Eltham High School | The Thirties – Hard Times

The Thirties - Hard Times.

Snapshots of Hard Times.


  • 1930 – 1934   John Stewart
  • 1935 – 1936   R. J. Teague
  • 1937 – 1940   William E. Williams


1932Mr. Grassick begins development of school grounds
1933Fees in all Victorian secondary schools increased to £3 per annum at Levels F and E and £9 per annum for Levels D and C
1934"En Avant" adopted as school motto
1935School population falls to 66
1939Outbreak of war in Europe. Eltham students answer the call. Shire Hall completed. New venue for speech nights.

The Great Depression.

The economic hardships cast their influence over the school.

Unable to financially support their children’s schooling, many students were forced to finish their education at Grade 6. With this came a sharp decline in enrolments as the school population fell from 92 students in 1930 to 66 in 1935. This prompted the “Board of Inquiry Regarding the Administration of the Education Department” to question the very existence of Eltham Higher Elementary School.

Bob Finlay, a student at the school between 1934-35 remembers its effects well.

“At the time, students had no money to spend, some even had no shoes to wear. Many of the students, no longer able to be supported by their parents, were made wards of the state.”

Fun to be had in hard times.

“A rural area, money is scarce. A bike, well we could share one between six of us, if our mate’s were willing to lend us the only bike at the school. In these times, students had to make, rather than buy, their fun.”

Ex students Bob Finlay and Ray Wood (1936-38) recall with delight the frequent fruit fights fuelled from the quince orchard on the northern boundary of the school as well as the abundant cherry plum trees.

They also remember summers of snake catching, when the boys would often leave dead snakes across footpaths, especially where it was known that teachers used those paths to go home.

Speech Nights.

These were seen as an important part of the school year by Mr. Stewart and became established as a school tradition. Held in a hall in Eltham, these evenings saw the presentation of academic and sporting prizes; house captains, form captains and prefects were given recognition of their duty; the Rutter-Stewart rivalry was resolved by the announcement of a winner and students would sing “The Best School of All” with gusto.

Stewart vs Rutter.

At the time, students were divided into two houses, Stewart and Rutter. Sporting competitions in Netball, Rounders, Tennis, Cricket and Football were keenly fought affairs, held during the afternoon once a week.

The sporting highlight of 1934 as recalled by Mr. Max Spence, was the swimming sports. These were held in the Diamond Creek downstream from the footbridge.


In times of heavy rain, the footbridge across Diamond Creek would be cut by flood waters and school would be cancelled, sometimes for days.

Advisory Council.

At a time when student and parent involvement in schools was minimal, Eltham Higher Elementary displayed a progressive approach by encouraging the involvement of students and parents.

Mr. Spence believed that Eltham was one, if not the first, secondary school to have Student, Mothers Club, Parent and Teacher representatives on the advisory council. As he recalls, the advisory council was a purely appointed body of:

  • Principal – Secretary
  • Council rep. from Eltham and Diamond Valley
  • Mothers Club rep.
  • 1-2 Teacher reps.
  • 3 nominated from community
  • Church rep.

The Tree Planting Programme.

Much work was done in this period in developing the school grounds themselves. Extensive tree planting was undertaken firstly by Mr. H. Rutter and his friend Mr. Allan, Landscape Gardener to the Victorian Railways and then under the guidance of Mr. Frederick Grassick, an Eltham resident. Mr. Grassick devoted much of his spare time and a considerable amount of money to the project. In all, Mr. Grassick planted 167 trees, 65 shrubs, a number of climbing roses and vines, as well as providing a variety of landscape materials and gardening implements.

As quoted from the Advertiser, Friday, July 28, 1933:

Planting in the school grounds has been progressing over the past three years and is now nearing completion. Close on 300 choice shrubs and trees have been employed in the layout, and these are making satisfactory growth. The list includes: eucalyptus, wattles, firs, cedars, cypresses, poplars, oaks, birches, ash trees, chestnuts, lindens, liquid ambers, tulip trees, maples, flowering fruit trees, and in addition other small shrub trees. About 400 daffodil bulbs were planted in the grasses among the young trees and these give promise of flowering next month.

Detentions lend support to Planting Programme.

In 1934, as Bob Finlay recollects, detentions were given for being late, being noisy in class, not paying attention and having dirty or undone boots! Detention time was put to good use, as students were seen rolling 44 gallon drums full of water around the school in order to water the trees.

Eltham High School | The Thirties – Hard Times

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