1972 to 2006 State Preschools


It is early 1970s and Australian politics has entered new territory. The Federal government has recently introduced funding for ‘childcare’ and a right royal barney is underway about just what is to be considered a ‘childcare’ program worthy of funding, and, whether sessional preschool/kindergarten programs should attract the new Federal childcare funding. While this debate swirls around us, the Queensland Liberal Party is campaigning vigorously for ‘free State preschool education’ at a time when community kindergartens are in such heavy demand that waiting lists are growing at an unseemly rate.

In 1972 the Coalition wins the election and announces it is going to introduce free State preschool education, the Federal government agrees that childcare funding can be used to do this, experts in early education are invited to visit and advise on policy and very soon the Queensland Department of Education has a huge building effort underway. In 1973 the first State Preschool Centres open with wide media acclamation and by the early 1980s there are over 350 State Preschool Centres and 131 Early Education Classes attached to small rural schools (Logan & Clarke 1984, p.20). Long waiting lists indicate the level of uptake among families.


There is international interest, especially in creative strategies used in the Preschool Correspondence Program for isolated children, including the SPAN playgroup concept that brought these isolated children and their families into contact, and, in the policy of a ‘flat structure’ where all but the ten or so senior staff in the Division of Preschool Education are expected to work as a team.

Such a flurry of excitement, such a bold initiative!

To read more about the three decades of this brave initiative that did so much for children and families in Queensland, look for the articles in each of the three Educating Young Children>i/> journals for 2006. The words above are taken from the first issue, an article by Gail Halliwell [also ECTA Web Weaver].

Sunbury SPSC first in Wide Bay region

This report was written by Ruth Lightbody, Teacher-in-charge with the help of her Aides Nancy Gordon and Jill Downing.

Sunbury State Preschool Centre was the first to be built in the Wide Bay Education Region, opening on 4 September 1973. The Teacher-in-charge was appointed for the previous term and was sent to a Brisbane centre to observe for one week.

There were two sessions each day, 9.00 – 11.30 am and 12.30 – 3.00 pm and a maximum of 25 children per session. Two aides were appointed – one for the morning and the other for the afternoon. We were fortunate to have the same reliable, loyal, enthusiastic ladies for almost 25 years.

Hours of attendance were strictly adhered to, and each child was to be brought to and collected from the Centre by an adult known to the teacher and authorised by the parent.

Some early memories include the intense interest and enthusiasm of parents wanting their children to attend this new program – long waiting lists – measuring distances by car to ensure a child was eligible for enrolment.

We all liked the building design, the innovative ‘wet area’ and tiled floor. The outdoor, fenced playground was far too small and had to be extended and has since been further enlarged.

The “Open Toilets” arrangements were not readily accepted by some parents. However, after parents saw the supervision that was evident when they came on their rostered days, this was no longer a problem.

The carpeted area was a novelty and much admired. The lockers, furniture, puzzles, construction sets and blocks were first class and the envy of teachers in the adjacent Primary School.

The Sand Pit, Log Wall for balancing ,Carpentry Bench complete with tools, vice etc., Water Trough and other outdoor items were fantastic. The Storeroom was full of interesting planks and ladders. These were arranged in different, interesting “obstacle courses” every day. A steering wheel, large wooden packing cases and numerous other stimulating pieces of equipment were donated from thoughtful parents. Metal triangular ladder frames and a scramble net were provided.

Beautiful tables, chairs and other furniture arrived before the date when children were to be admitted, but there were many basic items that were missing.

Lack of equipment e.g. no broom, no mop or toilet brush, little paper, no paint, no books, no puzzles, and no blocks, at first. Plenty of crockery was provided in the well-designed kitchen.-complete with stove. There was an excess of soap. Teachers, aides, and parents were resourceful and innovative. They showed great initiative and enthusiasm.

The idea of parent participation was new to most mothers. Some felt trepidation, others delight, and others duty bound to come on Roster.
Fathers were rarely available to bring children to or from Pre-school in those early days.

Regular “Open Nights for Fathers ” were a success. P. & C. meetings were well attended. We also invited a “Guest Speaker” for discussions and inspiration on these nights.

The trolley with the books supplied for the Parents Library was parked in the foyer and this was much appreciated by so many folk. We also provided a wide range of pamphlets on a variety of subjects (mainly health issues), for the parents to take home or for them to discuss with others.

Colourful posters, made by staff, at the entrance and on the walls reminded parents of the importance of encouraging their children with a positive attitude. e.g. “Praise the effort, not the skill”, “Be friendly, but firm” , “Wear a hat for protection from sun damage”. etc.
No large pictures were provided at first, but the staff mounted suitable pictures for the walls on cardboard and old X-rays.

The Preschool cleaner was not regularly paid, and this caused some distress to the wonderful lady who performed her duties so well. It was apparently because her pay was too small to be registered on the Ed. Dept. machine until it reached a certain figure.

We were indeed very fortunate to have the co-operation and support of the Headmaster at the Sunbury Primary School. The Groundsman who was employed there was of tremendous assistance, too.

So many local folk helped us generously in those early days. A neighbour made very durable, interesting puzzles from tiles, and we shopped at Popshop’s for furniture and “dress up” clothes for the Home Area. A blanket was made for the doll’s bed (also from the Op Shop), from a woollen skirt carefully unpicked. Later one of the little girls made a blanket from squares she knitted for the Home Area. Quite an achievement!

Local timber mills and furniture factories let us collect scrap timber for use at the carpentry bench.

We held regular “Bring and Buys” in the foyer where the parents waited with their children before each session.

These were well supported with cooking, jams, home grown vegetables, plants or almost anything that parents could donate. The Pre-school also became part of the annual Primary School Fete. Consequently, each year the current parents added to the equipment to benefit their children. It was a combined effort and seemed to enhance the community spirit.

It was a great day when the books arrived for the Childrens’ Library. There was a flurry of activity to cover the books and to ask the parents to assist with providing Library Bags.

We always had a most interesting “Science and Interest Table”. Teachers, Aides, Children and Parents seemed to bring all manner of specimens from silkworms, animal skulls, snakes, wasps’ nests, vacated birds’ nests to shells and so much more.

It was fun when we had live animals at Preschool. To learn about a pony, a calf, lizards, birds, and such like was always an opportunity to stimulate interest with relevant stories, poems, movement, and songs.
We were fortunate to have a nearby home that had pet wallabies. We could walk there, while other parents invited us to walk to their homes to see fowls, birds etc. It was a learning experience to walk in line!

Visitors and parents sometimes commented that they felt the warm, loving atmosphere at Preschool – like a home.

Recently (2005), a parent with no contact since 1973 said “We all felt privileged to have our children attend Pre-school. It was a wonderful concept”. I wholeheartedly agree.