Historical overview of the Polish Saturday School in Ashfield
1950 – present
The beginnings of the Polish School in Ashfield actually lie in the Sydney suburb of Chullora. In the early 1950s, more than 150 children learnt Polish at the migrant camp (Chullora Accommodation Centre for Migrants) in Chullora. Within a few years, Poles had moved away from the camp to houses they had bought or, more often than not, rented. Many families settled in nearby Ashfield, where the local Catholic church, St. Vincent de Paul already held a service in Polish. It was right there, in the parish hall, that in 1954 Polish language lessons began. These were taught by an experienced teacher, Professor Jerzy Goebel. Lessons took place on Saturdays and students were divided into two levels. The lower level learnt how to speak, read and write in Polish, whereas the higher group also had lessons in religion, Polish history and geography, and singing.
In 1957, the Paul Strzelecki Polish Cooperative purchased the Polish House at 182 Liverpool Rd, Ashfield. For nearly a quarter of a century from then on, the Polish House became home to the Polish Saturday School and, at the same time Polish education not only in NSW, but the entire country. The Polish House became the headquarters for the Polish Educational Society, which was founded in 1955, as well as the Polish Education Commission in Australia.
After a small decline in the number of students, the School went through a renaissance in the late ’60s and had an enrolment of almost 40 students. President of the Polish Educational Society, Stanislaw Śronek, who was also the School Inspector decided to open a secondary-level class at the Polish Saturday School in Ashfield. In addition lessons in Polish literature, students also studied Polish history and geography. Those who were interested also had the opportunity to take individual music lessons. In an Australia-wide first, the music group ‘Bialo-Czerwoni’ was established as part of the Polish Secondary School. The Polish Secondary School in Ashfield formed the basis for the start of Polish classes at secondary level as part of the state-run Saturday School of Community Languages, at Ashfield Boys High School, in 1977.
At almost the same time, within the framework of multicultural policies, local schools were encouraged to make classrooms available for Saturday language schools. The Polish Saturday School in Ashfield, which by this time already bore the name of prof. Jerzy Goebel, moved from the Polish House, across the street to the classrooms at Ashfield Primary School.
Group singing and individual music lessons continued to be held at the Polish House and the music group ‘Biedronki’ was founded. The group’s name was later changed to the Henryk Wieniawski Group. The founder of both these groups, as well as the music and singing teacher was Wenancja Strugarek.
In 1994, the decision was made to change the school’s location and the Polish Saturday School moved to the Catholic boys’ school, De La Salle College, in Ashfield. After thirteen years, owing to the modernisation of the school’s buildings, Polish language classes moved to the neighboring girls’ school – Bethlehem College, in 2007.
In 2014, the prof. Jerzy Goebel Polish Saturday School returned to Ashfield Primary School. Apart from financial reasons, the move was of strategic importance. Children who attended Polish classes at primary school level could now continue their language classes at the Saturday School of Community Languages at the school next door. 2014 also saw the Saturday School celebrate its 60th anniversary. Of the many Saturday Schools operating in the Sydney Metropolitan Area since the 1950s, only two have survived to the present. The prof. Jerzy Goebel Polish Saturday School in Ashfield, and the school in Marayong, which is only a slightly younger.
Jubilee celebrations for the School’s 60th anniversary began with a Mass at St. Vincent’s church, and then moved to the Polish Club in Ashfield. The event was attended by more than 200. Former students came with their families, current students and their families and friends, as well as many former teachers – even those who had only spent a short time working at the school. The highlight of the afternoon was the performance prepared by the current students.
Today, the prof. Jerzy Goebel Polish Saturday School in Ashfield, is returning to its former glory. The school operates under the auspices of the Polish Educational Society and the Federation of Ethnic Schools Inc. Since the creation of the Saturday School of Community Languages, the Polish Saturday School focuses on teaching Polish at primary-school level. There are currently 4 classes, with just under 30 children enrolled at the Polish Saturday School. All students finishing the school go on to continue learning Polish at secondary-school level, and most elect to take Polish as a subject for their Higher School Certificate, and consistently achieve fantastic results. The School owes its continued growth and improvement to its teachers, its executive and management, and its active and energetic P&C.