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Frederick, Wilfred Henry (1900–1977)

by N. G. Curry

This article was published in Australian Dictionary of Biography, Volume 14, (MUP), 1996

Wilfred Henry Frederick (1900-1977), headmaster and professor of education, was born on 24 November 1900 at Williamstown, Melbourne, son of Rev. Henry Wendel Frederick, Methodist clergyman, and his wife Harriet Prisca, née Cole, both Australian born. Wilfred was educated at Victorian primary schools and at Castlemaine and Geelong high schools before spending two years as a junior teacher at Williamstown and Geelong West primary and Geelong high schools.

In 1920 Frederick entered Melbourne Teachers' College to pursue studies at the University of Melbourne (B.A., 1923; M.A., Dip.Ed., 1925) where his 'earnestness and zeal', and his ability in sport, music and drama, impressed those who knew him. Appointed to Horsham High School (1924) and then to Northcote (1929), he was seen as an outstanding teacher and 'a man of strong character'. During a year abroad in 1930 he completed diplomas at the University of Paris and at its Institut Britannique, and taught at Watford Boys' Grammar School, England, where he was offered, but refused, a permanent post.

Returning to Melbourne in 1931, Frederick spent two years at the teachers' college, tutoring university-enrolled arts students in French, and science students in English. His closer association with the University of Melbourne began in 1932 when he was appointed lecturer (senior lecturer from 1945) in method of modern languages; he also had charge of modern languages at University High School. For fourteen years he helped to transform the approach to the teaching of the subject through his membership of the French and Italian standing committees, through his publications—Modern Languages in Secondary Schools (1937), edited for the Australian Council for Educational Research, and (with F. G. Kirby) Lectures Choisies (1942), together with many articles in educational magazines—and through his inauguration in 1931 of the 'French for Schools' programmes for the Australian Broadcasting Commission, which in 1943 were extended nationally. In this project he was assisted by his wife Frances Moyna, née Dimond, previously music mistress at St Margaret's School, Berwick, whom he had married on 25 August 1934 at the Methodist Church, Armadale. His lecturing responsibilities extended to general methods of teaching, education for leisure, and examinations, while in 1944 he started a course on method of teaching religious education.

From 1947 to 1956 Frederick was headmaster of Wesley College, Prahran, a position in which he had been interested when it was previously vacant in 1938. He brought not only his teaching skills and a lifelong interest in sport (having represented Victoria in interstate tennis), but also a real devotion to the school. To a school assembly he said, 'I can't remember a time when I didn't want to come to Wesley'. There were some who questioned the appointment of a person without a private school background, some who were disturbed by his strict attitude to issues such as alcohol on the premises, and some who found the pace of change and his insistence on democratic discussion difficult to accept. But these critics were largely converted by his enthusiasm and charm. A forestry camp was established at Chum Creek, individual school prizes were replaced, community service was introduced as an alternative to cadets, compulsory sport was abolished, a school counselling-service was begun, remedial teaching commenced, and a Student Representative Council and a Parents' Association were initiated. He helped to disentangle the relationship with Box Hill Grammar School, to investigate the possible sale of the Prahran site and to purchase land at Syndal for the expansion of the school. Important as these changes were, it was more for his personal interest in each boy, his enthusiasm in teaching, his magnetic presence in assemblies, and the doggerel he wrote to commemorate school events that many remembered him.

In 1956 the council of the University of Melbourne invited Frederick to succeed Professor G. S. Browne in the chair of education, indicating that 'a wider and more fruitful opportunity for serving the educational needs of the State' might be available in this position. With some hesitation he accepted. He had been interested earlier in chairs in Hobart and in Wellington, New Zealand, before his appointment to Wesley, but it was difficult for him now to leave the school he loved so well. From 1957 to his retirement in 1966 he faced two major problems—rapidly increasing numbers of students and a gross shortage of staff, particularly at the professorial level. Aware that many schools were disastrously short-staffed, he resisted the imposition of a student quota until 1964. In a faculty not significantly smaller than engineering, with five chairs, or medicine, with seventeen chairs, the burden on a single professor of education was considerable.

Besides discharging his faculty responsibilities, Frederick was a member of the Council of Public Education and two of its sub-committees, and of eight sub-committees of the professorial board; he chaired the council of University High School, the Commonwealth Scholarships Board (1951-70), the Schools Board (1957-65) and its successor, the Victorian Universities and Schools Examination Board (1965-66); and he was a council-member of Monash University. He was elected a fellow and councillor (1960-72) of the Australian College of Education. At every level he argued for five additional chairs for his faculty, but, despite promises made, he remained the sole professor of education. He took particular interest in the establishment, within the faculty, of the University Teaching Project, with its consulting service to other departments aimed at improving curricula and teaching techniques, a development unique in Australia. Frederick may not have fully understood those who saw research as more important than preparation of teachers for their classroom role, but he maintained a vision of what education could achieve, he aroused in students something of his own enthusiasm for teaching, and he eloquently argued the cause of education in the university and the wider community.

Frederick was always a teacher. His presence was commanding and his grooming immaculate. The lecture for him was 'a process of electrification', and he always argued for 'retention of zest' and 'the gift of undiminished appetite in education'. He was concerned about the 'loss of conviction in society' and the need 'to lift the level of aspiration of many youngsters'. An ardent public advocate for education and for teaching, he was much sought as a speaker for school events and after-dinner addresses. His interest in public speaking continued long after his retirement, and he entertained many with his carefully polished and articulate presentations. Words were a joy to him, and in writing and speaking he used them to full effect.

Many of Frederick's convictions came from his strong faith and consequent church involvement in bodies such as the Joint Board of Graded Lessons of Australia and New Zealand, the Methodist Young People's Department, the Methodist Men's Society of Victoria and Tasmania, and the Council for Christian Education in Schools. Survived by his wife, son and daughter, he died on 24 April 1977 at Heidelberg and was cremated. A memorial window in Wesley College chapel was dedicated on 14 September 1980.

Select Bibliography

  • G. Blainey et al, Wesley College (Melb, 1967)
  • Frederick papers (University of Melbourne Archives)
  • University of Melbourne Council minutes and Professorial Board minutes and Education Faculty minute books (University of Melbourne Archives)
  • Education Department (Victoria) records
  • Wesley College Archives.

Citation details

N. G. Curry, 'Frederick, Wilfred Henry (1900–1977)', Australian Dictionary of Biography, National Centre of Biography, Australian National University, http://adb.anu.edu.au/biography/frederick-wilfred-henry-10247/text18119, published in hardcopy 1996, accessed online 1 August 2014.

This article was first published in hardcopy in Australian Dictionary of Biography, Volume 14, (MUP), 1996

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