Penrith PS: a history

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.)
Rainbow over school (#12)

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.”

1868Mr 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.
PPS Infants

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.
PPS Certificate

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.

1883 – A new schoolroom for the Girls’ Department began construction. Mr Wiley departed.
PPS Girls

1884Mr Archibald Smith became Headmaster. The school was closed for two weeks in November, due to epidemics of typhoid and scarlet fever in the town.
PPS 1884 Doorway

1885 – Mr A. Smith was replaced as Headmaster by Mr John Smith (affectionately known as “Badger”). Total enrolment was now 491.

1887Miss 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.

1912Mr 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.

1915Mr 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.
PPS 1917 Main
PPS 1917 Stone

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.

1924Mr 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.

1928Mr 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.

1937 – Negotiations were conducted for the sale of the adjacent estate, The Towers.
PPS Towers

1938The 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.

1944Mr 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.

1954Mr 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.

1961Miss Mary Healey appointed as Infants’ Headmistress.

1965 – Penrith Public School Centenary celebrations.
PPS 100

1967 – The Primary School Band was formed and would perform with credit for many years.

1968Mr 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.
Apollo vol I no 1 1968

PPS Badge

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.”
PPS Henry

*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.
PPS 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.
PPS Pre-1977 Front

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.
PPS 1978 Wall

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.

1985Mr A. Pankhurst appointed as Principal.

1987Mr 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.
PPS Rainbow

1991Mr 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.

1997Mr Phil Dingle became Principal.

1998 – An historic mural, with panels telling the Penrith story from ancient times up through 1998, was painted on the side of the demountable library.
Penrith Public School mural

1999 – The school colours changed from brown and yellow to red, white and blue.
for the future...

2001Ms 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.
Rainbow Cottage

2004 – Annual enrolment numbers had stabilised to around 400 students. Construction of the new hall and other facilities was nearing completion.

2005Mr 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.
PPS Bell

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.
New school library

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.
New mural 2

2015Mrs 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.)

11 thoughts on “Penrith PS: a history

  1. I read every word of this history and was again amazed by two outstanding aspects of its creation. Firstly , the vision and energy of Carol Bagnell and Judith McGregor in researching and publishing the history in a child friendly format and secondly, the efforts of Ian McLean to make the history so accessible to a modern audience in an electronic format. Top efforts all !

  2. I remember Mr Street. I don’t know what year I started. I was in the OA classes. I don’t know how long ago. I left the school in 1972. CU.

  3. I started school at Penrith Public School in 1954. My teacher was Miss Bogg. The headmistress was Miss Inness, I think. The boys’ classrooms were on the bottom floor and the girls’ were on the top floor. The playground had a line down the middle to separate the boys from the girls. Many notes were passed across that line!

    I remember playing under a beautiful peppercorn tree near the fence. At playtime we were given free milk to drink which I hated.

    We had four “houses”; I was in Bates (white). The other houses were Chisholm (yellow), Nightingale (red) and Fry (green). The school uniform was a brown tunic with a white blouse underneath. I walked to school or rode my bike. The school was a mile from home.

    I hope I can return one day to see how much it has changed!

  4. I was a student at PS from 1952 to 1955. It was mixed classes until 1954 when the girls’ and boys’ departments were created. Mrs Edna Dunn was my 3rd class teacher, Mr Val Kesby in 4th and 6th class and Mr Finemore in 5th class. The main building was the whole school then. There was a concrete cricket pitch in the back half of the playground but I can’t remember that there was too much grass those days. I do remember watching the earthmoving machinery from the army engineers (on the northern side of the railway line) forming up the oval at PHS. My father said that “Jock”, Mr McGregor, was able to convince the Officer-in-Charge of the engineers that it would be a great training exercise for the men.

  5. Yes I to have very fond memories of Penrith Infants, my first teacher Mrs Rump, Miss Snider and Mrs Walker. Fond memories of the big log at the back fence of the school we all raced for after lunch and of course the itchy grubs. Then onto primary with Mr Fathers, Mr Finnimore, Mrs Cameron, Mr Crossing and Mr O’Reilly and I was a prefect during 6th Class. I remember there was an honour board above a machine gun in the assembly hall and Mr Carruthers was the headmaster and gentleman along with Mr Street who taught me how to play cricket. There were seven brothers and sisters who attended the same schools over many years. I now live in Townsville and when I re-visit Penrith I make a point of visiting each site.

    Very proud of the efforts of the good people maintaining a great tradition.

    Kind regards
    Brian Smith

  6. I attended both the Infants school and PPS from 1968-1975. Reading back, the memories came flooding in, with Miss Healey as the Infants Headmistress and Dr Allan as the Primary Headmaster. To me both the infants and primary school colours will always be brown and white checkered uniform with a hint of yellow and, yes, I still have my school badge and the original newspaper clipping from 1974 when Mr Grigor Taylor visited the school. I was also in the school choir and my house colour was Green (King), then Yellow (Macquarie), Red (Hunter) and Blue (Phillip) – funny after all these years how one does remember these things. Thanks for the great memories.

  7. my name is Elizabeth Firmstone. I was a student at your school from 1984 to 1987.
    I would like someone type or write all students and teachers in Year 6 in the class 1987. Because I miseds out of my in year six t-shirt and year six class photo please. PLEASE SEAD A COPY OF THE PHOTO PLEASE
    My address is 21 West Ave, Emu Plains, NSW 2750

  8. I have fond memories of Penrith Infants School in the Henry Street buildings. I taught 2nd grade in 1963 and 1964 with Miss Mary Healy the Infants Mistress. Mrs Rumpf was a teacher there at that time and I still have a lovely fruit cake recipe of hers. I cannot remember the cleaner’s name but she was a gem. After travelling by train from Parramatta to the station, then walking on frosty ground to school, she would have my coke/coal fire burning nicely to warm the body and particularly the feet during winter. The heat in summer on the playground managed to soften the tar and my heels would sink down when doing playground duty at lunchtime……of course we all wore high heels to work then!!! My 2B class of 1963 had 40 pupils……I have just counted them in the class photo to make sure!!!! Never the less, an enjoyable time in my teaching career.

  9. I remember Mr Dingle as my principal and Miss Stockton as my teacher in Kindy. Mrs De Vos, Mrs Mead, Mrs Martin and Mr Pickworth were also my teachers in different years. I also remember Mr E as sports teacher. Great school I went to. I also remembered having teachers’ aides Mrs Ryan and Mrs Fleurant. Wish I could go back in the days again.

  10. I attended Penrith Infants 1974-1976 and I remember Miss Healy playing the piano beautifully as we walked into the assembly hall each week. I attended Penrith Primary 1977-1980, and although everyone seems to have very fond memories, I found the new school very different from the infants. I made some great friends. Interestingly enough, I had the lovely Mr Street as a fill in teacher a few times as he was already retired from fulltime teaching.

  11. I attended Penrith Infants in Henry St from 1950 .I remember playing on the log at the northern extreme of the playground. On moving to Primary school, I recall playing releasings etc. My teachers were Mr Edington, Mr Finnimore, Mr Erpe.

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