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Passion for Collingwood Technical School yields trove for NMIT Archive Centre

22 Mar 2013

William (Bill) Gray, 83, has never forgotten the education he received at Collingwood Technical School (CTS) during the difficult years of the Second World War.

Bill was a CTS student for three years from 1943, earning his merit and junior technical certificates. He continued to attend the school for another five years as an apprentice electrical fitter and armature winder.

“I've always been grateful to Collingwood Tech,” Bill says. “It taught me a lot and held me in good stead for the rest of my life. There's not much I can't fix - and it all came from that education, my apprenticeship and my work. Now it's time to say thanks.”

Bill was concerned CTS's history was being lost and its important educational role forgotten. “I was dismayed that such a remarkable institution didn't seem to be remembered or respected. Collingwood Tech was one of the state's great schools, it played a crucial part in training people for the shoe and boot trade, as well as many other trades. I don't want to see that history forgotten - this was a school that took people off the street and educated them for a job, a living and a future.”

NMIT began as Collingwood Technical School in 1912. The school, on Johnston Street, originally offered five courses: carpentry, turning and fitting, plastering, plumbing and bricklaying. In 1937 Preston Technical School opened, becoming the biggest technical school in Victoria. In 1988 Collingwood and Preston colleges merged to become the Northern Metropolitan College of TAFE. Additional campuses were subsequently established at Heidelberg, Greensborough, Epping, Fairfield and Ararat. The name Northern Melbourne Institute of TAFE was adopted in 1996.

Bill was determined to preserve CTS's history, but it was a challenge that proved formidable. “Nobody had any information. I tried the State Library, Education Department, Public Records Office, Royal Victorian Historical Society, City of Yarra Council, Collingwood Historical Society and many others with no success. The Museum of Victoria even declined the CTS cap I offered to donate. They just weren't interested.”

The cap was particularly close to Bill's heart. Similar to the one he wore at school, the cap was left to him after the death of a friend who also attended CTS during the Second World War.

These setbacks made Bill even more determined. He placed an ad in the 'Desperately Seeking' page of the Herald-Sun seeking information, photos, stories, anecdotes, badges and memorabilia related to the school. He added he was trying to place the material with a suitable state archival body.

At that stage he wasn't sure if such a body existed, so when Ann Rizio, Coordinator of NMIT's Archive Centre, rang he was overjoyed.

“Ann's call was like manna from heaven. She told me the Archive Centre had recently been established to record the history of NMIT - and CTS was an important part of that history. So I gathered up all the treasures I had collected and passed them on to the institution so their researchers could record and preserve them. Since then my sense of responsibility eased. I've done the best I can.”

Bill's ad in the Herald-Sun attracted over 20 calls, many callers subsequently donating items including another school cap, a school band blazer, a Collingwood Harriers badge, a poster, essays and photos.

“I'd like all these items to be recorded, preserved and remembered, so that Victorians can appreciate the valuable role CTS played in many people's lives. I helped get the ball rolling; the institution can take it from here.”

For further information on the NMIT Archive Centre call Ann Rizio on 03 9269 8836 or email . The centre is located in Building Q, Yarra Bend Road, Fairfield, 3078.

Bill Gray is happy to chat from any students of the period on 03 9417 5523 or


Interview / Photo Opportunity

Media enquiries should be directed to the NMIT Communications Coordinator, James Gardener, on (03) 92691579, 0413 483 182 or

NMIT (Northern Melbourne Institute of TAFE) - Situated on six campuses and six training centres throughout Melbourne's north plus a regional campus at Ararat, NMIT delivers vocational training, higher education and lifelong learning capabilities for a global workforce. NMIT forges partnerships with community, industry and government to produce practical, solution orientated graduates capable of making meaningful contributions to their chosen field of endeavour.