During the 1920s infant welfare and health became a focus in the Northcote area and women’s committees comprising mainly of the wives of councillors were working hard to establish facilities. In 1928 a committee headed by Annie Dennis along with Mrs R. J. Bennetts and others worked tirelessly for the establishment of a crèche and kindergarten. She explained a crèche was needed “as there were many women who could work and are willing to work to keep their homes together during periods of unemployment or to keep themselves or their children if they are widows”. At this time the birth rate was rising along with a number of deserted wives and women with unemployed husbands who would become the first customers of the crèche. The committee gave an example of a 3 year old child who had previously spent hours tied to his mother’s machine at the factory. Now he could spend the day playing with other children in a safe environment.
A 2 storey house on the corner of Bastings St and Oldis Avenue, Northcote, was purchased by the Council to house the new crèche and the existing Baby Health Centre in one location. The house, “Beaumont”, formerly the residence of the late Mr Joshua Pitt, featured large playgrounds on one side and a garden on the other. The crèche was on the upper storey along with the Matron’s quarters. The Baby Health Care Centre was established in several rooms downstairs. By the opening date about £75 had been handed to the Council by the crèche committee towards the cost and rent of £20 a year. A board of management was established consisting of 20 ladies and a social committee of 2 ladies to attend to social functions.
The official opening of the crèche took place on 8 March 1929 and was attended by over 200 people. The mayor of Northcote, Cr B. E. Johnson was the chairman at the ceremony. Mrs J Alston, the president of the Creche Association was presented with a gold key to perform the opening ceremony. The children were being cared for at the time by Miss E Eddie.
Fast forward to 1936 and after much work and fundraising by the Northcote Kindergarten and Baby Creche committee, a new kindergarten opened at the Bastings St / Oldis Avenue site, erected at a cost of £650.
The opening ceremony took place on 17 August 1936 attended by Lady Latham and became known as the Annie Dennis Kindergarten in recognition of all the work Annie Dennis, the Mayoress, had done with young people in the area.
According to the newspaper report, “the new building is constructed of brick and has been planned to allow lots of light and air inside as all its many windows face to the east so sunlight pours into the spacious rooms. Pictures of gnomes, teddy bears, fairies and frogs adorn the walls. A buttercup and cream colour scheme has been adopted throughout, with tiny cots and green eiderdowns.”
Miss Glucas, an instructress showed Mrs Dennis around the kindergarten which included a library corner “established through the hard work of two little girls”, holding bazaars to raise funds. In addition to the new kindergarten there were also additions to the crèche. Mrs Dennis explained the rooms were occupied by children as young as two weeks old, who would be looked after by a trained nurse.
Lemon, Andrew. Northcote Side of the River. North Melbourne (Vic): Hargreen, 1983 Northcote Leader, 8 Mar 1929 The Age, 17 August 1936