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Melbourne Polytechnic in the 1940s


During this decade, the growth of Collingwood and Preston Technical schools was dominated by the war effort, post-war reconstruction and migration, and the reintegration of returned servicemen into the local economy.

A number of Collingwood and Preston Technical school staff members enlisted to fight and, sadly, a number of them (like Preston Senior Assistant, Thomas Thrupp) never returned to resume their teaching careers.

While students at Collingwood Tech were rehearsing air raid defence drills in newly dug trenches near Wellington Street, their Principal, Alexander Strang, was defending the technical education system against the attacks from educational bureaucrats who were labelling the nation’s technical education system as “second rate”.

Despite a devastating fire that destroyed its Boot and Shoe, Plumbing and Sheet metal Departments, Collingwood Technical School’s contribution to the war effort greatly exceeded its relative funding and resources. The school ran classes night and day in specific trades with some practical classes going through until dawn. Collingwood also produced numerous pieces of equipment for the war effort – everything from Morse key sets to lathes and milling equipment.

At the same time, Preston Technical School was expanding rapidly. By 1940 the school was spilling out into temporary classrooms in neighbouring state schools while senior evening and apprentice classes were added in 1941. By the late 1940s the school was experiencing dramatic growth with the development of new residential estates in Melbourne’s north and the impact of post-war migration to Australia.

The establishment of the Commonwealth Reconstruction Training Scheme in 1944, to retrain returned servicemen, resulted in the fast-tracking of skills training and the eventual shortening of the traditional 5-year post-school apprenticeship – changing the nature of trade training forever.

While the new Scheme meant that many men returning from the war could look forward to a new future, it also accelerated the exit of semi-skilled workers or ‘dilutees’ who had taken their place during the war. Many of these ‘dilutees’ were women, and while society expected the majority to return to roles as homemakers, the opening up of technical education to women was now gathering momentum. Preston Tech was at the forefront of this push and in 1949 a deputation to the Minister of Education succeeded in a bid to establish a girl’s technical school in Preston.

Student Enrolments

By 1949 Collingwood Technical School had 1777 Post Secondary enrolments (figures for Secondary School enrolments not available).