The history of the Constitutional Centre of Western Australia

A brief history of the old Hale School heritage listed building, and how it came to be known as the Constitutional Centre.
Last updated: 15 September 2023

The Constitutional Centre of Western Australia was officially opened in 1997 following more than a decade of public discussion and debate concerning the state of civics education in Western Australia and the need for a dedicated Constitutional education centre. 

The old Hale School building was identified as the prime location for such a centre early into this process given its central location, close proximity to Parliament House, and the historical nature of the site. 

The history and incarnations of Hale School

The first incarnation of what would become Hale School was The Bishop’s School (1858-1865).

The Bishop’s School was first secondary school in Western Australia, founded and funded by Mathew Blagden Hale, the first Anglican Bishop of Perth. 

By 1863 Bishop Hale was no longer willing to carry the financial burden of the school, and called for the establishment of a Board of Governors to take over responsibility for the school and establish it on a more permanent basis. To reflect this, in 1865 the name of the institution was changed to the Church of England Collegiate School. 

In 1872 the school was forced to close for financial reasons, however Colonel Haynes, the second master at the Collegiate School, leased the premises from the Board of Governors and continued to tutor a small number of students as a private venture until 1875 (Colonel Haynes’ School). 

In 1876 the Western Australian government recognised the need for secular secondary education within the colony through the introduction of The High School Act, establishing the High School. This new incarnation occupied many locations including The Cloisters, the premises of the former Collegiate School. 

In 1914 the school moved into its purpose-built location in West Perth, where it would remain until 1961.

By 1929 the number of secondary schools in the state had grown to the point where the High School was no longer a desirable name, and was therefore changed to Hale School to honour the role of Bishop Hale as the founder of secondary education in Western Australia. 

In 1958 The High School Act was amended to remove its secular nature following negotiations with the Church of England (later known as the Anglican Church of Australia), establishing that the institution would “forever remain” a Church of England school. 

In the same year the foundation stone was laid by the then Premier at the new school location in Wembley Downs. By 1961 the move was complete, and the West Perth site was returned to the State Government.

The history of the West Perth buildings

The initial structure of the West Perth school site was designed and supervised by the Public Works Department in 1913-1914, and consisted of six classrooms, Headmaster’s office, Masters’ common room, and a large assembly hall.

The initial rooms were arranged in a symmetrical layout plan with a formal entrance to the building placed centrally in the north elevation. The following description of the building was published in the school magazine in December, 1913; 

“The style adopted for the buildings is scholastic Gothic, with mullioned windows, the main entrance being treated as a portico with columns on either side, and Tudor doorway… Relief is obtained by carrying up the ends and returns of the wings into gables with copings and corbels, the apices being filled in with diapon work of stone and brick… The materials externally are Cottesloe stone, rock faced and sawn, Donnybrook freestone for finer work, and pressed bricks… Internally, the finish will be of plaster with polished cement dadoes and jarrah floors and woodwork. The walls of the hall will be relieved by pilasters and panels and the ceiling, 20 feet high, will be boldly covered up from (the) comice and panelled with coffered beams in fibrous plaster.”

Over the following decades an increase in student numbers mandated the addition of new building structures. In 1915-16 a freestanding timber Gymnasium was constructed (demolished in the early 1960s), and in 1916-17 a freestanding timber Science Block was constructed featuring a laboratory and a tiered lecture theatre (demolished in 1983). 

In 1920 the demand for classrooms and accommodation increased to the point an east wing was constructed as an addition to the main building, known as the Memorial Wing to honour former students who had participated in the Great War. 

The last addition to the school was constructed in 1944, a freestanding brick and tile classroom with a largely utilitarian function, the design of which reflects the financial constraints and austerity of the time. 

Adjacent to the Hale School site is Hale House, a building constructed in 1925-26 as a boarding house for the ever growing student population of the school. In later years, many rooms in the building also served an educational purpose as the need for classrooms grew alongside the number of students. 

Further information about the Hale School West Perth buildings can be found on the Heritage Perth website

The establishment of a Constitutional Centre

The Constitutional Centre was officially opened on 29 October 1997 by then Premier Richard Court, after more than a decade of discussion regarding the state of civics education in Western Australia.

In the early 1990’s the concept of a constitutional centre or museum was the subject of much discussion in the education and parliamentary spheres- key proponents in these early stages included Dr Harry Phillips and Peter McHugh (Clerk of the Legislative Assembly), but they were not alone in calling for a dedicated civics education location. Over the following months and years a number of academics, parliamentarians, and public and legal professionals supported the call for a constitutional centre or museum, and recommendations in several committee reports referenced the need for greater civics education in the state. 

This support culminated in Recommendation 33 of the 1995 Western Australia Constitutional Committee, chaired by Malcom McCusker QC, stating: 

“It is recommended that the State Government support the establishment of a Constitutional Centre, incorporating a museum and with community education functions, ideally to be situated near Parliament House.”

Following the release of the 1995 recommendations, Premier Richard Court announced the allocation of $100,000 to explore the feasibility of establishing a constitutional centre and museum. Having already been identified as a prime location, the old Hale School site was soon recommended as the ideal site for such a centre, and work began in 1996 to renovate and establish the site for this purpose following the approval of the Premier. 

The Constitutional Centre of Western Australia was opened in 1997 with three primary aims; 

  • To promote awareness of our federal system of government with particular emphasis on its constitutional basis;
  • To encourage balanced debate about the development of the system; and 
  • To educate the Western Australian community about our electoral and parliamentary systems. 

The Centre continues meet those original aims more than 20 years later by providing community and children’s education from our location in West Perth.