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Tent to technology, 1854 - 2020


The history of St. Mary's school parallels that of many Victorian goldfields schools in so many goldfields towns whose growth and development reflect that of Castlemaine. First, the basic timber and canvas structure, followed by something still basic, but more substantial and indicative of a faith in the future, maybe a stone or brick single room.

This, then, was so often followed by a period of guidance by religious orders of nuns, courageous nuns, dedicated to the education of the children of the Church. This was generally an involvement that lasted many years, and saw the establishment of a system of education in parochial schools throughout rural and urban areas alike.

At a much later date, decades later, and for myriad reasons, the religious orders largely withdrew from the system. But each left behind the solid foundations of modern educational institutions capable of responding to ever developing innovations in educational theory and their practical application. And so, tents and single room buildings became purpose built, specialist and generalist, equipped with the latest affordable technology.

St. Mary's school began as a timber and canvas "schoolroom" in the corner of what is now the Church grounds, on the corner of Templeton and Hargraves Streets in 1854. This spot is now occupied by the grotto.

By the time four Sisters of Mercy came from Kyneton to establish a convent, arriving on January 20th 1905, the school had two brick buildings housing three rooms, staffed by two secular teachers. The Sisters took control of St Mary's school on Monday January 23rd. From that time until their withdrawal from the school in 1984, the Sisters oversaw many and great developments including the establishment, and later closure, of the secondary school, St Gabriel's, and the continued expansion of the primary school. (St Gabriel's was registered in 1906 and closed in 1974.)

Since that time six lay principals have been appointed; Les Coyle in 1985, Mark Bainbridge in 1988, Margaret Lynch in 1998, Ben Donnelly in 2010, Bronwyn Phillips in 2017 and the current principal, Ben Shields, took the helm in term 2, 2020. Each has overseen St. Mary's ongoing development into the modern Parish Primary School it is today.

Modified text from "St. Mary's Parish 150 Years" commemorative booklet, thanks to Lynda Doyle & Kevin Jenkins

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