Compiled by Mrs Judith McGregor & Mrs Carol Bagnell (2005); revised by Mr Ian McLean (2014; 2015). (There is a more complete story of the school’s history, up to 1938, HERE.)
The story begins:
1815 – Establishment of the township of Penrith.
1848 – Governor Charles FitzRoy established the National Board of Education and public schooling began in New South Wales, Australia.
1865 – The first public school in Penrith established. The school began in one room of a building that had formerly been The Rose Inn. The premises were owned by Mr John Perry and were rented for the sum of £40 ($80). The building was made of wood and lined with weatherboards to a height of 5 feet (1.5 metres), the remainder of the wall and ceiling being of hessian. The proposed schoolroom measured 20 x 30 feet (6 x 9 metres). It was thought that 50 boys and 30 girls would attend. In fact, the school opened with an enrolment of 61 scholars. Mr David Patterson was appointed as Headmaster on 5th May. He received a nominal salary from the Board of Education and this was supplemented by school fees (ie. sixpence – 5 cents – per week for children of labourers; ninepence – 8 cents – for children of mechanics; and one shilling – 10 cents – for children of tradesmen and other occupations).
1867 – At first, Mr Patterson had been assisted by his daughter, who taught 1st Class for nine months without pay. When the total number of scholars reached 70, Mr Patterson’s sons also gave their time free of charge. In November, the school acquired a second room and a female teacher, Miss Suttie. A site bounded by North, Evan and Henry Streets was acquired for future use: 1.5 acres (0.6 hectares) deemed suitable for a school because “the ground is clay and ironstone, drained by a small creek close by and not affected by floods.”
1868 – Mr John Souter succeeded Mr Patterson as Headmaster. Total enrolment was now 131 scholars.
1869 – Enrolments reached 157 and a third teacher, Miss Elizabeth Robertson, joined the staff.
1871 – Penrith incorporated as a municipality.
1872 – A new brick schoolhouse was erected at the corner of Henry and Evan Streets. It was built by Mr Timothy Riordon at a cost of £560 ($1120), of which £150 ($300) was raised from local donations. The building was designed for the accommodation of about 180 scholars. The schoolroom, the largest room, measured 58 x 12 feet (about 17.5 x 3.5 metres). The classroom measured 14 x 13 feet (roughly 4m square). The building also featured two wooden porches.
1873 – Mr Souter left the school in December.
1874 – New Headmaster, Mr David Wiley, arrived in April.
1875 – School residence built for Mr Wiley. Enrolments were now 196 pupils, taught by only three teachers!
1877 – A separate Infants’ Department was established, but they were forced to use the small classroom attached to the primary schoolroom. The first Infants’ Headmistress was Miss Isabella Collins.
1878 – A request for additional structures (Infants’ building, two weathersheds and two closets) was approved. “… The Board has reason to believe that if the Infants’ accommodation had been better, there would have been a larger attendance as several children have been sent to a private school. Besides, there are, within easy distance, about 80 children who do not attend any school whatsoever.” Miss G.M. Doyle became Headmistress.
1879 – Completion of a new brick Infants’ building to hold 120 children. Construction was by Harding & Willis at a cost of £650 ($1300). The other improvements were carried out by Mr John Milne, and cost £224 ($448). Penrith PS pupils found great success at the International Exhibition, held in Prince Albert Park, Surry Hills. A large bronze medal was struck and presented to the school. This medal was enclosed in a five-cornered fretwork frame and hung in the school for many years before disappearing during a robbery.
1880 – The Public Instruction Act and the Department of Education of New South Wales established. Total enrolments of Penrith PS rose to 337.
1881 – New Headmistress was Miss Kate Williams.
1882 – A separate Girls’ Department was formed and Miss M. Fahey became its Headmistress. As a temporary measure to resolve overcrowding, a tent was supplied at the beginning of the year for use of the girls. It proved very unsatisfactory. Mr Wiley complained that working in the tent was having a serious effect on the children’s health. He pointed out that the Town Hall was just across the street (near the site of the old public library), and suggested that it should be rented by the Department pending the erection of new buildings. His suggestion was approved and the hall was occupied on the 30th November for £1 ($2) per week.
1885 – Mr A. Smith was replaced as Headmaster by Mr John Smith (affectionately known as “Badger”). Total enrolment was now 491.
1887 – Miss Peake became Headmistress.
1890 – Enrolments rose to 580.
1891 – A new classroom was built (J.W. Dunkley, for £300 – $600) and existing buildings extensively repaired and repainted (a further £192 and 10 shillings, or $385).
1893 – Mains water was laid onto the school.
1895 – Due to a number of problematic leaks, new roofing replaced existing shingles with iron on the main school building and Headmaster’s residence. Window frames were replaced and there were other repairs and painting carried out (A.E. Gould for £244, or $488).
1896 – Girls’ classroom remodelled. It had measured 18.5 x 14 feet (about 5 x 4.5 metres) and was used by up to 44 pupils at a time. Girls’ mistress, Miss Broadfoot, explained that “no ordinary class can remain in it for over an hour without the air being contaminated.” The architect’s suggestions were undertaken by C.A. Willis for £132, 17 shillings and sixpence ($265.75).
1900 – Application was made for a new classroom for the Boys’ Department. It was declined.
1902 – Parents and teachers declared the school site a health hazard, due to a stormwater channel that was often blocked by rubbish, dividing the site into two, and causing pools of water to become stagnant. Despite a deputation of residents, the Minister declined to move the school to a healthier site. Mr Smith was authorised to have the channel swept and treated with disinfectant every day, at a cost of 1 shilling and sixpence (15 cents) per week.
1906 – New Headmistress: Miss Barr.
1907 – “Badger” Smith retired as Headmaster after 22 years and was replaced by Mr G. Steinbeck. In the January, the Infants’ building had received a new iron roof.
1908 – Total enrolment: 473.
1910 – Local community increasingly dissatisfied with the condition of the Henry Street site and its stormwater channel (now known locally as Diphtheria Creek). Another deputation met with the Education Minister. The Department decided to find a new site for the school.
1911 – 1.5 acres (0.6 hectares) were purchased, in two lots from Sarah Barber and Dr C.H. Scott, at the corner of High and Doonmore Streets, Penrith, but plans for a new building were shelved.
1912 – Mr Martin Bourke succeeded Mr Steinbeck as Headmaster. The separate Girls’ Department was discontinued.
1913 – Department of Education resumed a further two acres (0.8 hectares) of land at the new site. Plans and specifications were prepared by the government architect.
1914 – A decline in pupil enrolments, and the outbreak of World War I, put all building plans “on hold” indefinitely.
1915 – Mr John Maloney was appointed Headmaster. The Municipality of Penrith marks its Centenary (100 years).
1916 – The government’s Medical Officer and School Inspector gave unfavourable reports of the Henry Street buildings. The recently formed Parents & Citizens’ (P&C) Association met with the Director of Education. Building plans were finally approved.
1917 – In January, the Mayor of Penrith, Alderman David Fitch, laid the foundation stone for the new building on High Street. By June, the building was completed for £7400 ($14800). The Town Council donated a piano and other equipment.
1918 – The Infants’ Department continued on at Henry Street. Some of the old school’s rooms were turned over to cooking classes and manual training. Mrs Costello taught spinning to women and girls in connection with the Penrith Soldier Comfort Club. Electric light was connected to one of the old rooms. The now-abandoned Headmaster’s residence was demolished.
1920 – An Intermediate Certificate (high school) course was introduced, with buildings at Henry Street renovated for use by secondary classes.
1921 – The new Headmaster, Mr William Pike (January-June), was replaced by Mr James Peek. The (original) school uniform colours of brown and yellow were adopted and the school badge design featured a wattle sprig on a brown background.
1923 – A science room was constructed at the new school (currently, the building is fondly known as Rainbow Cottage), at a cost of £562 ($1124), and the Intermediate Certificate classes moved across from Henry Street. The Infants’ Department moved into the vacated Henry Street classrooms.
1924 – Mr Louis Kendall became Headmaster. Pupil numbers were increasing, leading to a shortage of accommodation; four classes had to be conducted in the sewing room, science room and two weathersheds. Plans were drawn up for an extension to the main building.
1927 – The new extensions were completed at a cost of £5373 ($10746) by E.A. Allwan.
1928 – Mr F. Baker appointed as Headmaster.
1932 – Representatives of Penrith PS participated in a baton relay with other Western Sydney schools, part of the opening ceremony for the newly-completed Sydney Harbour Bridge.
1938 – The Towers estate (10 acres, or just over 4 hectares) was purchased for £1500 ($3000) and the buildings for an additional £100 ($200). Dilapidated, damp and ridden with termites, the buildings were deemed not suitable for school purposes. They were slated for eventual demolition. (There is a more complete story of the school’s history, up to this point, HERE.)
1939 – Outbreak of World War II.
1944 – Mr E. Edwards appointed as Headmaster.
1949 – On 1st January 1949, the Municipalities of Penrith, St Marys and Castlereagh, and part of the Nepean Shire, amalgamated to form a new Municipality of Penrith.
1950 – Penrith High School opened on the former site of The Towers estate, with Mr Hector McGregor appointed as its first Headmaster (Secondary). At the time, it was the only high school between Parramatta and Katoomba. The Primary School’s Headmaster was Mr David Leithhead.
1954 – Mr Herbert McDowell (“Mac”) Carruthers, also known as “Bugsy”, became the next Headmaster. The primary school was separated into boys’ and girls’ departments.
1959 – Penrith declared a city on 21st October.
1961 – Miss Mary Healey appointed as Infants’ Headmistress.
1967 – The Primary School Band was formed and would perform with credit for many years.
1968 – Mr Arthur Allan appointed as Principal. The school underwent external painting. Efforts were made to remove “the pigeon menace”. A new fence was erected on the Doonmore Street side of the school. Plans for the new Infants’ buildings were approved, but hopes for a free-standing, permanent library and school canteen would not be realised for several more decades. The first Basic Skills Test was conducted in October. Taking inspiration from NASA’s Apollo program, the school badge was modernised to feature a rocket blasting off (instead of the sprig of wattle) and the first issue of Apollo magazine was launched.
1969 – The new assembly hall (upstairs in the main building at High Street) was completed. Miss Australia visited the school and signed the Visitors’ Book. Children and teachers watched as astronauts walked on the moon for the first time. “Very few things are impossible if imaginative and intelligent planning is followed by enthusiasm and industry by all concerned…” [Mr Allan discussing the new assembly hall in an issue of Apollo, but the statement applied equally to the space race.]
1970 – Stage 1 of the new Infants’ building (five classes) was completed. The Rotary Club donated a new sound system for the assembly hall. The Lions’ Club donated a piano. A new playground space (aka “across the road”) in Doonmore Street was acquired, levelled and sown with grass. Later, another two adjoining blocks were purchased, increasing the area to the size we see today.
1971 – Total enrolment of the school was 900 pupils: 550 Primary and 350 Infants. The school choir performed for the Governor, Sir Roden Cutler and Lady Cutler, in honour of the Centenary of Local Government. The P&C Association took a vigorous role in school affairs, attempting to have the High Street bus stops moved to the safer position of Lethbridge Street, petitioning for the return of access to portable classrooms in the Primary playground, but used by the high school, and campaigning for lighting and heating for all classrooms. The P&C also provided the staff room with a Cafe Bar and refrigerator.
1972 – The new buildings at the Infants’ School in Henry Street were completed and ready for occupation in January. Two of the three old buildings were demolished*. The remaining building was retained for renovation as an assembly hall (below). At the Primary School, the Principal and P&C were still trying to have the dangerous bus stop removed from High Street, and a bus bay built in Lethbridge Street. Mr Allan wrote “The danger of the French nuclear tests is nothing compared to the traffic hazard in High and Doonmore Streets at 3.30pm…” and “I’m happy to again report that no one has YET been killed while waiting for a bus on the highway.”
*The late Mr Arthur Bennett, former proprietor of the Penrith Press newspaper, managed to salvage the original 1872 date-stone of the corner building when it was being demolished. He had it set into an historic brick wall. Until 2014, the crumbling sandstone was visible, but is now covered by metal signage.
1973 – Gas heaters and ceiling fans were installed in all classrooms. Lighting was provided for seven rooms, which were previously unlit. A cyclone fence was erected around the oval. Mr Arthur Street retired after 35 years of service at Penrith PS.
1974 – Bus stop (finally) relocated. School Captain and Vice Captain badges were presented by Grigor Taylor, the television star (Matlock Police and Silent Number), who had been Captain of Penrith PS in 1955.
1976 – The school buildings were described as being in a “badly dilapidated and dangerous condition”. Ceilings were falling in classrooms, guttering and downpipes were loose, timber flooring was warped, and many windows were broken. Mr Bedford, Minister for Education, inspected the school and authorised repairs.
1977 – Major repairs and renovations commenced for both Infants and Primary Schools. New concrete paths were laid. Aluminium windows replaced wooden frames in the main building. There were new entrances and a foyer area. For the first time, there were staff toilets located in the main building.
1978 – A new title wall, facing High Street, was constructed (see below). Repair work on classrooms continued. “The remedial rooms and Siberia* too, have cast off their downtrodden, salt-mine appearance and now fairly glistened under their new make-up…” [Mr Allan].
*Siberia referred to the demountable wooden classrooms located towards Lethbridge Street that were such a long distance from the main building.
1980 – Centenary of the Department of Education, NSW.
1981 – Assembly hall in the main High Street building updated. Electrical system updated. P&C donated $1000 for a new sound system for the hall.
1982 – Falling enrolments led to major staff changes, but the library (ground floor of the main building) was able to be extended into an extra room. Miss Healy was forced to transfer after 20 years as Infants’ Headmistress, and was replaced by Mrs Fay Barton.
1983 – P&C donated $4200 for computers.
1985 – Mr A. Pankhurst appointed as Principal.
1987 – Mr P. Middleton appointed as Principal.
1990 – Work began, preparing for a planned amalgamation of the Primary and Infants’ Departments on one site. Two old weatherboard classrooms alongside Doonmore Street were demolished to make way for a free-standing, demountable library. Covered walkways were installed to connect the main building and library to the students’ toilet block. The wooden classrooms (formerly known as Siberia), one of which had been used as the canteen, were relocated to the eastern boundary to be linked to the former science building (now Rainbow Cottage, below) via a long verandah. A new canteen building was erected. The space previously occupied by the library, on the ground floor level of the main building, was converted back into two classrooms separated by a “wet area”. Double aluminium and glass doors and concrete steps were installed to give additional access to the main building and a platform for outdoor assemblies.
1991 – Mr Graham Ware became Principal of the newly amalgamated Public School. Mrs Margaret Mullane was appointed Assistant Principal (Infants), a position previously known as “Infants’ Headmistress”. The Henry Street site’s buildings were taken over as district offices of the Department.
1994 – The NSW Department of School Education formally recognised the establishment of a School Council at Penrith PS, a partnership for the development and implementation of specific policies relevant to the school and its wider community.
1995 – Parents petitioned Penrith Council for a “wombat crossing” and a “Go Slow zone” in Doonmore Street. The school was infested with white ants. This had been an ongoing problem for a number years and rumours persisted that the school would be condemned and forced to close. The rumours proved to be groundless.
1996 – The floor of the assembly hall had to be replaced due to termite damage.
1997 – Mr Phil Dingle became Principal.
2001 – Ms Liz Strasser replaced Mr Dingle as Principal. The school took part in celebrations to mark the Centenary of Federation.
2002 – The inside of the main building was painted. Aboriginal artist, Cecily Carpenter, created a large mural, Campsites – Bush Tucker, in a prominent section of its ground floor corridor. The school launched its first home page on the Internet. In December, State Member for Penrith, Mrs Faye Lo Po’, promised funding for an upgrade of school facilities. Ms Julie Stockton was promoted to Assistant Principal (Infants) for 2003.
2003 – In March, Education Minister John Watkins announced that Penrith PS would receive $1.9 million for an upgrade to include a purpose-built assembly hall, permanent canteen, Covered Outdoor Learning Area (C.O.L.A.) and new amenities block. The P&C raised $18000 over a two-year period to provide air conditioners for all upstairs classrooms. Luke Rooney, a former school captain, then a professional National Rugby League player for the Penrith Panthers, visited the school. A makeover for the old 1923 science building, now being used by the school’s ESL (English as a Second Language), STLD (Support Teacher Learning Difficulties), teachers’ aides and community volunteers, saw it reborn as Rainbow Cottage.
2004 – Annual enrolment numbers had stabilised to around 400 students. Construction of the new hall and other facilities was nearing completion.
2005 – Mr Ken Jackson became the 22nd Principal of Penrith PS.
2006 – Mrs Mullane, a longtime Assistant Principal (Infants), was honoured with a plaque (on a bench near the bell) for her many years of service. The new facilities were opened with a celebratory assembly and another commemorative plaque in July, attended by politicians, past teachers and the extended school community.
2007 – In March, Mr Jackson and the two school captains were invited to join NSW Governor Marie Bashir and the NSW Premier, Morris Iemma, for an historic walk across the Sydney Harbour Bridge, celebrating the first National Trust Day and the Bridge’s 75th anniversary. Former student, Cassandra Golds, now a successful children’s novelist, attended the school’s annual Reading Picnic.
2009 – More new buildings were promised, as part of the national Building the Education Revolution (BER) economic stimulus package. The school’s first Interactive Whiteboard (IWB) was installed in the library.
2010 – A new, brick library complex was constructed on the site of the old, demountable library. Two permanent brick classrooms replaced temporary demountables opposite the hall. Two Connected Classroom facilities (in the library and one of the new classrooms) were installed to enable students and teachers to engage in video conferences beyond the immediate school environment.
2011 – An effort was made to install IWBs in every classroom. With the assistance of P&C funding, the original panels of the former library mural (1998) were recreated photographically on large canvas frames and hung in the new library.
2015 – Mrs Chantal Beltran was appointed Principal. The school community celebrated Penrith Public School’s Sesquicentenary celebrations (150 years) on Friday 31st July and Saturday 1st August. Meanwhile, the city of Penrith itself celebrated its Bicentenary (200 years).
(There is a more complete story of the school’s history, up to 1938, HERE.)