Looking back on technical school history to better understand its importance
To celebrate 150 years of the Education Act being passed in the state, Public Record Office Victoria (PROV) is holding a Tech School photographic exhibition and looking back at the importance of public education.
Passed in 1872, the Act allowed for free, secular and compulsory education to take place, allowing the hands-on learning at technical schools to play a pivotal role in shaping the lives of many.
Co-curated by archivists Natasha Cantwell and Kate Follington, the exhibition opened on Thursday, August 11 at North Melbourne’s Victorian Archives Centre Gallery and will continue until October.
“It is important to show the full journey [of techical schools] and that this is not a story that has ended, but to instead show the way they were, their place in the 20th century and to show its future,” Ms Cantwell said.
“There are about 25 images and apart from an image of Monash Tech School which shows what is currently happening there, the rest of the images are from our archival collection here at Public Record Office Victoria.”
Some of the archived images displayed also show the tech schools being built and explore how architect Percy Edgar Everett helped create a new model for school buildings with lights and big windows in order to “create a really positive atmosphere”.
The idea for the exhibition came about after PROV recently digitised a lot of the images and collections that were transferred to them for preservation following the closure and phasing out of technical schools in the 1990s.
The digitisation of the images now means anyone can access high-resolution images online, but for Ms Cantwell and Ms Follington the exhibition now provides a chance for stories to be told.
“The images are chronological and each of the stories are unique and individual to the times, and we wanted to tell diverse stories and look at them from different angles,” Ms Cantwell said.
“The process was an interesting combination of going through our images and finding the beautiful images, but then also finding amazing stories and trying to find images that would highlight those stories.”
As part of the process in finding the stories, photographs were uploaded to Facebook alumni groups which allowed for past students to respond and give insight into their time at the tech schools.
“We discovered that when the boys’ and girls’ Preston Technical Schools were situated quite close together they had a 50-metre ‘No Man’s Land’ across the oval in order to keep them separated, and so students would throw love letters with rocks across the land to flirt,” Ms Follington said.
“It’s been a nice journey to discover these stories and most of the ex-students have fond memories of their time and are very much of the view that hands-on learning played a huge part in their ability to succeed in life.”
To allow the space at the exhibition to become a place where stories can be shared and remembered, a blackboard will be set up for people to write their memories.
Tech School exhibition is open Monday to Friday from 10am to 4.30pm, and every second and last Saturday of the month and is free and open to all. The PROV is located at 99 Shiel St, North Melbourne. •