Former National School Building
Image: unknown
© Australian Museum

Discovering the little known story of the historic gem, the Former National School Building.

Often overlooked is the small Gothic fronted building on William St just down from the main section of the Australian Museum. In the mid 1850’s a section of the Museum site was transferred to the Board of National Education to build a National School for local students. Opening in 1851, its historical significance now lies in it being the oldest surviving National School building in the Sydney region.

The single storey school initially compromised two classrooms and a central room with an eastern entrance. In 1892 a second storey and the impressive William St entrance were added. Over the year further additions and alterations, including other buildings on the site, were made to meet changing educational needs. Similarly, the school underwent various name changes though always remained a public school. Whilst the current ungainly entrance is adjacent to the footpath it was not always so. Resuming 35 feet of the William Street frontage in 1916, the City Council literally moved the footpath to the front door.

The building continued to be used as a school until 1950 when it was closed. The Child Welfare Department took over the site and renovated the internal space making it more suitable for administrative offices. In 1971 it was handed back to the Australian Museum and by 1975 the northern end was converted to a specialised storage area for the extensive Melanesian Collection. Again internal changes were made to reflect this change in function; in particular air conditioning and a lift were installed and the windows were bricked up. Following a number of further alterations in 2012 the ground floor of the building was reopened as a venue space, called The Night Parrot with Museum administrative office space remaining on the first floor.

The naming of the venue space was an acknowledgment of the discovery of the extremely rare Night Parrot, thought to be extinct, in South West Queensland by Australian Museum Ornithologist Walter Boles and his colleagues in 1990.

The southern end of the building which is not visible to the public, has undergone a number of changes to accommodate various staff requirements whilst also keeping much of its early fabric.

In December 2016, the Night Parrot was refurbished and launched as ‘1892’ reflecting the building’s late 18th century striking alterations.

The Museum has paid homage to its original purpose as an educational facility by naming this small, yet dignified building the Former National School Building.