Our History

The History of the Princes Hill Community Centre

Tucked away on the corner of two narrow laneways in Princes Hill stands a two-storey red brick building, locally known as One C One that today is home to the Princes Hill Community Centre.

Unlike many of the surrounding houses, the building is Edwardian, not Victorian, according to the Yarra Heritage database. There is a record on the Australian Architectural Index for a notice of intent lodged 18 December 1905 for a factory at the rear of 16 Arnold Street, owned by Susan Summerfield. A title search confirms that the land was owned by Susan Young Summerfield in 1905, and then sold to Thomas Stokes in 1910 and the responsible Minister for Education in 1911.

The post-war immigration era demand for schooling markedly outstripped the amount of classroom space within existing school buildings. When the Arnold Street school site was formally elevated to High School status in 1959, it lacked the classrooms and buildings to cope with the increasing numbers of pupils it would attract in the following decade.

Throughout the 1960s Princes Hill High School students were dispersed around a number of sites close to the main Arnold Street buildings, including the 2 storey former sloyd and cookery building. The school timetable of the day included the 1-C-1 directing students to building C, 1st floor,room 1.

In the early twentieth century, the building was a boot factory before being purchased by the Department of Education in 1911, desirous of acquiring buildings to meet the needs of an increasing school aged population. In an era before Princes Hill acquired a formal secondary school of its own, the building was used for sloyd and cookery classes. Here boys were taught woodworking and metalworking in the upstairs area, while downstairs girls were taught home economics, which in addition to cooking also included things like budgeting and household management.

When the Princes Hill High School building in Arnold Street was burnt down in 1970, a new and innovative school building was built on the site, the 2 storey former sloyd and cookery building was abandoned for the modern and well-equipped high school building

1973 the present site known as One C One was in poor repair and had been declared a safety hazard by the Metropolitan Fire Brigade. It had become a storage location for throw away lockers, desks and cupboards.

In 1973 Martin Brennan and George Querol, drama and media teachers at the High School, sought and gained funding support of the Disadvantaged Schools Program of the Schools Commission to renovate the building as a drama, video and film centre for high school students. A lighting and scaffolding system was set up in the roof area with extensive power points available and is still visible today in the ceiling area of the studio. A radio recording studio was also established with links to community radio station 3CR. The entrance to the present-day Community Centre office still bears the ‘Radio Studio’ sign on its door.

At the end of 1975 a public meeting was held in the theatre at the Princes Hill High School and a committee was formed to establish the Princes Hill School Park Centre as a cooperative arrangement between the Princes Hill High School, Princes Hill Primary School, and the Melbourne City Council. The adoption of the Constitution, drafted by the above parties, and a public meeting of residents ensured the beginning of the Centre.

The Education Act gave schools the power to enter into agreements with groups concerning the use of facilities. Valuable resources at the schools were therefore made available for community use. Initially, the PHSPC office was located at the Arnold Street site and the initial focus was adult education and recreation. The Council of Adult of Education CAE and TAFE ran many classes and the school was open every night of the week. The Saturday morning language school also ran at the PHHS.

The Education Department Community Education Officer provided coordination for the School Park Centre and the Melbourne City Council provide an activities officer and a budget for programs. The establishment of the School Park Centre was a reflection of the emerging community education policies which sought to develop clear links between local schools and their communities. Valuable school resources and facilities were underutilised during school hours. As well, the School Park Centre sought to develop and implement educational and recreational programs for the benefit of the North Carlton Community.

Such an arrangement was made possible under the Education Act, 1958, as amended by the Education (School Council’s) Act 1975 and the Youth Sport and Recreation Act 1972.  These Acts gave schools the power to enter into agreements with groups concerning the use of school facilities. Under the terms of the Acts, the Committee of Management of the School Park Centre was a sub-committee of the councils of both the Princes Hill Secondary College and the Princes Hill Primary School.

In 1976 local resident Phillip Rogers together with Martin Brennan approached the Princes Hill School Park Centre to establish an acoustic music venue in the upstairs room. They dubbed the venue ‘One C One’, taking the name from the former school timetable – 1-C-1.  ‘One C One’ became a popular venue for acoustic musicians from across Melbourne and around Australia and performances were scheduled every Sunday evening. Recordings of the concerts were re-broadcast on 3MBS. Queues formed early evening to secure a space on the carpet squares to listen and watch musicians perform in a concert-style atmosphere. The venue served wholemeal cakes from a Fitzroy bakery and instant coffee, the latter certainly not of the same quality as the music.  Musicians of the day included Paul Kelly, John Crowle, Marg Roadknight, Judy Small, Danny Spooner, Julia Wong, Dutch Tilders plus bluegrass and blues bands of local repute.

The Princes Hill School Park Centre was established in 1975 as a result of a cooperative agreement between the Princes Hill High School Council, Princes Hill Primary School Council, and the Melbourne City Council. The name School Park Centre reflected the inclusion of Princes Park in the activities of the Centre with its initial focus on adult education and recreation.

A well-attended public meeting of local residents in the Princes Hill School Theatre adopted a Constitution prepared by the above parties and a School Park Centre Committee was elected together with nominees from both schools and the City Council.

Emile Hamer was appointed Director, a position funded by the Department of Education, to provide coordination for School Park Centre activities. The City of Melbourne staffed the Centre with a Recreation Officer and provided a budget for after-school and holiday program activities.

The establishment of the School Park Centre was a reflection of the emerging community use of school facilities and education policies which sought to develop clear links between local schools and their communities.

Specifically, the School Park Centre sought to open up valuable school resources and facilities that were underutilised by the local community, and it also took on some of the management of the Princes Hill High School’s excellent facilities. The School Park Centre also developed and implemented educational and recreational programs for the benefit of the North Carlton and Princes Hill Community. Whether by design or by accident, the Centre built on the ideals and principles established in the post-war Community Centre movement. For those involved, it was an innovative project for its time. The Centre operated out of the Princes Hill High School administrative offices in Arnold Street.

In 1979 Martin Brennan, who had been an inaugural High School teacher representative on the School Park Centre Committee, was appointed as Community Education Officer and in early 1980 the School Park Centre Committee set the Centre on a new path that captured the spirit and expectation of the time; to move from a centre of education dominated by the Council of Adult Education to a centre that encompassed community outreach, participation, and lifelong learning.

The Centre over those coming years fostered and furthered a range of projects, programs, and activities including –

  • City Alternative News* was circulated throughout Carlton and was a newspaper by the people for the people;
  • North Carlton Railway Station was secured for community use by local residents and established as a neighbourhood house through a partnership with the Montemurro Bocce Club and the support of the City of Melbourne**;
  • Solly Avenue Community Flat was provided and supported by the Housing Commission for Estate residents;
  • ‘Curtains for Carlton’ was an Artist in Schools initiative and comprised a tapestry of squares hand made by community organisations and agencies and hung in the PHHS cafeteria;
  • the Community Caf in the PHHS cafeteria provided before school breakfast for students and after school dining for local families;
  • in-put into the ‘Case for Carlton’, a community submission for on the planning, delivery of community and childcare services by the City of Melbourne;
  • expansion of the after school and school holiday programs;
  • established the One C One Youth Resource Centre for school leavers; and 
  • the Princes Hill Not Another Film Society!

In 1983, in a first for a Community Education Officer in Victoria, Martin with family exchanged his position, home, car and lifestyle with Fred Stearns and family from St Ignace Area Schools Community Education, Michigan USA for one year.

In 1985, the School Park Centre was flourishing and Melbourne City Council acknowledged the success of the Centre with an increase in funding and began the process of formally establishing a Community Centre.

The School Park Centre had outgrown its home at the Secondary College so Melbourne City Council allocated $10,000 in the 1985/86 budget for the initial renovations of the One-C-One Building. The School Park Centre link with the school was not lost, however. As the One-C-One building (the existing School Park Centre premises) is still the property of the Ministry of Education.

Once it was recognised as having community centre status by Melbourne City Council, the council funded a permanent centre manager position and assistant centre manager position. Melbourne City Council also allocated an ongoing Goods and Grant budget for programs, administration, cleaning and sessional labour. At this time Melbourne City Council, along with both schools, began the process of developing an agreement to secure tenure for the School Park Centre.

Prominent local activist and former Melbourne City Councillor and Mayor, Trevor Huggard, remembers the Centre being particularly involved with the welfare of the local school-aged community at this time, organising school holiday activities and opportunities, and taking part in community debates revolving around the use of heritage buildings and spaces by the community. Others like artist and art teacher Dianne Colk recall the Centre’s support of artist in residency programs, while long-time local Marion Turnbull has spoken of its usefulness for those pursuing local journalism and history-making. Most enduring perhaps was the setting up of the Centre’s famous life drawing classes — word got around, and many of those who had once attended gigs, or like Terry Miller had even played at the One-C-One acoustic music venue found themselves meeting up again as life drawers, artists and models.

Reports from the 1980s and 1990s show an extensive range of programs offered. A bus purchased with community fundraising was heavily used for taking older adults on shopping trips, and teenagers and adults on excursions. The 89/90 reports record the bus being used over 80% of the days of the year with over 22,298 kilometres covered.

1990 Highlight was the “Curbin the Urban” project, a community art project that was extremely successful. Judy Horacek, a cartoonist, was employed to work with adults, primary and secondary school groups, and other community groups to produce a series of cartoons that reflected the communities concern about the environment. The cartoons were exhibited at the PHSPC, Melbourne Town Hall, City of Melbourne Libraries, Department of Conservation and Environment, Health Centres, and Neighbourhood Houses.

The Carlton Forest Project was a very successful local history project Published in 1993. The set of 6 booklets have become a sought-after collection, covering the history of the local area.

1994 was a challenging year. Now under the new City of Yarra, funding and support pressure placed considerable stress on staff. The late 90’s early 2000 were a difficult period. The City of Yarra steadily reduced its funding to nil.

The Life Models Society has had a long association with the Princes Hill Community Centre. The first meeting of the society was held in October 1989. During the year the LMS holds workshops to train models and runs four Life Drawing Salons during the year as well as weekly life Drawing sessions and special events such as the Extravaganza. The upstairs studio with its fantastic natural light, quiet locations has become a well-known location for Life Drawing.

1991 was marked by renovations upstairs. The walls separating the kitchen with cupboards, from the studio were built making the space more viable as a space for people in the community to rent.

The good times, however, did not last. In the aftermath of council amalgamations commencing in 1993 and during the years of the Kennett government, the Centre lost much of its funding when the Princes Hill area was transferred to the City of Yarra, although archival Centre records suggest that the Centre had been experiencing problems before this date. The Princes Hill School Park Centre became the Princes Hill Community Centre, somewhat ironically considering its name change, for in the absence of recurrent funding from a local council it became more heavily reliant on the support of the Princes Hill Secondary College. For a while, it was heavily reliant on volunteer labour, and the Centre that had catered so heavily to school-aged population, found it lacked the funds to continue offering social programs, and became more reliant on running programs at cost and for profit. Nonetheless, work continued, and with a grant from the City of Yarra, the Centre was able to carry out one-off works, including the refurbishment of its upstairs studio, its Life Drawing classes continued to attract a dedicated following, and it ran innovative community arts events like pARTicipate.

1996 Marked the end of 21 years of running an extensive array of school holiday programs. The City of Yarra took over this role.

Programs through the 1980’s, 1990’s and early 2000’s were roughly broken into Holiday activities, After School Activities for Children, Programs for older Adults and Adult programs. The range of programs offered over the years is considerable. Microwave cooking, Circus Skills, Ceramics, French Polishing, Yoga, Felting, Karate, Cartoon Club, Belly Dancing, Computer Classes, Shopping trips, Daytrips, Life Drawing, Water Colour and much more. Ever changing it reflects community interests and involvement, staff time available to organise, and funding available. In 1996 there were the rumblings of change. A ‘user pays’ business model became necessary in many cases to run programs which of course meant a reduction in the number of programs that could be offered.

2002 started with no funding from Yarra. Public Liability Insurance also became an issue with the changes in legislation. As a result, it was no longer possible to run children’s classes. Any hirer of spaces at the centre was also now required to have public liability insurance. Everything had to be offered on a ‘user pays’ basis.

2003 Funding submission was finally successful, and received $20,000 which allowed for some upgrading of the Centre, repairs and maintenance; regrouting of brickwork, sanding and resealing of the studio floor, painting, a new computer and fax and the first email link, (yes the first internet connection) as well as developing new and maintaining existing programs and promoting and increasing the community awareness of the Centre. March 2002 a power pole fell on the Railway Neighbourhood House making it unsafe to occupy. For a few months, NCRSNH and PHCC staff worked together in the PHCC office.

Cool Cats Cabaret successfully applied for a grant and rehearsed and performed “The Wizard of Oz Because Because..” at La Mama

2003 Support from the school was important. Even then increasing enrolments at the school, the forecasted rebuilding programs at the PHSC of the Food Technology wing and the gym meant greater demand on the spaces at the Centre was inevitable. A further grant from Yarra supported a feasibility Study into Community Program Delivery in the Princes Hill North Carlton area. Life Drawing continued to be a core activity but limited funding restricted what else could be offered.

2004 Building at Princes Hill Secondary College, a three-story wing for food technology, textiles and technology, and an upgrade of the science wing. Both 1C1 and 1C2 were timetabled for classes. Funding was an issue. The City of Yarra, Community Partnership Grant was applied for.

2005 An application to Yarra secured 3 years funding. 

2006 New full-sized Gym was completed at PHSC in August. With the limited availability of indoor sporting venues in the inner city area, after-hours hire was quickly filled by various sporting  organisations. Small grant application meant a Community Art Show and cabaret Theatre was possible. “pARTicipate” was a great success with 3D and 2D art displayed.

2007 With more secure funding and income provided through an arrangement with the school regarding PHCC handling hiring of the gym, it was possible to increase staffing and start to expand programs offered. The first website and electronic banking were set up by PHSC VCE students! 2008 local cookbook published and art exhibition “pARTicipate ran again.

 The Princes Hill Community Centre had found a more substantial financial footing, and with this increased security, it had once again looked to be more involved in community life, running a number of free and low-cost programs through its funding from the City of Yarra, with whom it has a Community Partnership Grant. Meanwhile, the legacy of its arts programs, run in various guises for over thirty years, has become something of defining feature, and one of the most common ways that people now know about the Centre is through its support of various artistic programs, classes and initiatives.  The Centre’s major sponsor in those days remained the Princes Hill Secondary College, with whom it had an arrangement to manage the School’s gym hire, in exchange for which the Centre received a percentage of the profits. The next biggest sponsor is the City of Yarra, which have provided the Centre a Community Partnership Grant that enables the Centre to engage in community development. The remainder of the Centre’s funding is acquired either through the hire of the Centre’s studio or classroom space, and popular programs such as the Life Drawing Classes, which have run here at the Centre for over two decades.

The Princes Hill Community Centre remains something of an ‘exceptional normal’, to borrow from the terminology of microstoria. It began its life in much the same manner as many neighbourhood houses, but for various reasons, never quite made the leap from being a centre for the community to being a state-funded institution.   Conversely, this has also provided the Centre with greater freedom with regard to its programming, and an ability to apply for grants particularly through the City of Yarra that would otherwise be barred to it. Its artistic legacy is substantial, yet the Centre has never made this its whole purpose. It continues to cater to a variety of more everyday desires for conversation and intimacy that shared interest groups like craft, mahjong or games can provide, and which are primarily of benefit to a local community of people, providing a sense of cohesion and friendship so valuable in the making of a good life as well as more generally promoting the arts.

In December 2018 the Princes Hill Secondary College took up the running of the Gym Hire, this removed a stream of funding from The Princes Hill Centre. Since then the Centre has been running on a lean budget, it’s remit remains broad, and with luck, and perhaps a dash of grit and flair, this will enable the Centre to continue to flex and adapt to the vagaries of Government funding, the Covid 19 pandemic ( which in recent times has locked the Centre down for 22 weeks) and community needs and desires into the foreseeable future.

* The City Alternative News was printed for over 20 years. 1975-95? It circulated throughout Carlton and was a newspaper by the people for the people. The layout was done at night, with no computers or spell check available, before being sent to Shepparton to be printed and the paper was distributed in the local area.

**In 1980  PHSPC was instrumental in securing the North Carlton Railway Station for community use as a neighbourhood house through a partnership with the Montemurro Bocce Club and the support of the City of Melbourne. Members of the Bocce club helped refurbish the building which was in a poor state of repair in exchange for having a room there to store their bocce equipment.

If you have any fond memories about our centre or photos, please contact us. We’d love to hear from you and add your stories to our collection.