Step Back In Time


Times have changed

Many private schools opened after the government decided all land belonged to the Crown and began selling the land during the 1850s. Schools at Pettavel and Freshwater Creek were the first to open in 1856. Over the years schools opened and closed with fluctuating enrolments. When farmers suffered from harsh conditions on the land children helped on the farm or the families moved away. The Jan Juc (now Bellbrae) school opened in 1861, Mount Duneed opened in 1878, and Torquay opened in 1900. They are the three schools to have survived over the years, and continue to operate today, although on different sites.

Today, with the coastal area’s increased popularity, state schools now include Torquay Coast Primary School, Surf Coast Secondary School, and many other independent schools have been established.

The 1872 Education Act

In the mid-1850s, the church or private operators established local schools that charged tuition fees. Before the 1872 Education Act school was a luxury so many families could not afford. The 1872 Education Act made Victoria the first Australian colony (and one of the first regions in the world) to offer free, secular, and compulsory education to children. The 1872 legislation required all children aged 6–15 years to attend school unless they had a reasonable excuse.

Parents who did not send their children to school were liable for fines of up to five shillings for a first offence, with the penalty increasing to 20 shillings for each repeat offence.

Following the 1872 Act, a new curriculum had to be devised, and teachers were recruited and trained.

Children spent most of their time on the 3 R’s – ‘reading, riting and ‘rithmetic’ in the classroom. Today we would call this reading, writing and maths. Once a week they would do geography, history and singing. The girls would learn how to sew.

School was extremely strict. If you did not behave, you were in “big trouble”; If you got an answer wrong you were often made to sit in the corner wearing a Dunce’s cap. If you did not sit up straight, you might have to sit with a wooden stick up your back. If you misbehaved, you could be beaten with a cane or hit across the knuckles with a ruler. Thankfully, this is not allowed any longer.


Head Teacher William Savage established a non-vested Presbyterian School on 1st of October 1856. Formerly called Duneed its name changed to Pettavel in 1884 just before closing.

Pettavel Presbyterian Church / School

One room schools the norm

Mount Duneed Primary School

In the 19th and early 20th centuries, one-room schoolhouses were the norm in rural areas. A single teacher taught grades one through to eight together.

A single wood stove heated the room. A picture of the reigning monarch hung on the wall.

The youngest kids sat in the front and the oldest in the back, with the teacher on a raised platform at the front of the class.

Connewarre Primary School
Freshwater Creek Primary School

Inside Jan Juc (now Bellbrae) Primary School in 1915.

Jan Juc - Bellbrae classroom
boys in classroom
desk inkwells

Inside Classrooms

A fireplace blazed in the winter.

With no central heating, schoolhouses relied on fireplaces and, later, wood stoves to stay warm.

Children stacked the wood logs and often took turns starting the fire each morning.

Student Desks with Storage

During the last century students used desks with built-in storage. Often they left chewed gum on them.

The desks had a space on top to keep their pencils or fountain pens and there was a hole where the ink well sat.

Freshwater Creek State School students on their way to school during the1920s
Torquay bus delivering students to school

Getting to school

There was no transportation to get to school.

Most schoolhouses were built to serve students living within four or five miles, which was considered close enough to walk.

There was no public or school transportation. Some kids walked while others rode horses to school.

Learning in the classroom


Teachers taught reading, writing, arithmetic, history, grammar, the art of persuasion, and geography. Students would memorise their lessons, and the teacher would bring them to the front of the room as a class to recite what they’d learned. The teacher could correct them on things like pronunciation on the spot while the other students continued to work behind them.

Image from the exercise book of John Bell 1893 (Addiscot, family Bellbrae named after)

Discipline was very strict

With lots of kids crammed into a single room, it was important to maintain discipline. Punishments could be harsh.

Misbehaving students were often publicly shamed. For example, the teacher sat the naughty child at the front of the class and had them wear a cone-shaped paper hat branded with the letter “D” for dunce, meaning “idiot.”

Other punishments included making a child hold heavy books, stand against the wall for extended periods of time, or receive lashes with a whip.

Pupils used slate instead of paper.

Paper was expensive in the 1800s, so students wrote on thin slabs of slate. They took notes with slate pencils made of clay. Paper was only used for penmanship lessons when kids dipped their quills in ink bottles and practised cursive writing.

Ink & Pen

Squat round inkpots with a small hole at the top made of clay (5cm wide and 5cm high) held writing ink. An ink pen with a nib was dipped into the hole like a paintbrush.

Early ballpoint pens weren’t cheap, and students used fountain pens throughout the 1960s and even in the 1970s in some places.

Cursive Handwriting

Children used to spend hours and hours practicing the loops and swoops and doing their best to perfect the art of cursive writing on special paper with lines to help them form perfect letters.

Images from the exercise book of John Bell 1893 (Addiscot, family Bellbrae named after)

Early Readers

Textbooks were scarce. Students had to bring books from home, often borrowing used textbooks from older kids. Members of a class never had matching copies.

In the 1950’s the government supplied school readers such as John & Betty, Playmates and Holidays as first readers.

Read John & Betty, Playmates, Holidays

Telling Time

Long, long ago, telling time on an analog clock was a huge part of the math curriculum. The analog has sixty minutes marked within the twelve hours. Often a clock was displayed on the wall of each single room school house.

What is the digital time for “It’s a quarter past 11”?


A lot of the maths that children learnt was about money. There were pounds (£), shillings (s), and pence (d).

First the children had to learn the rules for how many pennies were in a shilling, how many shillings in a pound and so on. They did this by saying them out loud over and over again.

Here are the rules – read them aloud 10 times and see if you can remember them without looking:

  1. There are 12 pennies in a shilling
  2. There are 2 shillings in a florin
  3. There are 5 shillings in a crown
  4. There are 20 shillings in a pound
  5. There are 21 shillings in a guinea

Taking books to school

The leather satchel was used to carry books to school, and it was often worn like a backpack.

A small hard cases was an alternative to carry books and lunch to school. The cases varied in size to suit the size of the child.

School Yard Games

Children played many classic outdoor games on the playground and at the neighbourhood park, many of which had been played for generations and continue to be played today. The traditional children’s games were played informally with minimal equipment without any written rules because they are passed from child to child, generation to generation, informally by word of mouth.

Playing Bat Tennis
Girls playing 'Wash the dishes, dry the dishes, turn the dishes over' which was repeated until the first became dizzy
Boys with their marbles
Knuckles and Bones can be played anywhere
Elastics is a playground game where children take turns jumps over elastic stretched between two other children’s legs, chanting rhymes including this popular one: England, Ireland Scotland, Wales, inside, outside, puppy dogs tails.

History of our local schools


Bellbrae Primary School

Once known as Jan Juc, the school opened on 12th of August 1861 with an enrolment of 35. William Cook, the first Head Teacher, remained for sixteen years. Jan Juc began as a National School with A.E. Butler as Correspondent. Later it became a vested Common School under the Board of Education and received the number 319 in 1863. Of brick and stone construction the school accommodated 60 pupils; it had a four-room wooden residence detached. In 1873 the Department acquired the school.

– Vision and Realisation (1973)

Breamlea Primary School

A letter from the Breamlea Progress Association on 15th of March 1951 requested that a school be provided and offered the hall for lease as a temporary school building. The request was supported by Sir Thomas Maltby, MLA. SS4696 Breamlea opened in the hall on 27th of May 1952 with Francis C. McGarry as Head Teacher from May to September 1952. A site of 3 acres 2 roods adjoining the East boundary of the Municipal Reserve, was secured and an unused school building at Barwon Heads was removed and relocated there. It was first occupied on 31st of January 1955. SS 4696 closed by Ministerial Order on 14th of January 1966.

– Vision & Realisation (1973)

Connewarre Primary School

The original Connewarre School was operated by the Church of England. It opened in Dans Road during 1858. Twenty years later it closed and was replaced by a magnificent structure in Bluestone Road. By that time, the Victorian Education Department was operating. Sadly, in 1965 that building was dismantled and a new wooden complex took its place. A supposed lack of natural light in the classroom was one reason given for the demise of the near 100 year-old landmark. Many of the stones from the old building were utilized to construct a retaining wall at the Barwon Heads river-front beach. The Bluestone School road institution finally closed in 1993, when a state government decision resulted in the consolidation of district schools. The Connewarre East School, run by the Presbyterian Church in Fullers Lane, operated from 1864 until 1875. The Education Department reopened in 1885 on another site, near the corner of Barwon Heads and Lings Roads. In 1926 the building was relocated to become the Barwon Heads School. –  Connewarre: The Home of the Black Swan

Freshwater Creek School 1921

Freshwater Creek School

The first school was situated on land granted by the Wesleyan Church, this Denominational School opened in 1856. State aid helped build a bluestone building. The first Head Teacher was Robert Brooks, with an enrolment of 60 pupils. With the introduction of State schools, Freshwater Creek became a department school and a new weatherboard building, was opened on 8th of June 1883. The Head Teacher at the time was Thomas P. Martin. A teacher’s residence was supplied later.

– Vision & Realisation (1973)

mt duneed-school--6

Mount Duneed Primary School

Mount Duneed opened on 1st of March 1878. It originated from school No. 107 Bream Creek, established on 1st of June 1862 by the Church of England authorities under the control of the Denominational Board. The name was officially changed to Mount Duneed in 1865. On the 11th of June 1875, land was purchased for a State School. Two years later the brick building, costing £1,238 with accommodation for 80 pupils, was completed. Andrew Abercrombie, the teacher of the church school, was appointed as the first Head Teacher with 131 pupils. From this time onwards there are no records until after 1944 because of the destruction of the school by fire. Temporary accommodation had to be used until completion of the present school in 1946. It would appear that enrolments fell through the years to reach their lowest point in 1946.

– Vision and Realisation (1973)

Paraparap Primary School

It opened on 12th of December 1909 with Ralph E. Heaton as Head Teacher Di Cavanagh recommended the establishment of this school to operate part-time with SS2630 Pettavel. The Department leased a building for the purpose, after E.E. Hendy, together with the Progress Association, has advocated its establishment. The school closed on 9th of November 1951.

– Vision & Realisation (1973)

Pettavel School

Head Teacher William Savage established a non-vested Presbyterian School on 1st of October 1856. In 1858 its average attendance was 3.1 (14 boys, 17 girls).  Formerly called Duneed its name changed to Pettavel in 1884, probably because of its situation on Pettavel Rd. A leased building served the school which closed on 31st of September 1884. Next day SS2630 Pettavel, of which Alfred Hansen became Head Teacher replaced Connewarre school No. 196.

– Vision & Realisation (1973)

Torquay School

Torquay P-12 College 

Although established on 1st of May 1900 in temporary accommodation (the newly-built Presbyterian Church) Head Teacher Alice Meagher did not open the school until 23rd of September with 16 children. The school moved to the Recreation Hall on 13th of June 1901 and in 1905, a 5 acre site on Lots 97 to 116 in Bristol Rd, township of Torquay, Parish of Puebla, County· of Grant, was purchased by the Department. A weatherboard, single-room school, was constructed on the site and occupied on 22nd of June 1910. With the growth of population in Torquay, the school has had several rooms added at different times. A five-room residence was constructed and occupied on 2nd of February 1952.

– Vision & Realisation (1973)

Newest schools

Surf Coast Secondary College commenced in 2012 with around 250 students. Before the school building works were completed at the current site, learning occurred on Grossman’s Road on the site of the Torquay P-6 College. Two years later education began at the Surf Coast Highway/White’s Road site.

Torquay Coast Primary School is the latest government school to open in Torquay. Opening at the start of the school year in 2018, the school began with between 120-130 students, 13 staff, and the on-site YMCA early learning centre. The school has now grown to around 540 students.


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