Named after the early settler who landed on the banks of the Yarra River in 1835.
Melbourne Girls Grammar’s House System is built on tradition. For our Grammarians, being part of a House brings a feeling of belonging, a connection that goes beyond year levels and interests.
Friday 2 September marked a major milestone in the history of Melbourne Girls Grammar with the official vote to decide the new name for Batman House. We are thankful to both our alumnae and current students (Years 4-12) who took the opportunity to voice their opinion.
The votes were tallied by the School and the winner was determined by a preferential voting system as used by the Australian Electoral Commission but weighted evenly between Old Grammarians and current Grammarians. Incidentally, the outcome for an unweighted vote using the preferential voting system yielded the same outcome. The voting data files, tallies of 1,302 voters and their results were checked by an independent accounting firm as part of an Agreed Upon Procedure engagement.
The votes were close but a clear winner was identified in Blackwood House, named after Old Grammarian Dame Margaret Blackwood DBE, MBE (1927). Blackwood had a notable academic career, she was a trailblazer in science (specifically botany) and fought for gender equality. Blackwood House will retain the colour yellow.
We are proud of our Captains of 2020, 2021 and 2022 who were integral in each stage of the process of the renaming, from pitching the idea to getting the vote to happen. They researched, reached out to the community and listened to others’ opinions. They also consulted with the MGGS School Council over the past three years to ensure a clear democratic process giving voice to current and past Grammarians.
The Batman House Renaming Committee carefully reviewed all the suggestions of names put forward by our students and Old Grammarians. They selected three potential names, based on the following criteria: the relationship of the name to the School and timelessness of the name. The three names shortlisted are: Balayang, Blackwood and Bryce.
The next step was for students and Old Grammarians to vote on the one they choose out of those three. In order to inform their vote, they were able to read the information below about the potential new House names and their connection to MGGS.
Balayang is the name of a prominent figure in the mythology of the Kulin Nation, the lands on which Melbourne Girls Grammar stands. According to the myth, Balayang refused to live with his brother Bunjil (Eaglehawk creator god) when asked as the country was too barren. Seeking vengeance, Bunjil sent his accomplices to burn and scorch Balayang’s country, turning him and his family black for eternity. In another myth, Balayang was credited to have formed the oceans, rivers and creeks of the land. In astrology, Balayang is represented by Antares, the fifteenth brightest star in the sky during the night.
Balayang appears in mythology in the form of a ‘bat’ and this name has been suggested as a homage to the original name and spirit of Batman House built over generations of Grammarians and to continue to build for generations to come. It retains our history, while simultaneously looks forward to the future that is governed by the School’s values and philosophy.
Dame Margaret Blackwood DBE, MBE (1927) was an Old Grammarian, Australian botanist and geneticist.
Despite her father believing that ‘university was not a place for women,’ she pursued an academic career fostered by her biology teacher DJ Ross. She eventually became Deputy Chancellor of the University of Melbourne after a notable academic career. She was one of the few women of her generation to pursue a scientific career, becoming a trailblazer in science (specifically botany) and the fight for gender equality.
Coincidentally, she was awarded a scholarship to study at the University of Cambridge’s Newnham College from 1948-50, the same institution from which the founders of MGGS, Emily Hensley and Alice Taylor studied before moving to Australia. She was made a Member of the Order Of the British Empire (MBE) in 1964 and appointed Dame Commander of the Order of the British Empire in 1981. She was inducted into the Victorian Honour Roll of Women in 2001.
As a geneticist, she knew that only one of the forty-six chromosomes is different and therefore believed that ‘innate abilities and characters are common to both men and women.’
Further reading: https://adb.anu.edu.au/biography/blackwood-dame-margaret-12218
Dame Lucy Meredith Bryce, CBE (1914) was an Old Grammarian, haematologist and pathologist who was instrumental in establishing the Australian Red Cross Blood Transfusion Service.
Dr Bryce’s research, clinical and administrative career demonstrates perseverance and commitment to education and service, compassion for others, and meaningful contribution to society. She was a trailblazer for her time, holding significant positions – including at the Walter and Eliza Hall of Medical Research and the Commonwealth Serum Laboratories – making an immense contribution to the medical field at a time of male dominance.
Her contributions to the medical field and to the Australian people is still positively impacting us today, and she is remembered as a meticulous mind, with ‘the soft voice and manner of a cultured gentlewoman conceal[ing] a surprising firmness of purpose’. Her personal qualities of leadership, integrity and self-discipline and her ability to inspire loyalty and respect from those around her is something to be revered by Grammarians today and tomorrow.
Source and further reading: https://adb.anu.edu.au/biography/bryce-lucy-meredith-5411
The idea of a school having ‘Houses’ originated in England’s famous boys’ schools – the ‘great public schools’ such as Eton, Harrow, and Rugby. All were boarding schools with ‘Houses’ that were literally the houses near the campus where the students lived. These were our first houses too – the boarding houses, Morris Hall and Merton Hall – who engaged in friendly competition.
Houses were formally introduced at the School in 1925. There were three of them, named after saints – St Cecilia (the musician), St Hilda (the scholar) and St Joan (the warrior).
Quite a lot of schools were introducing ‘Houses’ around the same time and the impetus was often for sporting competition. However, in the case of our school, it was different. In 1925, Miss Gilman Jones created an innovative middle school where girls were grouped together in the three houses rather than in year level classes and they had greater academic freedom in their choice of subjects. This also enabled the administering of pastoral care, or what today we understand better as the support and wellbeing of students. Gradually the house system was extended to areas other than academic.
As schools in Melbourne grew, they became increasingly more structured. Uniforms were introduced as well as the trappings of school life – the introduction of prefects [student leaders], badges, hat bands, school songs, mottos, specified colours, blazers, trophies, and cups.
The MGGS House System, however, was suspended in the 1950s, only to be reintroduced in 1965. Today, the MGGS Houses are well known:
Named after the early settler who landed on the banks of the Yarra River in 1835.
Named after the first archbishop of Melbourne, Archbishop Lowther Clarke [who was very influential in the early establishment of Church of England girls’ schools and Chair of the CEGGS School Council 1903-1920].
Named after one of the first two Headmistresses of ‘Merton Hall’, Miss Emily Hensley
Named after the residence in Domain Road called St Mungo [where the School first began in 1893], renamed Merton Hall by the Misses Hensley and Taylor after the old hall in Cambridge where Newnham College originated, and where Emily Hensley studied in the 1870s.
Named after the other of the first two Headmistresses of ‘Merton Hall’, Miss Alice Taylor.
Choosing names for Houses has never been an easy task. Invariably there are lots of ideas and opinions. So, when in 1965 the Student Executive Council (SEC) were advised that the School intended to reintroduce ‘Houses’ they were asked to come up with five names.
As expected, there was considerable discussion among the students then about what names might be used. Someone on the committee suggested that the houses should be named after famous women, but, according to the minutes of the meeting, the idea was rejected because they could not think of five famous women to name them after!
Delving further into the process, we have uncovered that there was community consultation and suggestions of possible names requested. Many options were submitted – names of archbishops, both in Melbourne and in Canterbury, early Victorian governors, saints, pioneers, street names, bridges, rivers, statesmen, politicians, colours, Greek gods, flowers, prime ministers, prominent OGs and former principals.
The options were brought to the Student Executive Council (SEC) who were advised by Miss Edith Mountain, the Headmistress at the time, that names connected with the School might be more suitable. The SEC whittled them down to a smaller selection and finally decided on the two Founding joint-principals, Miss Emily Hensley and Miss Alice Taylor who had not been recognised in naming of buildings as later principals had.
Their next selection was Mungo – as the name of the original property they operated out of – an actual ‘house’ – from 1893-1898. At this stage, the SEC abandoned the idea of Morrell and Yarra.
Lastly, they voted on the four remaining names in their smaller selection – Clarke, Batman, Fawkner, and Yarra, and chose Clarke and Batman by a clear margin.
Henry Lowther Clarke a champion for the education of girls. Clarke was the Anglican Bishop (and later Archbishop) of Melbourne who oversaw the acquisition of the School known as Merton Hall by the Church of England and chaired the School Council until 1920.
When Clarke arrived in Melbourne from Britain in 1903, he was dismayed at the lack of Anglican influence in the education of both girls and boys. Clarke was such an energetic devotee of girls’ Anglican schools that he actually contributed to the running of these schools from his own money.
Historian, Mark Cryle identifies that Batman was a very adept bushman energetic, courageous, ambitious and a capable leader and organiser. In 1835 he led a party of men across Bass Strait from Launceston to explore the Port Phillip district, resulting in the colonisation of that area within a few short years. Batman himself, without much modesty, proposed that they call this new settlement ‘Batmania’. Batman was loyal to those who supported him but an opportunist and a highly conflictual character who alienated many with whom he was associated.
The issue of who from the past gets commemorated and who doesn’t, can be a complex one and subject to changing sensibilities about what is worth celebrating and what isn’t. Today, there has been much controversy regarding John Batman. In recognition of this, the School has undertaken to hold a referendum to assess the sentiment of current and past students regarding the ongoing suitability of the name of this House.
In 2020, our School Captains Helena Wong-Hansen, Scarlet Elkins-Priest, and Sophie Hodge presented to School Council a precis and history of the names of the Houses and questioned whether in a contemporary 21st century setting, Batman was an appropriate name. In their presentation, they eloquently put forward the idea that John Batman was not only the broker of the notorious Batman Treaty but a participant in the Tasmanian ‘Black Wars’ which culminated in the murder of more than one thousand Aboriginal people.
They also made the case that the other House names of Hensley and Taylor (our first principals), Mungo (after the original site of the School, St Mungo in Domain Road), and Clarke (after Melbourne Archbishop, Lowther Clarke, responsible for promoting and funding Anglican girls’ education) were closely tied to the School. Batman by contrast, seemed the ‘odd man’ out.
They defined that we are not alone in questioning the validity of continuing to honour Batman given the changes in history since he was in favour. In 2018, the Melbourne electorate of Batman was renamed and now pays honour to William Cooper – and our captains put forward that perhaps this is a precedent from which we could learn.
In September 2020, the Principal Dr Toni Meath announced to the School community in Messenger, that there would be a referendum to determine the sentiment of students and Old Grammarians in favour of a name change to Batman House.
In October 2021, MGGS invited all eligible students and past students to vote in a referendum to voice their opinion on the change of name for the Batman House.
During the October 2021 referendum, MGGS alumnae and students took the opportunity that was offered to voice their opinion and contribute to the history of Melbourne Girls Grammar.
The School engaged independent external auditors to verify the process and results via an Agreed Upon Procedure, giving the School Council confidence in the reliability of the process and accuracy of results.
The result of the Batman Referendum was quite clear. An overwhelming majority of students and Old Grammarians, representing many generations of alumnae, voted in favour of changing the name of the Batman House.
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(1) The Hensley House colours were also changed by student vote in 1983 through initiatives taken by then House Captain, Rowena Mytton (Watson) and Vice Captain Kate Shea. They were changed from white to pink.
(2) From the School Notes and with input from Mark Cryle, Historian/Author, and Pip O’Connor (Farrer,1965), School Historian.