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Melbourne Polytechnic in the 1920s

banner 1920s

This decade was one of enormous challenge for the newly federated nation as it went from coping with reintegrating soldiers back into the community and economy to the commencement of the Great Depression.

Following World War I, technical schools played their part in rehabilitating returned servicemen. In Victoria, the Returned Soldiers Training Scheme was operating via the Repatriation Department and Collingwood Technical School focused on wood-machining for the making of toys, which ironically, prior to the war, were imported from Germany. The returned servicemen undertaking this training had little prior experience in this activity and many were disabled due to physical or mental breakdowns.

Despite misgivings among some educational theorists and bureaucrats about the early streaming of young adolescents into trade specific education, technical education (which had proved to be so popular with students and industry) was now facing new problems brought on by the increased demand.

Around this time Collingwood Technical School was growing and adding more trade classes to its syllabus including cabinet making in 1922 and Joinery in 1923. The suburb of Collingwood was establishing itself as the Victorian hub for the boot and shoe trade and Collingwood Technical School responded to the needs of local boot and shoe makers with training programs for boot and shoe workers. This began a long tradition of working with industry as the School developed alliances with major manufacturers such as The British United Shoe Machinery Company of Australia. NMIT continues the tradition of providing vocational training to meet the needs of industry and the community to this day.

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)

NMIT and the Boot Trade

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, 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 providing 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.

Land acquired to expand Collingwood Technical School

In the early 1920s land was acquired in Perry and Johnson Streets, Collingwood to expand Collingwood Technical School with a new building occupied by 1924.

Johnson Street campus now occupied 35 to 57 Johnson Street.

Compulsory schooling for 'proclaimed trades'

1928: The Apprenticeship Act was passed in Victoria, requiring compulsory schooling for ‘proclaimed trades’. At this time Collingwood Technical School offered the following ‘proclaimed trades’:Boot and Shoe classes, Cabinet Making, Carpentry (Handrailing and Staircasing and Joinery); Machine Shop Practice (Heat Treatment Steel, Milling, Gear Cutting, and Grinding, Tool Jig and Gauge Making; Plastering; Plumbing; Wood Machining; Electrical and Radio Fitting; Electric Wiring.

Technical schools gaining traction

While the concept of a technical school was expanded to include distinct girls' schools and the Catholic school system begun to introduce technical schools, the new educational theorists and bureaucrats who were becoming influential, were not pleased with such early ‘streaming’ of students into trade areas. The idea of blending technical schools into existing high schools was beginning to gather momentum and starting to influence governments.

Student Enrolments

1929 - by 1929 Collingwood Technical School had 593 secondary and 695 post-secondary enrolments.

In 1928 The Apprenticeship Act was passed in Victoria requiring compulsory schooling for each proclaimed apprenticeship trade.