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Mechanics’ institutes, schools theme for 2024 Historical Society calendar

• Foster and District Historical Society Inc. committee member Rob Pritchard and research officer Nola Taylor with copies of the Society’s newly-released 2024 calendar and two precious side plates marked with the Foster Mechanics Hall logo.

MECHANICS’ institutes, free libraries, and schools, and their importance to their respective local communities as centres of learning and social activity form the theme for the Foster and District Historical Society Inc.’s 2024 calendar.

The cover of the new calendar features the logo on two of the known remaining pieces of a once-extensive dinner service that was especially made to grace the tables of the Foster Mechanics’ Hall built in 1895, the second of three in the town.

Produced in England by Smith and Sons of Burslem in Staffordshire, the two white vitrified porcelain side plates are now safely held in the Foster Museum’s collection.

According to These Walls Speak Volumes – A History of Mechanics’ Institutes in Victoria published in 2015 by Pam Baragwanath and Ken James, the area covered by the present-day South Gippsland Shire had 55 mechanics’ institutes by the 1880s, more than any other current Victorian municipality.

The calendar’s cover also includes a quote from the same book’s introduction stating that “mechanics’ institutes were local, independent, self-funded, self-help initiatives.

“They were the first voluntary system of libraries, education and community buildings in Victoria,” the book extract continues.

“Their aims generally were the diffusion of useful knowledge, literary and scientific, by means of a library and lectures” and “provided early civic infrastructure, as well as a necessary venue for social and community events.”

The Historical Society’s popular annual calendars are illustrated with images chosen from the extensive archives housed at the Foster Museum.

A labelled aerial photograph of Foster, circa 1890s, shows the location of many of the town’s early buildings, including the first Mechanics’ Institute built where today’s Foster Post Office now stands in Main Street, was selected for January 2024.

The page for February 2024 shows the graceful lines of Foster’s second Mechanics’ Institute in the 1950s, which was built on the site of the present Foster Fire Brigade station in Main Street in 1894 and opened the following year.

This building was destroyed by fire in 1962 and was later demolished and replaced in 1965 by a new brick hall.

March 2024’s picture is of a formal gathering in the second Foster Mechanics’ Institute hall, with the tables laid with some of what could well be the Foster Mechanics Hall set of crockery!

The original Foster State School Number 1172, which opened in 1875 and appears on the page for April 2024, was located in Pioneer Street near the first Shire of South Gippsland Office.

May 2024’s page boasts Toora’s second Mechanics’ Institute hall in Gray Street, which was opened in 1909 to take over the role of the original smaller building in Dutton Street and was, in turn, replaced by the present brick hall in 1961.

This building is still home to some of the original Toora Hall Library’s volumes, which form the basis of the township’s current library book collection and lending service.

A group portrait of those attending  the “Flashlight” Military Ball held at the Toora Mechanics’ Institute in 1919 may be seen on the page for June 2024, while July 2024’s snap captures the pupils of the Toora State School in Gray Street in 1917.

The Buffalo Mechanics’ Institute, as seen on the page for August 2024, was built in 1894 and served as a school, a cinema, a library and an ecumenical church.

September 2024’s image is of the Fish Creek Mechanics’ Institute hall and library, built on railways land and opened in 1900. The building burned down in 1929 and was replaced by the current red-brick Fish Creek Memorial Hall in Falls Road.

The Stony Creek Mechanics’ Institute, the feature for October 2024, was erected in Main Street in 1894 and still serves as a community hub today. Its remnant library collection of 154 books may be seen in their own cupboard at the Foster Museum.

The image for November 2024 is of the current Welshpool Memorial Hall, which opened as the town’s second Mechanics’ Institute in 1953, after the original 1907  hall burned down when a film caught fire while being screened in 1942.

The Toora Tin Mines Public Hall and Library, on the December 2024 page, was opened in March 1907 and in October of the same year it also entered service as the Toor Tin Mine State School Number 3547.

The final photo in the Historical Society’s calendar, for January 2025, is of the Bennison State School Number 3025.

The Foster and District Historical Society Inc.’s 2024 calendar is priced at $20 and is available from the Foster Museum, the Foster Post Office, Natural Living Foster, Atticus Bookshop and Gallery in Foster, Rare Earth Studio Gallery in Toora, and the Yanakie General Store.

The calendar may also be purchased online via the Foster and District Historical Society Inc.’s website at www.prom


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