Imagine paying a visit to your old public school only to find a housing estate had risen in its place. Or found yourself in an unfamiliar park instead. Or that it was now a private school. And when you look around for a plaque or other marker to commemorate the history of the site – your history – there’s nothing.
What would you tell your children? “I used to play where that townhouse is”, “my first kiss was where that cricket pitch is now”, or “I broke my arm falling from the peppercorn tree that is now the science wing of a private school”.
Unfortunately, this is the experience of thousands of people who attended Victorian schools from 1990 to the present day. Hundreds of schools simply disappeared. Sure, historical societies and school reunion organisers keep the memories alive, but that’s not enough. Where is the official acknowledgement of the formative years of all those people? People who are justified in asking: “What about Me?”
The Kennett Government is often ‘credited’ with closing 350 Victorian schools during its term of office (1992-1999). However, this is not entirely accurate, as the preceding Cain/Kirner Government was the architect of major education rationalisation during the 1980s. Whatever the philosophy behind merging technical and high schools, the resultant multi-campus secondary colleges were ripe for cost-cutting measures. Many campuses were closed and sold off, sooner or later.
The Kennett Government dramatically escalated a process that its predecessor had already commenced. Both governments were looking for deep savings, and declining school enrolments made land sales an attractive target. A temporary lull in population growth meant that government schools were in a weak position, particularly in the older, inner suburbs.
Merging technical and high schools in the late 1980s made things easier for the savage cost-cutting that followed soon after. The Kennett Government didn’t do things by halves, so that by the end of the 1990s a great many schools throughout Victoria had disappeared from street directories.
Back to the final tally. Was it 350? Or 300? What then? We could not find a master list, and ultimately gave up trying. We’ve left the ‘Kennett 350’ to folklore, and instead turned our attention to assembling a master list based on defined parameters: what’s ‘in’ and what’s ‘out’. So far we have documented nearly 200 schools, dominated by the Greater Melbourne area and the Bellarine and Mornington Peninsulas. Regional Victoria entries are mostly from the towns at this stage, with many small schools still to be added.
However, it is possible that 350 is an exaggeration, based on a simplistic approach to the definition of school closures. The What’s Out factors help to balance the argument.
The 21st Century
While school closures declined markedly following the defeat of the Kennett Government in 1999, there have still been over 150 closures across Victoria since then. Often couched in euphemistic terms like ‘regeneration’ or ‘enhanced curriculum provision’, former students know the difference between their old school and a housing estate.
We are in the process of documenting the lost schools of the post 2000 era, using the same principles applied to the 1990s.
- Schools closed during the 1990s and the 21st Century only. While schools were closed before and after that decade it was not to the same reckless, short-sighted extent that left Victoria in its current planning predicament.
- Victoria-wide, not just Melbourne and environs.
- When a school was merged into a multi-campus secondary school, and then that campus was closed. This was a common ploy, whereby the Education Department could pretend that schools had not been closed at all. Local residents were not fooled.
- When a school became a TAFE (Technical and Further Education) institution. Although still Victorian Government education facilities, they do not cater for primary or secondary age children. Therefore, those schools were deemed closed.
- When a heritage-listed school became apartments. Although the preservation of historically significant architecture is essential, the buildings no longer served an education purpose.
- When a school became public open space. Although benefitting the community, the schools had clearly gone.
- When a school became a special needs educational facility. Governments are expected to do both: provide suitable resources for the education of children with special needs and provide schools for the general population.
- When a government school is sold to the private sector. Yes, there will still be a school on the site; no, it will not be free and secular.
- There were instances of an ongoing primary school becoming a secondary school or vice-versa. While a government school would still be operating in the local area, the enrolment conditions would have changed significantly. Therefore, the closed schools have been included.
- Familiar school names have been retained to assist recognition. Former students and local residents are unlikely to remember short-lived campus names imposed by bureaucrats.
- New names for existing schools that survived the cull. Many schools were renamed in the 1990s, but little else changed. They are therefore not included in the list.
- Schools rebuilt nearby, with or without a new name. New freeways or shopping centres can find a school in an awkward geographical position. It was noted that in several cases government planners had met multiple infrastructure needs by rebuilding a school nearby. We have excluded these scenarios from the tally because a suitable government school continued to operate in the local area.
- Those merged with adjacent schools.
- ‘De-staffed’ schools. It’s not uncommon for small rural schools to be ‘closed’ for a few years and then reopen when some new families move into the district. Dargo Primary School is a recent example, with a record of open>de-staffed>open>de-staffed since 1996.
Do you have a story to tell?
The master list needs some work: completing the information for the 1990s and the 21st Century, particularly the regional Victoria contingent. Individuals and historical societies will be integral to the task ahead.
You may have lost your primary school, or your secondary school, or both. You’ll have a story to tell, and we’re here to help. We hear you when you ask: “What about me?”
Please contact us at ua.moc.tsapehtmorfgninraelnull@seiriuqne. We’d love to hear from you.