65 years of history now a pile of rubble


Today marks the 65th anniversary of the official opening of the former Anzac Hill High School campus.
Little of it is left now, with only the western half, or stage two, of the original building (completed at the end of 1953) being demolished on its special anniversary – it will probably be completely destroyed by the end of the day.
In just under a week’s time – December 9 – it will be the 70th anniversary when tenders were advertised for the construction of the long-awaited new public school.
In an extraordinary twist of fate, this was the last day of the Chifley Labor Government before its defeat in the Federal election campaign of 1949.
The new public school was a part of Federal Labor’s detailed policies for the economic development of the Northern Territory, many of which were subsequently implemented over time by the Menzies Coalition Government that first took office in December 1949.
As the old school campus is smashed into oblivion, what has Alice Springs lost from its history and heritage?
The school’s construction was undertaken by Jim Richards and Sons, after an extensive period of time when the project failed to attract interest from potential contractors either locally or from interstate.
It was the school that brought Jim Richards to Alice Springs and was the only major project he completed. He also commenced construction of the Todd Tavern and the John Flynn Memorial Church but was killed in an accident at the church construction site before these projects were completed.
The bricks for the school were made locally at the first commercial brickworks in Alice Springs, operated by Harold Liddle who, as an Aboriginal person (and war veteran) of mixed descent, had no formal legal rights at the time.
He was a part of the successful push for equal civil rights for mixed race Aboriginal people that became law on October 1, 1953 – when the school was still being built.
The plumbing was installed by Frank Johnson, simultaneously the first Labor Member for Alice Springs.
Johnson was a member of the NT Development League established in Alice Springs in 1944 which successfully lobbied the Chifley Government to establish the Legislative Council of the NT in 1947.
Johnson also founded the first Labor branch of the NT in Alice Springs too, commencing a distinctive history of the town’s primary role as a birthplace for political parties in the NT.
As the Alice Springs Higher Primary School, classes began there in 1953 while the building was still under construction. The town’s largest capital works project of its time, the new state of the art campus was officially opened by the Minister for Territories, Paul Hasluck, on December 3, 1954.
The building already hosted the Alice Springs School of the Air (the first of its kind, established 1951) and the first local adult education night classes.
One of its original students in 1953, Cliff Bailey, became the first person from the Northern Territory to be accepted into Duntroon Military College (commencing in 1956).
This was a matter of great pride for Alice Springs at the time; and extraordinarily appropriate, given that the whole precinct of the school, Anzac Oval, Alice Springs Youth Centre and the Territory’s first purpose-built preschool (now the Over 55 Club), had been set aside as a reserve in 1937 after successfully lobbying by the town’s original RSL club comprised of First World War veterans.
The new school was also host to the Northern Territory’s first interschool sports carnival in 1954 with visiting contestants from the Hermannsburg Mission School.
A brief outline of the school’s  history follows:–
• Alice Springs Higher Primary School, 1953-60.
• School of the Air, 1954-68.
• Night school/Adult Education Centre, 1954-74.
• Alice Springs High School, 1961-72.
• Alice Springs Community College (including the town’s first university courses), 1975-78.
• Community College of Central Australia, 1979-86.
• Anzac Hill High School, 1987-2009.
• Clontarf Football Academy, 2007-09.
• St Joseph’s Flexible Learning Centre, recent to 2018.
In addition, the school also served as a venue for other purposes.
It was used as a polling centre and for public exhibitions; Cyclone Tracy emergency supply base; the first Aboriginal land rights hearings in Central Australia; began the Centre for Appropriate Technology; hosted 8CCC FM radio, the first in Alice Springs, which also broadcast the first programs of the Central Australian Aboriginal Media Association; and less than a decade ago was the Youth Hub for troubled children on the streets at night.
The former Anzac Hill High School unequivocally has by far the most significant heritage value of any education campus – past or present – in the Northern Territory, and is most likely significant at a national level, too.
And now it’s gone, thanks to a Territory Labor Government.
What have we come to?
The photos below are by ISAAC BENZ.






  1. The names Gunner, Ryan, and all other local “names” involved in this vile destruction of Harold Liddle’s hand made besser blocks will soon be cast in brass for all future generations to remember. And you all know I know who you are.

  2. So a school that was built in the 50s and only used for its intended purpose for 20 years.
    That doesn’t exactly sound like it has “significant heritage value” or is even an historical building. The only people I could see caring about it would be a few old people pining for their glory days who had attended the school.

  3. I taught there for many years. It was hardly fit for purpose as a school and I can’t imagine it being used for any other purpose.
    Long corridors with classrooms on both sides.
    What would you do with it?
    As for preserving it as a heritage building.
    I am glad to see it demolished.

  4. @ L Westerdale (Posted December 5, 2019 at 11:57 am): You say the old high school was only used for its intended purpose for 20 years?
    Alice Springs Higher Primary School (equivalent to modern middle schools), 1953-60 – that’s eight years; then Alice Springs High School, 1961-72 – that’s another 12 years; then Anzac Hill High School, 1987-2009 – another 23 years.
    Hmm, let’s see: 8 + 12 = 20; then 20 + 23 = 43. Yep, that’s right, 43 years as an upper primary and secondary school, not including the overlap with other roles and functions.
    As recent national media reports have noted, Australia’s performance in secondary education of science, maths and reading is declining and below the average of OECD nations (and it seems some adults are the ones showing the way for today’s students).
    As a nation we have a low regard for science and education, and in the Northern Territory we far prefer to preserve old gaols than we do old schools – a fact never better demonstrated than under the current Gunner Government which has overseen the rejection of two heritage nominations for former schools.
    What was the Labor slogan from about two decades ago? Something about Australia being a “clever country?”

  5. @ Jack: Rooms on each side of a corridor is to give adequate ventilation to the building (no air con). Ventilation moves outdoor air into a building or a room, and distributes the air within the building or room.
    The general purpose of ventilation in buildings is to provide healthy air for breathing by both diluting the pollutants originating in the building and removing the pollutants from it. This is called cross-bow natural ventilation.
    Few months before Darwin Cyclone of 1974 ,some old Chinese houses of the same design with veranda around it, in the city, were marked for demolition by ignorant developers.
    Those houses survived and were used for first aid responses.
    This old high school would have survived cyclones and tornadoes by opening all windows.
    I know because in West equatorial Africa were I grew up, we had the same design.

  6. Evelyne perhaps it should be relocated to Darwin?
    But you do make the point that the Territory suffers from standard Darwin suited buildings.
    The Commission houses here are also cyclone proof Darwin clones with rods tying the roofs to the foundations.
    Buildings with heritage values in Central Australia need to be more than clones.
    When I think of heritage values here wide shady verandahs and local sandstone come to mind.
    A pity so much of our true heritage is gone but surely we are not so desperate that Darwin buildings take its place.

  7. Alex, you write a terrific history of the Anzac High School, and its many incarnations.
    I enjoyed the details surrounding the people both past and present involved with the history and development of the site. W
    hat great link with pre and post WW2 politics and place.
    Keep writing these local historical accounts, because even though the buildings may have gone, the rich history and characters remain in print and photos for many generations to enjoy.
    Thank you for your passionate defence of Alice Springs and its unique history.
    You are a great advocate for Central Australia, so please, keep the well researched human face of history coming!

  8. Yet another criminal act by the government! The effort we go to to save a tree, yet a building with so much history is just destroyed.
    What the hell were they thinking!

  9. What a sad end of an era.
    Westerdale and Jack, the school may not mean anything to you but to us LOCALS that is our history.

  10. @ L Westerdale: When you mature a little, you may understand the bigger picture but until then stick with what works for you.

  11. Charles Darwin University city campus will be “cursed” after cutting down a historic tree, elder says. It will be the same for the site of the Anzac school like it has being for the CBD after the trees were removed under protest.


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