In 1848, only a year after its founding, the town of Warrnambool already had fifteen houses and consequently the demand began for schools to educate its children. The first was started in that year, with the establishment of a Sunday school for poorer children to give them ‘the rudiments of learning’. The following year a non-denominational National School opened on Banyan Street and by 1851, school’s Inspector Bonwick found ‘sufficient schools of many denominations’ in the town – by 1863 these included the National School (a non-denominational government funded school) Church of England, Wesleyan and Catholic primary schools, although the National school was showing its age. Over the next decade the growing size of the Warrnambool community put increasing pressure on schools and, by extension, students and teachers. By 1864 the National School was considered unusable, with 260 children housed in an increasingly decrepit building that was originally built for 160 pupils.
In June 1874 Inspector Thomas Brodribb highlighted the desperate need for new primary schools in the ever-growing town:
The present school accommodation for Warrnambool is inadequate and most inconvenient. I am of the opinion that the time has now arrived for the erection of a good central State school. At my recent visits I found about 600 children in three State schools … the ordinary aggregate attendances is 700 or about … The population of Warrnambool is nearly 5,000, and it is rapidly increasing … But, as the outlying families who send children to school are numerous, the actual school population will come from a total of scarcely less than 6,000 people. I therefore fear that provision for an attendance of 800 children only, may after the present year become insufficient in this rapidly growing town.
A Ministerial Order for the construction of a new state primary school was given in July 1874 and Henry Bastow, Education Department Architect (who also designed Collingwood’s Cambridge and Vere Street schools), saw this as ‘an urgent case’ to be pushed ahead as quickly as possible. Warrnambool Primary School No. 1743 on Jamieson Street was, like Collingwood’s new primary schools in the 1870s, the result of the 1872 Education Act, which created the Victorian Education Department and paved the way for the construction of numerous new schools throughout the state, including in regional towns such as Warrnambool. The Warrnambool Standard, discussing its opening on 1 August 1876, emphasised that the school had a large playground and was healthily situated, an ongoing concern of urban reformers during the late nineteenth-century, concerned with the health and wellbeing of cities and towns. √√ While the students of many city schools often came from the immediate suburbs surrounding them, the newspaper points out the importance of the schools in regional towns and their capacity to increase the accessibility of education for both town children and those in the surrounding countryside:
It can be conveniently reached from either the Belfast [today Port Fairy], Woodford, or Allansford roads, and it is to be borne in mind that it will be attended by children from the country as well as from the town … and for their convenience the new school is well situated.
The opening of the new school warranted the closing of offices and businesses in the town from midday to join the celebrations, including a procession and sports with prizes. Brodribb’s prediction was correct, with attendance after opening at over 800 students, requiring increased numbers of desks.
Like in much of the state, secondary schooling remained largely out of the reach (or the interest) of students and their families for much of the later period of the nineteenth-century. Wealthier families sent their sons to England or Geelong Grammar for secondary education, before the establishment of the private Warrnambool College in 1887 and the Christian Brothers College in 1902. Young ladies were able to receive a high school education in the town, attending the day and boarding school begun by the Sister’s of Mercy in 1872, later known as St Ann’s, and today the co-educational Emmanuel College.
State secondary schooling in the region began in the first decade of the twentieth-century following the Fink Commission of 1899, and was spearheaded by Director of the Education Department, Frank Tate, who ‘felt that the primary curriculum, of the day did not suit the environment of wheat growing areas’. Tate and others believed that economic prosperity for the state would derive from agricultural areas and required appropriate educational opportunities for those living in regional Victoria.
One of the first of its kind in the state, the Warrnambool Agricultural High School, opened in April 1907, initially on Koroit Street, moving into a purpose-built building on Jamieson Street in November of the same year; its purpose: ‘to provide the most modern, practical, and scientific education in all branches of knowledge relating to farming, dairying, and agriculture.’ The new co-educational school had two streams – the Agricultural Course – with subjects such as agricultural principals, botany, chemistry, mathematics and modern languages; and the Teaching Course – with English, nature study, theory of teaching and geometry. In 1913 Warrnambool also gained a Technical School, established on Timor Street, which catered for student interested in commercial, trades and arts subjects.
The innovative incorporation of a working farm into the Agricultural High School, located about a kilometre from the main school, was intended to form ‘a source of information for district farmers, as well as imparting to the students practical instruction in farming.’ But it eventually proved unsuccessful, operating at a loss from its inception and finally closing in 1924 and the school losing the ‘Agriculture’ appellation sometime before 1920, which prefigured changes in the focus of the school curriculum. As Regina Hando observed, in ‘the 1930s and 1940s secondary school courses were largely influenced by the requirements of the University of Melbourne … [and] there was a growing need from those who were staying on at school, for a broader-based curriculum.’
The postwar period saw a a dramatic increase in the population of the city, partly a result of the baby boom and of mass assisted migration from Britain and Europe to Australia. The State Primary School population increased dramatically during the 1940s and ’50s, with additional classrooms and emergency accommodation required, eased by the opening of the East Warrnambool Primary School in 1954 and the move into the old Agricultural High School buildings when they were vacated in 1961. New school buildings were also expected to meet the needs of changing educational ideas and this was a keenly felt issue and agitated for by the local community over the next thirty years.
Renovations and additions to the primary school were consistently requested throughout the 1960s and the concern with nineteenth-century school buildings and their unsuitability for twentieth-century educational needs highlighted. Small renovations requested by the school in 1971 eventually turned into grander plans for new increased staff and office space, a new library and classrooms, finally completed in 1976 for the school’s 100th anniversary.
Not only physical changes but also ideas drawn from progressive education were introduced, including the VALH (Varied Activities for Leisure Hours) program, ‘to provide children with a variety of experiences, to enable them to use their leisure time better, now and in the future’, and the opportunity for seniors to ‘to present ideas and discuss criticisms of all aspects of the program.’
Similarly the population of the Secondary Schools increased, and so too did the need for larger and more up-to-date accommodations. By the early 1970s, the technical college had expanded to three campuses, and moved to its own purpose built site on Caramut Road in 1974. The Warrnambool High School continued on its original Jamieson Street site for over fifty years, with lack of space and the condition of the building a concern for successive principles. After over fifteen years of campaigning, in 1961 the school finally moving to ‘light, spacious and airy’ buildings on a new site at Albert Park, Grafton Road, where it continues to operate today as Warrnambool College.
References & Further Reading
The Age, 1 February 1909, 6, http://trove.nla.gov.au/newspaper/article/196134354
Craig Campbell ‘Public and private in Australian schooling, Australia, 1788–2010’, Dictionary of Educational History in Australia and New Zealand (2014) http://dehanz.net.au/entries/public-private-australian-schooling/
Regina Hando, The School on the Hill: Reminiscences on the 75th anniversary of Warrnambool High School (Warrnambool: Warrnambool High School, 1982)
Wilma Hannah, ‘Fink, Theodore (1855–1942)’, Australian Dictionary of Biography, National Centre of Biography, Australian National University, http://adb.anu.edu.au/biography/fink-theodore-6171/text10601
J. W. Selleck, ‘Tate, Frank (1864–1939)’, Australian Dictionary of Biography, National Centre of Biography, Australian National University, http://adb.anu.edu.au/biography/tate-frank-8748/text15325
The Sydney Morning Herald, 21 June 1848. http://trove.nla.gov.au/newspaper/article/12905584
Warrnambool Primary School, Warrnambool Primary School 1743: 100+25 Years (Warrnambool: Warrnambool Primary School, 2001)
 The Sydney Morning Herald, 21 June 1848. http://trove.nla.gov.au/newspaper/article/12905584
 Warrnambool Primary School, Warrnambool Primary School 1743: 100+25 Years (Warrnambool: Warrnambool Primary School, 2001), 30.
 ibid. 31
 On the history of ‘public’ and ‘private’ schools in Australia see Craig Campbell ‘Public and private in Australian schooling, Australia, 1788–2010’, Dictionary of Educational History in Australia and New Zealand (2014) http://dehanz.net.au/entries/public-private-australian-schooling/
 Warrnambool Primary School 1743, 11–12.
 The Warrnambool Standard, 1 August 1876, quoted in Warrnambool Primary School 1743: 100+25 Years, 3.
 The Warrnambool Standard, 1 and 4 August 1876, quoted in Warrnambool Primary School 1743, 13.
 Warrnambool Primary School 1743, 13.
 Wilma Hannah, ‘Fink, Theodore (1855–1942)’, Australian Dictionary of Biography, National Centre of Biography, Australian National University, http://adb.anu.edu.au/biography/fink-theodore-6171/text10601; R. J. W. Selleck, ‘Tate, Frank (1864–1939)’, Australian Dictionary of Biography, National Centre of Biography, Australian National University, http://adb.anu.edu.au/biography/tate-frank-8748/text15325
 Regina Hando, The School on the Hill: Reminiscences on the 75th anniversary of Warrnambool High School (Warrnambool: Warrnambool High School, 1982), 2.
 Ibid. 2–3.
 Circular from H.E. Lawson, Town Clerk, 19 February 1906 in 100 Years of Service, 9
 The Age, 1 February 1909, 6, http://trove.nla.gov.au/newspaper/article/196134354
 The School on the Hill, 36
 Pat Varley in Warrnambool Primary School 1743, 6
 Ibid., 9.
 Ibid., 10.
 The School on the Hill, 23; 100 Years of Service, 37–8.