New book offers insight into MGSE history

The history of the Melbourne Graduate School of Education came to life last week, with the launch of a new book, 174: The Punt Road Boys, which includes stories about the impact of a Secondary Teaching Studentship on young men, in the late 1950s and early 1960s at the University of Melbourne.

MGSE was honoured to host the launch, where alumni gathered to share stories from this period and celebrate their achievements. Commonly calling themselves the ‘Punt Roaders’, after the location of the hostel they lived at during their studies, they all came from country Victoria and typically were the first in their family to go to university. The book aims to provide a unique record of how the lives of this cohort were totally changed through the award of a studentship.

The Secondary Teaching Studentship scheme covered all university fees, provided a fortnightly living allowance and, subsidised hostel accommodation. The initiative was implemented by the Education Department to meet the critical shortage of qualified and trained teachers in Victorian schools. Not dissimilar to teacher shortages of the current day.

Many of these individuals remained in teaching all their working lives and became school principals or senior administrators. Others moved into tertiary education and held senior positions. For example, Frank Larkins became Deputy Vice Chancellor of the University of Melbourne and Brian Caldwell, who attended the launch, was the previous Dean of Education.

The book was curated and edited by studentship alumni Graham Hirst, Ross Mackinnon, Geoff McPherson and David Nance. They describe the inspiration behind the project came from the desire to expose “another dimension” of the reunions that were already taking place. At a small reunion in 2020, the group decided to collate their stories about the impact of secondary teaching studentships on education in Victoria and more broadly on the community. As the project took shape, they quickly realised time was of the essence to produce a book based around the memories of these ‘Punt Roaders’, given that almost all contributors were now in their eighties.

The book launch gathered the likes of over 20 alumni, also including previous Deans of MGSE, Brian Caldwell and Kwong Lee Dow, and current Dean, Professor Jim Watterston.

During a speech, contributor and alumnus, Barry Croke, expressed his delight at keeping the stories and memories alive, and the importance of creating a historical document that reflects the era through personal accounts. Editor and alumnus, Graham Hirst, echoed this point, emphasising the value of such programs that nurture the skills of individuals who may not otherwise have been exposed to university without a studentship.

In a speech, MGSE Dean Professor Jim Watterston, affirmed the archival value of the book and praised programs like the studentship scheme, that allow education to be accessible to those from regional areas. Citing the success of many of the alumni that were a part of the studentship scheme and sitting in the room, Professor Watterston discussed how their achievements reinforce the idea that “everyone needs a chance”. He praised the level of detail and reflection in the book, and how it encouraged him to notice how much had changed in teacher education in the last 60 years and how we can learn from past initiatives to improve education today.

As one reads the accounts in 174: The Punt Road Boys, there is a strong sense that for most ‘Punt Roaders’ their time in the 174 community had a positive, and in many cases, a transformative impact on their lives. Hopefully, these personal accounts will be treasured by their families, and the detailed analysis will provide a permanent archive of accounts from those that experienced the studentship firsthand.

This storytelling project highlights the admirable collaborative effort of some 40 individuals. The result, a bookmark of an influential time on Victorian Education history and for MGSE.

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Genevieve Siggins