Dictionary of Sydney

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Bondi-Waverley School of Arts

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Bondi-Waverley School of Arts

On 13 June 1859, the first general meeting of the members of the Waverley School of Arts was held in the house of Mr Newland snr, close to the Robin Hood Inn. The meeting was called by the provisional committee of the institution to vote for a committee and decide on rules and regulations. It was agreed unanimously to accept a draft set of rules modelled on those in use at the Sydney Mechanics' School of Arts, to establish a scale of membership fees, establish a reference and lending library, and that a suitable building for the permanent home of the institution be erected as soon as was possible. Following the adoption of the rules, the first committee was elected, with Mr Charles St Julian as President, Richard Watkins treasurer and Philip Newland secretary. [1]

The first School of Arts

Notwithstanding the lack of a purpose-built home, the school, which was the fifth School of Arts to be established in Sydney, quickly got under way, opening a library and holding a regular series of lectures and talks at a site in Bronte Road. A number of clubs and groups were also established, including a debating club. In 1860 the school was given a boost when Waverley Council voted to exempt the site from the collection of rates, but although money had been collected and promises made through the 1860s and early 1870s, there was no new building to house the school. In 1877, £300 was put aside on Government Estimates for the purchase of a site for a building, but still nothing came of it. [2] With no permanent home the school foundered, and by the early 1880s it had closed.

Despite this, there was still a campaign to get a School of Arts, with the Department of Public Instruction placing a further £500 on Estimates in 1885 for the erection of a building. It was reported at the time that a site was already in possession of Council which had commissioned Sydney architects Clark Bros to build a joint town hall, council chamber and School of Arts, but again nothing was built and the site was later sold. Part of the problem was that the Council was not legally entitled to build a town hall on land partly purchased using public subscriptions for the erection of a School of Arts. [3]

The second School of Arts

In September 1911, after a lapse of over a quarter of a century, a public meeting was held at the Cricket Pavilion in Waverley Park to discuss the re-establishment of a School of Arts for the Bondi-Waverley area. The large attendance at the meeting was seen as a positive sign of the need and desire of the public for the institution, and a subscription fund was opened, which quickly attracted over £47 in contributions towards a building. [4]

With the public's support, a series of fund raising events were organized, including parties, concerts, balls, euchre nights, picture shows at the New South Wales Olympic Theatre in Bondi Junction and performances by the Waverley Comedy Club. [5] Generous donations were also taken from the public, including the 500 volume 'Marmion' Library together with cedar bookshelves and cupboards (value £500) donated by the late Mr John Sands in February 1912. [6]

In June 1913 the establishment of the institution was approved by the Department of Public Instruction with a promise of a pound for pound contribution towards the building funds of the school. This was in addition to £770 already granted by the Department. The money raised went towards the purchase in April 1913 of the 1889 residence 'Navestock' on Bondi Road for £2250. Lack of a permanent home had been a contributing factor in the demise of the first school and so was a high priority for the new trustees. The purchase of Navestock came after the failure of a number of attempts to purchase a suitable site to build on. [7] The house needed substantial refurbishment and renovation to make it suitable for use as a School of Arts, and work proceeded through 1913 and into 1914 to ready the site. Architects Hassall and Stockham of Sydney were employed to design the additions, including a front balcony and portico and a rear extension to accommodate a billiards room. [8]

High hopes were held for the institution. At a function the week prior to the official opening, MLC and former Premier Sir Joseph Carruthers declared that the Bondi-Waverley School of Arts

promised not only to keep pace with others of its kind, but to lead. The district would be well served, and its residents would doubtlessly appreciate the facilities for cultured recreation which were offered them. [9]

The building was officially opened by the Premier William Holman on March 21 1914 with a number of members of parliament and councillors in attendance. At opening, the school was fitted out with a hall, meeting rooms, card and chess room, billiard room and an office used by the local member of parliament. [10]

Using the school

With the school officially opened, members and community groups began to use the facilities. One of the first to use the hall was the local women's committee for the establishment of a Red Cross League in August 1914, the month that World War I started in Europe. As well as patriotic patronage, ongoing fundraising events for the school were organised, both at the school and in the community, including performances and donations, though a large portion of the finances still came from the government. However, due to the outbreak of the war, the government cut grants to schools of arts across the state by half, placing considerable pressure on the Bondi-Waverley school. At one point the school owed £200 to David Jones Ltd for furniture, a debt which nearly saw the school sued by the retailer. [11] Regardless of this uncertain start, at the end of 1914 the school had 600 members.

The Annual Report in 1917–1918 gives an insight into the variety of groups that used the school building. As well as holding regular billiards and snooker tournaments, the tenants including the Waverley Masonic Lodge, the Presbyterian church, the Lodge Harponian (Buffaloes), the Loyal Bondi Lodge, Lord Kitchener's Lodge, and Mr E Mason's Euchre Club. The school had also hosted a number of wedding receptions, soldier send-offs, and welcome home functions, as well as being a polling place for elections. [12] The Annual Report also noted that the library had grown to 3326 volumes, but the membership had fallen to 413.

By the end of World War I, the school was in debt and struggling to survive. From 1921 Waverley Council began to provide an annual grant of £50, which rose to £200 from 1929. To supplement this, a large carnival at Bondi Beach in January 1922 raised £2,154 that was put towards reducing the mortgage and extending the billiard-room and ballroom. [13] Other than the rent for use of the school's halls, meeting rooms and public spaces, billiards was consistently the largest money maker for the school.

Throughout the 1920s and 1930s, the school was faced with growing competition from other venues that were opening in the district, particularly the Bondi Surf Pavilion which opened in 1929 with rooms for hire. Although this attracted growing support, the school worked hard to attract groups to its facility and was regularly used by groups such as the Eastern Suburbs Motor Cycling Club, the Waverley and District Cricket Club, the Women's Loyalty League, the Bondi-Waverley Music Club, and as a meeting venue for a Mothercraft Clinic from 1932. In spite of this ongoing use, by the outbreak of World War II, the school was once again in debt.

The end of the school

With the end of World War II, the members were again called on to help ease the school's debts. Regular payments and an ongoing annual grant from Waverley Council cleared the debt by 1950 – between 1947 and 1965 the Waverley Council granted on average £125 per year towards the running of the school. Coupled with the debt, the school was faced with a changing attitude to entertainment from the 1950s. The lifting of six o'clock closing from New South Wales hotels and the increasing appeal of television cut into the school's audience and users in the 1950s. Then in 1964 the opening of the Waverley Municipal Library next door to the school absorbed the school's collection and resulted in the closure of the school's library, severely reducing the school's active membership in the process. [14]

By the later 1970s the school was struggling to survive. In 1980 it entered into negotiations with the Waverley Woollahra Arts School over a lease of the school building. Following on from this, in 1981 the Trustees of the Bondi-Waverley School of Arts voted to transfer the building to the Waverley Municipal Council, and the building was renamed the Waverley Woollahra Arts Centre, reflecting the new major tenant and signalling the end of the Bondi-Waverley School of Arts as an operating group.


[1] Sydney Morning Herald, 15 June 1859, p 7

[2] Sydney Morning Herald, 4 October 1877, p 3

[3] JD Atkins, The Sydney Mechanics School of Arts Diary 1833–1845, Sydney Mechanics School of Arts, Sydney, 1981, p 119

[4] Souvenir Bondi-Waverley School of Arts, 1917, National Library Collection, p 18

[5] Education Department Subject Files: School of Arts File 20/13156 Bondi-Waverley School of Arts State Records NSW

[6] BT Dowd and W Foster (eds), The History of the Waverley Municipal District, Council of the Municipality of Waverley, 1959, p 220

[7] BT Dowd and W Foster (eds), The History of the Waverley Municipal District, Council of the Municipality of Waverley, 1959 p 220

[8] Sydney Morning Herald, 19 August 1913, p 12

[9] Sydney Morning Herald, 11 March 1914, p 8

[10] Stephen Moore, Bondi-Waverley School of Arts Building Heritage Assessment, prepared as part of UNSW School o f Planning and Urban Development, 1997, Waverley Local Studies Collection.

[11] Education Department Subject Files: School of Arts File 20/13156 Bondi-Waverley School of Arts State Records NSW

[12] Waverley-Bondi School of Arts Annual Report 1917–1918, Education Department Subject Files: School of Arts File 20/13174 Bondi-Waverley School of Arts State Records NSW

[13] BT Dowd and W Foster (eds), The History of the Waverley Municipal District, Council of the Municipality of Waverley, 1959, p 220

[14] Stephen Moore, Bondi-Waverley School of Arts Building Heritage Assessment, prepared as part of UNSW School o f Planning and Urban Development, 1997, Waverley Local Studies Collection