The Public Face of Elementary Education in New South Wales

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Conference Proceeding
AUDIENCE: Proceedings of the XXVIIIth International Conference of the Society of Architectural Historians, Australia and New Zealand, 2011, pp. 1 - 16
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The New South Wales Instruction Act (1880) revolutionised the Colony's elementary education, making it free, compulsory and secular and led to the appointment of William Edmund Kemp as Architect for Public Schools (1880-1896). Influenced by the doctrine of utilitarianism, Kemp prioritised the needs of his school audience by planning schools that facilitated effective teaching under the English pupil-teacher system and provided the necessary space, light, ventilation and sanitation. His European ethnocentric heritage inclined him towards the principles of civic decorum that he had practised with James Barnet and an Italianate style suitable for the Australian climate. He wished his schools to communicate their purpose as beacons of education, reform and progress and endowed them with a dignified character that enabled them to sit alongside the other public buildings as important theatres of community life. Kemp broke away from the medieval revival styles of Victorian England and their ecclesiastical associations, popularised in the Colony at the hands of Edmund Blacket and George A. Mansfield. It was because of his departure from the Gothic style that he later had cause to lament, 'I have been told that the buildings I have erected during my tenure of the Office of Architect for Schools are not like schools, and that they are not picturesque.' His colonial audience, imbued with ideals of Empire and Englishness and cherishing visions of steep roofs and pointed arches, were disappointed. This paper will consider Kemp's schools at Young (1884) and Pyrmont (1884) designed for very different communities, each at the 'ragged edge of empire'. Young was a thriving rural town that had grown rapidly after the discovery of alluvial gold while Pyrmont comprised a working-class population of an industrial inner-Sydney suburb. Pyrmont School was applauded a decade later for its 'Doric feeling' and for its representation of emerging Australian architectural values.
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