By Peter Douglas
A group of old school friends are hoping to mark in style an historic occasion for the Yarra Ranges – the 60th anniversary of the burning down of Lilydale High School.
While many in the region may have few, if any, recollections of the event, the fire on 5 May, 1958, caused major disruptions, with the school servicing much of the Yarra Ranges district, including Healesville and Yarra Glen, even as far away as Powelltown.
Long-time resident and former student, Richard Doig, and a group of school pals who meet regularly are intent on uniting people who were involved with the school in the 1950s.
So far, Mr Doig said they have around 500 people on their list, with as few as 150 contactable.
“So far, the boys have been much easier to find than the girls, because many of the girls have changed their name through marriage,” he said.
“Our group meets for lunch quite regularly and we really wanted to do something special to mark this historic occasion and what it meant for the region.
“I remember there was quite a bit of excitement at the time; that students had to go to great lengths to attend (temporary) classrooms, which were around the district.
“The school was known as a ‘bus school’, because it was one of the only schools of its type in the region. So, many came from Healesville, Silvan, Yarra Glen, Powelltown, Warburton and surrounds.”
In the fire event on Monday 5 May, 1958, nearly all of the school was burnt to the ground.
Only the Domestic Arts Wing and the original classrooms survived.
The cause of the fire is still unknown.
While there was some suspicion the fire was deliberately lit, no charges were ever laid.
Most of the library, nearly all the students’ report books, as well as examination papers, were destroyed.
After the fire, it was decided that senior forms would use the base buildings in Clarke Street, while junior forms would use the undamaged rooms on the site of the main school.
The school also secured the use of the Parish Hall, the Baptist Hall, the Court Room and the Lilydale Tennis Club rooms at Melba Park.
Supplies of lockers, desks and classroom equipment were believed to have come from the Education Department.
Surviving records tell of inadequate playing space for the children, as well as severe winter conditions which the students endured.
Timeline of the fire and rebuilding of the school:
* May 5: Thirteen of the 23 rooms in the school destroyed by a fire of unknown origin. Senior school transferred to Clarke Street, Lilydale, and neighbouring halls;
* May 15: Information received of tenders to be called for re-building of burnt-out section of the school;
* May 30: A tender submitted by T.W Morris and Son, of Murrumbeena (close to 60,000 pounds), was accepted for ‘re-building of first and part-second sections (fire re-instatement) and erection of the third section in cement-rendered light timber construction’;
* June 2: Re-building began;
* August 15: Senior school occupied rebuild classrooms;
* August 22: Official re-opening ceremony and school fair.
All students, teachers and staff who were at, or involved with, the Lilydale High School in the 1950s are invited to the reunion. The event will be held at the Eastern Golf Club, Yering, on Monday 26 November, at 2am.
There will be an opportunity to reminisce with classmates and teachers. Guests are welcome to bring along memorabilia such as class photographs.
An afternoon tea will be provided. Enquiries to firstname.lastname@example.org, Richard on 0419 365 604 or Leigh Brown on 0408 811 995.