In recent years there have been ongoing calls in Australia for state provided or heavily subsidised kindergarten and outside school hours childcare – a very literal example of the nanny state that Australia is fast becoming.
This call is nothing new and the groundswell for kindergartens began in Australia in the late 1800s when things were very different than they are today.
At that time, the concern was for the welfare of children who, with their families, often lived in atrocious conditions and had no access to education. Things got even worse with a major strike in 1890 and a general depression in 1893. In 1895 kindergarten supporters formed themselves into the Kindergarten Union (KU), lead by well known feminist, educator and woman suffrage activist of the day, Maybanke Anderson. Anderson was a free immigrant from London who herself had seven children between 1868 and 1879, though four of them died from a heart condition before the age of five. One of the objectives of this austere organisation, the KU, was to open free kindergartens wherever they could.
The first formal free kindergarten in Australia opened in Sussex St in Sydney in January 1896 but soon moved to Dowling St in Wooloomooloo where it remained for 21 years.
The KU still exists and today operates around 150 not-for-profit preschools and childcare centres in the eastern states of Australia.
This kindergarten in Pyrmont is one of the KU’s preschools and is named after Maybanke Anderson. The Maybanke Kindergarten (now Preschool) opened here in 1923 and is one of the few KU kindergartens still operating in its original premises, though it now operates on a not-for-profit, as opposed to free, basis.
The Maybanke Kindergarten replaced the nearby Montessori Kindergarten, or The Little Brown House, which had to close when the land it was on was sold.
The heritage listed building with its gabled front to Harris Street featuring brick buttresses, very agreeable pointed arch windows and an iron finial atop the gable was constructed in 1877 as a Primitive Methodist Chapel. Primitive (as in simple) Methodists were differentiated from the Wesleyan Methodist Church, from which they split, by plainer churches and their low church style of worship.
In 1932 the two denominations merged though records show that the chapel here closed in 1922, shortly after which the kindergarten opened. The Colonial Sugar Refining Company, which owned the building, gave it to the Kindergarten Union rent free getting them out of a pickle following the loss of the Little Brown House facility.
Address: 99 Harris Street, Pyrmont