Political power, which had long been in the hands of the old colonialists, inevitably began to be taken up by the ‘new’ settlers with their new ideas. Associated with this was the burgeoning strength of the working-class organisations which expected improvement in all areas. Thus fitted out with a new economic richness coinciding with the birth of Federation, the early 1900s became a time when most government departments and the Public Service were modernised.
A revolution in Western Australian teaching took place with the recruitment of senior well-qualified educators from outside the state who initiated a policy to provide free schooling to all children wherever there was developmental activity, which meant even in the remotest agricultural regions. Most schools were one-teacher affairs, and at the turn of the century only about five percent of the teachers had any formal training. It was a situation requiring urgent remedy, and a Teachers’ Training College commenced at Claremont in 1902. Initially, the minimum entrance age was fifteen and a half years for a three year course, but this was later raised to seventeen with a two year course and participation in a ‘monitor’ scheme, which was a means of cutting costs and introducing students to the practicalities of teaching in actual schools. Thus it was in this revolutionary climate that Bicton Primary School commenced in 1904.
Today Bicton is a riverside suburb just a few kilometers upstream from Fremantle.
The name Bicton was determined by the Duffield family who took up a land grant in 1831. The original Bicton is a village near Dover, England. By 1860 the Duffields had established a successful vineyard with 7,000 vines, but now there is no trace.
Knowledge of Aboriginal activity in the Bicton area during the first half of the nineteenth century is fragmentary. The original peoples who ranged over the entire southern side of the Swan-Canning estuary were identified as Booyalkalla. In 1837 they numbered less than 60 persons. The anthropological and archaeological record for Bicton is scant. This may be because freshwater wetlands were minimal. Nevertheless, cultural significance was probably attached to every major local feature, such as along the riverside environs at Blackwall Reach (Jenalup), and at Point Walter (Dyoondalup).
The area where the school is located was originally known as Lower Bicton, and hosted a small rural farming community until 1917 when the first urban subdivision took place. Upper Bicton was naturally enough up the hill, westward of the school, and was the site of a horse racetrack. Meetings on were on Wednesdays and punters came from Fremantle via road and river ferry. But the land became too valuable and was subdivided in 1919. The outline of the Westbury/Yeoville Crescent loop and Birdwood Circus bear testimony on modern street maps to what once was.
In carving up Bicton, the estate agents of the time had started directing their marketing efforts at a more affluent clientele than they had for Palmyra, which had its first urban subdivision to cater to Fremantle’s increasing working class in 1903. The subdivisions inevitably brought about a rise in the number of children in the district.
But in its early days Bicton School was largely for the bare-footed kids who lived on the small local farms. Perhaps they were halcyon days? Farm animals such as horses, cows and poultry were the norm, as was an intimate knowledge of what fruit trees were in season in the district, and more importantly where they were.
Wood fires were the standard fuel for heating and cooking, and chopping wood was a daily task to be avoided by kids when possible. Inevitably with so much bushland still nearby, so was gathering more fuel in a wheelbarrow. There was never much money to spare, but everything that was fun for a kid was pretty much free anyway. Gings and gidgies were standard equipment for boys, and fish, crabs and prawns were still abundant in the nearby river. The cliffs and rocky outcrops of Point Walter and Blackwall Reach have been favourite haunts for generations.
The Bicton Swimming Club initiated the Bicton Baths in 1926. They are located on the site of an old jetty for an animal quarantine station which serviced the Fremantle port. The quarantine station occupied the area which is now parkland on the hill above the jertties. Bicton School has had a long connection with the Bicton Baths for swimming activities, but nowadays our pupils are bussed to a swimming pool in Fremantle. © 2004 P. Weaver