East Adelaide School was one of the last public schools to be established in the inner suburban areas of Adelaide. It was only after a drain had been constructed along the length of St. Peters Street to channel and tame Second Creek which meandered through the area, creating awkward little hills and hollows and causing frequent flooding, that subdivision of the area could proceed.
It was fortunate that the nature of the area had conspired to delay the establishment of this school, since, in the ten years before it opened, John Hartley, as President of the Council of Education, had laid the foundations upon which public education in South Australia was to develop for many years to follow. A teacher-training program and the appointment of inspectors, whose visits struck terror into the hearts of teachers and pupils alike, began to improve the standard of education in public schools. A new curriculum, developed in 1885, went far beyond the basic reading, writing and arithmetic. Thus, the new East Adelaide School was required to offer "instruction in the principles of morality, Reading, Spelling, Writing, Arithmetic, English (grammar and composition), Geography, History, Poetry, elementary Natural History or Science, Drill and (for girls) Needlework".
By the end of 1886, the school had recorded a total attendance of 485. The average attendance, however, was 247.7 since in those days children between the ages of seven and thirteen years were only required to attend for a minimum of 70 days in each half-year.
Although records are skimpy for this period, it seems that the new school prospered. At the Public Schools Floral and Decoration Society's Exhibition in 1899, it was awarded first place for "uniformity, correct time and the smallest number of mistakes in Musical Drill" and it was noted that the East Adelaide Band "undoubtedly possessed the best instruments and their pieces were well rendered". The school provided the only entry in the kindergarten section and this, although its nature is not recorded, was "an excellent one".
In 1900 and 1901, extra land was purchased and, in 1902, a detached school for juniors was erected on the corner of Westminster Street and Third Avenue. By 1906, the school yards had been graded and tar-paved, a porch had been converted into an office for the head teacher, fixed seating had been installed in the playgrounds and new toilets had been erected. Strict boundaries were established between play areas for boys, girls and juniors, and it became a daring exploit to venture into the yard of the other sex or to put a foot over the gutter which delineated the juniors' area. Those caught were punished. Boys found in the girls' area were for many years required to wear a hair ribbon for the rest of the day. The high galvanized iron partition in the shelter shed behind the main buildings served as the main barrier between boys and girls and was still in place in the 1960's.
Several people who were students at East Adelaide during its first twenty years survive to share their memories with us.
Mr. Frank Wade (1896-1903), who went on to become General Manager of Elders Trustee and Executor Co. and later to serve as Chairman of:- Directors of Hains Hunkin, Cellulose Australia, Kuhnels and William Woodroofe Ltd., especially remembers other distinguished men who participated with him in "an intense program of study" which left time for little else:
Andrew Smith (Chairman of Directors, Horwood Bagshaw Ltd.);
Leonard Mawby (General Manager, Royal Insurance Co. of Sydney);
Waldemar Timcke (Chief Meteorologist, Canberra);
Roy Palmer (Managing Director, Colton, Palmer & Preston Ltd.);
Alan K. Wendt (Chairman, Wendt Jewellers);
Kendal Baker (Anglican Bishop of Ceylon); and
Norman Wicks (Nurseryman).
Mrs. Elise Anderson (nee Gilding) remembers East Adelaide as a "good and well kept school". She has vivid recollections of the celebrations of Queen Victoria's Jubilee in 1897, when senior students were taken to Montefiore Hill and then to a great celebration on the Adelaide Oval where they were each given two commemoration medals to mark the occasion.
For Mrs. D. L. Parker (1903-1910) sitting on platforms (possibly in the tiered classroom in the original building), rhythm and club-swinging, and writing on slates are the clearest memories of her school days.
A remarkable third grade teacher, Miss Alice Harwood, left a deep impression on Miss E. R. Fellows. There were three other pupils at the school during its first twenty years who were to achieve great distinction in their chosen fields.
Peter Dawson went to London in 1902, where he sang at Covent Garden and then embarked on a brilliant career as a recording artist when his strong bass- baritone voice proved to be especially suited to the medium. He was the only recording artist whose career spanned the years from two-minute wax cylinders to tape. He toured the world several times as a concert soloist, and twice visited East Adelaide to sing to the children and speak of his experiences.
Hans Heysen spent two years at East Adelaide. He became one of Australia's great landscape painters, and won the Wynne Prize eight times.
Dr. Liewellin Davey, as a young child, came around the corner from the house on Payneham Road where he still lives in retirement after a distinguished career in medicine. He was the oldest practicing gynaecologist in Australia when he retired at the age of seventy-five.
In its early years, East Adelaide School was served by at least two outstanding teachers. Head Teacher Alfred Williams (1892-1999) later became Director of Education and Miss Lydia Longmore, who joined the staff in 1905, was to have a profound influence on the teaching of infants. She later became the first female inspector in the State.