News of the Day: Open Schoolhouses Building the Future of New South Wales, 1880-1896

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Conference Proceeding
Proceedings of the Society of Architectural Historians, Australia and New Zealand: 30, Open, 2013, pp. 499 - 514
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It is claimed that 'architectural history is the stepping stone into various ways of interpreting and understanding the past' because of its broad, inter-disciplinary nature. A relationship exists between architecture, economics and the social functioning of human society. Old buildings are relics of an epoch, reflecting the ethos of the society that built and used them. Thus the modest school buildings designed by William Edmund Kemp, New South Wales Architect for Public Schools between 1880-1896, represent the achievement of the introduction of public education and are expressions of the hopes and aspirations of the Colony of New South Wales in the final decades of the Nineteenth Century. The challenge for anyone attempting to construe the history and significance of Kemps vast oeuvre of school buildings is to overcome the very limited evidentiary field on which an historical analysis might rest. This paper draws upon primary material found in the newspaper reports of 72 schoolhouse openings. It examines the discourse of the policy-makersthe politicians, community leaders and newspaper editors of the dayto reveal the intersections between public issues and personal views and uncover the ideological function of Kemps schools. The schoolhouse, around which the ceremony revolved, provided a venue for civic engagement, symbolised progress, generated pride and exposed people to the broader interests of the state. The schoolrooms were to mould future citizens with the moral virtues and literacy necessary to advance the nation-Colony. Kemps school buildings were an outcome of societal aspirations and, in turn, played an active role in shaping the social and political progress of New South Wales.
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