In 1926, a Higher Elementary School was established at Eltham. Mr. John Stewart, then headmaster of S.S.209, became the first headmaster, having responsibility for both schools.
The first term of 1926 was spent in a wing of the primary school, but parental outcry at the consequent overcrowding of the primary school caused the removal of the fledgling secondary school to an old wooden hall now demolished, in Henry Street. There the school remained for some five terms, until in 1928 transfer to the present site was effected.
Mr Falkiner’s block in Dalton Street (now Withers Way), an area of 8 acres was purchased by the Shire Council as a gift to the department, for a school building. The Higher Elementary School was proclaimed from 1st January, 1926.
The land purchased by Shire Council is the site which the school still occupies. The school site was formerly a cherry orchard and was painted by artist Walter Withers, who lived just behind the school area. A market garden flourished on what is now the front oval. This area in front of the present school was not part of the original purchase and was not owned by the school until 1951. The area that is now the hockey ground (along Dalton Street) was a quince orchard in 1926.
The original school building, 1928In 1928, Eltham Higher Elementary School moved into its new home on the school site. The new building, to accommodate up to 150 pupils, was completed on 11th June 1928 at a cost of £4,613.19s9d The new building in a way reflected the solid prosperity of the 1920’s. Built in the imposing ‘Spanish mission’ style, the new school was certainly given a feeling of dignity and permanence. The bell tower that is a features of the front of the school was functional as well as being in keeping with the ‘Spanish mission’ style. The bell was in use until the early 1950’s when, because of the way the school had grown, it became necessary to use a hand bell so that students in all corners of the school could have no excuse for being late for class.
Three people deserve special recognition for their efforts in having the Eltham Higher Elementary School established. These people are Mr. Everard, who was a member of the Legislative Assembly for many years and a long time associate of the school; Mr. Hubert Rutter of Yarra Braes, an engineer as well as a most active councillor and Shire President; and finally, Mr. Stewart, who was headmaster of the Eltham State School.
The school contained two classrooms, a science room, Headmaster’s office and a staff room. The new building was officially opened on the 13th October, 1928 by the Lieutenant Governor, Sir William Irvine.
The subjects taught were English, History, French, Arithmetic, Algebra, Geometry, Geography, and Drawing. Later, additions to the curriculum at Eltham in this early period were Needlework (1927), Hygiene (1927) and Science (1929). From the very start, assessment in each subject was made at the end of each term and recorded in an Examination Record Book. Students were subject to a public examination at the end of Level E (Form 2) which was called the Merit Certificate and again at the end of Level C (Form 4), which was called the Intermediate Exam. This last exam was conducted in the Exhibition Buildings at Melbourne and for many students the uncommon chance for a trip into the city held as much, if not more, attraction than the prospect of academic honours.
In its temporary home at the hall in Henry Street, Eltham Higher Elementary School soon settled into a fixed, if somewhat, uncomfortable routine. To get to school, students walked or came by train (which had been electrified to Eltham in 1923) or rode their horses. Classes were held in the body of the hall. Each afternoon, Mr Stewart would ride his white horse from Eltham State School to inspect and supervise his new responsibility. It seems that the attitude of students showed a marked improvement in those afternoon sessions.
The only break offered from academic pursuits were occasional sports meetings with other schools in the area. Because there were no other secondary schools in the near vicinity, any inter-school sports matches in the early years had to be against local state schools; these matches included visits to the state schools at Eltham, Research, Briar Hill and Plenty. The sports were largely confined to football and netball.
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