Dana Street School, the first National School in Ballarat West, was opened on 12 January 1857 in Doveton Street South on the site of the Grand Junction Gold Mining Company. The first school committee was James Oddie, and the members included Peter Lalor, MLA, Dr James Stewart, and Robert Lewis. Mr Charles Martin and his wife, the first teachers, taught around 100 pupils who started at 9 o’clock and went through till 3 pm with an hour off for lunch between 12 and 1 pm. The school was named after them and known as Martin’s School.
Some of the older pupils undertook lessons in Euclid, Algebra, and Book Keeping at the end of the day. Fees were paid to attend the school, first grade one shilling, second and third grades paid one shilling and sixpence, and the fourth graders paid two shillings. Older pupils who took on extra lessons paid extra money.
The new brick building was erected in 1876 at a cost of ₤6608 or around $15,000, a considerable sum in those days. The new school was opened by R. A. Armstrong and 1145 pupils were enrolled. A picket fence was erected and blue gums planted in 1880.
The punishment book showed that Armstrong was quick to use the cane and one morning he gave fifteen boys twenty ‘cuts’ of the cane each for not attending classes according to Nathan Spielvogel. Boys were known to take the place of girls who were given such punishments. One morning Armstrong even gave a bystander ‘a dozen mightly lashes round his legs with his mighty cane’. The reason for this was the man had told him to ‘Shut up!’ when he was giving a lecture in the front of the school to all the pupils. There was always an audience ‘hanging over the fence to listen’.
The infant classes in early times comprised over 100 pupils so that the teacher in charge used monitors. Spielvogel remembered that there were ‘a number of backless desks with the seats full of splinters’ and the almost 250 children in his class ‘were crowded together like sardines in a tin’.
Teachers at the school include Miss Ware, Mrs Spring, and Mrs Whiteside and Mr Thomas Curnow, famous for being involved in the Ned Kelly affair at Glenrowan. Pupils of Dana Street School included W. B. G. MacDonald, J. P. Jack Corbett (Australian Natives Association), Henry Batten (Mechanics’ Institute), Jim Twaits, Thomas Gribble, Albert Ewins, Jack Hutton Jones and Robert Grant.
The School has since been the home of the Historical Museum, the Sloyd Classes of the Ballarat Junior Technical School, Dana St Rural Practising School, Girls’ Post Primary School, and the Ballarat Teachers’ College who presented the photograph (shown here) through the Student Representative Council. It remains a Primary School to this very day.
Photographs of Dana Street School, Clare Gervasoni