Sunshine Technical School

13 February 2020

In a surprising but certainly welcomed decision, the Victorian government has guaranteed the future of the historically and architecturally important Sunshine Technical School. Seemingly destined for demolition, the two buildings will continue to be used for education purposes.

Located on Derby Road, Sunshine, the Sunshine Technical School boys’ wing and the Sunshine Girls Technical School are notable examples of the Modernist/Art Deco work of Percy Everett, the Public Works Department Chief Architect from 1935 to 1953. Equally important, the Sunshine Technical School is a tangible link to an important period of Australia’s industrial development, and contributed to the development of secondary and post-secondary education in Victoria. And adding further to their significance, it was recently discovered that Harold Blair (1924-1976), a classically trained tenor and Aboriginal activist, was employed as music teacher at the school from c1966 to 1969, almost surely the first Indigenous person employed as a teacher in a Department of Education school in Victoria. Yet despite their considerable social and architectural importance, and the fact that the buildings are covered by a local Heritage Overlay, the Victorian Education Department in 2020 proposed to demolish both buildings.

The case for preserving the buildings is strong. In 1911, H.V. McKay, developer of the Sunshine stripper-harvester and a central figure in Australia’s early manufacturing history, donated £2,000 and five acres of land at 129 Derby Street, Sunshine to the Victorian Education Department to establish the Sunshine Technical School. Prior to the opening of the school, apprentices had been trained at the Sunshine Harvester Works in Ballarat. When the School opened in 1913, forty-seven apprentices enrolled in a range of trades including moulding and casting, blacksmithing, and fitting and turning.

Sunshine Technical School provided innovative post-primary education. Apprentices could attend  night classes, had paid time-off to attend their courses, and incentives were paid for academic achievement and attendance. Apprentices worked in various sections of the Sunshine Harvester Works, and some went on to work full-time for the company. The Sunshine Harvester company and the McKay family maintained close links with the School, with H.V McKay president of the School’s council until his death in 1926.


Sunshine Technical School boys’ wing Credit: The Age

In 1938, a new building for girls was opened at 111 Derby Road, making Sunshine Technical a co-educational school. In 1941, a new boys’ wing was built at 129 Derby Road. Both buildings were designed by Percy Everett, the Public Works Department Chief Architect known for his Modernist/Art Deco schools, hospitals, court houses, office buildings and technical colleges. Many of these buildings are listed on the Historical Buildings Register.

Sunshine Girls Technical School Credit: Heritage Council Victoria

A major restructure of schools in the district occurred at the end of 1991, when six schools were amalgamated to form Sunshine College. This arrangement lasted until 2020, when the buildings on Derby Road were closed.

Given the historical and architectural merit of Sunshine College, the proposal met with considerable opposition, including from the Royal Historical Society of Victoria, the Sunshine and District Historical Society, The National Trust, Brimbank City Council, the  Sunshine and District Historical Society and community groups. As part of the challenge to the proposed demolition, Dr John Pardy, President of Sunshine HS, rapidly produced a study of the school’s history to support a nomination to the Victorian Heritage Register (VHR). The broad based opposition and the strong case for preservation fortunately proved successful: Education Minister James Merlino announced in October 2021 that the buildings would be ‘retained for future educational use’.