Australian Dictionary of Biography

  • Tip: searches only the name field
  • Tip: Use double quotes to search for a phrase

Brooks, George Vickery (1877–1956)

by D. H. Tribolet

This article was published in Australian Dictionary of Biography, Volume 7, (MUP), 1979

George Vickery Brooks (1877-1956), teacher and educational administrator, was born on 29 March 1877 at Meadows, South Australia, two weeks after the arrival from Canada of his parents Tom Bowden Brooks, an English shoemaker and storekeeper, and his wife Elizabeth Ann, née Wendlesy. He received his primary education at the one-teacher Meadows school where, in 1891, he was appointed monitor. Next year he became a pupil-teacher at Clarendon, serving there and at Le Fevre Peninsula school for four years before attending the Adelaide Teachers' College in 1896. He was appointed assistant at Kadina in 1897, teaching there, at Hindmarsh and East Adelaide for nine years, as well as studying science at the University of Adelaide, attracting attention as an exceptionally gifted and dedicated teacher.

When W. L. Neale became director of the Tasmanian Education Department in 1905 and endeavoured to upgrade teaching standards by recruiting promising South Australian teachers, his first appointment was Brooks, in January 1906, as first assistant at Battery Point, Hobart. The personal and professional qualities Brooks displayed there gained for him, in 1908, appointment as master of method (headmaster) at the new Elizabeth Street School, the first Tasmanian practising school. For nearly twelve years he exercised a potent influence on every student from the Training College, being highly regarded for his enthusiasm, progressive ideas, organizational competence, consideration and ability to inspire his staff and college trainees. Exuding vitality, frequently saying 'I'll do it now', he would almost run from one activity to the next. His public reputation and popularity were mainly responsible for doubling the school's enrolment. He was president of the Teachers' Union in 1917-18, of the Southern Teachers' Association in 1917-19 and of the education section of the Royal Society of Tasmania in 1918. His reputation stood so high that on the resignation of W. T. McCoy in September 1919 he was appointed director of education although he was not a university graduate, having been one subject short of a science degree when he transferred to Tasmania.

Brooks took office at a particularly difficult time but was well aware of the problems he faced. Major handicaps included serious staffing difficulties, stringent financial restrictions and lack of public support for education, particularly in rural areas. He attacked these problems with characteristic vigour. In 1920 he persuaded the legislature to increase teachers' salaries, although he was unable to prevent a temporary cut in 1923. He directed much effort towards improving conditions for children in rural areas, from 1924 transporting pupils to central consolidated schools where improved staffing and better facilities were available. The gradual acceptance of this policy, as parents became aware of the benefits, culminated in the establishment of area schools. This progressive innovation followed his return from a six-month visit to England and the United States of America in 1935, sponsored by a Carnegie Corporation grant.

Brooks had a genuine belief in the worth of the individual and encouraged experiment and staff involvement in all matters. Meetings, committees, conferences, schools of method, interstate and local visits were characteristic of his energetic administration. Apart from area schools, other significant advances during his directorship included: the establishment of one and two teacher model schools, a sight-saving school and a departmental visual education branch; the appointment of a psychologist, school clerks, teacher group leaders and counsellors; the abolition of external examinations in favour of accreditation at primary and sub-secondary levels; a programme of regular visits by education officers to other States; and the use there of student-training facilities for specialized subjects. He retired in 1945, having been appointed C.B.E. the year before.

Brooks also gave leadership in other community activities. A charter member and director of the Hobart Rotary Club, he was president in 1937 and a prime mover of many of the club's community projects and author of its history. He was president of the Tasmanian Free Library Movement in 1939-44 and chairman of the Tasmanian Soldiers' Children Education Board. He was a local Methodist preacher for almost fifty years, a keen gardener and in his youth a first-grade tennis player, for which sport he later substituted bowls. He died in Hobart on 8 January 1956, survived by his wife Ada Louisa, née Mitchell, whom he had married on 28 March 1902 at Kadina, South Australia, and by a son and a daughter.

Select Bibliography

  • A. Rowntree, ‘Valediction …’, Tasmanian Education (Hobart), Apr 1956
  • Mercury (Hobart), 9 Jan 1956
  • D. V. Selth, The Effect of Poverty and Politics on the Development of Tasmanian State Education 1900-1950 (M.A. thesis, University of Tasmania, 1969)
  • Education Department files (Hobart).

Citation details

D. H. Tribolet, 'Brooks, George Vickery (1877–1956)', Australian Dictionary of Biography, National Centre of Biography, Australian National University, http://adb.anu.edu.au/biography/brooks-george-vickery-5377/text9099, published first in hardcopy 1979, accessed online 19 December 2014.

This article was first published in hardcopy in Australian Dictionary of Biography, Volume 7, (MUP), 1979

© Copyright Australian Dictionary of Biography, 2006-2014