The School is no mere aggregate of those individuals attending it at any given period…It is an indefinable, permeating and enduring thing which we term ‘school spirit’ or ‘tradition’. This is the torch, lighted in divine fire, that each generation must hand on burning clearly, to the succeeding generation (The Wider View, p274).
I read this quote in The Wider View, and thought how appropriate it was for us, as we celebrate Foundation Day and Rockhampton Girls Grammar School’s 129 years of providing quality education to girls and young women. In reflecting on our past, and looking to our future, we must remember our founders’ stamp of guardianship and fortitude and accept the responsibility for ensuring the school thrives for future generations.
In the late nineteenth century, it was not an easy task for supporters to fund, plan or build a school for girls. When the first grammar school was established in Queensland, there was no consideration given to the education of girls. To their credit, and our gratitude, the founders managed to establish a school, despite opposition and apathy. Girls’ Grammar School Rockhampton opened its doors to its first students on 19 April 1892.
It is difficult to remember all the names of those involved in the planning, fund raising and building, but easy to remember our founding headmistress, Helen E Downs, who accepted the challenge of leading the school, reared it as her own and developed it to her standards. Her philosophy for education of young women was “to form at School habits of industry, thoroughness, self-discipline, observation and thoughtfulness, to train, in short, women who shall be able to make the most of their surroundings and themselves” (The Wider View p16).
It was her wish that the girls who passed through the gates would have a high-quality education that prepared them for life, with all its challenges and hurdles, including those that would undoubtedly arise due to their gender. For 129 years, successive principals, Board Members and staff have continued this legacy, providing a rich environment where Girls Grammar girls learnt, “not only for School but for Life”.
At this week’s Foundation Day assembly, we reflected on the development of the School, from its origins as an impressive single brick building, to the sprawling campus it is today. When it opened in April 1892, Paterson House consisted of an Assembly Hall, two classrooms, a hat room and staircase hall which led to upstairs music rooms and dormitories. Adjoining one of the classrooms was a dining hall. Off the porch, there was a drawing room furnished with a fireplace. Adjoining this room was the mistresses’ dining room which also had a fireplace. There were also a number of rooms where the servants worked: a scullery, laundry, store, boot room, wood store and earth closets. Three staircases led to the upper floor: one for pupils, one that led to the mistresses’ upper apartments and one for the servants’ bedrooms. It is interesting to consider how very different the brief for the building of a new school would be today!
Today, Paterson House is the hub of Girls Grammar. It is where families come for their first experience of the school, where they are greeted at Reception and welcomed through the enrolments process. It is where they purchase the necessary uniforms and where girls meet their Big Sister on their very first day. It is a hive of activity for the boarders who dine in the dining room, the staff who work in the various offices and rooms and the different groups who gather in meeting rooms. But for all the activity, it is a building with dignity and timelessness, standing sentry over the campus and reminding us that, for 130 years it has stood on the hill, overlooking the city of Rockhampton. Importantly, it is a building that reminds us of the generations who have come before: “it is a monument to a cavalcade of community who have passed through the doors” (The Wider View, v).
Over the last century, a number of other buildings and improvements have been added to the land and over the coming years there will be further improvements, including the new undercover sports court which will begin construction later this year.
Being part of the Girls Grammar community carries with it an unspoken pact to undertake a guardianship role in protecting, preserving and advancing the School, preparing it for future generations. As the only girls’ school in Rockhampton, this carries with it the additional obligation to safeguard the provision of free choice to parents and to girls: a choice of an education in an all girls’ school. There is also an element of pride in our small size. Mr A. Ronald Weaver, Chairman of the Board in 1980, stated “the interests of our students [are] preserved much better in our smaller, specialised and intimate environment” (p138) and this remains the case today.
Today, Rockhampton Girls Grammar School remains staunchly individual, and fiercely committed to the advancement of girls. It is a wonderful school, small by design, stronger because of its entrenched traditions and history. Foundation Day is an important time for us to reflect on the considerable effort and tenacity of the founders in raising the required funds to build Paterson House, to show gratitude for their determination and achievements and to reflect on our own legacy and what we will leave for future generations of Girls Grammar students.