The “Open-air School”

  • With its wonderful treed environment, Blackburn was recognized as a very healthy environment long, long ago.  So much so, and, given the Railway was close by, a special school called the “Open-air School” was set up in 1915 alongside the northern boundary of Furness Park.
  • In the early 20th century, reformers believed children brought up in industrial inner-city suburbs risked physical and moral health.  The “open-air” response was international – the idea being to give sickly children the benefit of a healthy diet and environment in which to recuperate.

open air school map

  • From donations specifically for the purpose of setting up an Open-air school in Melbourne, the Education Department initially purchased lots, 17, 18, 19, 36, 37 and 38 (highlighted in the map above)  for the school but later swapped lots 33, 34 and 35 for the first three.  [It’s also interesting to note how the course of the creek has changed from this sub-divisional plan].
  • This montage of (completely unposed!) pictures was published in the Weekly Times of the 11th December, 1915:

open-air school for web

  • At top left is the modest school building – the back end was a large open verandah.  At top right, the students are displaying their lunch-time bowl of soup in their laps – don’t they look pleased?  The bottom left photo shows the students resting on their deck-chairs after lunch.  At bottom right, is the light-filled classroom.
  • This article, reviewing the school’s activities in The Argus  of 3rd January, 1928 explains it all:
    Classes at Blackburn.
     Situated among the gum trees of Black-
     burn may be seen a school unique in the
     educational system of the State. It is the
     Blackburn open-air school, attended by
     girls and boys whose instruction has been
     interrupted owing to delicate health.
     About 24 pupils are in regular attendance.
     These have been submitted to medical
     examination by the doctors on the Educa-
     tion department's staff and, while they re-
     main at the school, the pupils are medically
     examined by the same officers at regular
     intervals. As soon as a pupil is considered
     in a fit state to take his place in an ele-
     mentary school he is accordingly transferred
     to make room for another child similarly
     retarded. The majority of those in at-
     tendance travel by rail from Burnley, Rich-
     mond and Collingwood, arriving at Black-
     burn about 9 o'clock in the morning, leav-
     ing in the afternoon about 4 o'clock. On
     reaching the school, which is half a mile
     from the railway station, each pupil is
     supplied with some light refreshment as
     a preparation for the day's instruction. At
     midday a meal of soup, meat, bread, and
     fruit is supplied; and, for an hour, the
     children enjoy a rest in deck chairs prior
     to the lessons to be taken during the after-
     noon. A cup of milk is drunk by each
     child before returning to the railway sta-
  • The plan below is excerpted from an MMBW survey plan from 1938.  It shows a small section of Gardiners Creek in our Furness Park in the vicinity of Gardenia Street.  Interestingly, it also shows the Open-air School with its verandah facing Gardiners Creek (though its actual State School number was 3850 for the pedantic).


  • The Education Department closed down the project in 1964.  A Psychology and Guidance/Speech Therapy Centre was then set-up on the same site.  The latter was shut down in the early 1990s with the land being sold off for housing.  You may have noticed the last 6 houses in Gardenia Street on the Main Street side are all comparatively new.