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Wesley College Celebrates 89 Years
Monday 13 February marks the 89th anniversary of the opening of Wesley College, or Wesley Boys' College, as it was initially known.
Thirty eight boys attended the first classes held on Tuesday 13 February 1923. Their ages ranged from 8 to 17 years. Eighteen were boarders, most from the rural areas east and south of Perth. They had arrived the previous day to find that the school building construction was not finished, and that they needed to help with the assembly of their beds before they could sleep that night.
The building in question is the one we know as Ward Wing. Until the upper floor was added in 1927 it was a single storey building of three wings - one a residence for Headmaster Ward, his wife and four children; the middle one a dormitory for 20 boarders; and the third comprised of two classrooms. The linking corridor gave access to the sick bay, rooms for Matron Paramor and two resident masters, bathrooms and an office for Mr Ward - the entire Wesley community of staff, boarders, day boys and the Headmaster's family under one roof!
South Perth in the 1920s was sparsely populated and relatively isolated as the opening of the Narrows Bridge was still several decades away. Most of the day boys came from the local area and walked or cycled to school. It is unlikely that any would have been driven to school as few parents owned a vehicle. Some boys did come from the other (Perth city) side of the river. Their mode of transport was either the ferry that serviced the Coode Street jetty (a favoured way of travelling), or the newly opened city to South Perth tram line that crossed the Causeway and continued along Canning Highway (then Fremantle Road) to Angelo Street.
Looking back, it was hardly surprising that the building was not finished when school began - the foundation stone had been laid only three months previously, on 11 November 1922, by the Premier, Sir James Mitchell. Nevertheless classes for the 38 boys commenced on time on 13 February. Mr Ward called an assembly to welcome the boys and the teachers - the Senior Assistant, Mr James Young, and the Junior Master, Mr Ernie Hodgson. During the first year they were assisted by several part-time teachers, including Mr Stan Craft (music) and Miss Mildred le Souef (biology), who would remain at Wesley for many years.
During the first two months classes were undertaken to the sound of hammers and saws - there was no choice, there were no other buildings on the school site - but by the end of March the building was completed. In 1927 the upper storey was added and the building has undergone several major re-fits in the intervening years, culminating this year in the current renovations which will, fittingly, be completed in time for the 90th anniversary celebrations in 2013.