On the first of February 1939, 139 young males entered the doors of Newcastle Technical High, the first students to ever set foot in the school’s halls.
In the five years following inauguration, most of these students would form lasting friendships, the ‘Class of 39’ holding frequent reunions in the years after graduation.
Next year will mark the school’s 80th anniversary. It has left a stellar history, and a fascinating insight into the Newcastle of the early to mid-20th century.
Led by headmaster P.G. Price, the school offered mathematics, science, english, history, German, woodwork and metalwork for its young male cohort. As the school’s student numbers increased, so did the subjects offered.
Physical education was also included at the school, encouraged by Mr E. J. Winter from the Department of Education. Physical education included inter-house sports competitions, with students being assigned to one of four “houses” named Burrawang, Cudgerie, Marara, and Nyora. These events were held at the No.1 Sports Ground in Newcastle West. The school also competed against other schools in the district.
The Second World War
The Technical High School wasn’t the only thing to begin in 1939. At the time, the world was in political turmoil, with the Second World War breaking out in Europe in 1939.
With Australia’s close ties to England and the British Empire during the early-mid 20th century, schools discussed and informed students on the events taking place in Europe, including Dunkirk, the Battle of Britain, and D-Day. Charity events were organised at the school, such as the Penny for Britain initiative. Students were asked to pay a penny to attend, with funds collected being sent to Britain for the war effort and food relief parcels.
The Pacific War
In 1941, the war was brought to the Pacific, with bombings in Darwin and submarine attacks on Eastern coastline. Newcastle was one of the cities attacked, the town preparing for an invasion. Newcastle Technical School made efforts to protect their students, air-raid shelters being built adjacent to the school and air-raid drills being organised to prepare students for the possibility of an attack.
A notice in the Newcastle Sun (June 10, 1942) warned parents and students that some students who lived in outer suburbs may not be able to return home if a raid was imminent. Plans had been made for families who lived close to the school to take students in. A shelter in the basement was also planned as accommodation for the students, each bay accommodating 30 boys and four reinforced concrete floors sitting above the basement. Trenches at the back of the school were also used as a backup in case a raid was made before the basement was completed.
Students were also involved with Newcastle and Australia’s defence in the war. Some boys were appointed to an Army School Cadet unit, issued with Number 310 rifles. Younger students joined the National Emergency Service. These boys were appointed as ‘messengers’, delivering messages by bicycle to the headquarters and assisting the wardens in carrying out tasks. Children were also trained to assist ambulance officers in the treatment of injuries, helping evacuate people, and preparing for blackouts.
1943 and onwards
The first students of Newcastle Technical High School reached their final Leaving Certificate year in 1942 and 1943. Twenty-nine students were listed in the school’s magazine, Gleam, announcing their examination results in the eight subject offered.
By the end of the 1940s, Tech High had vacated its Tighes Hill site, relocating to Broadmeadow. It continued as Tech High until 1977, when the school amalgamated with Cooks Hill Girls High School and became Merewether High School.