Newcastle Technical High School The First Five Years 1939-1943



Compiled in 2018 by Cliff Penney who was a first year student in 1939.

Link to Living Histories @ UON PDF Version:



The year 2019 marks the 80th anniversary of the commencement of Newcastle Technical High School at Tighes Hill in 1939. The first intake of 139 boys commenced their Secondary Education on 1 February 1939. The School occupied new buildings being constructed for the Newcastle Technical College.

The first building to be completed was the Edgeworth David Memorial building, named after the Australian geologist who accompanied Shackleton’s Antarctic expedition in 1907-1909. Other buildings were occupied as they were completed. The HG Darling building was completed in 1940 and the WE Clegg building in 1941.


W. E. Clegg building

For a short time while the facilities at Tighes Hill were being completed, some students were temporarily located in the old Technical College building in Hunter Street West and in the Wood Street Technical College where Woodwork and Metalwork classes were conducted.

The first Teachers were P.G. Price  (Headmaster and Maths),  A.S. Ritchie  (Science), R.H. Blinkhorne  (English and History) ,  R.C. Wilson  (German),  J.E. Smith  (Woodwork) and H. Kaplin  (Metalwork).  Many more teachers followed as the school numbers increased and new subjects were introduced.

The first School Captain was N. Murphy (“Spud”).  Later on, classmate R. Davidson (“Bob” or “Davo”) was also elected as School Captain.


The School Motto was “If I Can, I shall do this that is asked of me.  Already walks tomorrow”. This was abbreviated to “If I Can”.  The motto was inspired by the Rudyard Kipling poem “If”.  The motto was later changed to “Scientia ac Labore.

There were three classes in first year, 1A ,1B and 1C.  Many students stayed together in the same class for the next five years resulting in many lasting friendships being formed.  Frequent “Class of 39” reunions have been held over the years since leaving School.

The School colours were navy blue, sky blue and silver.

Students were assigned to four “houses” for inter-house sports and competitions. The houses were named Burrawang, Cudgerie, Marara and Nyora. At the second annual school sports carnival at No.1 Sports ground in July 1940, the houses were given the names of their leaders. They were T.Thompson (T), R. Davidson (D), N. Murphy (M) and W. White (W). The results of this “Sports Gala” are contained in an article in the Newcastle Sun on 18 July 1940.

“Tech High” participated in the major sporting Carnivals conducted by the PSAAA, CHS, Lintott Cup and competed against other schools in the district. They performed well.

In regard to sport and physical activities at school, Mr. E. J. Winter from the Department of Education visited the School in 1939 to introduce a more formal approach to Physical Training which he called Physical Education and encouraged the School to introduce more formal aspects of Physical Education into the School curriculum.

Being foundation members of a new School was unique in that these first students were the senior students of the School at the tender ages of eleven and twelve.

On the following pages, some interesting extracts are included and acknowledged :-

  • Extract from the first School magazine in 1939 containing the names of the Staff and Prefects and an Editorial.
  • Extract from the 1944 “Gleam” magazine featuring the “First Message to School” by the Headmaster P.G. Price.
  • List of the names of the first 139 students in 1939.
  • Extract from the Newcastle Morning Herald on 23 February 1940 containing an article by the Headmaster, P.G. Price outlining the function of the NTHS and its position in the scheme of secondary education.
  • Extract from the Newcastle Sun on 10 June 1942 regarding Air Raid Precautions at Tech High.
  • Extracts from the 1944 “Gleam” magazine listing the 1943 Leaving Certificate results, Speech Night and Prize lists and photographs of Prefects and Sporting teams.


Extract from the first School magazine in 1939 containing the names of the Staff and Prefects and an Editorial.



Extract from the 1944 “Gleam” magazine featuring the “First Message to School” by the Headmaster P.G. Price.


List of the names of the first 139 students in 1939.


Newcastle Morning Herald and Miners’ Advocate (NSW) 1876 – 1954), Friday 23 February 1940, page 4

National Library of Australia


Sir :- I have noticed that confusion exists regarding the function of the Newcastle Technical High School and its position in the scheme of secondary education. The following points might be of interest

(1) The term “‘junior” (sometimes misapplied to this school) as applied to a high school signifies that the school does not complete the full high school course of instruction up to what will eventually be the Higher Leaving Certificate. Because this school is being allowed to grow naturally from its own foundations it is carrying out instruction only in the first two years of high school work. Nevertheless, boys now at the school will sit for the same examinations as those at any other full high school, namely, the Intermediate (if it be retained) and the Lower and Higher Leaving Certificates. From the point of view of competitive entrance this school ranks on an equal footing with the Newcastle Boys’ High School in that only the top applicants gain admission. Educationally the functions of the two schools are identical insofar as each prepares boys for the higher professional occupations. They are “full” high schools.

(2) The school exists principally to benefit boys desirous of qualifying for technical professional posts, for the future engineer, whether civil, mechanical, electrical, mining or aeronautical, for the industrial chemist, the draughtsman, architect or surveyor and in general for the future professional man whose work has a mathematical, scientific or technical bias

(3) Its full course prepares boys for entrance to University or technical college diploma classes. It adopts the policy educationally of regarding the teaching of certain technical subjects as more important to its boys than the teaching of Latin, and graduates of the school could not, therefore, enter the university to study law, pharmacy or arts, all of which require Latin as a pre-requisite. All other university courses, including medicine, would be open to boys successfully passing the Leaving Certificate examination. Most boys leaving the school will probably desire to enter Technical College diploma classes. The requirements for entrance to those classes are therefore a strong guiding principle in the organising of courses. For example, physics and technical drawing would be compulsory for such boys.

(4) There is no connection as regards administration between the school and the Technical College. The school is a separate organisation within the college buildings. This does not mean that the college officers are apathetic regarding the growth of the school. Very active interest in and support for its development are shown by the College Principal and heads of departments and by the College Advisory Council. This naturally follows from a similarity in educational outlook. Because the college activities are now concerned principally with night classes, certain space is available by day and this is utilised by the school. The arrangement is good because, firstly, it brings the secondary technical work of the school to closer contact with- the tertiary technical education of the college; secondly, it has given boys an opportunity of utilising this splendid college equipment and of gaining inspiration from the environment of tertiary education as carried on under the most favourable conditions; and, thirdly, it has resulted in maximum day and night use being given to departmental property.

(5) The school is not a trades school. It is dealing in general secondary education, giving boys the necessary educational background for their later specialisation. The Newcastle Technical High School was established to supplement the work of secondary schools already established. It does not touch upon some branches of education. For example, it makes no attempt to meet the needs of boys desiring commercial training. In a district so highly technically organised it is natural that there should be a demand for the type of schooling it gives. Its function as a “full” high school is to provide education for those boys intellectually capable of becoming diplomates of the Technical College, graduates of the University and leaders in the professions they eventually choose; its function as a “technical” high school is more especially to bear in mind the requirements of those professional studies mentioned above; its function as a school of any sort is to educate for citizenship.





World War 2 commenced in 1939 during the first school year. News of the War was broadcast daily by the BBC and was the principal subject of discussion in the playground and in Class. In Social Studies classes, major events of the War were discussed :- Dunkirk, the Battle of Britain, The Rats of Tobruk, D-Day,  to name but a few. The War in the Pacific and New Guinea, the bombing of Darwin and the submarine attacks on Sydney and Newcastle harbours in 1942 brought the threat of war closer to home.

At School, weekly lunchtime “Penny for Britain” concerts were organised. Students were asked to pay a penny to attend. Teachers and students performed musical items. The money collected was sent to Britain for the war effort and for food relief parcels.

On one occasion students were called upon to assist officers of the RAAF by viewing their new colour “confetti” slides being tested for assessing colour blindness. It was said that certain degrees of colour blindness could assist aircraft Navigators in the detection of ground camouflage.

Air-raid shelters were constructed around the City at major gathering points. Sandbags were packed up against doors and windows of major buildings. Gun emplacements were established along the foreshores. Barbed wire entanglements and concrete tank traps were placed on the beaches and likely invasion points.

Below ground covered trenches were dug into the sandy soil of the school grounds adjacent to the school buildings. At school, air raid drills were organised.  When the siren sounded students were hurriedly evacuated to these shelters.

An interesting article was featured in the Newcastle Sun on 10 June 1942 concerning air raid precautions at Tech High in respect to the care of boys who may not be able to return to their homes in outlying areas in the event of an air raid. A copy of the article is attached.

An Army School Cadet unit was formed and members of the Unit were issued with Number 310 rifles.

Some students joined the National Emergency Service (NES) and because of their young age, they were appointed as “Messengers” to assist the Wardens in carrying out their tasks and to deliver messages by bicycle to Headquarters.  Practice nights were held on many occasions with attention to blackouts, evacuating people to shelters and assisting ambulance officers in the treatment of simulated injuries.

On the subject of blackouts, children helped to make blackout blinds to cover the windows at home, also cardboard cylinders to cover their room lighting and louvered shades were made out of jam tin lids to insert in the headlamps of their bicycles.

Food and clothing rationing was imposed during the war years and people were issued with a “Ration Book” containing coupons limiting the purchase of essential items. “Civilian Identity Cards” were also issued to be carried at all times.


Newcastle Sun (NSW : 1918 – 1954), Wednesday 10 June 1942, page 2
National Library of Australia


Arrangements are being made to provide temporary shelter for boys attending the Newcastle Technical High School who. as a result of an air raid, might be unable to secure transport to convey them to distant homes, the Headmaster of the school (Mr, T. J. Clyne) told members of the Parents and Citizens’ Association last night. Mr. Clyne said that some of the students came from outlying suburbs. If services were disrupted by enemy action, it might be difficult for them to reach their homes. Names of students living beyond walking distance of the school had been collected, and they had been asked, if possible, to make their own arrangements for accommodation locally in the event of their being unable to leach their homes. ‘We have also appealed, through the boys, to parents living fairly close to the school, asking whether they would be willing to take a boy in for the night.” he said. ‘Some parents have offered to take one boy. some two. and one offer has been received to take three.’ Shelter for the boys during a raid would be provided in the basement, he said. Bays there were being bricked in, and each bay would accommodate about 30 boys. Baffle wails were being erected. There were four reinforced concrete floors above the basement. If raids were made before the work in the basement was completed, trenches at the back of the school would be used. As a test, boys had been taken to these last week, and sufficient accommodation for them was available there.




Transport to “Tech High” was either by tram, bus or bicycle. Take for example a journey to school from Georgetown where the author lived :-

Transport from Georgetown was by the “toastrack” tram on the Waratah line towards the City and then changing into the Mayfield tram at “Dairy Farmers Corner” (later named “Steggles”) and then alighting from the tram in Maitland Road, Tighes Hill  outside the school.  The return home journey was also by this route.  The cost for each segment of this trip was one “ha’penny” ( halfpenny)  amounting to a daily cost of “tuppence” (two pence) or ten pence for the five day week. The “toastrack” tram was so called because of its separate seating compartments only accessible from the outside by the “running board”. The conductor collected fares by skillfully (and dangerously) walking along the running board outside the tram and leaning inwards to gain his balance when handling money and tickets. Trams ceased running in Newcastle in 1950 and in Sydney in 1962.

An alternative means of transport was by a green Number 220 double-decker bus into Dairy Farmers Corner and then transferring into the Mayfield tram as mentioned above.

It cost nothing to travel to school from Georgetown on the 3 Star Malvern Star bicycle along Cristo  Road, across the “Gully Line” past Henry Lanes and the Lampworks in Clyde Street, then left at the Gasworks corner and across the Railway line at the Clyde Street gates and along to the school.





The first students reached their final Leaving Certificate year in 1943. However this was not the first Leaving Certificate examination to be held at the school. A small number of students from other Junior and Intermediate High Schools were enrolled at Tech High in 1941 in order to complete their 4th and 5th years which were not available at their schools. Eleven of these students sat for the Leaving Certificate in 1942.

The 1944 “Gleam’ school magazine lists the 29 students who came through from 1939 to gain their Leaving Certificate in 1943. The “Gleam” also reports on the Speech night of 1944 and the Prize list for all classes up to our final year of 1943. A copy of these articles is attached. I was fortunate to be Dux of 5th year, 1943, in Mathematics 1.

Congratulations and thanks must go to the Headmasters and excellent Teaching Staff who manned the school from 1939 to 1943. In particular, mention must be made of four teachers who “survived” the ordeal and came through all of those five years. They were R.H. Blinkhorne, A.S. Ritchie, J.E. Smith and R.C, Wilson (with his “Oswald Grammar”)

In those days there were no formals, no graduation ceremonies and no “muck-up” days.  On the last day of school we just went home.

“Tech High” vacated the Tighes Hill site at the end of 1949 and relocated to Broadmeadow where it continued until 1976.  In 1977 the school amalgamated with Cooks Hill Girls High School and became Merewether High School.




P.G. Price, the first Headmaster, later occupied for a short time the position of Acting  Director General of Secondary Education in NSW.

Dymphna Cusack, AM, English teacher, was a famous Australian author of novels, plays and screen. Her most famous novel was “Come in Spinner”. In 1981 she was awarded a Member of the Order of Australia Medal.   Her career can be searched on the website.

Bob Davidson, Captain of the School and a gifted athlete in most of the sporting teams. Bob became a member of the Gordon Rugby Football Club and climaxed his career as Captain of the Wallabies Rugby Union team in their 1957-58 tour of Britain, Ireland and France.

Ralph Wilson, OAM, German teacher, became prominent in the Theatre as an Actor, Writer and Producer. In 1988 he was named Canberra Citizen of the Year and was awarded the Medal of the Order of Australia. A Theatre in the Gorman Arts Centre in Canberra was named the Ralph Wilson Theatre in his honour.

Jack McDonough, Technical Drawing teacher became Head of Creative Arts at Mitchell College, Bathurst,




There are not many photos from the first five years. Perhaps the cost of purchasing and processing 620 film for the Kodak “Box Brownie” was too expensive. The Cultural Collections of the University of Newcastle hold a copy of a photo of students taken in the school grounds in 1941 and this can be found on the internet. The following photos of some 1943 students have been copied from the 1944 “ Gleam” magazine.






4 thoughts on “Newcastle Technical High School The First Five Years 1939-1943

  1. Enjoyed this article and it brought back memories. I was at Tech High in the early to mid 70’s. Would love to visit the place, but they don’t seem to have reunions as far as I can see.
    Peter Brown
    Retired Senior Lecturer in Pure Maths at UNSW

    1. Andrew Bright is a prominent Barrister in Newcastle. If any one knows about reunions it would be him. I know the had on at Newcastle South Bowlo a few years back. Abrahams the Jaguar Driving Maths Teacher turned too. Bruce Rowlatt, Garry Hor , George Ratley all went.

  2. In regard to reunions, former students and teachers of the School Year which started at Newcastle Technical High School in 1960 and attended for the Intermediate Certificate of 1962 and/or the Leaving Certificate in 1964 (or parts thereof) hold a reunion each year. Unfortunately I have only just found this post and the reunion is today.

    Contact for this group can be made through Geoff Rich, Pete Carr and Greg Harrison who name themselves as The Unelected Reunion Committee.


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