Dandenong High School opened on the 10 March 1919, in temporary premises with one hundred and four students. The junior students were housed in the Dandenong fire station, while the seniors took classes in the Temperance Hall and Church of Christ. The first headmaster was P. C. W. Langford who had served in the 4th Light Horse during the War. This was the first of the school’s many associations with the military.
At the time, there were only eight high schools in the metropolitan region. Dandenong High School was built to service a wide area of rural and semi-rural areas. In 1949, students were drawn from Berwick, Beaconsfield, Nar Nar Goon, Pakenham, Cheltenham, Oakleigh, Catani, Kooweerup and Cranbourne.
In 1920, the new building on Princes Highway was opened, with the foundation stone laid by Hon. W. Hutchinson, Minister of Public Instruction in 1919. The school was built on a 7. 5 acre site called Bushy Park Estate, which was purchased with a £1000 grant from the Dandenong Shire Council.
Already the number of enrollments exceeded the allocated pace, which has continued to be a problem throughout the school’s history. The school has changed shape several times with regular additions of temporary classrooms and grounds to cope with the rapid population growth of the young suburb. In 1921, the school inspector reported that ponies were tethered in the grounds, reflecting it’s rural constituency and that there were 18 boarders in 1930.
In 1924, the school started planting trees on the grounds - 8 palms and 24 cypresses along the street frontage. The same year, the inspector reported that the fence to separate the boys and girls grounds had been erected. In 1930, entrance gates were built as well as four new classrooms, a Sloyd (woodworking) room and a concrete drive. Sustenance workers were leveling draining and painting in the school grounds in 1936.
By the Second World War, the school was filled to overflowing, with classes, school socials and even the girls gymnasium displays held in the Armytage Own Scout Hall across the Highway. During the War, the school had resorted to using five military hospital huts which were erected in Hemmings Park across the Highway to service the American Army Hospital, which also used the Scout Hall. The girls’ domestic arts classes often baked scones and cakes to take to the servicemen recuperating in the huts. Enrolments in 1949 reached 609 with 268 boys and 341 girls.
These uneven numbers continued until the building of Dandenong Girls High School in 1957. In 1950 the sports grounds were improved. In 1952, prefabricated classrooms were erected at the back of the main building to yet again ease the pressure on classrooms. In 1952, additional land was purchased for the construction of a new domestic and manual arts block which was finished in 1953.
In 1954, Springvale High School and Dandenong Technical School were opened, easing pressure on the school buildings. Nevertheless in 1957 most of the ex-army huts at the scout hall site were moved across the highway and converted to a gymnasium and in the same year, fourteen new classrooms were built on the site. The population of Dandenong district continued to grow as did the school.
In 1961 the Dandenong sports ground was acquired. In 1964, a house was purchased in High Street as a caretaker’s residence. The school began agitating for a new wing which was completed in 1967 and the old building was extensively refurbished. In 1968, the assembly hall was completed, becoming a focus of social functions for the school & wider community.
The school opened with more enrolments than the building could cope with and this pattern continued throughout its history. In 1951 enrolments numbered 745 with significantly larger numbers of girls than boys and a large proportion of students from country districts, as far away as Cheltenham and Kooweerup.
Over one half of the school came from country districts until 1960 when Doveton High School was opened. After the 60s the mix of the school changed to mostly metropolitan students. In 1962 Dandenong High School was the third largest high school in Victoria with enrollments numbering 1,140 and for the first time equal numbers of girls and boys
The school has had several well known ex-students. Kitty Bloomfield was the first woman to get a Victorian pilots licence in 1929. Frederick Alan Bishop was the first Australian in the armed forces killed overseas in 1939. Max Oldmeadow, a Federal Member and principal of Chandler High School is also a former pupil. Barry Jones, quizmaster, Labor Party Federal President and a Commonwealth Government Minister, was a teacher there.
The school has been recognised as having an excellent academic reputation from its beginning, and has been actively supported in the Dandenong and district community. The high standard of the school’s curriculum was reflected in the rapid development of the school’s accreditation. In 1938, the school was approved to conduct internal examinations for the Intermediate Certificate. Rapidly followed by the Leaving Certificate in 1939, and Matriculation in 1940.