Wangaratta High School was established in 1909 as an Agricultural High School for 18 students at two sites. So began a tradition of encouraging and supporting each student to be their best. To help each of them develop intellectually and socially to reach their full potential. And in doing so, give back to their local community.
WHS was consolidated from three campuses (Ovens College and the Wangaratta HS / GoTAFE Campus), back to one campus in 2014.
WHS is the only public secondary school in Wangaratta and it has a significant focus on supporting students to achieve their own individual pathway programs, and attracts students from surrounding areas for its Arts, Technology and Performing Arts programs.
See below for further details on the early years of Wangaratta High School.
We will be adding to this page as we uncover more stories of our history.
The Farm, 1909 – 1914
The new Wangaratta Agricultural High School was a reality. A spacious, gracious building with practically no students. But Wangaratta had high hopes; numbers would grow quickly as more families became aware of the benefits it offered.
Perhaps the persistence of Wangaratta’s leading citizens in pressing the government to proceed was prompted by what had happened not far to the north at Rutherglen, where the Viticultural College had opened with just four students.
Wangaratta’s optimism about the new school was justified. By the time John W Thomson closed his private Grammar School and joined the staff the following year, enrolments had reached 81, even though numbers in the farming course remained low.
Bringing into reality the agricultural part of the school’s name was fraught with difficulties, though the Headmaster, Mr Julius F Schilling, was particularly suited to administering both.
Wangaratta Agricultural High School, 1913
As early as 1902, the Wangaratta Chronicle, in its push for agricultural education, was citing Mr Schilling’s success with informally integrating the art of growing things with the normal syllabus at Numurkah State School as being worthy of emulation.
Choosing the site for the school farm was one of the many problems encountered. The Borough had offered 20 acres of the public park adjoining the Showgrounds as part of the original deal to clinch an Agricultural High School for Wangaratta, but other sites were thought more suitable for various reasons.
The borough park site eventually prevailed. With additions and substitutions after the school opened, it became an awkwardly-shaped block which presented a limited frontage to Johnstone Road.
A farm manager was appointed, Mr George S Gordon, an experienced man from Sale, who arrived to take up this position in May.
By this time a storm was breaking out in the Melbourne press over the whole concept of Agricultural High Schools and government patronage.
At the centre of the disturbed air was the Hon A O Sachse. The metropolitan dailies questioned the coincidence of the school being established while Sache held office of Minister of Education, and the further coincidence of him being the Member for North Eastern Province when two Agricultural High Schools opened within its boundaries, and rules were bent to allow them to proceed.
Wangaratta rode out the criticism, and no doubt felt an urge to say, “told you so”, when School Council was given news in mid-1910 that the school was expecting to commence the second half of the year within sight of the magical 100 pupil mark, and was being considered one of the best in the state.
When making a report on the agricultural side of things, Mr Schilling was able to point out that in spite of delays in clearing and fencing the ground, progress had been made at the farm itself. The work included the erection of a reinforced concrete silo, one of the signs of the old farm still visible today.
The silo was for storing and curing silage, and was associated with experiments in the planting of fast growing crops. Few district dairy farmers knew much about extending their milking season with silage, or which varieties of maize or millet were best suited to the district, so, in spite of themselves, they began keeping an eye on what was happening on the farm.
The farm acquired an orchard so students could be taught the art of pruning; a cow byre to house ten animals, a dairy, implement shed, and a piggery. It had a bricked well and an elevated tank, and plans to irrigate crops over the summer with water from the Ovens River.
Wheat trials were also being carried out, with 40 plots of the Federation variety supplied by Dookie College. The wheat was being tested for yields using different methods of seed treatment, sowing rates, and levels of fertilizer application.
The high profile of the farm had vindicated those who thought a central position, under the public eye, outweighed any other factor in the selection of site, even though the borough park was less than ideal in the variety of soil type it offered, and was too small. By being so easily seen and accessible, the farm had won over many of the doubters.
The school had also discovered the right “spin” to put on its message to the outside world, particularly to the die-hards in the farming community who though the school was there to tell them how to farm.
The message was simple: we are not here to teach you a business in which you are already accomplished. The school is here to make experiments which might prove useful to you. The school further sought contact with the rural community by arranging displays at district shows. When a Farmers’ Convention was held in Wangaratta in 1915, at least 100 visitors were
herded though the farm to see what was being done.
Mr J Schilling
Headmaster 1909 - 1911
Unfortunately, farming was undergoing a minor crisis at the time, with an acute shortage of agricultural labour coupled to a union push for higher wages – two more reasons for farmers to keep their sons away from school.
There had also been a change in the management of the farm, with Mr Gordon being replaced by D N Christensen from Warrnambool.
On the non-farming side of the school’s activities, things were looking much rosier, but keeping in touch with the community was still the name of the game.
At the Cookery Centre, Miss Drake was a splendid teacher and tireless networker. She involved the School Council by having the students entertain its members for dinner, and followed that by playing host to Borough Councillors, members of the Board of Advice and community leaders. Miss Drake was keen to demonstrate that the students were not only mastering cookery skills, but learning manners and deportment as well.
She also hosted Open Days at which as many as one hundred district ladies gathered to perhaps learn something new. If Miss Drake did something out the ordinary in her demonstrations, she would explain what she was doing and why. Meals were also served at sixpence a head (with pupils attending the tables), to help Cookery Department Finances, and, when the war came, to raise money for the Patriotic Fund.
Expansion of the School, 1914
A major shake-up occurred for the opening of school year 1912, with the appointment of a new headmaster.
Julius Schilling had proven to be an outstanding teacher, and his apparent demotion to Headmaster of the Primary School and the appointment of Mr Frank Refshauge to the High School caused a deal of comment.
Within a year, Mr Refshauge was able to report that attendances had reached 130, and space was becoming a problem. By 1914 it was even more acute, with enrolment rising to 208. One of the reasons for the sudden increase was the transfer of Grades 7 and 8 to the High School, and the introduction of the Qualifying Certificate, which opened the way for more students to attend higher education; but this was off-set by the opening of Elementary High Schools at Beechworth, Benalla and Rutherglen.
The problem of out of town students and their accommodation in Wangaratta, particularly for girls, has been a problem since the school opened. It ranked with a shortage of playground space as the most pressing need to be addressed.
During 1914, both problems were tackled. Playground space was solved by the purchase of two blocks of land adjacent to the schools, and the question of the out of town scholars was confronted by the Bishop of Wangaratta, who came up with a plan to establish a girls’ hostel.
A sub-committee was appointed, and an inspection made of suitable houses in Wangaratta for conversion to a hostel. The building which came immediately to mind was the large house in Norton Street being vacated by John W Thomson, who had accepted a position at Geelong High School.
However, more serious matters were at hand which would put many projects which seemed important at the time into suspension, and would even threaten an entire generation of young men.
ABOVE: WHS Boys’ Band, 1935.
BACK ROW – Bob Mitchell, “Jock” Steer, Roy Dinning, Charlie Ball, Bruce Ewart, Alex Sinclair, Dick Berry
SECOND ROW - Ken Baker, Ross Ramsden, Bruce Thompson, Bob Fullarton, Bill Fullerton, Jack Knight
THIRD ROW - Bruce Moran, Bill Steel, Kevin Law, Stan Powell, Ron Barber
FRONT ROW – Warwick Fraser, Doug Ferguson, Ralph Sandergren. (Bandmaster)
Photograph taken at Wangaratta Showgrounds.
‘The Farm’ extract taken from the book ‘Wangaratta High School 90 Years on 1909-1999’ by Graham Jones. First published 1999. Copyright Wangaratta High School and Graham Jones.