East Adelaide SchoolEast Adelaide School

History of East Adelaide School | 1907 - 1921

Head Teachers

  • Joseph Kennedy(1907-1911)
  • Francis Fairweather (1912-1915)
  • Richard Sutton (1916-1918)
  • William Hand (1919-1922)

Infant Mistress

  • Dorothy Pavia (1921 ? )

Drilling and Dancing

Singing, maypole dancing, exercise drill, training with real carbines for the Cadet Corps, the celebration of Arbor Day and then World War I all had a part in the activities of this period. The Decoration Society staged an annual concert and the school journal refers year after year to rehearsals, special items and the closure of the school on the day of the performance. Money raised by these concerts was devoted to the provision of pictures and other amenities for the schools. For many years, maypole dancing was a spectacular item on any special school occasions. Miss Elsie Daenke, successively scholar, teacher and Infant Head Mistress at the school, remembers ruefully that teachers did not neglect their duty to instruct in the principles of morality. At a rehearsal of maypole dancing with another school, the East Adelaide children had been chagrined by the scorn of their rivals when they made a mistake in their routine. On the vital day, East Adelaide's performance was perfect and it was the other team's turn to go wrong. Little Miss Daenke could not resist breaking ranks and delivering a triumphant "Ha! Ha!". Stern rebuke followed! In 1911, the Military Department took away all rifles and ammunition belonging to G Company Cadets. Shelves replaced these lethal items in the rifle cupboard.

Boys and Girls dance around the maypole in the East Adelaide playground, May 1906

World War I

The school closed for the afternoon on September 21st, 1914, to allow the children to watch the Expeditionary Force marching through the City before embarkation.

From that time on, references to the war regularly appear in the school journal. Money was raised by the children, under the auspices of the Children's Patriotic Fund, and sent to the Belgian and French Distress Funds, and to a fund established to help wounded soldiers. Older girls knitted scarves, mittens and socks, and broom-handles were collected and sent to Egypt to be used as crutches. At last came the entry in November 1918:

"Peace - signing armistice. School routine disturbed. Great rejoicing in which teacherslpupils heartily joined".

In July 1914, the average attendance was 621, the number of staff eleven, all but two of them women. Mr. Ken Byrne, a student at the time, remembers "when we were 80-85 students in a classroom". One of the stalwarts coping with this period was Miss Alice ('Biddy') Harwood, mentioned affectionately by a number of old scholars. She joined the staff in 1899 and remained there until crippling arthritis forced her retirement in 1924.

Mrs. Selma Musgrave (nee Gerlach) remembers that there was much excitement during her stay at the school, 1911-1918, about the success and growing fame of Peter Dawson and Daisy Kennedy, the daughter of the head teacher. After studying at the Adelaide Conservatorium and in Vienna, Miss Kennedy enjoyed great success overseas as a violinist.

Two of Mrs. Musgrave's contemporaries also made successful careers in music. Ruth Naylor sang in grand opera at Covent Garden and Brian Lawrence was very well known in the field of lighter music. There was another student whose name was to become a household word in South Australia. She was Dr. Enid Robertson, the first woman in Australia to make a career as a music critic. Her reviews of performances of classical music appeared regularly in "The Advertiser" for many years.

Out Into the Community

Arbor Day had been introduced some years earlier to foster the interest of children in gardening and tree planting. At East Adelaide School there was little room available to develop gardens, so on Arbor Day the children frequently moved out of the school grounds to plant trees in the neighbouring streets. In 1915, for example, sixty-seven silky oaks were planted along Walkerville Road, now Stephen Terrace, between Third Avenue and Payneham Road.

The school excursion, so much a part of modern life, began to be mentioned in the journals in 1915. Class 5 boys visited the Holden factory on May 25th and on the following day Class 5 girls, possibly deemed to be more concerned with aesthetics than things mechanical, went to the Austral Paint Works at Port Adelaide. In 1919, about 420 children attended a cinema show on Central Africa and in 1920 the school visited the "automotive show".

Visiting Day, East Adelaide Girls' Pole Drill

Scallywags and Retribution

Despite the first intimations of the world of technology to come, old fashioned strict discipline was still maintained in the school and unhesitatingly reinforced by the use of the cane. High-spirited boys like William Green and Eric Heysen pushed each other into mud-puddles, and William Green remembers his relief that Heysen claimed to have "fallen" when he was discovered in the morning assembly "looking a mess, mud from head to foot". The principle that, at all costs, one must not "dob" applied even then and young Green escaped a certain caning. He was not always so fortunate. He was surrounded in class by lads who were "always up to tricks of some sort", but had mastered the art of hiding their activities from the teacher. He invariably picked on young Green.

"My teacher would pull me by the ears, lug me to the front of the class and cane me. I became fed up with this and told my father who said, 'You know what to do if you are innocent' I knew what my father meant, so the next time my teacher tried to cane me, I ran out of school, leaving school bag and books, and never returned. I finished my schooling at Pulteney Grammar school. Other than being caned when I was innocent, I enjoyed my school-days at East Adelaide very much."


By the end of this period the school was seriously overcrowded. In 1920, a meeting of the Board of Advice at the home of the head teacher, William Hand, the desperate need for further accommodation was stressed. In 1921 a pavilion classroom was erected. The fact that its canvas sides were replaced in 1925 leaves us wondering about the exact nature of this room and the problems of those who occupied it. For a time East Adelaide School offered a Grade 8 class for those who wished to go on to further study. The room used by these students seems to have been the first classroom to have electric lights installed.

Because of its proximity to the River Torrens, with its natural swimming pool at Gilberton, the boys of East Adelaide had many good swimmers among them. In 1917 Harold Coyle won the Schools Swimming Championship and from 1919 onwards the school fitted swimming lessons for boys into its curriculum. All boys who participated in the classes were also taught lifesaving.

In 1921, East Adelaide School was raised to Class I status.