Following the end of the First World War, Collingwood Technical School played an important part in the rehabilitation of returned soldiers many of whom were either physically and / or mentally damaged by their war experience.
Many returned servicemen also had little in the way of vocational skills so training in skills based occupations was essential to reintegrate them back into the economy.
“Fortunately both the Principal of the School and the Instructor were sympathetic and experienced men,” said Donald Clark (Victorian Minister of Public Instruction) of Collingwood Technical School and the wood machining program it provided for returned servicemen.
“Men who had no previous knowledge of wood-machine tools, after from six to twelve months training, secured positions in woodworking establishments at the highest rate of wages; others have been successfully established in businesses. The most marked advantage of the training has been the regeneration of men, shell-shocked and often partly crippled, who would otherwise have drifted and become dependent on the community for support.” (Donald Clark, ‘Report of the Minister of Public Instruction for 1917-18; Reported in Scott, 1988)
As the suburb of Collingwood became a hub for the boot and shoe trade, Collingwood Technical School became a key player in the industry, providing specialised training and working closely with individual manufacturers.
In 1924 a Mr A. Whybrow, a proprietor of one of the largest firms making boots and shoes in Victoria, and a member of the School Council, donated £200 (equivalent to about $6000 today) worth of equipment to the school; he also prepared the first syllabus.
The British United Shoe Machinery Company of Australia (B.U.S.M.) granted machinery to the value of £1000 (about $30,000 today) as well as provided training and technical education. By 1932 B.U.S.M had provided equipment worth up to £4000 (about $130,000) to the school and made possible the expansion of the school’s footwear department. Up until 1943 machinery to the value of £13,000 (about $360,000) had been donated to the school by B.U.S.M., an indication not just of their good-will and support for the footwear industry, but an indication of the importance of this trade in that time.
Classes in clicking, stuff cutting, finishing, making pumps (soft shoes used by men in ballroom dancing) and machine-sewn footwear started in 1924 and numbers peaked just before World War II when 474 students were enrolled in the footwear courses. Some of the boots and shoes were made, and supplied at cost, by Collingwood Technical School to the Children’s Welfare Department.