The history of print training in Victoria

This article was first published in the March 2021 issue of Australian Printer, authored by Robert James

The Printing Industry in Victoria recognised the benefits of supplementary training for its apprentices.

During 1894, the Melbourne Printers Overseers’ Association made application to the Council of the Working Men’s College (now RMIT) to commence printing classes, but the proposal was denied on the basis of restricting specific student’s access to the classes.

The Melbourne Printers Overseers’ Association met with the Victorian Master Printers’ Association on 28April 1898, to discuss the prospect of conducting printing classes. A joint committee was formed and honorary instructors were appointed to conduct the classes in composing and (printing) machining.

A room in the Athenaeum Hall was rented for one evening a week, which enabled composing classes and machining classes to be held on alternate weeks. In March 1899, the joint committee wrote to the Government for assistance, to enable classes to be conducted on a permanent basis. Following discussions with the Secretary of Education, the committee was notified that the Working Men’s College would take over the classes.

Printing classes started at the Working Men’s College in June 1899, with a total enrolment of 54 students. By 1902, the training equipment which was being purchased on time payment had eventually been bought outright.

By 1905, class numbers had increased to the point that additional staff and plant were required. At this stage, all classes had been conducted in the evenings. It wasn’t until the latter part of the 1914-18 war, that day classes were offered, but only to newspaper apprentices.

The name of the Working Men’s College was changed in 1934, to the Melbourne Technical College.

In 1935 enrolments in composing and machining had increased to 444 students, further stretching the training resources. By 1939, most 18-year-old apprentices had joined the armed forces, which temporarily gave relief to the situation and the teaching staff produced correspondence courses for those apprentices. After the 1939-45 war, every effort was made to extend facilities for printing classes at the Working Men’s College.

By 1943, it had become apparent that improvements were needed to the existing facilities. After further negotiations with the government and others responsible for technical education, it was decided that a mono-purpose technical school be established to provide essential training and education in all printing trades.

Melbourne Printing Trades School

On 21 October 1947, the Governor in Council proclaimed the Melbourne Printing Trades School to train apprentices in lithography, photoengraving and bookbinding trades, while the Melbourne Technical College would continue the training of letterpress apprentices.

The Melbourne Printing Trades School was renamed the Melbourne School of Printing and Graphic Arts, in July 1950.

Discussions took place during 1950 regarding the construction of a new building at the rear of the existing structure. Initially a four-story building was proposed, but to reduce costs, a two-storey compromise was reluctantly accepted by the School Council.

In July 1954, Her Majesty Queen Elizabeth II, conferred the title “Royal” upon the Melbourne Technical College.

By 1957, all printing classes were conducted in the new facilities at North Melbourne and enrolment in the following year exceeded 800 apprentices during the day and almost 400 attended evening classes. At the time, this training facility was the most modern and complete institution of its type in the British Commonwealth.

Facilities Overcrowded

Before long it was realised that the existing two-storey building was inadequate, as student enrolments had more than doubled since 1956. Plans were drawn up for an additional three floors to be built on the recently completed building.

During 1960, the title of the Royal Melbourne Technical College was altered to Royal Melbourne Institute of Technology.

Constructions of an additional three floors had commenced in 1964 and were completed by October 1966, providing a total floor space of 72,000 square feet. Further equipment was purchased for around $240,000.

In March 1971, the Melbourne School of Printing and Graphic Arts was renamed the Melbourne College of Printing and Graphic Arts.

On 27 October 1978, the Graphic Arts Award was reduced from some 24 trades into – composition, graphic reproduction, stereotyping/electroplating, printing machining, screen printing, binding and finishing.

In 1980, a record 530 first-year apprentices were enrolled, but only 420 could be accommodated at the college.

On 30September 1981, the Melbourne College of Printing and Graphic Arts separated from the Education Department, to become one of sixteen colleges responsible to the T.A.F.E. Board. A new site for the Melbourne College of Printing and Graphic Arts was sought during 1982.

Additional buildings were leased during 1985 and 1986, to alleviate the congested accommodation at the Queensberry Street site. By 1987, plans for a new building in Brunswick were being instigated. Classes commenced at the Dryburgh Street annexe in October 1987.

In May 1988, a master plan and concept proposal for the Brunswick campus was put to the Commonwealth Government for approval and funding.

Bookbinding classes were relocated and commenced in the Millers Ropeworks building at Dawson Street, Brunswick in February 1989.

The Minister of Education and Training laid the Foundation Stone at a special ceremony on 3 December 1991 at the Dawson Street site in Brunswick. A new era in printing training had begun. The new three-story, training facility was constructed during 1992 at a cost of $10.6 million, with a total floor area of 4,600 square metres. Equipment in the new building was valued at $3.7 million. The site is to be shared with the Melbourne Institute of Textiles.

Printing reunited with RMIT

On 1January 1995, the Melbourne College of Printing and Graphic Arts merged with the Royal Melbourne Institute of Technology, once again returning to its foster parent after 45 years of independence.

As part of the restructuring of RMIT during 1997, the School of Design and Printing was rationalised with the two former departments being amalgamated.

In February 1997, $4.6 million funding had been approved for the final stage of development for RMIT Printing. Plans were initiated for a two-storey structure to accommodate the remaining sections of the school. However, discussions were held with various printing associations during 1998 for a third storey to be added, at a further cost of $1.7 million to accommodate a printing museum, to be known as the National Printing Museum of Lasting Impressions.

Preparations for the site began early 1999, with the demolition of the last of the original Millers Ropeworks buildings, which had accommodated the Bookbinding classes since 1989.  Construction was scheduled to commence in April, with a proposed completion in December 1999.

After 13 years of separation, all of the printing training sections were reunited onto the same campus, following the relocation of classes from the North Melbourne sites. At the completion of the project, the Dawson Street site became a national leader for the delivery of training to the Printing and Graphic Arts Industries.

Unfortunately, with a rapid decline in printing apprentice enrolments, the first-year Printing Machining workshop was closed and consequently in 2010, the second-year Printing Machining workshop also closed.

Apprentice enrolments across most areas, except flexographic, gravure and label printing had rapidly declined in recent years. Following a further reduction of enrolments in printing machining, the flexographic and label printing departments were amalgamated with a refurbished lithographic printing workshop in 2011.

The Future

Originally in the 1970’s, all apprentices attended the Victorian print training facility for 960 hours, over the three years of their ‘off-the job’ training. This was later reduced to 880 hours.  In recent years, apprentices attended ICGT for a total of 520 hours. The remainder of apprentice training has been assessed ‘on-the-job’ by ICGT training staff.

On 18July 2012, RMIT announced that it had entered into an arrangement with a private training provider, CLB Training and Development (now Spectra Training), to establish and takeover the printing and graphic arts training in Victoria and Tasmania.

Under this agreement, RMIT closed the ICGT training facility in Brunswick within the next 18 months.

Moves were taken by the Printing Industries Association of Australia (PIAA) to purchase ‘Intech Australia’ a Registered Training Organisation (RTO) operating out of Queensland. Joan Grace, previously CEO of Print NZ had been appointed by PIAA, as General Manager of Education, Employment and Training, to ensure that printing industry training in Victoria was maintained. By the end of 2014, Grace had left the PIAA after two years of managing ‘Future Print’.

With the support of ‘Future Print’ and ‘Intech Australia’ failing to get Victorian Government support, alternative RTO options were explored, resulting in the Holmesglen Institute registering the Print Apprenticeship Programs.

In 2016, the Certificate III Printing and Binding /Finishing Apprentice training was introduced at Holmesglen Institute in Chadstone. Apprenticeship training is provided both on and off the job. A Certificate II Pre-Apprenticeship course in Printing and Graphic Arts is also provided.

Robert James is an industry veteran who has been in the printing industry for over 57 years. He joined the printing industry as an apprentice in 1963 and became a qualified printer in 1967. James was a recipient of The Collie Trust Scholarship Award in 1973, became a trade instructor at the Melbourne College of Printing in 1974 and was head of the printing, binding and finishing departments at RMIT, until he retired in 2001.

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2 thoughts on “The history of print training in Victoria

  1. The best thing about Trade school was throwing pies at the Parking Inspectors from the top floor canteen.

  2. I was an Apprentice Bookbinder at the old School Building from 1981 till 1985, and was the only Hand Bookbinder working in a Bindery at work in my class at this time, and today I am still a Bookbinder running my own business, my website is
    I owe my working life to the teachers at the The Melbourne School of Printing and Graphic Arts, and remember Mr.Hyde very well, the one Ludlow machine we had that made Lead Type and to own this after the school had closed the doors and also own 6 of them starting my business in the late 1990’s there, also being the President of the Bookbinders Guild there for a few years when it was a Tafe Printing School. Since then I have Bound Books for the Pope and even the now King and now recently for our own Parliament House, its been an amazing journey, and at 58 years old and going stronger than ever, its been great, so thanks for the memories. Regards Milton Watkins

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