Monthly Archives: June 2015

School Days: Education in Victoria

If you have a spare hour in Melbourne city, pop along to the Old Treasury Building at the top of Collins Street to see their exhibition ‘School Days: Education in Victoria’.  Drawn from the voluminous archives of Education Department material placed at the Public Records Office of Victoria, the exhibition runs until 31 August, open Sunday to Friday (ie. closed Saturday) 10.00 a.m. to 4.00 p.m. and entry is free.

PROV, VPRS 14517 / P1 / Unit 17 / E82839129

PROV, VPRS 14517 / P1 / Unit 17 / E82839129

Victoria has good cause to be proud of the 1872 Education Act which provided for “free, compuslory and secular” education for all children aged between 6 and 15 years of age.  It set the pattern for the education acts of the other colonies with Queensland and South Australia passing similar legislation in 1875, NSW in 1880, Tasmania in 1885 and Western Australia by 1893. Ironically, by the time the later legislation was passed, the Victorian act itself had been altered to allow more religious influence and the leaving age had been lowered to 13 years.

Prior to 1872, public education in Victoria was provided through a dual system of denominational schools run by the churches, and government-assisted schools which charged a small, but nonetheless significant, fee.  The huge increase in population during the 1850s resulted in a demographic bulge of school-aged children in the 1860s, and there was much public anxiety about the number of children not receiving any schooling.  Charitable schools had been started by Hester Hornbrook, whose ‘Ragged Schools’ followed the model of the English Ragged School Union to provide a basic education founded on biblical and ‘practical’ education.   At its peak the ragged schools educated 1000 children at twelve schools. An article from Trove in 1859 lists eight of them: one in Simpson’s Road [originally Victoria St Abbotsford/Richmond], three in Collingwood, two in Little Bourke St, one in Little Lonsdale Street [near O’ Brien Lane] and one in Prahran [a second school in Prahran was the forerunner of the present day Hornbrook Childrens Centre]. In fact, there’s a picture of one of the Hornbrook Schools in the exhibition, but taken in 1900 when it had become the Cremorne Street School in Richmond.  But by the 1860s, the anxiety about the connection between lack of schooling and crime compelled the government to step in.

higinbotham

As it happened, before we went into the Old Treasury Building, we’d commented on the statue of Chief Justice Higinbotham  that stands on the plaza at Treasury Place.  I was well familiar with this statue. As a child, I used to go to an orthodontist in Harrison House, the former home of the VFL, in Spring Street. Being a strictly-brought-up child, I wasn’t allowed to say “bottom” but I was able to surreptitiously utter that naughty word by pointing out the statue of Justice “Higginbottom”.

Higinbotham was not only Chief Justice: he was also the driving force behind the Education Act of 1872 even though he was no longer in Parliament when it actually passed.  He had, however, been chair of a royal commission of enquiry into education in 1866 and from its findings, introduced a bill into Parliament in 1867 that largely anticipated the 1872 bill.  In his speech to Parliament Higinbotham made no secret of the class-based aspect of ‘free, secular and compulsory‘ education. To the working class he said:

You have accepted the vote; now, in the national interest you must accept middle class culture.  You will have to change your own way of life and adopt ours. Maybe you will find this difficult, but at least give us your children.  In fact, we will remove your children from you for several hours each day by compelling you to send them to school, where they will be imbued with middle-class culture, we will raise them from the savages that they are to become civilized human beings, and for this you should be grateful. (Bessant, 1984, p. 9)

Even though the idea of free schooling stuck in the craw of both conservatives and liberals who wanted a ‘price signal’ so that working-class parents would appreciate the schooling [some things never change], it was recognized that unless education was free, the parents they were targetting  wouldn’t send their children.

But if the government was going to make this huge financial commitment- and it was huge- then it was going to be efficient, damn it! A fundamental part of the Education Act was that it created a direct line of oversight from Cabinet to the Minister to the Schools. Control of teachers, control of students.  This is made very clear in the exhibition which focuses particularly on the position of young female teachers who were often sent to isolated schools and expected to lodge with local families who resented the imposition.  Marriage resulted in instant retrenchment.

Attendance was carefully monitored.  There are letters from parents beseeching for a school to be built in a small settlement, promising the attendance of twenty, thirty children from the surrounding district.  If a school was granted, it was likely to be built from one of the template-based designs of Henry Bastow, the Chief Architect and Surveyor who was responsible for the construction of 615 schools in five years.  The more opulent of these schools were of hawthorn brick with steepled roofs and included his favoured  neo-gothic features (you can see a video feature in the exhibition here).

I was fascinated by a video of Ascot Vale Primary School in about 1910 I suspect. It shows the school ground, assembly (complete with flag-raising and oath), marching,  ball games, folk dancing (oh, how I loathed folk dancing) and boys doing push-ups.  It all seems so physical and martial.  There’s a strap on display- a fearsome looking thing which, as a girl I never encountered fortunately.  School children joined clubs, and there are the beautiful certificates that we were given for the Gould League, for example.  Did you know that I won the state award for the Temperance exam in Grade 6 and received a beautifully embossed certificate that I wish I’d kept  (and I’ll thank those who know me not to snort with derision).  Girls knitted during the war; male teachers enlisted; female teachers donated (?) a percentage of their wages for the war effort.

It’s only a small exhibition- just two rooms- but there’s much to look at. They have a good public program of talks and events too.  Well worth a visit.

Some references:

Bob Bessant “Free, Compulsory and Secular”  Paedogogica Historica, Vol 24, Issue 1, 1984, p.5-25  [available from University libraries]

E-Melbourne website  http://www.emelbourne.net.au/biogs/EM00507b.htm

There’s a fascinating case study of a disciplinary action taken against a teacher at Baringhup State School by Carolyn Woolman in Provenance (the journal of the Public Records Office) ‘The State of Feeling in the District’ Provenance, Issue 11, 2012

Farewell, The Wuzzle

IMG_0889small

Fourteen years ago we saw ‘young Wuzz’ take her very first breath, the first-born of a second litter of puppies, and tonight we held her as she breathed her last.  We didn’t really intend to keep her, but somehow she was the last puppy left of the litter and she just tagged along.  She always loved her ‘dolly’, a chewed toy meerkat from the Zoo (they’re expensive but last forever) and was prepared to fight her Aunt Ellie for it.  Always a good-natured, simple little dog.  Goodbye little Wuzzle.

#TBR20

I can feel new carpet coming on. Our carpet is sixteen years old and, as we live in a smallish unit, it suffers a fair bit of wear-and-tear.  Moreover, our three miniature foxies  (two aged 16, one aged 14) are entering the twilight of their lives: one in particular is very poorly and another is likely to follow that moonlit pathway quite soon. The third (and my favourite, I confess) is blind and deaf with terrible teeth and she, too, is not long for this world I’m afraid.  “After the dogs!!” I have promised myself as I grimly vaccuum the threadbare steps and the doggy stains that I hate so much.  And if we’re going to carpet, then we may as well paint while all the furniture is taken up…and all this means I NEED TO DO SOMETHING ABOUT THE BOOKS.

I don’t actually buy a lot of books because I use my library a great deal.  I love receiving books as a present but  I’m too miserly to spend $30.00 on a weekly basis when I know that the chances of reading a book for a second time are not high.  I am, however, a sucker for the book stall at the Uniting Church fete, the new op-shop down the road, the new Little Free Library installed in the park and the Bargains table at Readings bookshop.  Then there’s Mr Judge, whose appalling library borrowing record and love of second-hand books compels him to bring home several books a week that pile up in his study, many of which I’d like to read one day (although I’ll give all the science fiction a miss).

But I really do need to READ some of these looming piles of books so that, when the new carpet beckons, I can sort out what I really do want to keep and dispense with two of the bookshelves in my cluttered and thoroughly unsatisfactory lounge room.  The TBR20 Reading Challenge sounds like a good idea to me.

Started by Eva Stalker in Glasgow, the TBR Challenge involves reading twenty books in a year from your own shelf before buying or borrowing any more. Well, eschewing the buying part should be fairly easy for me, but the borrowing not so much. As a result, I’ll blithely ignore that part of the challenge and just undertake to read twenty books that I already own by 30th June 2016. You’re supposed to sign up on Twitter with the hashtag #tbr20 but I must confess that I don’t think I know how to work Twitter. I need a young person to help me.

I’m quite looking forward to it. As far as the brand new un-read books are concerned, I obviously thought that these books were so desirable that I shelled out the money for them at some stage. As for the second-hand books, well I must have brought them home for a reason too.

Some people do several reading challenges, but I only until now have signed up for one: the Australian Women Writers Challenge.  I do try to catch up on the books that are short-listed for the major prizes, which involves reading a certain quota of new work.  The TBR challenge, however, is going to plunge me into some retro reading, I suspect. Prepare for lots of reviews of  early-twentyfirst-century books.  Doesn’t matter! I’m looking forward to it!

Medieval Moderns

MEDIEVAL MODERNS: THE PRE-RAPHAELITE BROTHERHOOD

National Gallery of Victoria (International), Until 12 July 2015

There’s a lovely small, free exhibition of pre-Raphaelite paintings on show at the National Gallery International until  12 July.  The exhibition exemplifies the fallacy in trying to carve off ‘Australian’ from ‘International’ art because it includes artists like Edward La Trobe Bateman (in Australia between 1852-69) and Thomas Woolner who worked in Australia in 1852-4 after arriving for the gold rush.  He, like Bateman, associated with the Howitt family who were the centre of cultural Port Phillip in a reminder to us of the transnational nature of artistic and cultural interests.  Many of these works- particularly those of William Holman Hunt, Dante Gabriel Rossetti, Ford Madox Brown and Edward Burne-Jones- were purchased as part of the Felton Bequest.

The Pre-Raphaelite Brotherhood was a group of artists in the mid -19th century who eschewed the current trends in art and the increasing industrialization of production, and consciously turned to older styles of painting and imagery – hence dubbing themselves ‘pre’ the painter Raphael (1483-1520). Many of their works, created in the last half of the 19th century harked back to a quieter medieval milieu and a mythical forested, European setting. They marked their paintings with a small PRB logo in the corner. They came to the attention of the wider public through their illustrations of Tennyson’s poetry which was itself steeped in the mythological realm. Reproductions of their works were circulated throughout the Empire, with the Maitland Mercury noting on 26 September 1885 that a reproduction of Holman Hunt’s “The Shadow of Death” on show in a shop window had formed the basis of the local vicar’s “very eloquent” sermon.

An unusual window display for Maitland - Holman Hunt's 'The Shadow of Death'. I wonder what they were advertising?

An unusual window display for Maitland – Holman Hunt’s ‘The Shadow of Death’. I wonder what they were advertising?

When we were in Birmingham we heard a lecture about Lizzie Siddal, whose long red hair and pale, thin features adorn many of these paintings, and she (and others visually similar to her) can be found in several of these paintings. As well as paintings and sketches for paintings, there are woodcuts, furniture, photographs, book bindings and wallpaper produced by the PRB, marking the extension from painting into the decorative arts and production methods, especially through William Morris’ influence with his company, Morris & Co.  Men predominate, of course, but there are photographs by Julia Margaret Cameron

We downloaded a PDF of the wall-panel labels used in the display before visiting, which I thought would be a good way of avoiding having to cluster up close to the painting, squinting at writing in the dark before moving back to view the picture. Unfortunately there seems to be no order at all to the PDF- or at least, I couldn’t detect it, and it seemed to be completely unrelated to the layout of the exhibition. A good idea poorly executed.

All-in-all, it’s a lovely little exhibition that reminds us of the riches that the Felton Bequest has brought to Victoria.