by Jack Hoadley
My father, Arch Hoadley, was a man with a far-sighted vision of education. Exactly 100 years ago he opened the doors of Footscray Technical School, which has today grown into Victoria University.
He was already an Antarctic explorer with Sir Douglas Mawson's expedition when he was appointed headmaster of a new school for the region's young men. It was a time of rapid economic and social change, not unlike the transformation now taking place in Melbourne's west.
In those early years, Footscray, Flemington and Kensington contained almost half of Melbourne's abattoirs, fertiliser plants and tanneries. It included working-class cottages and company employees devoted to organisations like HV McKay's Sunshine Harvester Works.
"Footscray Tech" opened in 1916 as the city's first secondary school, but from the beginning, entrenched attitudes challenged the aim of the school. Some thought Footscray's young men required only a utilitarian trade school to prepare them for the manual jobs that would predictably be their lot in life.
My father always believed they deserved more.
As an engineer himself, he dreamed of developing a skilled workforce of builders and engineers in Melbourne's west who would contribute not only to Australia's postwar economy, but also to a stronger, richer, and more vibrant local community.
He ignored the cynics and fought to incorporate broad liberal arts courses into the curriculum, insisting that a Footscray boy was worthy of the same education as any other young man. Footscray Tech also fostered civics, sport, and music – one of his personal passions.
In short, Footscray Tech students were told to regard education as a door of opportunity and strive for the highest standards of personal performance, regardless of their history or upbringing.
Exactly a century later, Victoria University continues to embrace key aspects of my father's vision. Many VU students today are as restricted by opportunity and family circumstances as those first Footscray Technical School students.
It would please my father greatly to learn that Victoria University in 2016 is characterised by a rich diversity of students from many cultures, socioeconomic, and educational backgrounds.
Above all, he would be gratified to know that VU has the highest proportion of students in Australia who are the first in their families to go to university.
In the same way that the first students of Footscray rose above the expectations of what should be their "lot in life" new generations are taking up the opportunities he introduced to ensure the west continues to grow culturally, economically and intellectually.
Jack Hoadley is the son of Arch Hoadley. In 2010, he published a biography of his father, Antarctica to Footscray: Arch Hoadley – A Man of Inspiration and Courage. He will discuss the book on Thursday, March 3, at Avondale Heights Library. Bookings required on 8325 1940.