A Step Back in Time

From humble beginnings as a technical school in the Colonial Era – a glimpse into Prahran’s vibrant history

Image : © Judith Buckrich 2007

The year before Prahran Tech opened in Melbourne, the First World War had begun and Australian soldiers were abroad fighting in Gallipoli. Prahran Tech was established in 1915 by the Prahran Mechanics’ Institute and Prahran Council in those turbulent times, and was home to many firsts in education. The business school had one of the state’s first computer sections, and the campus had Australia’s first Planned Parenthood clinic and on-campus crèche. The district was named Prahran by the missionary George Langhorne in 1856, and is said to be a combination of two Aboriginal words meaning ‘land partly surrounded by water’ (being close to the Yarra River).

Image : © Judith Buckrich 2007

If you studied on Prahran campus in the 1930s, you might have been enrolling in subjects such as Sign Writing and Ticket Writing in the Senior Art School – the beginning of Design. In the 1950s, you could also expect to find a reasonably priced ham and pineapple sandwich at the cafeteria for 20c or a Porterhouse steak and vegetables for 80c, while a white coffee would set you back 10c. Encompassing a vibrant history, Prahran Campus’ major milestones and character is superbly captured in Judith Buckrich’s book Design for Living: A History of Prahran Tech – available at through the Prahran Mechanics’ Institute It is a great read, and here is just a glimpse into some of that fascinating history.

Image : © Judith Buckrich 2007

Dressmaking and Millinery classes for the girls

Before mass produced clothing, dressmaking was an essential skill and livelihood for many women. The 1920s saw rising demand for girls and women to study in the Preparatory School and the Senior School, at a time when most girls left school around the age of fourteen. They studied subjects such as Needlework, Care of Children, Applied Hygiene, Household Economics and Nursing offered at the College of Domestic Economy. The principal of the school Brenda Sutherland (from 1917 to 1924) is recognised as improving girls’ education, and in 1923 there was even talk of women to study evening cabinet making classes – there were no objections just a lack of space that meant it couldn’t proceed.

Image : © Judith Buckrich 2007

Famous artists studied at Prahran

The first art classes were offered at the Mechanics’ Institute in Chapel Street, but these classes and the institute were greatly affected by the global economic depression around 1987, and narrowly escaped closure. From 1960, Art and Design courses were offered at tertiary level, and overseas students began enrolling in the school. The school welcomed on board a new Principal, Alan Edwin Warren, (previously employed at RMIT in the School of Art) where he saw art education as being able to train the mind, and to develop the student’s manual skills.

Some famous Australian artists studied at Prahran Tech. Most notably, was Bill Henson (from 1973-74) who enrolled at seventeen, and then – aged only nineteen – was having his first exhibition at the National Gallery of Victoria. Another iconic Australian artist to study here was Sidney Nolan, who studied at Prahran in 1932. Find out what courses we currently offer.

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Last Modified: 30th November 2017