The Kindergarten Union of New South Wales was established by a handful of educational reformers in 1895. They believed that Sydney’s deprived, inner-city children should be given the opportunity to experience gentle, play based learning before entering public school. A founding member of the group was the feminist and forward thinker, Maybanke Anderson.
The first free kindergarten was established at dockside Woolloomooloo, where many infants were born into violence and poverty.
By 1906 the group were ready to expand. They called on the help of wealthy sheep farmers and pastoralists, advertising in the Sydney Stock and Station Journal;
The Union now desires to open another kindergarten, and believing that the country folk are interested in the work, they propose to call it the “Golden Fleece”, and to endeavor to obtain support for it from the country. Will the readers of this widely read journal help? ……Yours, etc., MAYBANKE ANDERSON, Hon. Organising Secretary.
The location chosen was Chippendale, considered one of the city’s worst slums. It opened in Pine Street in 1907, housed in an old boot factory.
One little country girl responded with an initial donation of a shilling;
In 1915 the kindergarten moved to temporary premises nearby while a new, larger building was erected on the Pine Street site. It opened the following year.
Miss Ethel Lakeman became Director in1922. She was originally from rural NSW herself, born in Hay. What an inspired choice she proved to be.
No matter what might have been happening at home, the children shared in the magic of annual festivals, especially Christmas;
Dusky camels carried little notes from the 70 children at the Golden Fleece Kindergarten, Chippendale, to their parents and friends, inviting them to a delightful Christmas tree and party at the kindergarten last night. Weeks ago the children wrote notes to Santa Claus, which were sent flying up the fireplace in the kindergarten; but somehow the committee members must have read them, for on the Christmas tree were the very toys for which the children had written. Also, during the last few weeks presents for the parents were made. The children aged six made baskets, raffia purses, handkerchiefs or matchbox holders, while the very young – about two and three years old – painted coat-hangers. These gifts also loaded the tree, which was given by the employees of the Post Office. (THE SUN, December 15, 1926
The following article published in1929 sums up the ethos of the Kindergarten Union, Miss Lakeman, and the Golden Fleece Kindergarten. For this reason I have included it in full. Oh the poignancy of the director’s comment that after leaving for ‘big school’, some of the children would creep back to the Pine Street haven, hoping no-one would notice they were there.
At 3.30pm each day the doors of the nursery school closed and the children left. However, Ethel Lakeman did her best to call attention to the terrible conditions they returned to. The streets of the area, and sometimes even their own homes, were unhealthy and often unsafe.
It seems bizarre that Lord Mayor Hagon needed proof of the existence of slums in the city, particularly as this was during the Great Depression. A few days he visited the kindergarten itself. It was winter, so the distressed child pictured below probably had very cold feet. Sadly, not every parent in Chippendale could afford shoes.
Young lives were enriched in every way Miss Lakeman could come up with, including nature study.
A KOOKA AT KINDER!
A garden hose came in handy as youngsters were cooled down on an oppressively hot day. However, I do wonder why two missed out? Despite the nurturing environment of the Golden Fleece Kindergarten, they may not have been brave enough; self-confidence is affected by deprivation. Even in this grainy newspaper photo, the absolute joy of the ‘water babies’ is clear, as is the love and kindness shining from Miss Lakeman’s face.
Efforts were always made to engage and include parents. Ethel Lakeman was furious when Mr W. J Skipworth of Perth described mothers of infants attending free kindergartens as ‘lazy and duty-shirking’. She wrote a letter to the editor of the Daily Telegraph refuting his comments;
‘In all cases, the children are sent, not with thought of the mother escaping the duties of parental control, but rather that the child should receive the advantages of education and recreation denied to families living in congested areas, where playing space is sadly limited, and housing conditions appalling….’ Ethel Lakeman, Director, Golden Fleece Kindergarten, Chippendale (Daily Telegraph, September 8, 1936)
CHRISTMAS AT GOLDEN FLEECE – 1938
WARTIME BRINGS MORE CHALLENGES
By 1940 many women from the inner-city were needed to work in munitions factories. Miss Lakeman made the decision to assist them by substantially increasing the hours of the kindergarten. The entire staff agreed to work overtime on a voluntary basis. It was open each day from 9 a.m. until 6 p.m. as well as on Saturday mornings and public holidays. (Information from The Sun June 18 1940)
This might be a good place to end my story. Ethel Lakeman resigned as director at the end of 1940 to take up a position with The Sydney Day Nursery Association. She had been at the kindergarten for eighteen years. Of course the work at Chippendale continued, but I can’t help feeling that the little ones who spent time in her care were especially fortunate.
The Golden Fleece Kindergarten has since evolved into the Chippendale long day care centre.
NOTE – Ethel Lakeman had studied dancing, and during the last year of her tenure some mothers asked if she would give them lessons. She generously agreed, and even those who had spent a hard day in a factory would attend, dressed in paper dancing outfits they had made themselves…. at a cost of about threepence apiece.
Researching and writing this story of the Kindergarten had a huge impact on me. Like one of her small charges, I felt increasingly enveloped by Miss Lakeman’s love and warmth. 💛 She died in 1970, aged 81.
FOR MORE INFORMATION ON KINDERGARTEN UNION STALWART MAYBANKE ANDERSON, CLICK HERE