Public education a family affair

Public education has provided lifelong memories for NSW families for 175 years. Principal Trudy Bates shares her special connections with Billy Kos.

Trudy Bates holding a certificate. Trudy Bates holding a certificate.
Image: Trudy Bates with the public education centenary certificate given to her father in 1948.

John William Alcorn was in his first year at North Sydney Technical High School in 1948 when he received a certificate commemorating 100 years of public education in NSW.

Mr Alcorn, the late father of Seaforth Public School principal Trudy Bates, kept the certificate as a keepsake from his schooldays, which he always spoke about fondly.

“My dad was very proud of attending the school, which is why he kept so many bits of memorabilia from his days there,” Mrs Bates said.

The school had a distinguished history dating to 1878 and the original school building is now incorporated into the Greenwood Hotel in North Sydney, named after Nimrod Glenwood, the Headmaster from 1884 to 1914.

North Sydney Technical High School closed in 1969 following a population decline in northern Sydney and many of the teachers transferred to Killara High School.

Mr Alcorn was awarded a bursary to stay at North Sydney Technical High School after his Intermediate Certificate, but times were tough after World War II and he left school in 1951 to take on an apprenticeship as an electrician.

The bursary included an allowance of 30 pounds a year plus an extra two pounds and 10 shillings for textbooks and was dependent on the satisfactory work and conduct of the student each term.

“Although he didn’t get the chance to fulfill his dream of going to university and becoming a draftsman, my dad had a natural talent for drawing and drawing up house plans, which were used for my sister's house and for part of our family home,” Mrs Bates said.

“My dad drew with his left hand and wrote with his right hand, because he wasn't allowed to write left-handed at school back in those days.”

A class photo. A class photo.
Image: John Alcorn in fourth year at Lidcombe Public School, fourth from right in top row.

Growing up, Trudy’s parents instilled in her a love of learning by supporting and encouraging her through her public education journey. And looking back, she can see so many connections with her dad, her education at Balgowlah Heights Public School and Mackellar Girls High School and her career as educator.

“My dad really valued the opportunities an education could provide and was very proud that I chose the career I did.”

After completing her teaching degree, Mrs Bates taught in south-western Sydney for five years before getting a position at Manly Village Public School, which she discovered her father had attended in his final years of primary school (when it was then named Manly Public School).

“He told me that where the canteen now stands is where the air raid shelter used to be when he was a student there during the war, which I thought was fascinating,” she said.

“And now, as the principal at Seaforth Public School, one of the things I find so special about the school is its own unique history and wonderful archives with so many stories of students and teachers.

“I place great value on my schooling, my career as a public school educator and history.”

Seaforth Public School, with beautiful art deco features, opened in 1939 and was originally named Balgowlah Public School.

Mrs Bates said her teachers at Mackellar Girls High School influenced her aspiration to become a teacher.

“I had wonderful teachers – some that I’m still in touch with today – who encouraged me and gave me great opportunities,” she said.

“I knew I wanted to be a teacher for as long as I can remember, and the thing I value most about my role is the impact I can make on students by giving them the same belief in themselves that my teachers developed in me.

“Every day I aim to help students love school, feel they are an important part of their community and value the importance of education in all its facets.”

  • 175 years
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