Origins of Bricklaying Apprenticeship Training in WA “Truth, Beauty and Utility”
Print Friendly, PDF & Email

Parkhurst Prison WA 1820It is an ongoing task of this office to promote the virtues and benefits of bricklaying apprenticeship training to prospective newcomers and the industry at large.

However we have rarely examined or reflected on the history of apprenticeship training in WA and how it became the adopted system for training future bricklaying trades.

In order to appreciate the growth of the apprenticeship system, one must visualise the situation in colonial Western Australia over 165 years ago.

Where it all began: 1826 – 1925

After the establishment of the King George Sound Colony in 1826 (Albany) and Swan River Colony in 1829 (Perth), much was to be done in terms of building basic infrastructure for the newly arrived settlers, soldiers, convicts and of course government personnel.

To assist with construction of much needed public works, Western Australia became a Penal colony for the British Empire in 1849.

Between 1850 and 1868, 9,721 convicts where transported to WA on 43 convict ship voyages.

However prior to this, the then Governor of Western Australia and the Royal Agricultural Society approved the relocation of up to 234 juvenile convicts under the age of 15, to the newly formed colonies in WA.  These young offenders came from Parkhurst Prison on the British Isle of Wight as early as 1842.  Other boys in the same era were also transported to Tasmania and New Zealand.

Parkhurst was a comparatively new prison built in 1838 especially for the accommodation of juvenile prisoners, who were thus separated from hardened adult criminals and were taught trades in preparation for life as useful citizens upon their release.

Before embarking on their move to WA and their convict assignments, most juveniles were trained in carpentry, ironwork and brick & blocklaying (including stonework).  After arriving in the colony they were immediately assigned to local settlers, to which they became indentured for lengthy periods of time (5 years plus).

Much was reported on this period in the book “Fate of the Artful Dodger” by Paul Buddee.  With the exception of the “Master and Servants Act” of 1842, Industrial Relations for apprentices at this time were almost non-existent.  However, most were provided with lodgings, food, some wages and in some cases a livestock (sheep) allowance in lieu of wages.   Upon completing the apprenticeship, these young convicts could sell their livestock to purchase land or a ticket back to England under a “Ticket-O-Leave”.

Between 1854 and 1856 convicts built the Perth Gaol.  In the same period they also built the Perth Town Hall and Government House.  All of these structures are still standing today.


Old Perth Technical School with captionStarting to Build Structure: 1926

A breakthrough came in 1926 when on the 20th of August the state government proclaimed through the Gazette publication number 38, a set of Apprenticeship Regulations bound by the Industrial Arbitration Act of 1912.  In this system, both prospective apprentices and employers had to notify the State Registrar of their interest prior to engagement, often requiring a court-ordered examination prior to commencement.  A probationary period of three months was also set out for the first time in this system.

The regulations also made provision for “Apprenticeship Advisory Committees”, which would be assembled for such trades as it may consider desirable to advise in regard to any apprenticeship matter.  These committees consisted of a court-appointed Chairman, employer representatives and union representative.

The essence of the apprenticeship was also represented in this important document, where it was stated that “the employer shall keep him constantly at work and teach such apprentices crafts, occupations or callings in relation to the trade”.

To reciprocate “the apprentice shall during the period of his apprenticeship, faithfully serve his employer for the same reasons stated above and conscientiously accept technical training and general instruction”.  Interestingly and this would amuse many employers and hosts today, “time lost by the apprentice through sickness or any other cause with the consent of court, may be added to the apprentices original term”.

Technical schools where established in this period to provide the underpinning artisan trade knowledge, skills, literacy and numeracy to the apprentice. The Perth Technical School was the first opened in May 1900 in the old Boys School building on St Georges Terrace (still standing today).   Additional Technical schools were also built in Fremantle, Claremont, Midland Junction, Kalgoorlie and Boulder.  The motto for these schools was “Truth, Beauty and Utility”.

Under the new regulations of 1926, apprentices where now ordered to attend Technical School training on day release training.  In 1928, Technical Schools became Technical Colleges.


Perth Town Hall with caption V6Post WWII: The 1960-1990

After the Second World War, returning soldiers required housing for new families and this period saw a high demand for building materials (bricks particularly) and bricklayers. As a result, apprentice numbers rose sharply in this period.

In 1960 Leederville became the new centre for building trades under TAFE WA, which would take a further move to Hutton St Osborne Park in the mid 1980’s and then eventually Balga in the 1990’s under the current name of Polytechnic West (previously Swan TAFE).  The first Bricklaying lecturer at Leederville TAFE was Phil Richards.

Bunbury TAFE (now SWIT) was also established in 1971 and the later Thornlie (Polytechnic West), Geraldton (Durack) and Rockingham (Challenger). However prior to that, regional apprentices would submit their assignments by correspondence and attend Leederville for two weeks practical training per year.


Modern Day Bricklaying Training

Today there are 10-12 Training Organisations running Bricklaying programs across the state.  These include private RTO’s such as Silver Trowel, Skill Hire, Construction On Site Training and Australian Workforce Training.

Bricklaying short courses were also run at the “Clay Brick Manufacturers Association” as early as the 1970’s to keep up with demand for trades.  The Public Works Department (PWD) of Western Australia employed numerous trades and trade apprentices for a growing population to construct schools, hospitals, police stations, military buildings, court houses and prisons.

In the 1960’s, PWD was located at “The Barracks Arch” in Perth before being relocated to Dumas House on Kings Park Road in West Perth.  Other workshops where also built in East Perth and Welshpool.  In 1985, PWD became the Building Management Authority and eventually the Department of Housing and Works (2001).

With the changes to PWD, it meant that government no longer employed large volumes of trades and trade apprentices, preferring to outsource works through design and construct contracts.  As early as the 1970’s Group Training Companies (GTC) emerged in the construction industry nationally.  Essentially these were designed to help employers who struggled to provide sufficient employment and training for the then four year indenture term.

In 1981 the Group Apprenticeship Scheme was established, under which the Commonwealth and State Governments jointly funded the administrative costs of “not for profit” GTO’s.  Thanks mainly to significant investments made by the then Hawke-Keating Government in 1984 TAFE College numbers around Australia rose by over 25%.  Work Place Participation Programs were also introduced around this time.

The early 1990’s saw the creation of several Group Training Companies in Western Australia:

  • First the Master Builders Association (since disbanded)
  • Then Skill Hire, WAGTS and The Apprenticeship and Traineeship companies, most of which are still operating today.

In addition to GTC employment, builders have at times employed apprentices on mass including the then Geraldton Building Company and more recently the ABN group.  In July of 2015, off the back of nearly 32,000 housing starts, Bricklaying Apprentice “In Training” numbers exceeded 620. Not only did this reflect on unprecedented building growth in this period, but also a mature, strong and flexible Bricklaying Apprenticeship Training system which can grow and adapt to parallel trade requirements on call.  It also demonstrates that the apprenticeship system, whilst not entirely perfect, has weathered the test of time and has developed from its humble begins in our early convict history.


Apprentice Bricklaying Training Today: An Opportunity

Today, Bricklaying Apprenticeships in particular, give young men and women an opportunity to learn the trade, develop maturity and discipline.  It also provides the Apprentice a pathway to engage and grow in our prosperous West Australian building industry.

ABBTF, although a relative newcomer to industry (2007), will continue to assist industry in preparing for future skilled bricklayer demand.  And we do this with a sense of responsibility born from a very colourful but proud history of bricklaying training in this great state!


Dean Pearson
ABBTF WA Manager


Leave a Reply

Interested in trying Bricklaying? Then please contact us on 1300 66 44 96