The Beginnings of the Mordialloc-Chelsea High School

Mordialloc College, 2007.

The Town Clerk of the Borough of Mentone and Mordialloc , Mr Jenkins, wrote in December 1922 to the Education Department requesting that a high school be built in the district. This was the first piece of correspondence on the official Department file regarding this matter and was quickly followed in the New Year by a letter from the Borough of Carrum on the same issue. [1] This suggests that the origin of the movement to gain a district high school was in the Borough of Mentone and Mordialloc but in fact it was the Borough of Carrum that was given the credit by the Mordialloc councillor, Cr Blanche in 1924 for the honour [2]

The people of Carrum were searching for a suitable memorial in 1920 to record the sacrifice of young men of the district killed in the Great World War and among several alternatives a technical school was suggested by Mr Mapperson. [3] (At the time a proposal to establish a technical school at Caulfield was being widely discussed.) Rev E J Durance and Cr H A Hunter were appointed delegates of the Memorial Committee to interview Education Department officials regarding the likelihood of the Department supporting such a request. A few months later the suggestion of a technical school was replaced with the idea of a high school. [4] For a time various groups and individuals advocated the memorial high school but ultimately it was aborted in favour of a memorial hall. Nevertheless, there were those in the community who persisted with the idea of a district high school.

In 1922 a local paper was praising the government and cabinet for their progressive policy regarding the provision of education in the outer suburbs where the demand for extra schools was growing. In particular, mention was made of a system that embraced primary, higher elementary high schools and technical schools. [5] The following month Seaside News reported that the Director of Education on a visit to the Mentone Borough indicated to the mayor his view that a suitable site for a school would be in the vicinity of Highett.. This statement was later modified to indicate the only high school being considered in the area would be at Frankston. [6] Despite this rebuff the newspaper item generated considerable local interest to such an extent that a group of people from the Carrum Borough was nominated to confer with Mentone-Mordialloc on the local high school proposal. [7]

The meeting between the representatives of the two borough councils affirmed the need for a local high school and the desirability of combined action. A local newspaper supporting this position pointed out that mastery of the three R’s was no longer sufficient to equip students for the “strenuous battle of life”. [8] While it was acknowledged there were three fee paying private schools in the district providing a secondary education, it was claimed they were beyond the financial capacity of the majority of citizens. [9] High schools on the other hand had to provide for “the child of the humblest home” with the same facilities as “the heir to a mansion”. [10] To gain such a facility land had to be provided for the school site, but according to the newspaper this was not a problem as there was a property within close proximity to the Mordialloc station which could be secured if the municipality acted promptly.

Progress was slow and described by one councillor as shameful. Several joint committees had been established after the meeting between members drawn from the two boroughs but the committees formed seldom met and no reports had been made to their respective councils. Carrum councillors expressed disappointment at the rate of progress and urged the Mentone-Mordialloc mayor and chairman of the joint High School Committee to provide more leadership . Of all the committees the site committee was the most active and members had agreed to recommend to the councils that Attenborough Park be offered to the Education Department as a suitable site. Cr Beardsworth expressed some reservations about the alienation of public land, but in this case he saw it as an exception because it was for the benefit of the public. [11]

On the site of the Proposed High School Visit of the Education Minister (Sir Alex. Peacock) to Attenborough Park. The group includes the Minister, Mr Groves, MLA. Mr Snowball MLA; Mr Frank Tate, Director of Education; Mr Hansen, Chief Inspector; the Mayor , and Councillors of Mordialloc and Carrum, and representatives of public bodies. Courtesy Chelsea and District Historical Society.

A survey of local primary schools was undertaken in an attempt to establish the number of potential students for the new school. The replies indicated that 346 pupils would be eligible for enrolment and this figure did not include students from Mentone and Carrum State Schools. The Rev Durance voiced some scepticism about this figure as he had been informed that from those eligible at Chelsea only about six students were interested in progressing to secondary education. He said that a great number of boys left school at their first opportunity and did not want any higher education. Cr Boyd, on the other hand, was convinced that if they went forward boldly with the creation of the high school it would not want for applicants. [12]

Some residents were in favour of opening a district high school but others opposed it. There were those who greeted the news with unbounded enthusiasm for it meant some relief to the pressure on the health of primary school teachers who were struggling with classes numbering from 70 to 100 pupils. [13] Others saw it as bait offered by politicians to garner support for their party in the forthcoming elections and believed it was bait to be avoided. Moreover, one correspondent to the local paper, “Educationalist”, expressed the view that high schools “only added to the large ranks of non producers who concentrate in the crowded centres”. For him the better option was to support the private schools as there “students experience a more complete form of education where teachers pay more attention to the individual training of students and aim to turn out desirable citizens.” [14]

At the beginning of 1924 word was received by the Carrum Council that the new high school would commence in February under the direction of Mr E Brine as temporary headmaster. The new school was officially proclaimed in the Education Gazette noting that it commenced on February 18, 1924. [15] Staff had been appointed to teach the foundation group of students selected to commence their secondary education at the new school. Each student under the age of 14 years, who possessed a qualifying or merit certificate, was promised enrolment. In addition to a certificate, each enrolling student was expected to bring a report from the teacher of the school where he or she had previously attended. [16]

At the beginning of the 1924 the school commenced its foundation year in temporary accommodation. The councils had agreed to lease the Mordialloc Mechanics’ Institute at a rental of £150 per annum. In addition both Mordialloc and Carrum councils agreed to grant the Education Department £1000 towards the cost of building the new school on the selected Attenborough Reserve. [17] Some critics of the proposal to build a high school focussed on the £1000 that each council was to pay the Education Department towards the building costs. Cr Downe of Mordialloc wanted a referendum of ratepayers before the money was handed over, although he expressed support for the concept of a high school. One ratepayer described the payment of the £1000 as an imposition that would be practically criminal.

Ignoring the minor criticism, the project of establishing a high school at Mordialloc proceeded with the official opening taking place shortly after the beginning of the school year. Cr Beardsworth of Chelsea was given the honour of performing the ceremony. He spoke of his untold pleasure in seeing this facility being obtained for the children of the district and suggested the motto of the new school would be “Nil Desperandum”. ‘Never despair’ was the motto of those who sought the school, and in spite of carping critics, brought success. He saw the school going on to produce national leaders. [18]

Cr G R Beardsworth, Mayor of Chelsea 1929/30 and councillor for many years. Courtesy Kingston Collection.

Controversy came early in the history of the school when time came to elect a school advisory council. Some members of the original High School Committee were disappointed about the manner in which the council was selected. The local paper believed the pioneers of the movement to gain a high school were shamefully ignored and that some of the important positions were “cut and dried” before the meeting took place. It was further alleged that the meeting, which was quietly convened, was packed by certain unnamed sections of the community. The claim was that attendance was in no way representative of the districts from which the students were drawn. “Scholium” in his letter to the News asked when responsible citizens were going to “wake up the propaganda wiles of a certain Labor extremist in our midst.” He also asked how many of the persons from Chelsea who attended the meeting had children eligible to attend and “if several individuals had no offspring at all.” [19] The News said it was only fair to declare the meeting null and void and hold a properly convened meeting in its place. This was not done.

An advisory council was formed under the authority of the Education Act. Its membership consisted of nine members appointed for three years with the possibility of re-election at the end of their tenure. There was provision for removal of members by the Governor in Council if particular offences occurred. The council had to meet at least six times a year and any member absent without reasonable excuse for three consecutive meetings forfeited the position. The role of the council was to provide a general oversight over buildings and grounds. In addition, the body was expected to promote measures for beautifying and improving the grounds, arranging equipment for school rooms and establishing and maintaining a library.

At the first meeting of the council the Rev Collocott was unanimously elected as chairman. Mr Meier was elected treasurer and Mr Brine as headmaster automatically took up the role of secretary. Other members were Crs Gilmour, Beardsworth, Richardson, Mesdames Stokes and Buckingham, Messrs Green, Doward, Dear, and Lawn.

Half way into the school’s first year the councils of Mentone-Mordialloc and Carrum were informed that an additional £500 to the original £2000 was required if the school was to become permanent. Accompanying the request for the additional financial contribution was the ultimatum that if it were not received by August 1, 1924 the school would be closed. While it might seem as an unrealistic threat given the fact that the school was operating, the councils took it seriously. At the conference of councils’ delegates, meeting in June 1924, Cr Blanche of Mordialloc informed the group that the school had only been achieved because of the political situation at the time. The party in government agreed to the gift of a high school expecting it to assist their return to power. As the desired situation had not been achieved Blanche thought there was a very real possibility of the school being removed. [20]

A few months later news was received that the school was to remain and the Minister had authorised the appointment of permanent staff. [21] However, the call for the additional £500 remained. The need for an appropriate building to house the school was pressing as the Mechanics’ hall was proving to be totally inadequate, so the necessity of resolving the financial situation was urgent. The ventilation of the hall was insufficient and the sanitary arrangements did not meet the requirements laid down by the Health Department for schools. [22] Almost twelve months later the school council forwarded a report to the Minister describing the unsatisfactory state of things; draughty, fireless rooms, shivering teachers, shivering scholars, no playground where they can have health and warmth-giving exercise, damaged doors, wobbly windows and general lack of comfort. Outside there were muddy slushy conditions that meant wet feet and much suffering from colds. [23]

In a letter to The News, Cr Blanche reviewed the situation pointing to the unwillingness of Carrum Council to share the demand for the £500 because they claimed they were donating the land. This view he challenged, pointing out the land was Crown Land and therefore not Carrum’s to give. While acknowledging that gaining the school was largely due to the efforts of representatives from Carrum it was nevertheless an unwritten agreement that the two municipalities would share the costs. [24] With Carrum’s reluctance to share the Department’s demand for an additional £500 the Borough of Mentone and Mordialloc decided to guarantee the extra sum.

Efforts made to gain a financial contribution from the Shire of Moorabbin were not fruitful. Mr P Pike, the treasurer of the school council, wrote to Moorabbin seeking a contribution of £500 but was rebuffed. Cr George of Moorabbin while acknowledging the laudable objective of building a high school suggested the demands made upon the shire for roads and general improvements were so great that they were not able to grant the request.[25] A month later Mr Pike together with Crs Denyer and Blanche of Mordialloc tried again to achieve a financial contribution from the Shire of Moorabbin. They pointed out that the school was being conducted in unsatisfactory conditions in halls and out of the 230 students 40 were from the Moorabbin Shire. Their committee could not see why those children should attend without a penny coming from the Shire. There was a need for a contribution from Moorabbin if the school was to be built and equipped. Cr Denyer said there should be no need to plead the cause of education but he considered the solution to industrial chaos was a well educated and intellectual body and the high school had an important role to play in this scenario. Moreover, he said, the University should be open to every person on sheer merit, and not through an indulgent and over wealthy parent. Cr Clements, Shire President of Moorabbin, said a good argument had been presented and he believed his colleagues would give the matter “kindly and favourable consideration.” [26] Mr Pike returned to the Moorabbin councillors the following month to reiterate the reasons why the Shire should contribute £200 plus £100 in each of the ensuring three years and indicate his disappointment at the reception he and his two councillor colleagues received on the previous visit. While some Moorabbin councillors were in support of granting the requested contribution there was also strong opposition. Finally the matter was referred to the estimates committee for consideration. [27]

For the beginning of the school year in 1925 the Methodist School Room was leased to accommodate two classes and an additional teacher was added to the staff, but a position for a junior teacher was still vacant. The local newspaper informed readers that the vacancy could be filled by anyone with an intermediate certificate.

The school advisory council sought a deputation to the Minister regarding the building of their school in Attenborough Park but were informed that the budget assigned to the building of schools was already fully committed to other schools where the contracts had been let or advertised. This was disappointing news. [28] In April 1925 the Minister or Education, Sir Alexander Peacock, visited the school with the Director of Education, Frank Tate. It was Tate who said the Minister had been brought to Mordialloc to show him the existing arrangements of the school were unsatisfactory. He pointed out that one reason for this was that people were supporting the school too well. Two hundred and thirty seven students were attending the school instead of the expected sixty. [29]

It was not until late 1927 that work on the building of the new school commenced to plans prepared by the Public Works Department. The plans showed a two-storey building with administrative office, entrance hall, chemistry and physics rooms on the ground floor. A cookery room complete with fuel, gas and electric stoves, sinks and tables, pantry and scullery with an adjacent dining room was also on this floor. There was also an art room and boys’ and girls’ common room and library. The second floor had seven classrooms, three of which were divided by accordion screens to make one large assembly hall. A separate block accommodated a manual training centre with sheet metal room, smithy and woodwork room completely fitted up for trade work. The building was of brick with colour blend tile roof with a septic tank installed for sewerage purposes. The contract price was £20,990 with Messrs R L Phillips and Son of Murrumbeena being granted the contract. [30]

By November 1927 the building of the school was rapidly nearing completion when the leaders of three separate municipalities signed a letter published in the Moorabbin News, appealing for donations to purchase items of equipment. [31] They pointed out pianos, pictures, library books, indeed none of the refinements that are commonplace in schools, were provided by the Department. Nor were gardens, tennis courts, basketball courts, cricket pitches, football grounds or hockey fields. However, subsides were offered by the Education Department on a £ for £ basis, to the extent that money was available. So the three leaders asked citizens of Carrum, Moorabbin and Mordialloc to contribute to ensure that “young people in the new school started off under the happiest of auspices.” [32]

Class at Mordialloc-Chelsea High School, c1937. Courtesy David Reynolds.

When the issue of the council’s contribution was being discussed at Mordialloc Cr Williams apposed it. He claimed it was the government’s responsibility to do the job rather than push everything on to the people. He said he would not spend one threepenny bit on any Government ground. Cr Beardsworth while sharing the same opinion regarding Government’s responsibilities was not prepared to see the children of the district starved, from an educational point of view, while councillors were fighting for a principle. For him, getting the school was a wonderful achievement. Cr Hunter agreed that the high school was a big asset to the borough and everyone knew it was impossible to get the Government to stand up to its responsibilities. [33]

The official opening of the school by the Minister of Education, J Lemmon, took place in front of a large audience in March 1928. The function in the assembly room was full with people flowing over onto the balcony which was also uncomfortably crowded. The Mayor of Carrum, Cr Bowman, welcomed the official guests noting that it was in 1919 that the Chelsea Progressive Association made the first moves to get a high school for the district. Cr Beardsworth acknowledge the work of the first headmaster, Mr Brine, and his successor Mr J McCully, the headmaster at the time. The Minister in his address recalled that when he entered parliament in 1904 there was not a single high school in the state. By 1928 there where 34 high schools operating, 27 of them being outside the metropolitan area. The establishment of a secondary education system he suggested had been a challenge. There were many people in the district who would have agreed with the Minister, particularly as it applied to Mordialloc-Carrum High. [34]

Members of Council of the Mordialloc Chelsea High School on steps of the front entrance of new building. Cr Beardsworth , Chairman in front centre row, 1928. Courtesy Chelsea and District Historical Society.

Frank Groves, the local member of parliament, moved a vote of thanks to the Minister for his attendance and in this he was supported by the Mayor of Mordialloc, Cr White, who took the opportunity to remind the audience about the appeal for funds to equip the school. He was hoping for £600 but he said it had become a nightmare. The donations from Mordialloc, including the £30 from the council were £66 and the students themselves had collected £75 in a few weeks. Clearly he was hoping for something better.

Gradually new facilities were added to the school that had started its existence as the Mordialloc District High School. A caretaker’s cottage was built in 1929 and playing fields were added to the original school property ten years later, seven acres of this land being purchased for £220 by the Welfare Association.[34] In 1924 its name was changed to Mordialloc-Carrum High School to acknowledge the significant role the Borough of Carrum had played in its creation. The name was changed again in 1929 to the Mordialloc-Chelsea High School when the Borough of Carrum became the City of Chelsea. More recently the school was renamed Mordialloc College but a plaque in a garden setting at the entrance of the school, provided by the Chelsea Historical Society, records the school’s proud connection to the former City of Chelsea.

Historical Memorial Plaque acknowledging the school’s connection to the former City of Chelsea.


  1. Public Record Office – VPRS 14519 Unit 51.
  2. Carrum Borough Gazette, February 22, 1924.
  3. Seaside News, April 9, 1921.
  4. Seaside News, July 30, 1922.
  5. Borough of Carrum News, October 1922.
  6. Seaside News, November 4, 1922
  7. Members nominated to confer with the Mentone and Mordialloc Council re the establishment of a District High School were the Mayor, Cr W Stephens, Crs Hunter, Richardson, Groves, McGarry, Rev Durance, Messrs A E Cooper, Secretary of Chelsea RSSAILA, A Armstrong, and R Simpson, President of Chelsea Fathers’ Association
  8. Moorabbin News, January 6, 1923.
  9. Mentone Boys’ Grammar School, Mentone Girls Grammar School and Kilbreda College. See Gamble L., St Bede’s College and its McCristal Origins 1896-1982; Burren P, Mentone: The Place for a School, 1984; Rundle, J., Against All Odds 1920-1988, 1991; Underwood, M., A View from the Tower, Kilbreda 1904-2004, 2004.
  10. Moorabbin News, Ibid.
  11. Moorabbin News, June 2, 1923.
  12. Moorabbin News, July 21, 1923.
  13. Moorabbin News, February 2, 1924.
  14. Moorabbin News, February 2, 1924.
  15. Education Gazette and Teachers’ Aid, April 24, 1924.
  16. Moorabbin News, February 16, 1924.
  17. Moorabbin News, February 16, 1924.
  18. Carrum Borough Gazette, February 22, 1924.
  19. Moorabbin News, February 16, 1924.
  20. Moorabbin News, June 28, 1924.
  21. Moorabbin News, August 2, 1924.
  22. Moorabbin News, November 22, 1924.
  23. Moorabbin News, September 12, 1925.
  24. Moorabbin News, January 24, 1925.
  25. Moorabbin News, July 25, 1925.
  26. Moorabbin News, August 22, 1925.
  27. Moorabbin News, September 25, 1925. In March 1928 Cr George moved that the Moorabbin Council donate £100 towards the school’s furnishings to be paid in six months’ time. Moorabbin News, March 10, 1928.
  28. Moorabbin News, March 7, 1925.
  29. Moorabbin News, April 25, 1925.
  30. Moorabbin News, October 22, 1927.
  31. David White, Mayor of City of Mordialloc, David Bowman, Mayor, Borough of Carrum and A H Castle, President, Shire of Moorabbin.
  32. Moorabbin News, November, 19, 1927.
  33. Moorabbin News, December 17, 1927.
  34. Moorabbin News, March 17, 1928.
  35. Vision and Realisation: A centenary History of State Education in Victoria, Volume 3, Page 580, 1973; PRO – VPRS 14519 Unit 51.
27 June 2018
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