Department of Education Building

Department of Education Building

The New South Wales (NSW) Education Building occupies an entire city block, bounded by Bridge, Loftus, Bent and Young Streets and Farrer Place in central Sydney, New South Wales, Australia. Its four detailed sandstone walls were designed to dominate the precinct. The site is the longest official seat of the head office of the New South Wales government education administration. It has been occupied since 1881, even though the department vacated the Bridge Street building late 1989 and returned in April 1996.


History and architecture

Bridge Street; where the building currently stands proud makes reference to the early days of settlement when a bridge was built across the Tank Stream. The water supply storage tanks were purposely built by convicts to hold fresh water used by early settlers. It linked Pitt and George Streets. As a matter of fact, Bridge Street was the site of the first canvas home of Governor Arthur Phillip and of Government House, the first European building in Australia.

Under this surrounding of Government buildings, the construction of the Education building was initiated in two stages: Firstly, George McRae started the construction of the northern half of the Department of Public Instruction, now the Department of Education building using the Edwardian Baroque design. In 1901 when the Royal Australian Historical Society was founded met in a number of different venues and was eventually provided with rooms in the Department of Education building in Bridge Street.

McRae, whom was named a City Architect in 1887 and later became government architect, had already worked finalising the Sydney Town Hall. McRae also added to his curriculum two Sydney monumental buildings: the Romanesque style of the QBV façade (c.1898) and the Edwardian Baroque style (also known as Federation Freestyle or Neo Baroque) of Central Railway Station or Sydney Terminal (c.1924).

McRae latter style is characterised by sandstone structures that looked back to the 17th- and early 18th-century which developed the classical architecture of the Renaissance towards greater extravagance and drama. Its innovations included greater freedom from the conventions of the orders, much interplay of concave and convex forms, and a preference for the single visual sweep. This style was highly in vogue in Britain for government buildings at the time.

The second stage happened between 1928 and 1930. This time the southern half was designed to match the previous construction. Although, at first it was built to house the Department of Agriculture (the engraved marble over the Farrer Place entrance still reads the words “Department of Agriculture”).

Later on, it was partly occupied by the Department of Technical Education but a continued growth in the Education Department squeezed in the early 1970s both these occupants: Department of Technical Education and Department of Agriculture out.

The Department of Education building clearly demonstrates Edwardian architectural style and planning concepts; its historic features reveal Edwardian taste and customs - for example, the grand sequence from entry porch to ministerial board room. the building, especially where it remains in original condition, a particularly fine example of an early 20th century government office building, featuring an innovative internal steel frame that allowed for future re-use. Also, some people find an influence of the Federation Warehouse style.

It is a significant example of the Edwardian architecture of the period 1915—1930. While the original design determined the overall external effect, it is interesting to see purer Beaux Arts neo-classical details occurring in the 1929 Farrer Place porch and foyer, and simplified stonework details in this portion of the building. How much they reflect taste rather than economy is unclear. Although, The scale and composition of the building was based on the need to accommodate the Department in a government building, and the size and design of the building was acceptable to the Department of Public Instruction (DPI) at the time and funding had been made available by the Treasury.

The importance of education to NSW in 1915 is evident in the number of schools the Department was able to build. Department of Public Instruction was the original name of the NSW Department of Education and Training organisation. Its name was changed to "Department of Education" by an Act of the NSW Parliament in 1957.

The Bridge Street building was the seat of various important figures such as:
Peter Board (1905–1922) who was an Inspector of Schools before he was appointed “Director of Education” (equivalent to the Director-General). Peter Board drafted the new syllabus modelled on a child centered approach with two other inspectors and was appointed Director of Education to implement the recommendations of the Commission of Inquiry into Education (1902-1905.
Sir Harold Wyndham (1952–1968) that, in the 1950s, carried out the last wide-ranging independent inquiry into public education in NSW. His findings were presented to the then education minister, and resulted in a major redirection of public education including the establishment of comprehensive high schools and changes to the Higher School Certificate (HSC). His educational scheme was introduced in NSW in 1962.

The building as conceived and built has a considerable degree of unity in its use of materials, form and scale. The external design is highly disciplined and uses a limited palette of materials such as the yellow block sandstone which originally came from quarries in Pyrmont, Ultimo, the Sydney CBD, Paddington, Bondi and Maroubra, metal framed windows, copper-clad skylights. The Education building made a major contribution to this part of Sydney, visually linking with other imposing sandstone government buildings and enhancing a number of important city vistas.

Cultural significance

The Education Department Building was occupied in 1915. The importance of the Department had been recognized in stone if not in architectural excellence. The historic premises have been the "flagship" for the state's education system since the last century (1915–2010). The building has been long associated with key policy makers and beaurecrats.


The building has been refurbished to provide a high standard of modem office accommodation for its occupants while retaining the features of the early 1900s providing to the staff the facilities of the 21st century. The New South Wales Department of Public Works and Services entrusted the company Barclay Mowlem the restoration of this historic Sydney Building.

  • Foyers and stair lobbies were preserved and enhanced, with Australian marbles in wall panelling, columns, pilasters and stair surfaces
  • Installation of a fully computerised systems to control lighting, security, fire, air-conditioning and lifts, and a satellite communications centre for electronic linkage with every school and departmental office in NSW
  • The Education building now represents a tasteful blend of history and modernity. The successful outcome for this important project due to Barclay Mowlem's extensive experience in historical restoration.

William Wilkins Art Gallery

The William Wilkins Art Gallery on Level 7, 35 Bridge Street has been an important venue for exhibitions of works in Painting, Drawing, Printmaking, Photo media and Sculpture. Also, it is currently available for seminar and conference bookings (To book the Gallery or make enquiries, please phone 02 9561 8045). The Gallery has been fitted with a range of new technology and equipment, including:

  • three electronically operated screens
  • three data projectors
  • a lighting and sound system
  • a control room with video, CD, DVD, computer and TV access
  • an electronic lectern that fully integrates the above technology
  • a new stage.

Note: William Wilkins was the person who implemented the government plans for a Public School system in New South Wales and in fact, because New South Wales was the first state in Australia to adopt a public school system, the other states originally copied his model. That is why the gallery on level 7 is named The William Wilkins Gallery and there is a portrait of him. The government of the day brought Wilkins out from England specifically to assist with the development of the public school system as he was really well known in England for his expertise and innovation in the education of young people. A few years ago, DET in collaboration with the family of William Wilkins, arranged for a headstone to be made by Miller TAFE College who provides the only stonemasonry course to students which was placed on the grave of Mr Wilkins in Rookwood Necropolis and Mr Justice Kirby of the High Court of Australia and a former student of Fort Street High School, gave the celebratory speech for the ceremony at the Wilkins gravesite during the sesquicenterary year of Public Education in New South Wales.

Heritage significance

The building is widely recognised and of State Heritage significance and there is a permanent conservation order over the building, land and curtilage of the site. It is listed in the Central Sydney Local Environmental Plan, 2000, the Register of the National Estate, the National Trust of Australia and the Royal Australian Institute of Architects (RAIA) Register of Twentieth Century Buildings of Significance, Sydney Local Environment Plan 1992.

Building Management and tenants should be aware of the building's heritage significance in that no alterations are permitted which will compromise that status. Nowadays, some repairs and maintenance are allowed by the State Heritage Regulations, 2005.

The Education building is owned by the NSW Treasury and managed by State Property, Department of Commerce and any alterations to the building have to be approved by the Heritage Council of NSW – the Heritage Council has replaced the Heritage Branch of the Department of Urban Affairs and Planning as the consent authority.

Many of the accepted conservation policies have already been addressed. The last refurbishment of the building was done in mid 1990’s although still retaining a number of features of heritage significance.

However, there is a need for ongoing conservation work to be carried out, particularly relating to the sandstone facades and to certain designated interiors.

The building has a number of elements of major heritage significance, including:

  • all sandstone elevations (i.e. street frontages to top of sandstone parapet, excluding level 8); and in particular the existing fenestration and detailing
  • Several foyers and related stair lobbies preserved and enhanced, with Australian marbles in wall panelling, columns, pilasters and stair surfaces, specifically:
  • Bridge Street entry porch, bronze grilles and timber doors, columned lobby including corridor access doors and hardware, stair hall excluding information booth, upper stair hall including columns and memorials and corridor access doors.
  • Loftus Street entry porch stair lobby and staircases serving levels 1-7, including access doors from a sub lobby into the northern offices on each level.
  • Farrer Place entry porch, bronze doors, foyer including brass edged Directory Board, but excluding contemporary lift doors and surrounds.
  • Minister's private entry stair linking Young Street with level 2.
  • Department of Education Ministerial Board Room including panelling, and panelled doors and relate architraves, skirting and carved over-doors, plasterwork and a purpose built bookcase that dates back to 1915. The material currently in this bookcase spans the period 1883 to 1978. The greater part of the collection is dated between 1883 and 1919 and would have been acquired by the early Directors-General of Education.
  • Subject areas include:
  • Child development and child psychology
  • Economics and industrial relations
  • Education, Australian and International
  • Educational theories and educational history
  • Geography
  • History - American, British and European
  • Literature, biographies and poetry
  • NSW Parliament, legislation
  • Parliamentary reports (NSW Parliament)
  • Pedagogy
  • Philosophy and philosophical theories
  • Psychology
  • Social reform, sociology and social evolution
  • Statistics: Australian and New South Wales
  • Theology and humanism
  • William Wilkins Gallery and adjoining meeting room and related skylights, including access stair to roof.

Education Building facts

The Department of Education and Training (DET) does not own the building.
The building is owned by Treasury and forms part of the State Property Authority.
The Department of Commerce (DOC) is contracted by Treasury to manage the State Property Authority's buildings.
The Department of Commerce (DOC) sub-contracts out the day to day management of the State Property Authority's buildings. Currently Five D Holdings Pty Ltd have the contract until 30 June 2010.
The current Building Manager, Jerry Norris is employed by the Five D Holdings Pty Ltd.
Five D Holdings Pty Ltd is responsible for maintaining the base building and its services: ego air-conditioning, ceilings, lighting, lifts, toilets, floor coverings and the like.
DET "owns" and is responsible for the fit-out e.g. internal partitions and fittings, workstations, loose furniture (except that supplied by individual directorates), non core facility installations such as kitchens.
The Office Accommodation Unit (OAU) provides and maintains the fit-out including electrical and data cabling and loose furniture in accordance with departmental standards. The provision and maintenance of equipment ego PC's, printers, facsimile machines, refrigerators, microwaves and the like is the responsibility of the Directorates which own the equipment.
The Office Accommodation Unit (OAU) is responsible for management of issues pertaining to the lease.
IT Directorate is responsible for computer and telephone services.
Administrative Services are responsible for functions such as mail, meeting room bookings and the like.


  1. Property Services Group briefing on the significance of the building, 1995
  2. The state heritage inventory at the NSW Heritage Office
  3. The Register of the National Estate
  4. Apperly, R, Irving, R & Reynolds, P, “A Pictorial Guide to Identifying Australian Architecture”, 1994, Angus & Robinson.
  5. JM Freeland, “Architecture in Australia, A History, 1974, Penguin Books
  6. Foundation of a City – Building Sydney Town Hall – Building It 1880-1889
  7. Seminar Material Evidence – Concerning Historic Building Fabric – 13 – 14 April 2000 by Brenda Franklin
  8. Leaflet on Education Building freely distributed by DET reception staff at Bridge Street entry
  9. Government Schools of New South Wales 1848-1003. ISBN 0-7310-7976-0
  10. 2004 Annual Report, page 173
  11. Handout written by Richard Malone, Leader, Office Accommodation, 2006
  12. Some information provided by courtesy of Media:The Buildings Books Trust

External links

Coordinates: 33°51′50″S 151°12′38″E / 33.86389°S 151.21056°E / -33.86389; 151.21056

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