Prior to 1956 Engadine had no community preschool but the need for one existed. A local doctor, Dr Norma Nelson, approached Joan Thompson, the Honorary Secretary of the Engadine Progress Association. Dr Nelson asked Mrs Thompson if the Association was aware of the value of a preschool and explained that she knew of cases where such a facility would be of tremendous support to the local families. The Progress Association was keen to help out but a project such as this was beyond their limited fundraising capacity.
A year later several concerned parents again approached Mrs Thompson so she organised a meeting at the local Institute Hall, which was attended by about 20 enthusiastic families. Mrs Thompson proceeded to find out as much as possible about how a preschool could be established but was disappointed to learn that, at that time, government bodies, such as the Council, considered preschool education to be the responsibility of the community, and would not make available funds for such a project. Mrs Thompson then put a proposal to the Institute Hall Committee who agreed to allow a preschool to use their premises.
Arising from this, the "Pinocchio" Preschool Kindergarten Committee was formed in December 1956. (Walt Disney Productions granted use of the name).
Six weeks of intense work followed, to allow the preschool to open at the end of January 1957. Working bees were held to lower the picture theatre ramped floor in the Institute Hall and erect a fence around a play area at the back. Half a dozen local businessmen were lobbied for cash loans for the purchase of basic necessities such as tables and chairs, and wash stands; and the (pan system) toilets had to be brought up to Health Department standards. Six local businessmen made a loan of 90 pounds available for 12 months.
The preschool opened with 7 children attending at the beginning of the school year in 1957 with Miss Nancy Robbins employed as Director and Mrs Campbell as her assistant. The local bus driver, Mr Hadfield re assigned his bus route to take the children from their homes directly to preschool.
In April 20 stretchers were purchased and in May a sandpit was built and filled. In September the last 10 stretchers were purchased and by the end of the year, 30 children (capacity) were attending and a waiting list was in place. Work was very hard for the staff as the hall was used for many other functions. Toilets were outside, there was only one water tap, and equipment had to be packed away into a small side room every day.
Parents were keen to have their own purpose built building and early in 1958 approaches were made to Sutherland Shire Council. The poultry farm on the corner of Station Street and the Princes Highway (now the Old Princes Highway) was up for sale and subdivision. In response to an appeal, and supported by Councillors Tim Loneragan (one of the Kindergarten fathers), Alan Benn of Waterfall and Dick Harrison of Sutherland, the Council successfully negotiated for a block within the subdivision opposite Waratah Street. Council subsequently purchased a further two blocks, so that the three combined could be used to build a community centre for Engadine, with a preschool premises to be part of the complex.
Fundraising was a vital part of running the kindergarten and the amount raised from the end of term cake stalls was enhanced when the decision was taken to purchase quantities of "cracked" eggs from the poultry farms which were, in 1958, still a part of Engadine. With eggs supplied, the mothers dramatically increased the number of cakes cooked for sale.
In 1959 Sutherland Shire Council approved a subsidy to the preschool of 25 pounds per annum. In the same year, Council called a public meeting to elect an Engadine Community Centre Committee and Joan Thompson was appointed as the Kindergarten’s representative. It was agreed that priorities would be firstly the construction of a preschool, followed by a senior citizens centre, a library and a youth centre. Council approved building of the preschool, with the cost of the centre, 6000 pounds, to be shared.
Parents now commenced the arduous task of fundraising to raise this money. One fundraiser, a baby show, involved an incredible amount of work but eventually it was well supported by the community. In 1959 there were 15 entrants but as the show was held annually and became more popular, by 1962 there were 600 entrants. The first four shows were held in halls, while the last was under canvas on the preschool site.
In February 1960, Engadine Lions Club was formed. This was the first service club in Engadine and their first project was raising the funds to cover the architect’s fees for the preschool building.
March 1961 saw the resignation of Miss Robbins (now Mrs Fischer) and the appointment of Mrs Friedel Zschille as her replacement. Mrs Zschille had trained and worked in Germany as a kindergarten teacher and brought to ‘Pinocchio” some wonderful teaching skills.
In November 1961 disaster struck. For a variety of reasons, Council decided not to continue with the plans to build the preschool. It took nearly a year of intense lobbying and a deputation to the Council Finance Committee to get things back on track.
Finally, building commenced and after six long years of fundraising the Engadine "Pinocchio" Preschool Kindergarten was officially opened on November 9, 1963 by the Shire President, Councillor Gietzelt.
A couple of years later, Engadine "Pinocchio" Preschool Kindergarten affiliated with the Kindergarten Union. This required the dropping of the name “Pinocchio” but the colourful, sandblasted Pinocchio figure, which adorned the front glass wall, remained. More than two decades later, the then Preschool Management Committee did not renew its affiliation with the Kindergarten Union.
By the late 1980’s Sutherland Council had negotiated an exchange of land with a property developer so that a community complex could be provided for Engadine. To make way for the Engadine Court Shopping Complex the preschool premises were demolished after 27 years of operation and the preschool moved to its present location 116 Caldarra Ave, Engadine. The new preschool building was officially opened by the Shire President, Councillor Doug McNeil, on Saturday 23 June 1990.
The new community complex contained a collection of early childhood service buildings built around a central, landscaped car park. Engadine Preschool Kindergarten was the first building opened and occupied. The full brick building was designed by local architect, Mr Clifford Chetty and was purpose built as a 40 place preschool. The glass wall with the colourful Pinocchio figure carrying its apple for the teacher was transferred to the new building by an armed guard – a touch of history recalling that the name was first adopted for the kindergarten in December 1956.
In 1994 the current director, Mrs Eve Hawkes, was appointed. In 1996 she undertook a major upgrade of the centre’s outdoor area. A Playground Committee was formed to develop a plan to improve the outdoor play space to make it more interesting for the children. Plans were drawn-up, garden beds constructed and landscaping was undertaken with advice on what to plant from an officer of the Royal Botanic Gardens and construction by youth from the government funded LEAP program for the unemployed. A large, landscaped sandpit with two tiers and surrounding garden beds was installed and a mural was commissioned to cover the large, blank, brick wall on the Caldarra Street boundary. Rodney Monk, a well-known mural artist painted an idyllic scene of the Port Hacking River, complete with native fauna and flora.
The outdoor learning environment was again upgraded in 2016. Cafe blinds were installed around the perimeter of the building encasing the entire veranda area. The play area was redesigned by Tess Michaels of Tessa Rose Landscape and Playground Designs. The redevelopment was made possible by grants from the Community Partnership Development Program funded by the state government. The new outdoor area was officially opened by the local member for Heathcote Mr Lee Evans in March 2016.