In the early 1950s, at the time when moves were being made to establish a school at the Noble Park end of the Springvale Parish, the majority of families making their home in the area were European, particularly Italian. In the decade ahead, the area continued to welcome European families, and in 1955, the year before Noble Park became a separate parish from Springvale, St. Anthony's Primary School opened. The school was established in Leonard Avenue, under the direction of two Brigidine Sisters. With a starting enrolment of 150, Mother Brigida Nailon taught students from Prep – 2, while the Principal, Mother Paula Walsh taught students in Years 3 – 6. Later that year, they were joined by a third, lay teacher who taught in a glassed-in verandah.
"We opened with 150 pupils the first day with seating accommodation for 100, so that three to a desk was the accepted thing. During the first week of school we very nearly succeeded in starting a major fire. The children had their lunch sitting under the gum trees in the playground and, on this day, were joined by some men who had been spraying blackberries in the area. The incinerator was an old oily drum full of holes and the grass had not been cleared, with the result the burner was lit and the grass caught fire. A major disaster was averted by the men who poured the spray on it and beat it out. Our first lady teacher was Miss Helen Allen, an English lady who was staying in Dandenong with her relatives. As it was a church school we had no third classroom, so she taught on the verandah between the two classrooms. Later on, the shelter shed, which fathers had built by voluntary labour, was converted into a classroom where she taught."
Mother Paula Walsh
Founding Principal of St. Anthony’s Primary School,
The early days were a struggle for all, but the choice of Catholic Education for students continued. Fr. Leo Tellefson, St. Anthony’s first Parish Priest, worked tirelessly with his parishioners to fund-raise and provide sufficient accommodation in the school, ensuring every Catholic child in the district had a place in the school.
By 1960 the school’s enrolment had grown to 387. There were seven teachers, only five of whom were registered. This reflects a time when lay teachers were beginning to have a place in Catholic schools, although their position was seen as vocational, rather than a means of employment. It was also a time of great migration. Housing in Noble Park was affordable, accessible to industry with large, open spaces for market gardens. Many families from Italy, Malta and Holland chose Noble Park as their new home. It was also a time when the only source of funding for the school was that which was raised by the incredibly generous and hard-working parishioners.
Changes within Australian politics heralded significant changes within education. In 1972, the Australian Labor Party came to Federal power after more than twenty years. Funding for private schools was introduced. Changes as a result of the Second Vatican Council also saw greater participation of lay staff in schools and in 1972 Carmel Myers was appointed as the school’s first lay principal. By this time, enrolments had reached 1,002 with 25 classrooms, a library and assembly hall. The Education Department Inspector's report of 1979 noted that the school operated on two sites: Leonard Avenue and Buckley Street.
In 1983 St. Anthony’s school settled permanently onto its present Buckley Street site. By the late 1990s, more than 40 nationalities were represented across the student population, predominantly of Sri Lankan and Indian heritage.
Throughout its history, the majority of families of the parish have been migrant families. Families from Europe and the sub continent, particularly India and Sri Lanka, South America and South East Asia have been welcomed to St. Anthony’s. More recently families from the African continent, particularly Sudan, have added to the continually changing suburb.
The people of St Anthony’s parish community have always maintained as one of their key aims the provision of a quality Catholic education for their children. To this end the parish has been very generous in providing the buildings, grounds and a school bus.