Saturday, November 1, 2008

Avondale Primary School in the 20th century



In 1914, the Avondale Infant School was completed, known in my day as the Primers Block. According to local people I've spoken to, the builder was a local man by the name of Mr Vibert, who the Roads Board the next year asked if he would put in a proposal for the new board offices (he declined).

In 1922, the school achieved its greatest expansion with the opening of the Manual Training School, which were two buildings close to the Great North Road, where woodwork, cooking and sewing were taught for Standards 5 and 6. The Avondale Manual Training School was opened on the Primary School grounds fronting Great North road on 27 April. A tender from Mt T Wilson for erecting the school of £3585 was accepted by the Supervisor Mr Kalaugher in early 1921. [Avondale Roads Board minutes, 1921, 1922]

In so many remembrances and oral histories from past and present residents of Avondale, the name of Mr Burgess comes up time and again. He was the woodwork teacher at the Manual Training School (which also had cooking classes). Mr Bob Browne recalls Mr Burgess clearly saying, almost as a catchphrase: “Put the tools down, you sawny yob!”

(From unpublished memoirs by Mr H. H. Harrison, courtesy of Mr Ernie Croft, concerning school
in the 1920s, and escpecially the Proficiency Exam): "... a government set exam that if passed gave us entrance to a secondary school. With a class of over forty pupils we set off with that in mind and a teacher who was determined that everyone should achieve a pass. A pupile teacher, Miss McFarlane, helped with the marking of our work for part of the time.

"Each day we were tested in ten words, I think, set to be learned at home. Anyone with two or more mistakes was caned. That was often my fate to be caned, not because I hadn't tried to learn the words at home, my mother saw to it that I did, but I always have difficulty with spelling. Every day we had ten mental arithmetic sums -- pencils up, pencils down -- limited time to answer. Writing sample was always on the board each morning written there before school -- (Mr Slevin) arrived at eight -- as was the weekly arithmetic test each Friday morning.

"Reading daily out of the Government supplied School Journal. Everyone watched the page and had to be ready to go on at any moment, while one stood and read. So the day went on. Most of us accepted all this as normal, cane and all, and bore our teacher no grudge even if we did not particularly enjoy it. We had a realization that it was necessary if we were to get the exam. After school you could go home if all your work was up to date, that is to say if every spelling error was written out three times; every badly formed sentence in the weekly essay rewritten in better form, with spelling mistakes also written out three times and taken to teacher for his approval and signature. All work was kept on a file at our desk. At 4 p.m. we went home.

"During the last term those weak in English grammar were invited to come at 8 a.m. and receive extra tuition and we, the weaker ones, did attend. As a result of this effort the supervising inspector at the exam in our schoolroom was able to announce that everyone except one passed and the one received a competancy certificate."

When the Avondale Intermediate opened in 1945, Avondale Primary lost the training school, and “decapitated”, becoming a Contributing School, which it is today. [Ron Oates, Avondale Primary School, 1870-1990, 1990]

The front building of the Training School (there were two, one behind the other, on the left-hand side of the Great North Road frontage) became the Assembly Hall in 1963, after being strengthened to satisfy concerns over building safety. Unfortunately, it was declared an earthquake risk in 1979 by the Education Board, and demolished in 1981.

A sign in 1969 that read “Assembley Hall” [sic] was corrected by the then Headmaster. [Ron Oates, Avondale Primary School, 1870-1990, 1990]

I have my own memories of that old Assembly Hall. When I went to Avondale Primary from 1968 to 1974, the old Hall was used as a place for school performances (a stage, with changing rooms below, was at the western end), and to show films. I still remember the clatter of the old-style film reels going through the projector, and especially when they ran the films backwards to rewind them! There were few things funnier then, it seemed, than people and cartoon animations running backwards, jumping back onto diving boards, and all the rest.

Beside, as a separate side room, was the lunch kitchen, where parents (including my mother) volunteered on roster to come in, make up sandwiches, and fill out the lunch orders which would come in every morning from the classes on little forms of white paper – whether you wanted marmite sandwiches, or a meat pie (my favourite was apple pies).

Then, in the early 1970s, the old school was demolished. All that remained for a time were, as mentioned, the assembly hall, and also the dental clinic and reading therapy rooms at the top -- but even they are gone now.

But, the school remains. Where the greatest achievement for my generation would have been learning the times tables and keeping our clothes clean by home time, these days Avondale Primary School teaches the children all about computers and the world of the future.

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