New buildings being constructed on the corner of Creswick Road and Holmes Street in Ballarat mask a fascinating history involving two of Australia's prime ministers.
Replacing a cream and clinker brick home on the site, the two new premises, which will be offered as commercial properties, are being built by Ballarat Construction Management and Simon Clark Constructions.
One is being offered for lease by Colliers International; managing director David Wright says the buildings are being completed quickly and are part of a major series of investments along Creswick Road, including the redevelopment of the former fuel depot into a car park and the former Merv Jeffreys car yard.
But prior to the existence of any of these buildings there was a huge and grand brick college standing near the corner of Holmes Street, in the days when Creswick Road was populated with varied businesses and industries including breweries and foundries.
Grenville College was originally known as Victor's Collegiate College. Established in 1855, by the 1860s the founder John Victor and the fabulously-named vice-principal Henry Beresford De la Poer Wall had purchased an existing two-storey terrace home with the intention of extending their private school.
What they built was an edifice on a scale with any of the grand buildings in the city, then or later. Grenville College stood facing back towards the expanding city, the terrace expanded in a slightly different style and with an Italianate tower attached to the front, complete with viewing platform above the school and flagpole.
The school's motto, DISCIMUS NON SCHOLAE SED VITAE, translates from the Latin as 'To learn, not for school, but for life.' Although it advertised early as having the capacity for 300 male students, in reality Grenville College had an average of around 100 pupils and was co-educational.
It was a small school, and when I look back on those days, towards the end of the first decade of the century - many of you won't remember it - I remember Grenville College; a school so small that I got a game in the football team- Sir Robert Menzies
According to Federation University, 'the curriculum consisted of English, French, German, Greek and Latin, geography, commercial studies, ancient and modern history, mathematics, Scripture, science, music, elocution and gymnastics.
'The girls were offered sewing and fancy work in addition.'
Grenville was a solidly Protestant school, with traces of the prevalent Methodism, Presbyterianism as well as Church of England orthodoxy. Despite this, one of its early students was a Catholic, John Joseph Ambrose Curtin.
John Curtin was born in Creswick, but led a peripatetic life as his father, who had been paid out of the Victorian police force, moved from town to town in search of employment. It's not clear when Curtin attended Grenville College - he was born in 1885 and by the turn of the century his family was living in the Melbourne suburb of Brunswick - or even if there are records of his attendance, but it is mentioned in various newspaper reports about the college over time.
Curtin was Australia's wartime prime minister from 1941 until his death in 1945.
Another student whose attendance at the college is very well-documented was also a prime minister of Australia - twice.
Robert Gordon Menzies attended Grenville College just prior to its closure in 1910, in 1908 and 1909. He won two awards for excelling at his studies, a certificate and a copy of Shelley's works, both of which have been preserved.
In 1962, opening a wing of Ballarat College, the soon-to be knighted Menzies gave a speech in which he recalled his days at Grenville.
"It was a small school, and when I look back on those days, towards the end of the first decade of the century - many of you won't remember it - I remember Grenville College; a school so small that I got a game in the football team."
Aside from the rare honour of having had more than one pupil rise to the prime ministership of the country (Melbourne Grammar School, Sydney Grammar School, Wesley College, Melbourne, Abbotsholme College and Sydney Boys High School are the others), Grenville College also educated the poet Bernard O'Dowd; journalist, author and convicted thief Ernest Buley; actress and soprano Juliet G. Flegeltaub, who performed as Juliet Wray; and the manager of the William Don Mining Company, John Ditchburn.
After its closure in 1910, the magnificent Holme Street campus of the college suffered the indignity of standing empty for some years, before being converted in to the factory premises of the J Malin tomato sauce factory - a sad fate which befell many glorious Ballarat buildings, and still does.
The college building was slated for demolition in 1947, and by 1953 the offices of Martin Stoneware Pipe Ltd occupied the site. Today, the ground of the college which produced two of Australia's greatest prime ministers has no memorial or plaque.
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