Katoomba High School

Quality and Creativity

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The First Seventy-Five Years

In the beginning, it was a tent…

Katoomba High School as we know it today, grew out of the early beginnings of public education on the Upper Blue Mountains. In 1881 the local residents made an application for the establishment of a Public School in Katoomba.
The Department of Education, which had been established the previous year by the Public Instruction Act, was told that there were 30 children who would attend the school should it be established. At that time, of those children who were able to attend school, 19 went to Mt. Victoria and 14 to Springwood. They travelled by train arriving at their respective schools at approx. 10.45 a.m., and leaving at 1.00 p.m. to catch the return trains. No doubt these arrangements would suit some of the students of today, but in 1881 the local residents were not satisfied and were prepared to fight for better public education for their children. indeed, they were prepared to put up with very Spartan conditions, for the first school which opened in January 1882 was established in a tent, costing £32/l/3 and equipped at a cost of £23/9/2 with Mr. George Young as the teacher. The school, at the junction of Valley Road and the Highway, commenced with an enrolment of 50.
Mr. Inspector Allpass, who made the recommendation for the school's establishment, wrote
"This is a suitable place for a school for a large number of children living on the line of railway."
"No sooner had the building which replaced the tent been announced than disputes began about the site, and, after a cottage had been rented for some time, the site of the present Primary School was adopted and the old site sold for £140.
(‘ A Brief History of the School', edited by Mr. Dash 1962).

And then there was a building…

Finally, in 1883 a temporary building was erected on the site at Parke Street. Over the years the enrollment increased and more buildings were erected to provide additional accommodation.
Mr. Dash's account continues:
‘The first wooden temporary building was replaced and a new building opened in 1891 by the then Minister of Education, Sir J. H. Curruthers. The number of children attending was now rapidly increasing and in 1892 a local newspaper published this paragraph:
‘Previously when the Municipal Council asked for extensions to the school building it was merely to make it more like a school and less like a barn. Now the scene changes and instead of seeing the schoolhouse comfortably filled we see children packed like sardines in a box. The Mountains are very fertile and young Australians are shooting up like mushrooms. Last Wednesday 170 attended the school. The Council ought to take the matter up again'.
Early in 1883 a, new wing was built in Parke Street. The roughness of the playground was a source of continuing complaints, a petition in 1899 stated:
"The surface is completely studded with ironstone outcrop, is most uneven, and in its present state entirely unfitted for the purpose for which it is intended. Several serious accidents have occurred; in one instance a child's leg was broken".
Improvements were made, but the school continued to outgrow both the buildings and playground.
Almost from 1883 onwards, the residents felt that the facilities were not adequate and continued to lobby the Department of Education to upgrade the accommodation and later to provide secondary education for the children.
Katoomba Superior Public School July 29th 1913
In 1912 two properties on the south side of the site and some land on the opposite side of Parke Street were resumed and a new residence for the Headmaster was built. For a while, the Masonic Hall (later the Town Hall) was rented as additional classrooms. In 1914-15 a new building was erected on the east side of Parke Street &emdash; later the main portion of the High School building. At the end of 1917 the Katoomba School Board informed the Department that they would like a District School to be formed at Katoomba.

Secondary Education

The establishment of Katoomba District School in 1919 brought secondary education to Katoomba. Prior to that date students who wished to proceed to secondary studies had to travel to Parramatta High School. They left Katoomba Railway Station at 6.24 a.m. and returned to Katoomba at 8.06 p.m. It was no wonder that many potential scholars were unable to endure the long hours of travel and the cold conditions and left school before completing their Intermediate Certificate.

The Emergence 1919 – 1930

Not all of Katoomba's pioneer students enrolled in First Year. Students, tired of the long hours of travel, transferred from Parramatta, Waverley, North Sydney, Ashfield Junior Technical High, Chatswood Domestic Science School and several private schools.
According to the Inspector's Report, there were 61 students enrolled in July, 1919, although in the March quarter there were 113, many enrolled temporarily. Some of these students had fled Sydney for the pure air of the mountains during the influenza epidemic. Of the original "permanent" students who enrolled in 1919, there were 51 in First Year, 30 in Remove and II in Second Year. At that time an extra year had been added to the Leaving Certificate, and the additional year, ‘Remove', was placed between First Year and Second Year. Bright students could still go straight from First Year to Second Year and complete the Intermediate Certificate in two years. It would seem that the idea of Accelerated Learning is not a 1990's innovation!
Parents and citizens continued their struggle to have the secondary school upgraded so students could proceed to the Leaving Certificate and those who wished could proceed to tertiary education. In 1920 the school was declared an Intermediate High School and in 1923 the first Fifth Year students, presented for the Leaving Certificate
During this time the activities of the school became more varied. Sport was played on Wednesday afternoons and the boys played in the town competitions. At that time Wednesday afternoon was a half holiday on the Mountains. Music was a feature of the school and plays and concerts were held in the Town Hall. The school badge and motto, Truth Honour Duty', were adopted, the design of the badge being the result of a competition among the students. A school uniform for girls was introduced in 1927 but it was not until 1943 that a uniform was introduced for boys.
Modem technology made its debut at Katoomba in 1927 with the purchase of a typewriter and a duplicator. This luxury was not within the Department of Education's budget and fund raising activities, such as the lunch hour gramophone concerts, entry 3d., had to be held to raise the money to pay for these innovations.
It is interesting to note that at this time the proceeds from the School Fete, held annually, went not to the school but to the local hospital.

The Depression

The Depression of the early 30's made its mark. The Admission Registers show clearly that many students left school without any employment prospects. "At Home" is listed as employment for most of the girls leaving school and many of the boys as well. The first recorded entry of a girl being unemployed appears in 1934.
In an endeavour to economise in 1930 the Department of Education decided not to engage the Town Hall for the Intermediate and Leaving Certificate Examinations. The Mayor and Aldermen made the hall available free of charge.

War in the Mountains

What a time of change! The entry into the Second World War by Japan in 1941 and the subsequent shelling of Sydney brought an influx of students evacuated from the city to the safer regions of the Blue Mountains. This placed an even greater strain on the already stretched accommodation of the school. Almost every available Council and Church hall were pressed into service as emergency classrooms. When the Munitions factory was opened at Lithgow even more students enrolled in the Intermediate High School.
The War brought new priorities to Katoomba. The school's Cookery School was used by the National Emergency Services (N.E.S.) as a First Aid Post. This was not always a happy arrangement and the unaccounted disappearance of an electric iron led the then Staff Inspector, to recommend that the N.E.S. find premises elsewhere. However, the Principal, Mr. E. Bentley, who was at the coal face, recommended that the First Aid Post should stay at the school. He pointed out that the National Emergency Services had paid to have the electric light installed in the Cookery School and that this was a great benefit to the students on dull days of which, he reminded the Department, Katoomba had a great number! After a great deal of toing and froing the First Aid Post finally moved. There is no mention in the records of the N.E.S. disconnecting the electricity, but one would not have blamed them if they had.
No doubt the threat of invasion by the Japanese and the increase in enrollments drew attention to the lack of a telephone at the High School. In 1943 the Department of Education agreed to the P.&C. Association's request to install a telephone provided the P.&C. Association paid the ground rental, the installation costs and repaired any damage effected during the installation. The Department made it clear that it would not be responsible for any of these costs nor would it pay for any calls. In these days of advanced telephone communications and fax machines, the mind boggles as to how the school managed.

A Different Conflict

Sport was always a feature of Katoomba but the Department did not make things easy for the teachers. Every year a separate application had to be made to the Inspector to hold the Athletics Carnival and the Swimming Carnival Permission, also, had to be sought for the student sporting teams to travel to Springwood and Penrith to engage in Inter School activities with the Burnside Homes, (then evacuated to Springwood) and Penrith Intermediate High School.

High School Status

When the school was upgraded to a High School in 1943 some confusion arose about the placement of students who lived from Springwood to Doonside. Many of the parents at Springwood wanted their children to transfer to Katoomba. However, the Department decided that this would place too much strain on the accommodation at Katoomba and only new enrolments in First Year 1944 came from further down the mountain than Faulconbridge.

Growing Pains Continue

By now it was obvious that the original site could no longer accommodate all the students from Kindergarten to Fifth Year and once again the Congregational Hall was used as temporary classrooms.

 Campaign for a bigger school site.


The New School

Once the War ended in 1945 the Parents and Citizens' Association and local residents made strenuous representations to the Department of Education to have a separate High School built on a more suitable site which would allow for expansion.
Several sites were proposed for the new school. It was not surprising that each locality favoured its own area, Blackheath Municipal Council favoured Medlow Bath, and the residents of Leura a site between Lovell and Cumberland Streets. In the end, there were four sites put forward for serious consideration:
  • Site I "Davies" Dairy West of the Station.Cost 900 Pounds.
  • Site 2 "Royal Guest House". Cost 1800 Pounds.
  • Site 3 Katoomba North Cost 3000 Pounds.
  • Site 4 Martin Street site. Cost 7000 Pounds.
In 1947, the Teachers Federation and the NSW P&C Association launched a campaign for a ‘New Deal for Education'. Local P&C members orchestrated a Council meeting to, amongst other things, push for the acquisition of land at Martin St. for a new High school.
In 1947 the Martin Street site comprising almost 16 acres was acquired by resumption and purchase. However, the wheels of government grind forward very slowly, powered no doubt by available funds, and so little activity was evident until 1958. At the Annual Speech Day in that year the Hon. J. H. Robson, Esq., M. M., M.L.A. assured the assembled company that tenders for the new school would be called on 3Ist May 1959. This must have been music to the ears of the Parents and Citizens' Association which had been running a strong campaign for many years.

 In his address the Hon. J. H. Robson said:
" Let me assure you that the new school which you have been promised and for which tenders will be called on 31 St May, will provide the most modern facilities for secondary education students. There will be no dearth of accommodation or equipment for a wide variety of courses so that the needs of every child can be catered for. "
Enrolments in the High School had grown from 400 in 1943 to 700 in 1958. Parents, students and governments alike had realised the importance of public education and the Hon. Robson promised that the proposed school had " been designed for growing enrolments. It has been estimated that there will be accommodation for 28 classes compared with the 19 classes the school has now. Under suitable teaching conditions, 28 classes will provide for a maximum capacity of 1,000 students."
The hopes and aspirations of the Blue Mountains residents seemed to be realised when on 25th February 1959 the Hon. R. J. Heffron, M.L.A., Deputy Premier and Minister of Education laid the Foundation Stone. He said then that:
" Many of you will be well aware that your new high school here at Katoomba will cost over £311,000. This fine site was secured by purchase and resumption in 1947 so that the new school will be well situated on a site of nearly 16 acres. The building will be ready by early 1960, if all goes well."
New school in Martin Street.

Move to Martin Street

It was a credit to the builders that students and staff were able to move into the new building at the end of first term 1960. At the Official Opening on 26th February, 1962 the Hon. J. H. Robson said:
" The new buildings, erected by Messrs. Kell and Rigby at a contract price of £311,500, are constructed of reinforced concrete with was largely of glass set in aluminium frames together with porcelain enamel infill panels. Accommodation includes eighteen class and general activity rooms, rooms equipped for instruction in science, biology, woodwork, metalwork, descriptive geometry, home science, needlework, typing, geography and art, a library, clinic and offices. A brick gymnasium has been provided and a heating and ventilation plant installed by A. C. T. Engineering Co. Ltd., at a cost of £924,281."
During 1960 tenders were invited for the construction of an assembly hall, and in July, one submitted by W. McNamara Pty. Ltd. for £949,904 was accepted.
The hall was completed in time for the Official Opening. In February 1979 the front of the hall was finally painted for the visit of the Duke and Duchess of Gloucester.
How grateful everyone must have been to move into the new buildings in Martin Street and have plenty of room for all the classes and sufficient specialist rooms for the wider curriculum.

Wyndham Scheme

During this era, the Wyndham Report was adopted and the Higher School Certificate introduced at the end of a sixth year. The additional year was not the only change. Previously students remained in the one class for every subject and schools were a quiet place – well fairly quiet. The Wyndham Scheme introduced different levels of study in all subjects. Students moved from one class to another according to the level at which they were studying.
" Movement and noise had to be accepted as being normal," Stan Wick reminded parents in 1973.
At last, it seemed that Katoomba High School was satisfactorily housed and that secondary education with courses suitable for all students could continue. Good education did indeed continue but curriculum changes during the 60's and increasing enrolments placed further strain on the accommodation at Katoomba High. Once again the local parents and residents had to lobby the government for additional accommodation. In December 1963 the Minister approved the erection of the following:
" Our classrooms with two stores, a senior reading room a double art room with two stores, a music rural science laboratory with an animal and plant room an office, staff study, staff toilets, stores, a cleaners' room and additional toilet facilities. Conversions to existing accommodation were approved to provide a metalwork room. "
Monier Building Pty. Ltd. completed this wing at a cost of 123,439 Pounds ready for occupation in April 1966.
This and the opening of Springwood High in 1967 relieved the situation for some time.

The Flood of 1978

The Mountains and its residents were accustomed to cold, mist, snow, and bushfires but not flood. The roof of the main building had leaked almost from its erection in 1960. During the Summer Vacation of 1977-78 work was commenced on repairs to the roof. It was an extremely wet summer and the rain just poured in and flooded every floor. Once again the students were scattered to temporary accommodation throughout the mountains or in demountables erected hurriedly in the school grounds. Years 9, 10 and 12 remained at Martin Street; Year 8 went to Mount St. Marys; Year 11 to St. Columbas and Year 7 students were divided between the Primary School and Merriwa Street.

 The flood of 1978.


Cocky proof roof

It is interesting to note that the leaking roof continued to gather volumes of correspondence and endless temporary repairs until finally, in 1991, a pitched roof was erected. The cockatoos do not find the corrugated iron as appetising as the tar based covering of the past.

New Library/Science Block

The 1970's proved no different from the 1890's and although young Australians were not 'shooting up like mushrooms', immigration and the increase in residential development on the mountains, resulted in increased enrollments. A peak of 1300 students was reached. Further extensions were built – a more modern library, four science laboratories, and a science staff room opened in 1979. The original design did not include a covered way to connect this new building to the remainder of the school. Once again local pressure had to be brought to bear to make the Department accept the reality of Katoomba's weather and the covered way was built.

Change, Change (l981-1994)

This has been an era of tremendous and rapid explosion in knowledge and the school curriculums have had to change to keep pace with the developing technology, and changing community attitudes to issues such as non-racism, non-sexism, work-based programs, work experience, equal opportunity, greater parent and community involvement and student-oriented courses. During this time Katoomba saw the appointment of its first female Principal, Deputy Principal and Leading Teacher. Perhaps, because of the close-knit nature of the mountains community these changes have been executed smoothly and to the benefit of the students.
The school enrolments continued to grow in spite of the opening of additional high schools in the neighbouring towns of Emu Plains (Nepean High), Springwood, Blaxland and Winmalee. From time to time demountable accommodation has been erected and dismantled as enrolments varied.

1995 - Support gets a new home

In 1995, Katoomba High School finally had a purpose designed building constructed to house the Support Unit. No longer would these students & staff have to put up with being in demountable classrooms away from the rest of the school. The demountables were freezing in winter, like ovens in summer and had numerous leaks whenever it rained. The new building was located next to the Library/Science block. So it did not add any extra length to our claim to have " The longest continuous school building in the Southern Hemisphere", unlike the other 2 previous building additions.