or wind and no desks.
In January 1917, the school gained a new two-story wing containing an additional two classrooms.
Beginning of the P&C
Over the years, an active Parents and Citizens (P&C) Association organised many improvements around the campus. Around 1910, it arranged for tar -paving of part of the school ground (that had previously been a cow-yard) and ploughed, trenched, manured and planted the beginnings of a school garden. In 1933, it organised the installation of three electric lights to replace the existing gas lighting.
“We had a sort of work experience type activity sometimes. Once or twice a year we would go in groups to visit the Nestle’s chocolate factory or Arnott’s biscuit factory. We never had the opportunity to visit a hospital, university or legal firm. However, we got to eat lots of chocolates and biscuits”.
Shirley Wollson (nee Walker)
Reminiscence from the 1930’s
From Ian Spencer a student at Greenwich Primary School in the early to mid-1940’s.
Traffic control was a task for year 6 boys who were formally trained for the job. Prior to the afternoon bell being rung, the four boys who composed the school patrol were given red flags. These boys were responsible for holding up traffic and ensuring the safe crossing of the road of their more junior counterparts.
The school had two rugby teams playing in the under 5 stone 7 division, competing against other primary schools in the area. A fierce rivalry existed between Greenwich and Lane Cove Primary with many of the matches played at Pottery Green.
Unlike today, there were no rubbish collections with the school responsible for its own garbage. After lunch, a team of year 5 and 6 boys would collect the garbage bins and remove the organic scraps which would be taken to a pig yard. Everything else was taken to the incinerator where the boys, after collecting matches form the headmaster, would set the rubbish on fire. This was a very popular task!
Boys and girls were segregated during play time with a fence dividing the play area. By mid-1943, an air raid shelter had been dug on the boy’s side of the school yard on Greenwich Road, once covered with soil it became a popular area for the boys to play on. Steps led down to a barred gate, which opened into a tunnel with wooden seats on either side. Luckily the shelter was never used in a real emergency, particularly as there appeared to be no ventilation system!
One School on Two Sites
Greenwich Public School gained a second site on Kingslangley Road.
Later, attempts to close the Greenwich Road site are thwarted by community action.
In mid-1950, to accommodate increasing demand, the Department of Education acquired a second building on Kingslangley Road, which had previously operated as the private school “Hilcrest”.
According to an inspection report dated 10 July 1953:
Although the departments of this school are three quarters of a mile apart, the headmaster and the mistress keep in constant communication and the whole school functions smoothly. The usual charitable appeals are made a joint effort… A definite school spirit is evident among the pupils”.
In the late 1980’s, the Department of Education proposed the sale and relocation of the Infants’ site in order to centralise funds. However, the Greenwich community successfully fought the proposal by petitioning Parliament to voice their concerns that a move to a single site would see a reduction in teachers and adversely affect the quality of teaching.
1990’s – 2013 Greenwich Public School
Facilities including a new school hall dedicated science room, beautiful libraries, tennis court, various playground facilities and out of school hours care, Greenwich Public School is vibrant and impressive. A student population of 489 is educated across the two campuses. Of the 20 current classes, 11 are taught in demountable classrooms.
In terms of growth and change, the late 1990’s to early 2000’s was a relatively quiet period for the school. However, in 2010, upon the five-year anniversary of the Australian government’s introduction of the “Baby Bonus” tax incentive, enrolments skyrocketed. Greenwich Public School now well exceeds the capacity of its buildings on both sites- with demountable classrooms a regular and prominent feature of the landscape.
In 2011, the Building and Education Revolution’(BER) federal government initiative allowed for the construction of a new hall on the Kingslangley Road campus. For the first time, the school had a state-of-the-art facility that allowed assemblies, plays and musical productions to be staged more effectively with the introduction of new light and sound equipment. The school then converted the old hall into a dedicated Science room where an original sledge used by Captain Robert Falcon Scott in his second expedition to the Antarctic in 1911-1912 is now displayed.
In 2013, the P&C created the Heritage Pathway in order to provide a physical link around the Kingslangley campus so that everyone- old or young, able bodied or disabled- had access to all aspects of the school playground and buildings. Incorporated into the design is a visual link from past to present – the story of Greenwich Public School from its inception in 1876 to today.
The initiative is a wonderful example of how the school, the P&C and the broader Greenwich community have partnered over the years to provide an enhanced learning and playing environment for our children. Long live Greenwich Public School!