Albert State School in 1890.
Albert State School in 1890.

LOOKING BACK: The history of Albert State School

FOR ME, the true value of our heritage buildings does not derive so much from architectural or aesthetic considerations as from their connection to the stories and experiences of those who have walked through their doorways.

When the first students excitedly walked through the doorway of Albert State School in 1883, there were 220 of them and Maryborough was going through something of a boom.

Their new school building was built to a design by a very bright and innovative architect, Robert Ferguson.

Maryborough's first government school had opened over two decades earlier, in 1862.

The town experienced a dramatic growth in schools beginning in 1875, with ten schools opening in 16 years.

Albert School bell.

Granville State School and Tinana State School opened in 1875; the Sisters of Mercy Convent School in 1880; Maryborough Grammar School in 1881; St Helen's State School in 1882; Albert State School and Maryborough Girls Grammar School in 1883; Maryborough West State School in 1886; a Christian Brothers School in 1888; and Sunbury State School in 1891.

This picturesque school, like others across Queensland, was built to a standard plan of Ferguson's.

The government developed these standard plans for school buildings to help ensure consistency and economy across the vast colony.

These designs were continually refined in response to changing needs and educational philosophy.

Queensland school buildings were particularly innovative in climate control, lighting, and ventilation.

The implementation of these standard designs has resulted in distinctly similar schools right across the State.

Albert School war memorial.

Ferguson had been appointed in 1879 by the Department of Public Instruction as its first Superintendent of Buildings and immediately set out developing climate appropriate designs to address deficiencies in ventilation and lighting.

As can be seen at the Albert School, his buildings were more than functional, being decoratively-treated with a variety of elaborate gothic timber work and were heralded by educationalists as 'far superior in design, material and workmanship to any we have before built'.

We now take for granted how school buildings in Queensland look, but it actually took Ferguson and others a good deal of experimentation and refinement to create buildings that suited the Queensland climate and the educational requirements.

Whilst 220 students took their first lessons at the school on 9 July 1883, the building was designed to accommodate up to 250 students.

Within three months there was an average attendance of 320 students, and by the end of the school year the enrolments had swelled to 450, requiring urgent extensions also designed by Robert Ferguson, after which a newspaper reported that Albert State School was 'said to be the second best in the colony'.

By 1891 there were 611 students attending, making it the largest co-educational school in Queensland.

The school has quite a formal entrance through well-kept gardens which provide a focus towards the prominent sandstone obelisk.

This monument was unveiled by the Mayor of Maryborough, George Holbut while World War I was still raging, on December 14, 1917.

At the time of its unveiling it had 25 names on its panels - and tragically another 18 would have to be etched into marble as the war ground on to its conclusion.

The fine crest refers to the "Albert School Heroes”, and it is very fitting that they are still remembered here at the scene of their sunny childhood days before giving their life in the service of others on the battlefields of Europe.

Those young men were who they were in part because of what they learned here.

For 135 years, generations of Maryborough children, like them, have walked through these grounds, played in the shady alcoves under the buildings and listened to their teachers in the classrooms so adeptly designed by Ferguson.