Early History of Fremantle Music School:
Article (1975) - Toni Baker

 Article from “Gateway”, Autumn 1975  Vol. 3, No. 4 
 A magazine issued by the City of Fremantle

 Music School 
— 20 years of age

When I heard that the Fremantle Music School was to celebrate its 20th anniversary in June, 1 made a note to include a piece in this edition of Gateway to mark the occasion. Accordingly I asked one of the co-founders, Mrs. Toni Baker to let me have a few notes which would be edited and printed. Instead of a few notes, Mrs. Baker wrote her story of the Fremantle MusicSchool. I found it to be a very interesting story, not only of the founding of a music school but also of a migrant couple determined to succeed—that they did is a credit to them and to Fremantle. The late Harry Baker Snr was justifiably proud of his music school and I feel he would have been just as proud of his wife’s story of it—I make no apology for including the story as Mrs. Baker wrote it.   EDITOR 

Number 21 Parry Street, a fine building housing a fine music school—what better combination?


The Beginning: 

When music teachers Harry and Toni Baker migrated to Australia in 1953, they did not bring much with them in the way of material wealth. The greatest part of their luggage consisted of two enormous cases: one containing books and music and the other about 25 music instruments, from the small ocarina and Swanee Whistle to a double-necked bass guitar.

They came to their new country with stars in their eyes and their heads full of plans. Their one overwhelming desire was to set up their own music school, not just a cold institution where one received music tuition for a certain fee, but a place where every music lover whether he be young or old, would feel straight away at home and would like to come.

They began looking for a suitable place, and, more important, one they could afford. After having tried out several metropolitan suburbs, they came in 1955 to Fremantle. From the beginning the city appealed to them, they liked the feeling of history and tradition that Fremantle gives one and impulsively decided that here, in this city, they were going to set up their music school.

Their first studio was nothing glamorous, just a room above a tyre shop on the corner of Collie and Pakenham Streets, but they lovingly arranged their instruments along the walls, put their music on shelves, hired a piano, put in a table, two chairs and a music stand and, full of expectation, sat down to wait for prospective pupils. That was in June 1955 and the beginning of the Fremantle Music School


The early years were difficult, but slowly the school became known and it was a real breakthrough when, in 1957, Mr. Baker was approached by a Parent Committee, to take over the Directorship of the ‘Playmates’, a children’s orchestra of 45 members. The previous director had retired because of ill-health and there was nobody else in Fremantle who could teach their instruments.

The children were all between 8 and 14 years of age. They played banjos, mandolins and guitars. Later on accordions were added. Music, of course, was not available for this setting and had to be especially arranged by Mr. Baker, and many times you could find the Bakers up till deep in the night, copying out parts for their orchestras, since Photostat machines in those days were not as readily available as they are now.

Other groups had sprung up during this time within the school. There was a guitar group for married ladies, an accordion group for adults, a melodica group for elderly citizens and several more. All these groups were put together into one organisation and formed the core of the Fremantle Music Clubs.

By this time the work was getting too much for two people, so more teachers were engaged and trained. Several young teachers, who received instruction at the Fremantle Music School, have now set up their own schools, right through the country: in Naval Base, in Albany, in Geraldton and even up in Darwin.

At the beginning of the ‘sixties, the school had outgrown several other premises besides the one in Collie Street but at last found suitable studios at 21 Parry Street, where it is still situated.

The premises in Parry Street are on the list of semi-historical buildings in Fremantle. The house was built around 1880, for the captain of one of the passenger ships from England. An aunt of the late Sir Frederick Samson used to live in it at the beginning of the century, and before it became a Music Schoolit had been a boarding house for many years. The house has seven large rooms, five of which are used for teaching. 


The aim of the Fremantle Music School has always been to make people familiar with music and not have them look up to it as something that requires a special skill and can only be acquired when one starts very young. People of all ages readily take up painting, one does not have to be a Rembrandt to enjoy it— the same can be said of music. Musicality counts for nothing if there is no interest and no determination. And this has nothing to do with age.

Except for the few, who want to become professionals, music is regarded by most students as a relaxing and rewarding leisure activity. The youngest pupil here is 5 and the eldest is 76 years old. More and more middle-aged people are, although self-conscious at first, taking up music, because unlike sport, music is a hobby, which you can actively enjoy all your life.

The atmosphere at the Music School is quite informal. Many students think of it as their second home. They are welcome at any time of the day and there is always somebody to listen to their problems. There are always books to read, instruments to borrow and there is always a quiet corner where you can have a bit of practice. The school is really getting mature and very often now young parents come in to enroll their children, because, as they say: “I have been learning here myself, and I’ve always enjoyed it”.

Although Mr. Baker did not live long enough (he died last year) to celebrate the 20th anniversary of his school, the Fremantle Music School is still a beehive of activity. There are at the moment four teachers. Mr. Baker’s son, Harry Junior, is in charge of the outside branches in Gosnells and High Wycombe, while the new Director of Music, Robert Schulz—a young man with dedication and imagination—knows how to preserve the friendly atmosphere that is so typical of the Fremantle Music School, and he keeps the students on their toes with new methods, projects, participation in concerts, and so on.

The School is alive and booming and plays a very necessary part in the Fremantle community. This year will be a particularly busy year. There is so much to do!


Harry Baker Snr (at rear) and wife Toni Baker (centre front) in Holland in 1950 with "The Golden Gate Quintette".