Singleton High School was formally established in 1956 and over time has undergone significant phases of transformation to reflect and serve the needs of its community. This ability to adapt and evolve whilst retaining our core values is fundamental to our success, indeed, they are also the vital qualities we nurture in our students.
However, the genesis of Singleton High begins much earlier than 1956, in fact it’s a tale that stretches back nearly 200 years.
On St Patrick’s Day 1820 an expedition guided by Hawkesbury farmer Benjamin Singleton entered Wanaruah Land near what is now Whittingham. The colonial governor in Sydney was eager to expand settlement beyond the Sydney basin to meet the ever growing demand for arable land.
The valuable grazing land found at Whittingham earned Singleton and others in the exploration party the gratitude of the colonial government. Each free man was issued a land grant. Singleton’s portion was in the bend in the river where he promptly relocated.
There he built an inn near the river ford, a punt to transport travellers across the Hunter and a flour mill. But it was the village of Whittingham, not Benjamin Singleton’s settlement that grew. In these early days many settlers preferred Whittingham because it was largely flood free.
In both villages the issue of educating children was a perennial problem. In 1829 a Church of England school was licensed and opened at Whittingham. The building doubled as a place of worship. Parents of children who lived in Singleton’s village, however, were afraid their children might get lost traversing the two-and-a-half miles to the Whittingham school, so Benjamin Singleton ploughed a furrow which the children could follow through the virgin bush.
It was soon clear that this school was wholly inadequate for the expanding villages. In 1836 a passing Quaker missionary described the school as “a miserable slab building in ruinous condition”. That was offset somewhat when the Church of Scotland opened a rival school in Whittingham in 1839.
The development of Whittingham naturally caused Benjamin Singleton some angst since it ran contrary to his own financial interests. Singleton demonstrated his business acumen by playing upon the need for public facilities on Patrick’s Plains, particularly when the colonial government announced its intention to develop a town in the area.
In 1840, eager to win government support to establish that town on his land, Singleton offered land to establish a church, rectory and school in High Street, with land for a courthouse and a recreation reserve to sweeten the deal.
The plan worked because the then Bishop of Australia William Broughton decided in Singleton’s favour. The bishop accepted Singleton’s offer and the Church of England school was soon begun.
In the following year the court house was constructed in Elizabeth Street on land donated by Benjamin Singleton. Work on the school, however, dragged on delayed by the purchase of useless bricks.
By July 1843 the incomplete project was still burdened by debt. A decision was made to rent a property in Hunter Street (opposite the current school). Finally in 1847 the Church of England School, situated at 28 High Street, was completed and the students were transferred from the rented premises in Hunter Street.
The most significant step towards the establishment of public education took place in 1848 when Governor Fitzroy appointed the National Education Board with the avowed aim of establishing elementary schools in the colony of NSW.
Local communities were expected to contribute to the costs of schools, including the provision of teacher salaries. School affairs were managed by a local committee. The introduction of this state system was opposed by the churches who had previously established denominational schools.
By this time there were upwards of 200 pupils in the various church schools of Singleton. Government regulations required that the school day extend from 9am in the morning to 4pm in the afternoon. Students were to attend punctually, washed and clean of person and clothing. And school holidays were not to exceed more than four weeks per annum.
Singleton Public School officially opened on November 1, 1853. The school was originally housed in property rented from the Presbyterian Church in Hunter Street for £40 a year.
Eighteen students enrolled. By Christmas 1854, 70 to 80 students sat examinations in reading, spelling, grammar and geography. Singleton’s first permanent school structure was erected in Hunter Street in 1858 at the princely sum of £1202.
That building, however, no longer exists; it was demolished in 1910 to make way for the current infants-primary school. The pace of development throughout the colony in the post ‘Gold Rush’ era led to two important government initiatives that transformed public education in NSW.
The Public Schools Act of 1866 instituted the Council of Education which aimed to establish schools in newly populated areas of the colony, rationalise costs and join public and church schools under the same body. That led in 1880 to The Public Instruction Act which established the Department of Public Instruction.
The Act introduced compulsory education, secondary education and withdrew state funding from denominational schools. Public School Boards were established for each district. Board members were required to inspect the schools, report on their affairs and to suspend unruly teachers for misconduct.
Boards were also required to report on parents who failed to send their children to school. These Acts gradually transformed public education in Singleton. By 1886 many of the denominational schools had folded. The High Street Church of England School was the last to close in 1886.
In 1911 high school fees were abolished in NSW. A course of secondary study was established leading to the Intermediate Certificate after two years and the Leaving Certificate after a further two years of study.
Many of the soldiers who marched off to the Great War (1914-1918) did so from Singleton Superior Public School. The honour roll in C Block provides a daily reminder of their service and in some cases their personal sacrifice.
By the 1920s Singleton and district had outgrown its current school. In 1921 Singleton Superior Public School was rebadged as Singleton Intermediate High School. This enabled students to complete Third Form (Year 9) before sitting for the Intermediate Exit Examination.
Twenty-eight students sat for the Intermediate Examinations in 1940 in a limited range subjects that included English, History, Geography, Mathematics, Elementary Science (Physics and Chemistry), Business Principles, Needlework, Home Economics, Woodwork and Latin.
The Intermediate High School received a significant boost with the construction of the new building (C Block) in 1940, but by that year overwhelming numbers of community organisations petitioned the Minister for Education to extend studies beyond the Intermediate Certificate to Fourth and Fifth Form. As students who wished to continue their education were forced to endure the daily train journey to one of the Maitland High Schools - which meant an 11-12 hours school day for Singleton students. Consequently, many students simply left after the end of Third Form to take their chances in the limited local job market.
Singleton Intermediate High School survived the Second World War and the devastating flood of 1955 which caused such extensive damage to the rest of the town. Post war prosperity and an expanding population led to the establishment of Singleton High School in 1956, testament to the resilience and pride of the town and its people.
It even survived the fire that ripped through C Block in the 1970s. Since then Singleton High School has grown to be one of the largest secondary high schools in the state.
The teaching and learning facilities have met the growing demand of the school’s population, now over 1200 students. Learning opportunities have been significantly enhanced by our partnerships with our partner primary schools, Hunter TAFE, our Community Centre and the many agencies that support public education.
Of primary importance was the establishment of the Ka-Wul Centre which has given the school a cultural heart that beats with the pride of all students.
The commitment of staff and students past and present continues to drive the fortunes of the school and paves the way for its continued success.
THIS ACCOUNT IS BASED ON AN ARTICLE THAT APPEARED IN THE SINGLETON ARGUS IN 2015 MARKING THE 75TH ANNIVERSARY OF SINGLETON INTERMEDIATE SCHOOL.