The following was written by
Elaine Orton, NGHS, 5C 1955
when preparations were underway for the 1956 Centenary Edition of the Nobbys magazine.
Minor changes have been made to accommodate the passage of time.

Prior to 1906 Newcastle seconday pupils whose parents wanted them to have a secondary eduction had a limited chance of tuition. They were obliged to travel to the only State High School outside Sydney, Maitland (opened 1882), and this was for Northern students who could pay the fees, buy the text-books and, in certain cases, procure accommodation.

In the Newcastle district each half year, five scholarships and two bursaries were awarded – these were tenable for three years but were extended if a student desired to sit for the Senior Certificate. The Junior Course was for two to two and a half years. Scholarship holders were also allotted thirty shillings worth of text-books annually, and loaned some.
In 1905 the Department of Public Instruction instituted a Probationary Student System of training teachers for two years at a seconday school. In December of that year, twenty-five girls and twenty-five boys passed this entrance exam and it was realised there was no local training school for them. For months there was agitation about this unfair state of affairs, the indignant parents being supported by the parents of fifty Novocastrians then studying in Maitland.

Mr. W.T. Dick M.P. suggested to the authorities that the attendance at Newcastle Public School, the Hill (Infants and Primary) School, had decreased in numbers sufficiently, due to the opening of new schools as the population drifted westwards, to be able to allocate part of its building for a high school. Also the new classrooms at Bolton Street would be more convenient for the younger chidren.
And so State Education for high schools began on June 5 1906 in Newcastle when the Newcastle High School was opened in a portion of the Infants’ section of the Primary School. Work commenced at the school with the attendance of twenty three of the twenty eight Probationary Scholars on the register, three weeks before the Midwinter Vacation. In those three weeks seventy-one pupils were enrolled, and by the end of the year the enrolment was ninety-five while at the beginning of 1907 it was one hunded and four.

The Principal was Mr. Charles Rattray Smith M.A. (commonly known as “Caesar” because he was a Latin teacher) and he had a staff consisting of two teachers: Miss Louisa Cole B.A., an aunt of Dr. P. Cole of the Sydney Training College, and Mr. T. Roberts, B.A., L.C.P.
On the first day of school, the pupils used Room 2 but they had neither chairs, blackboards, maps, nor school supplies of any kind, only desks. Everything else was borrowed from the Primary School, which occupied rooms 4, 5, 6, 7, 8 and 9, only three rooms being set apart for the High School. In fact, little instructionay work was done, the day being devoted to the issue of books and making of necessary class arrangements. The slow appearance of pupils to the school was due to the non-receival of transfers from Maitland High School. Also some Newcastle girls and boys were held back by their sitting for the Junior University examination, and candidates for the Senior examination in November continued to go to Maitland.
In order that everything would be in position before the official opening Mr. Beavis and Mr W.T. Dick M.P. arranged to fix it for 2.30 p.m. on Monday June 18th after Midwinter Vacation. All pupils assembled in rooms one and two which were amply sufficient to accommodate them all. The chair was occupied by Mr. Senior Inspector Beavis. A very interesting meeting was held.

At first the students had great difficulty in deciding on a motto for the school, till Bishop Stretch suggested that splendid motto – Remis Velisque – a most suitable motto for a seaport school, the literal meaning being “with sails and oars” which means “with might and main.”
The First Annual Sports’ Meeting was held in 1907 and the first candidates for the  junior examination at the new school sat for it also in 1907. The first Speech Day was held on December 18th, 1907. The ex-pupils union was formed in 1909.
In December 1911 the Newcastle Public School, which had been in operation for fifty-three years, was closed to make way for the accommodation of secondary pupils. The number of students at the High School increased from one hundred and sixty in 1910 to over three hundred in 1912.
The first school magazine, “The Novocastrian”, was published in October, 1912.
The School Song was written by Mr. Henderson, the version subsequently used by Newcastle Boys’ High School being the same with the exception of the first verse, which was written by Mr. Hodge.

Originally the high school course was three years, the Junior University Exam at the end of two years and the Senior after another year. However, the Intermediate and Leaving Certificates were introduced in 1912, first being set in 1913. With this alteration, there was introduced later on an extra year into the curriculum called Remove, which was in between first and second year, the Intermediate being taken in second year. However, this Remove class gradually worked its way out and the classes became known as they were, till the introduction of the Wyndham Scheme in 1962, when a sixth year was added and the names of the years changed from ‘First Year to Fifth Year’, to ‘Year Seven to Year Twelve’.
In the early days of the school no special uniforms were worn. The girls wore long skirts and frilled lace blouses as was the fashion. The boys wore short pants or knickerbockers with long socks, until their last year at school when they wore long trousers and Norfolk jackets.

There were seven periods a day, each forty-five minutes long, as compared with the later schedule at the separate girls’ and boys’ schools of eight periods of forty minutes each.

Swimming was taken before about 1912 in the Soldiers’ Baths near Fort Scratchley but was then taken in the Ocean Baths.
Commercial classes were also conducted at the school.

The only disadvantage in the beginning was the stiff climb up “The Hill” as no buses ran that way. Like all school buildings, after a few years the roof leaked and repairs had to be made.

The first badge of the school was a silver shield bearing the letters N.H.S. First when uniforms were worn the girls had a plain navy hat-band but soon it was decided to have the badge embroided in red on the front. The girls also, from the late teens, about 1915, wore the three-boxed pleated tunics.

Like all other schools, this school had its accommodation problems. Classes were held “under the arches” because of the lack of room, in 1929 there being about five hundred and fifty pupils. “Under the arches” were rooms underneath some rooms with archways leading to them. These were under rooms two and five.

There had been talk of the new girls’ school as early back as 1913 but with the war the buildings were not completed until 1929. A dream come true was realised when the school was officially opened on 5th March 1930, and the girls eventually moved into the new school at Hamilton South, under Headmistress Agnes Brewster.

The boys stayed in “the school on the hill”. By 1932, with the country deep in the Depression, there was serious overcrowding, with the enrolment of 700 boys, and a further 120 in the Annexe at Newcastle Teachers College. The promise of a new school at Waratah was long overdue, with the School on The Hill being described as “an archaic, architectural anachronism”.
In 1934 the new school at Waratah was opened on August 18th by the Minister for Education (Mr. D.H. Drummond) who had four years before opened the Girls’ High School at Hamilton. The boys moved in, under Headmaster Charles (‘Daddy’) Chrismas.

“The Old School on the Hill” remained a boys’ school, known as Newcastle Junior High School, which only went as far as the Intermediate Certificate. The Junior High School was closed in 1973 and the pupils moved to a new building at Lambton.
Looking back over the years, were one to attempt to compile a list of the old students on “the hill”, it would contain the names of many of Newcastle’s prominent citizens, and also of many who attained high positions throughout the State. Amongst the old students we find the Victoria Cross winner Captain Clarence Smith Jeffries who gained it for bravery in World War I but was killed while carrying out his heroic deed. Dr. Basil Helmore was also a brilliant scholar, who gained his Doctorate for Law overseas. A former Headmaster of Central School, Robert Stove, was one of the first pupils, as well as Roy Davis, who retired as Deputy Head of Junction. S Carver, a Commonwealth Statistician, was Dux of the school in 1915 while Mr. R. Cochrane is one of the two men who were Dux and School Captain.

Miss Myrna Forbes was the first pupil in the roll book of 1906. Miss Henderson is one of a few who can claim to have been Headmistress at this school to which she went as a child. Miss Margaret Telfar was the first woman as Registrar at the University of Sydney. Mrs. Whiley, Miss McKenna, Mrs. McFarlane, and Mrs. Castledon were all members of the staff at the Girls’ High School, and who attended the school on the Hill.

Like Fort Street then, the old Hill School at Newcastle became a high school and, also like Fort Street, Sydney, it was removed from the waterfront to an outlying suburb, still retaining its traditions and high reputation.

“And our hearts once again will still hear its call,
When the muscles are stiff that once toed the ball
Or climbed the hill in the morning.”


The following, which describes the above history from a slightly different viewpoint,
was written by then
OBA Committeeman John Birt in 1996

Looking back, it was Tuesday 5 June 1906, and almost 9:00 am, when the first headmaster, Charles Rattray (“Caesar”) Smith greeted the new pupils and breathed life into the newly formed Newcastle High School. It was to become one of the State's most illustrious secondary schools. In the early days of the school no special uniforms were worn, but the current fashions were allowed. Girls wore long skirts and frilled lace blouses, and the boys wore short pants or knickerbockers with long socks until their last year, when they blossomed into Norfolk jackets and long trousers.

There were seven periods a day, each of 45 minutes. Swimming, one of their sports, was taken before 1912 in the Soldiers’ Baths at Fort Scratchley and later at the Bogey Hole, a favourite spot at which students and staff held many a beach tea.
Whilst the boys and girls attended the same school, it could not really be called co-educational. Boys and girls were separated in class, they had separate playground areas, and the boys were told to ‘Keep away from the gels’.

In a word, a school is people. So the story of Newcastle High School is a story about people. It is a story about the principals, teachers and students who were a living part of the schools that tutored some of Newcastle’s bright, eager young people for over one hundred years - the old ‘School on the Hill’ that became the first selective, co-educational Newcastle High School, the segregated selective schools that were its lineal descendants, Newcastle Girls’ High and Newcastle Boys’ High, and the final regrouping of schools as a new co-educational Newcastle High School at Hamilton, ready to build its own reputation in the eighties.

The man who was to guide Newcastle High School through its formative years was a man of medium height and spare frame, made to look smaller by a large, fluttering academic gown. His hair was silver grey, a stiff white moustache stood out from his top lip like a small verandah, and over his slim gold rimmed spectacles his brows were black. Charles Rattray Smith was born in Orkney Islands in 1859, graduated as Master of Arts of Aberdeen University, and came to Australia after three years teaching in Great Britain. His first appointment in NSW was in 1883 as Assistant Teacher at Bathurst High School and soon afterwards he was transferred to Sydney Boys’ High. In March 1885, at the unusually early age of twenty six, he became temporary headmaster at Goulburn High. Other appointments followed until, in 1897, he was first assistant at Leichhardt Public School then, about 1902, the classics master at Sydney Boys’ High School in Elizabeth Street. It was from there that he came to inaugurate Newcastle High School.

It was a Dr Stretch who finally suggested Remis Velisque as the school motto, after the students had shown a regrettable lack of interest in making any suggestions considered worthwhile by their elders. But the literal meaning (with oars and sails) and the figurative one (with might and main) held, according to Caesar Smith, the secret of all success in life.

Service both to school and community and the achievement of excellence in all things - academic, sporting, debating, play acting - the fostering of noble traditions and the building of esprit de corps, these were the high ideals Smith had for his new ‘School on the Hill’.



A very brief history of the evolution of the schools and demise of NBHS and NGHS.

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A summary of the formation, Aims and Achievements of the OBA.

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