History

HISTORY

Preston West Primary School was opened on 28th January 1915, and was the third State primary school in the Preston Shire. It has a long and rich history, and has been recognised as being an integral part of the community. Its history reflects the many changes that have occurred in the district over the period of time. Initially 233 students were enrolled, and the teaching staff consisted of a Head Teacher, two Assistant Teachers and four junior teachers. At the time of the opening, the Education Department appointed a temporary Head Teacher, Mr Thomas Kewish, an Englishman who had immigrated to Australia as a child with his family. The first Head Master, Mr John P Danaher, did not take up the position until 1st April 1915. He remained at Preston West until his retirement on 31st May 1924, just prior to his 65th birthday. There have been sixteen Headmasters/Principals since, including the current incumbent, Ms Cheryl Bondeson.

The first years were quite eventful. In September 1916 the school was closed for a month by order of the Preston Shire Medical Officer due to a number of children contracting diphtheria, and it was feared that a "carrier" might have been attending the school. Additionally the school was subject to numerous staff changes as few of the teachers lived locally and public transport was limited. In 1917 enrolments has grown so quickly that additional classes were established in rented premises in Duffy Street Reservoir – which was later re-established in 1924 to the existing Reservoir Primary School.

In June 1919 the school was closed and converted into a temporary hospital due to the Spanish Influenza pandemic. Classes for the 267 pupils were established at The Rechabite Hall, All Saints Hall and the Shire Hall until the school reopened in late August.  Reports from that time indicate that conditions were far from satisfactory.

By 1925 enrolments had reached 818, and extensions to the original school building were added by August that year. Until these were completed, some classes were conducted off school campus in rented premises. Enrolments still increased as the population of Preston rapidly grew following WW1. Portable classrooms were installed on the school grounds to meet this demand. The opening of Bell Primary School in the early 1930s saw the numbers drop substantially, much to the relief of all.

The outbreak of WW2 saw the school prepare itself for the possibility of a Japanese invasion. Trenches were dug around the school perimeter, and staff and pupils forced to undertake drills for possible air raid attacks. During this time, the plumbing system failed in July 1942 and staff and pupils were forced to attend neighbouring schools for a week until the problem was fixed.

The Preston area, in the immediate post WW2 years, became subject to many new housing estates under the Housing Commission building program. This high-density housing, coupled with the ‘Post War Baby Boom’ again saw a dramatic increase in enrolment numbers. Again portable classrooms were pressed into service, although the opening of Reservoir West Primary School in 1954 saw many pupils transfer there.

In the early hours of 16th July 1957, a fire of unknown origin destroyed a first floor classroom on the eastern side of the main school building, and some classes were transferred to the Presbyterian Hall until the damage was repaired in October.

In May 1958 Preston West was declared a training school for the Melbourne Teachers’ College. At that time there were approximately 950 pupils attending, so additional facilities were required. In 1960 a ‘Country Infants Class’ was established to enable trainee teachers to complete their required training under the guidance of experienced primary teachers. Several portable classrooms were established in the southwest corner of the school grounds to accommodate the numbers.

The opening of Merrylands Primary School saw pupil numbers drop dramatically in the 1960s and 1970s, but did much to alleviate the overcrowded conditions that had plagued Preston West for many years. Preston West endured another fire in November 1978 – this one deliberately lit – and the Art Room, which was located in one of the outside rooms, was destroyed.

The pupil base of Preston West Primary School has, and still does, reflect the changes in the demographics of the suburb of Preston. The influx of European immigrants in the 1950s and 1960s can be clearly seen from perusal of enrolment records of that time. The availability of reasonably priced housing attracted several thousand immigrants, and their (in most cases) Australian-born children needed to be educated. Preston West Primary School has always answered this calling, and the influx of immigrants from southeast Asia in the 1970s and, more recently, western Asia and Africa, has been met in line with this tradition.

At this point of time, we have students with backgrounds from over fifty countries harmoniously attending the School – an achievement of which the school takes great pride. The School’s motto – ‘Duty First’ – has been, and still is, steadfastly maintained.  

 
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