Saturday, December 08, 2007


My sister Sally and I both went to Sydney Girls' High. Sally had actually left to go out to work before I started there, but many of her classmates and peers were in the senior year (5th Year) when I was in Year 1.

Sally recently went to a 50 year reunion at the school, and showed me the book that was produced for the occasion. I was amazed at the memories that it brought back. Many of these girls had been prefects and leaders when I was just a new and nervous junior, and I really looked up to them and admired them.

Sydney Girls High was a selective public school, but was definitely a little bit "posh" and desirable - many pupils travelled great distances each day in order to attend. However the nucleus of the school population came from the Eastern suburbs. Five years there would certainly have knocked any rough edges off you, if you had any.

The school motto was "Labor Omnia Vincit". This was only ever translated for us as "Work Conquers all". Nowadays I am not sure that is altogether true, but I am sure it could have been interpreted a little less sternly as "It is amazing what you can achieve if you try hard enough" or "A little bit of effort works wonders!"

Our education was very academic. In my sister's time, there had been opportunities to study Home Economics, but by the time I started, these had been phased out. Even practical subjects like Geography, Biology and Art were reserved for the girls in the C, D, and E classes. The rest of us had to focus on History, German, Physics/Chemistry and Latin. I often bemoan the fact that I was not able to do anything creative at school, but never mind, I have made up for it since.

The book Sally showed me had the list of school rules given to you when you started.

The uniform was "Nigger brown pleated tunic" - no political correctness then! With it you wore a white blouse and brown tie and brown stockings and brown lace-up shoes, and a brown jumper and brown blazer in winter. The only concession to colour was the yellow stripe on our jumper. And underneath you were supposed to wear brown bloomers! Hats(Panama in summer, velour in winter) and gloves had to be worn outside between the school and home - there would be trouble if a mistress or a prefect saw you anywhere without them. From time to time thee would be a uniform parade, and we had to kneel on the ground to show that our hems touched the ground, and also show that no white petticoats were being worn.

Note the "Globite" schoolcases. No backpacks in those days.

Our school song was sung to the tune of "Men of Harlech".

Girls who wear the Brown and Yellow

Stand in line each by her fellow

Sweetly sing or loudly bellow


I believe new words have since been written to the tune.

On Speech Day at the end of the year, we had to wear a white dress, usually bought or made specially for the occasion if you were to receive a prize. We may have felt a little more glamorous if we did not have to wear our brown lace-ups with the white dress.

Sydney Girls High was in Moore Park, on the site of the old Zoo. The bear pit and a sizeable lake were still there in the lower playground. I can only ever remember one rather wayward pupil actually getting herself wet.

Sydney Boys' High was next door, but there was absolutely no contact allowed between the two, apart from a couple of strictly chaperoned dances each year. There was not even a sharing of classes or resources or teaching staff. Pupils were not allowed within 20 yards of the dividing fence, and school buses were boarded from separate bus stops after school, with the girls upstairs and the boys downstairs. In my last year there was an end-of-year "Muck-up Day" prank, which involved having a group of boys storm over the fence and cart a "girl" off to the boys' toilets. But would you believe it? It was not even a real girl, but a boy dressed up in a girl's uniform!Most of us emerged from our High School years very innocent and naive about the opposite sex.

I must confess that I was a member of a class that became somewhat notorious. In our second year, there were two 'A' classes - 2AH which studied History and 2AL, which studied a third language. I think we had a couple of rebels in our class, who caused a few headaches, particularly with one or two more inexperienced teachers. There was the one who had very obviously fallen pregnant out of wedlock, and the very old lady who was brought out of retirement to teach us when a much loved Maths/Science teacher was whisked off to work in an important Government job. I really cannot recall anything really bad that we did, apart from throwing an egg around the room when the teacher was at the blackboard. It was discovered when one girl failed to catch it, and it turned out NOT to be hard-boiled!

A very bright and smart young teacher called Miss Jolly was made our Roll teacher and given the task of bringing us into line. She was vey strict and authoritarian. However, she must have not been completely successful, because after many warnings , our whole class was "demoted" from 2 AH to being called 2B! Most of us were devastated, and it was an enormous blow to our pride. Still somewhat demoralised, we continued to be known as 3B the following year.We were obviously considered to have a bad attitude. Or perhaps one or two had just learned to think for themselves. There is no doubt that these particular girls were strongly encouraged to leave after their Intermediate Certificate.

Today's young people would no doubt find the regime very oppressive and restrictive. But everything was fair and orderly. And I do believe that the culture of the school was not designed to turn out "young ladies" so much as to produce young women who would strive for excellence.

I was interested to read some of the comments from Sally's peers writing for the 50th Reunion Year book:
I have always felt great pride in having been at SGHS. It...gave me the confidence to believe in my ability to undertake all types of work."

"Attending SGHS has encouraged an attitude to always do the best you can."

"I think it was very beneficial to be part of a school community which considered girls to be capable of anything to which they set their minds."

"it gave me the discipline and desire to do the very best at everything I have tried in life."

"I will always be grateful for the good start at SGHS where we learned to think for ourselves and dullness was forbidden."

Unlike Sally, I really have no desire to go to a Reunion. I have always resisted that sort of thing. But I have enjoyed the little "return visit" to Alma Mater through her eyes. And I have enjoyed thinking about how that part of my education has been a quite significant part of a lifelong process!

No comments:

Related Posts with Thumbnails