Virtually unique amongst government primary
schools in Victoria,
St Kilda Park No 2460 has a very compact, entirely double-storied, very urban
design, yet is set on an acre (0.4 hectares) of land and on the edge of
extensive Albert Park. Perhaps its location is why it produced three of Australia’s
greatest test cricketers: Bill Ponsford, Keith
Miller and Ian Johnson. Other famous pupils include Sir
Zelman Cowen eminent jurist and former governor general and multiple
Archibald Prize-winning artist William
Dargie. Carl Ditterrich,
St Kilda Football Club champion coached its footballers in the 1960s.
The 1872 Education Act proclaimed education to
be free (in most subjects), compulsory (until age 15) and secular. And so the
Victorian government became responsible for designing and building all primary
schools. An architectural competition resulted in 13 new large school designs:
the design of Brighton Road
(1875, 34) school is derived from one of these. But the more compressed
design of Park (1879) takes a different approach, more like the Board Schools in
This type first appeared at Windsor-Prahran (1877), and later at Queensberry
(1880-81) on much tighter sites to enable more playground
space and reached its apotheosis at Camp Hill, Bendigo
(1877). St Kilda Park’s design influenced Toorak (1889) and Richmond North
(1888) and its plan, Burnley
It is a most Romantic composition with
bi-chromatic red and brown patterned bricks, steep gabled roofs, a high internal
tower, an inset porch and the canted master’s office strategically placed to
survey the entrance. It had five large schoolrooms and three small classrooms.
Like the Brighton Roadschool, it still has its bell, which I understand
rings each school day.
Even in 1874, 20 acres (8 hectares) between
the railway and the Beach Reserve was proposed as the school site. The
Education Department asked Council for a grant of an acre of the Beach Reserve,
which was refused, The Council also opposed locating the school at the junction
and residents opposed the present site, presumably as it was unhealthy, rather
than that it grabbed parkland. It was purchased by the Department for £100 in
December 1873, the result of a special bill passed by the Legislative Assembly
on 14 November 1878.
The school was designed in 1879; architectural drawings no longer survive, but a
perspective view is nominally annotated with the name of the head of the
Architecture Branch, Henry Robert Bastow. This does
not that imply Bastow was the actual designer. Very
few designs can be directly credited to him. It was completed on 1 August when
the two schools it replaced were closed: St Kilda Acland Street Common School No
565, opened as early as 1851 and PuntRoadNationalSchool
(corner High Street), 1854.
The site was swampy, unhealthy and frequently
under water. The head teacher’s request for protective shelter sheds in 1885
was not granted until 1909. Even then, parents paid half the cost. One
survives. In 1904, the health officer closed the school during a diphtheria
epidemic. After requests, the Council agreed to relocate the municipal tip 200
metres away north from the school. The tip finally closed in 1919.
In 1922-23, the school was renovated and
extended to accommodate a further 530 pupils for a cost of £8,154 and designated
a central school, with classes up to grade eight. No further alteration
occurred until 1969 and 1980, but even then, to modernise facilities rather than
expand, by developing the Zelman Cowen library, art
and craft room and multi-purpose room.
Sir Zelman Cowen
(b1919) is the school’s most distinguished alumni. Born in St Kilda, later he
caught the 69 tram to ScotchCollege
secondary school. After Arts-Law at University
in 1947-50 he became a fellow of OrielCollege,
on a Rhodes Scholarship, returning as Professor of
Public Law and Dean of the Melbourne Law Faculty (1951-66). He was appointed
Vice Chancellor of New England University (1967-70) and QueenslandUniversity
(1970-77). The succeeded the colourful Sir John Kerr as Governor General
(1977-82) and re-established the dignity of that office, generally by keeping a
low profile. He has been greatly honoured overseas, including as provost of his
Oriel (1982-90) and Chairman of the British Press
Council (1983-88). Since, he has chaired John Fairfax Holdings Ltd, publishers
of The Age.
Although William Harold (Bill)
Ponsford was born and died in Fitzroy (1900-91) it
is said that he also went to Park for a time. He was Australia’s
top batsman until Bradman. Even ‘the Don’ could not
dominate him, as he did others. Ponsford was the
only player to score centuries in his first two and last two tests and to score
over 400 twice in first class innings. He averaged 48.22 runs in his 29 tests
between 1924 and when he retired in 1934. One of the best ever spin bowlers,
he was contemptuous of the 1932-33 bodyline tactics. He went on to work at the
Melbourne Cricket Club for 37 years. The Western grandstand at the Melbourne
Cricket Ground, renamed for him in 1986, has recently been demolished, and his
name retained for part of the new stand.
After leaving Park, Ian Johnson (b1917) caught
the St Kilda Road
tram to WesleyCollege.
An off- break bowler in the Australian XI from 1946-56 he was captain for the
last two years. After commentating for Channel 9, 3AW and the Argus
newspaper (1953-57), like Ponsford; he also came to
the MCC, as its secretary (1957-83) and wrote two cricket books. He still lives
Keith ‘Nugget’ Miller (1919-2004) was an
aggressive fast bowler and batsman. In 55 tests (1946-57) he made 2,958 runs,
(average 37), taking 170 wickets (average 23). He was best against the
(1954-55) making 109 and taking 6 for 107. After Park, he took the train from
for MelbourneHigh School.
He played Sheffield Shield for Victoria
(1939-46), NSW (1946-56) and vice-captained Australia
(1954-56). He commentated for the ABC TV and the LondonDaily Express (1956-76). The MCG’s Great
southern Stand has a Keith Miller Room. After his death in 2004, he received a
state funeral at St Paul’s
Sidney Nolan’s 1946 painting, Footballer,
held by the National Gallery of Victoria and currently displayed at its new Ian
Potter Centre at Federation Square,
is reputedly of Keith Miller, of whom Nolan was said to be a great fan. It is
less well known that Miller played 50 VFL games for the St Kilda Saints.
Sir William Dargie
(b1912) won eight Archibald portrait prizes, more the any other artist
(1941-56). He had been an official war artist in World War II and painted the
famous. Later he headed the National Gallery of Victoria Art School (1968-72)
and chaired the Commonwealth Art Advisory Board. He painted the famous 1954
Royal Tour portrait of Her Majesty in the wattle yellow dress, remembered from
every 1950s classroom.
Arnold, John &
Morris, Deirdre.Monash Biographical Dictionary of 20th Century
Ed. Vision and Realisation.A Centenary History of State Education in Victoria.Education
Department of Victoria, Melbourne
Richard. Historic Government Schools.A Comparative Study.
Department of Planning a Development.
Phillips, Shaun. ‘Ponsfords are still
proud’. Herald Sun.
2 October 2002.
Sidney Nolan.Footballers. 1946. National
Primary School, Ist 100
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