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Vroland, Anton William Rutherford (1874–1957)

by Sitarani Kerin and Andrew Spaull

This article was published in Australian Dictionary of Biography, Volume 16, (MUP), 2002

This is a shared entry with Anna Fellowes Vroland

Anton William Rutherford Vroland (1874-1957), educationist, and Anna Fellowes Vroland (1902-1978), schoolteacher and human-rights advocate, were husband and wife. Anton was born on 12 September 1874 at Gledefield, near Ararat, Victoria, eldest of at least nine children of Carl Häkam Ferdinand Vroland, a schoolteacher from Sweden, and his Victorian-born wife Janet Huntley, née Scott. Educated at the rural schools where his father taught and at Trinity Grammar School, Maldon, he became a student-teacher at Daylesford State School in 1892. He gained his certificate at the Melbourne Training College next year. Beginning at small country schools, he was a head teacher of primary schools for the whole of his career, except while studying for a diploma of education at the University of Melbourne in 1910-11.

Bingomunjie (1894-98) and Dales Creek (1898-1900) were Vroland's first two schools. Influenced by his reading, the views of his father, demonstrations he witnessed of 'discovery' teaching, and his reactions to rigid practice-classes at college, he investigated the methods of the 'new education'. His pedagogical thinking was based on the concepts of the integrated primary school syllabus, and the pupil as the centre of all engagement in and beyond the classroom. A 'visionary [with] a hard practical core', he believed that teaching should create 'a climate of delight' in a classroom, and, if this were accomplished, education would not need to be compulsory. Such views, consistent with progressive practices in Europe and the United States of America, were novel in Victoria.

At Strathbogie North (1901-06) and Allambee East (1906-10), Vroland experimented with 'practical' arithmetic, spelling and reading reforms, and nature lessons in the bush. Not all inspectors and parents approved of his methods, though at Allambee East the inspector was so enthralled by his teaching that he dispatched long reports to Frank Tate, the director of education. Tate encouraged Vroland to write a series of graded texts, the Austral Grammars, which made extensive use of Australian examples and applied, possibly for the first time, the inductive method to language development. The textbooks were published in 1908-13 and later revised. In her mother's home at Toorak, Melbourne, on 3 January 1906 Vroland had married with Methodist forms Marion Ellen Bryant (d.1932), a schoolteacher; they had no children.

Vroland then taught at Elmore (1912-17), Dimboola (1918-23) and Elsternwick, Melbourne (1923-39). A Rechabite and a Freemason, he was also a member of the Australian Natives' Association, and a supporter of mechanics' institutes and free libraries. While at Dimboola, he campaigned for improved living conditions of Aborigines. President (1919) and a long-serving councillor of the Victorian State Schools Teachers' Union, he was a member (1921) of the first national council of the Australian Teachers' Federation. From 1917 he published privately the Program as a practical aid for teachers. The periodical (retitled the Teachers' Journal in 1924) became the official organ of the Victorian Teachers' Union, which he helped to form in 1926. He also championed fairer inspectorial methods and equal pay for women teachers. As the union's representative he served on the State Schools' Horticultural Society, the State Schools' Relief Committee and the curriculum revision committees of 1920 and 1932. In 1938 he was a founder of the Education Reform Association.

Transforming Elsternwick State School into a beacon of progressive education, Vroland instituted an opportunity class, pioneered the use of film as a teaching aid, set up a central library, taught foreign languages, and—as he had done in the bush—divided the school's grounds into sections for playground, cultivated garden and natural habitat. Inspectors' reports recognized the 'vitality' of his initiatives. Former students recalled that 'we were always happy'. As secretary (1936-55) of Charles Strong's Australian Church, Vroland was involved in the peace movement and in penal and child-welfare reform. His executive-membership of the Victorian chapter of the New Education Fellowship reactivated his interest in Aboriginal advancement. Retiring from the Education Department in September 1939, he returned to the classroom as a 'wartime retread'.

In 1941 Vroland formulated the Victorian Labor Party's platform on education. He popularized his curriculum reforms at public meetings, in lectures and in the press. When young, he had been a good sportsman. At Bingomunjie he had broken horses, and in his sixties he rode with a party from Briagalong to Omeo. He was tall and slim with a long face, strong jaw, thick brown hair (later a distinguished grey) and dense moustache. Pupils and student-teachers had regarded him with awe, but never feared him, and came to appreciate his wry sense of humour and passion for teaching. To those who lamented his lack of public recognition, he said: 'Never mind. My work is of the future'. On 11 January 1947 at the Australian Church, Russell Street, Melbourne, he married Anna Fellowes White. He died on 19 August 1957 at his Box Hill home and was cremated. His estate was sworn for probate at £300.

Anna was born on 7 May 1902 at Ascot Vale, Melbourne, third child of Australian-born parents John White, farmer, and his wife Jane, née Butler. Educated at home by an aunt and at Methodist Ladies' College, Kew, she began teaching at private girls' schools. The most rewarding five years of her life were spent at an experimental primary school at Belgrave. She later taught intermittently in the state school system, and in 1954 at Methodist Ladies' College. In 1961 she was appointed headmistress of Woodstock Girls' School, Albury, New South Wales, but she was dismissed only six months later because of her progressive teaching methods. At the time there were unfounded rumours that she had communist connexions. She finished her teaching career in Melbourne, at Box Hill Girls' Technical School, in 1964.

Miss White's approach to teaching and learning did not always endear her to principals and colleagues. Believing that the purpose of education was to 'lead out from the deeply hidden self whatever potentially is there', she applied this philosophy to all aspects of her life. She was passionate about peace, justice and human rights; her radio talks on international affairs were published as Who Goes Where? (Mildura, 1938). Her main concern, however, was the plight of Australia's Aborigines, especially those living in Victoria, most of whom were of mixed descent and so officially considered non-Aboriginal.

From the 1930s White kept in regular contact with many Victorian Aborigines and listened to their views. In 1951 she published, as Vroland, Their Music Has Roots, an anthropological analysis of ten songs. She sought to promote a broader definition of Aboriginality, reliant on self-identification rather than physical appearance or the retention of 'traditional' culture. Disheartened by the slow pace of change, she withdrew from her causes in 1957. Her criticism of government assimilation policies and her advocacy of Aboriginal rights anticipated the move towards self-determination in the late 1960s.

Although Mrs Vroland had joined the Women's International League for Peace and Freedom, and the New Education Fellowship, she had little tolerance of people whose ideas differed from her own, and frequently worked alone. She died on 23 April 1978 at Box Hill and was buried in Templestowe cemetery; she had no children.

Select Bibliography

  • S. Kerin, 'An Attitude of Respect' (Melb, 1999)
  • Victorian Teachers' Union (Melbourne), Teachers' Journal, 51, no 2, Apr 1968
  • Educational Magazine, 31, no 6, 1974
  • Sun (Sydney), 11, 14 Aug 1961
  • Age (Melbourne), 12 Aug 1961
  • Sydney Morning Herald, 14, 15 Aug 1961
  • Sun News-Pictorial (Melbourne), 15 Aug 1961
  • H. J. Lawry, Anton Vroland: His Life and Work (M.Ed. thesis, Monash University, 1981)
  • Vroland papers (National Library of Australia).

Citation details

Sitarani Kerin and Andrew Spaull, 'Vroland, Anton William Rutherford (1874–1957)', Australian Dictionary of Biography, National Centre of Biography, Australian National University, http://adb.online.anu.edu.au/biography/vroland-anton-william-rutherford-11928/text21371, published first in hardcopy 2002, accessed online 21 November 2017.

This article was first published in hardcopy in Australian Dictionary of Biography, Volume 16, (MUP), 2002

View the front pages for Volume 16

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