Mary­bor­ough recog­nised the im­por­tance of ed­u­ca­tion


WHEN­EVER I walk out of my of­fice in Mary­bor­ough City Hall I look out across Kent Street to the School of Arts build­ing.

This build­ing is one of our finest build­ings ar­chi­tec­turally, but it also rep­re­sents the am­bi­tion of early Mary­bor­ough and the recog­ni­tion of the im­por­tance of life­long ed­u­ca­tion.

This wasn’t the first School of Arts build­ing here. An ear­lier, tim­ber struc­ture had been erected in 1861. These in­sti­tu­tions en­cour­aged adult ed­u­ca­tion, both tech­ni­cal and cul­tural, and were the fore­run­ners of our pub­lic li­brary sys­tem.

Read­ing the min­utes of the early meet­ings in 1860 and 1861, it is ap­par­ent many lead­ing Mary­bor­ough cit­i­zens were in­volved in the es­tab­lish­ment of the so­ci­ety, with fa­mil­iar names like Aldridge, Sheri­dan, Souther­den, Palmer and Uhr.

Mary­bor­ough grew through­out the 1860s and 1870s and to the tim­ber build­ing could no longer meet the ex­pec­ta­tions of the School of Arts.

In 1886 a de­sign com­pe­ti­tion was run for the new build­ing. Thirty-one en­tries were re­ceived from across the Aus­tralian colonies, and on Novem­ber 10, 1886 it was an­nounced the de­sign of ar­chi­tect John Grainger had won.

The plans he sub­mit­ted for a two-storey ren­dered brick build­ing with a clas­si­cal fa­cade would play a dom­i­nant role in the city’s streetscape for decades to come.

John Grainger was re­spon­si­ble for sev­eral fine build­ings and struc­tures in­clud­ing the Princes Bridge in Mel­bourne, the West Aus­tralian Par­lia­ment House and the Fre­man­tle Town Hall.

His son, Percy Grainger, would go on to be­come a fa­mous Aus­tralian com­poser and mu­si­cian.

If you are in Mel­bourne you can visit the Grainger mu­seum, which Percy es­tab­lished.

While a bril­liant and cre­ative ar­chi­tect, John Grainger was a heavy drinker and some­thing of a cad.

After they were mar­ried, his wife Rose, learned that he had fa­thered a child in Eng­land be­fore com­ing to Aus­tralia.

His pro­mis­cu­ous life­style placed heavy strains upon the re­la­tion­ship, par­tic­u­larly when Rose dis­cov­ered shortly after Percy’s birth that she had con­tracted a form of syphilis from her hus­band.

By no means his most fa­mous work, the rep­u­ta­tion of the Mary­bor­ough School of Arts build­ing was, and is, wide­spread. An ar­ti­cle pub­lished in the Syd­ney Mail on Jan­uary 26, 1895 re­ferred to the Mary­bor­ough School of Arts as “the pride of ev­ery Mary­bor­ough cit­i­zen”.

“Out­side of Bris­bane it is the finest in­sti­tu­tion of the kind in Queens­land – ex­ter­nally and in­ter­nally,” the ar­ti­cle read.

“It is the lion of the town, and ev­ery vis­i­tor is duty-bound to go over the in­sti­tu­tion and ad­mire it with fer­vour. Its present state of blessed­ness is the re­sult of many years of in­tel­li­gent and dis­crim­i­nat­ing labour.”

I reg­u­larly visit the build­ing while re­search­ing lo­cal his­tory.

The build­ing re­mains, in­ter­nally and ex­ter­nally, much in the state it has ex­isted for well over a cen­tury.

The Mary­bor­ough Wide Bay and Bur­nett His­tor­i­cal So­ci­ety now oc­cu­pies the ground floor with their re­search rooms and mu­seum.

The mu­seum is a must-see as much for the ex­hibits as to take in the old-world splen­dour of the book-lined li­brary with its mez­za­nine level.

This was a struc­ture de­signed and built with the in­ten­tion of fur­ther­ing knowl­edge and per­sonal de­vel­op­ment among the Mary­bor­ough pop­u­la­tion when Queens­land was a re­mote colony of the Em­pire.

Its con­tin­u­ing pres­ence in the heart of the city car­ries on this func­tion through the ex­cel­lent re­search un­der­taken by the his­tor­i­cal so­ci­ety and the mu­seum they run on be­half of the com­mu­nity.

While the world around her has changed sig­nif­i­cantly, above the build­ing’s grand door­way, the bust of Minerva, Ro­man God­dess of Wis­dom, strikes the same com­mand­ing pres­ence she has main­tained since adopt­ing this prom­i­nent po­si­tion more than 130 years ago.

Pho­tos: Con­trib­uted

School of Arts post­card. The build­ing was de­scribed in the Syd­ney Mail in 1895 as “the pride of ev­ery Mary­bor­ough cit­i­zen”.

Photo: Myles Sin­na­mon

The Read­ing Room, 1908. The mu­seum is a must-see to­day.

Minerva the Ro­man God­dess of Wis­dom above the door­way of the School of Arts build­ing in Kent St, Mary­bor­ough.

Ar­chi­tect John Grainger de­signed the School of Arts build­ing in Mary­bor­ough.

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