Few will have the greatness to bend history itself; but each of us can work to change a small portion of events, and in the total; of all those acts will be written in the history of this generation. Robert Kennedy
As we reach the end of the term, I hope this finds you healthy and counting every blessing. We remain stronger together; we have been strong for our children. Collectively, Melbourne has shown great courage, integrity, self discipline, and compassion in the last eighteen months, but our cosmopolitan city is tired. We know we are living in a unique time of history and our student leaders are sparking optimism and future thinking by their actions to bring about change. Together we want to mark this time in our community’s history.
In 2023, Melbourne Girls Grammar will celebrate its 130th year. A leader in girls’ education since 1893, our School has built an outstanding reputation for excellence, enabling young women to develop with confidence and independence. We will celebrate this moment in time in many ways. True to our enjoyment of holding a good event, we have formed a 130th Celebration Committee and are beginning to plot and plan a delicious series of occasions across the whole School – to celebrate with our community from ELC through to our Senior Years through to alumnae – with many events.
As part of our celebration, the School has commissioned Professor Erica McWilliam OAM to write a contemporary text situating MGGS into the feminist history of Melbourne. The penultimate draft of the text is completed, and we are currently carefully rereading each chapter ensuring that the final result is an accurate and polished portrayal of our School. I can’t wait to share it with you – it is a fast-moving narrative about our community, since its inception. Filled with characters and moments that only MGGS could muster; we have a very colourful history!
The book is written to explore cultural themes that link the history of the School to larger contextual issues arising for Melbourne and more generally for Australia. The Centenary Essays, so capably written in 1993, created a space for making a closer inspection of issues arising for the School when significant change – war, depression, pandemic, technological shifts, protest movements, and so on – has demanded a response from Melbourne’s schools as well as its citizens. The chapters work across the grain of linear-cumulative history to examine how the School community has both resisted and accommodated pressures from within and without over the 130 years since its foundation. Essentially the text is a cultural history of the School and has focused on significant moments in the School. The author, Professor Erica McWilliam OAM, has used document analysis, interviews with alumnae, focus groups with current students, and historical artefacts to weave together a narrative of a school with many lines of flight. The final chapter looks forward to imagining the School in 2093. The Prologue and Epilogue that bracket the eight chapters of the text have been created out of focus groups with our 2021 students who have commented on the School as they perceive it now and what they hope it will become. The book will be published ready for the beginning of our 130th Anniversary Celebrations, January 2023.
In the last few weeks, our students have been learning a little about the history of our School and more specifically about the history of our House System within the School. Students have been able to ask questions and discuss the names of their beloved Houses.
Houses really weren’t necessary when our School first started because the School was just too small. Like a lot of schools at the time (Tintern, Fintona, Lauriston, and Firbank) they were run by families – sisters, mothers, and daughters – the Morris sisters in the case of our School from 1898 to 1915. It was a family atmosphere that prevailed – private and informal. Probably the first version of Houses at the School were the original boarding houses – Merton Hall and Morris Hall. Houses were more formally introduced at the School under the leadership of our 6th Principal, Miss Kathleen Gilman Jones in 1925 and 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. Interestingly, our 7th Principal, Miss D.J. Ross completely disbanded the Houses during her headship as she was philosophically opposed to any form of competition between Grammarians. In 1965, however, the Student Executive Council under the leadership of our 8th Principal Miss Edith Mountain, were advised that the School intended to reintroduce Houses and were asked to come up with five names for them. There was considerable discussion among the students ensued about what names might be used. Remarkably, and definitely a sign of the times, in 1965 someone on the Committee suggested that 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! I am comforted that this is not our current of the world.
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 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. Additionally, the other House names of Hensley and Taylor (our first principals), Mungo (after the original site of the School, Mungo House in Domain Road), and Clarke (after Lowther Clarke, Melbourne archbishop responsible for promoting and funding Anglican girls’ education) were closely tied to the School, whereas Batman seemed the ‘odd man’ out. Additionally, 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. I know these issues are sometimes more complex than they appear, particularly when dealing with historical legacy, however, student voice is a pillar of MGGS and the conversation has been continued within the student body led our 2021 Captains, Lilli Ingram, Tiffany Chiang, and Mimi Barnes. Scholars of representations of Australian History often refer to “moral moments” that occur at different points in time, perhaps now is one of those. To this end, there will be a referendum by current Grammarians (Years 4-12) and alumnae to decide whether to rename the Batman House on Thursday 7 October 2021 with results announced to the community on Monday 11 October.
Our Year 12 students are counting off their last few weeks at MGGS. This is a time of mixed emotions for our senior students as they prepare for their final VCE examinations and begin to farewell the School. The Class of 2021 have been a wonderful cohort; remarkable Grammarians in every way – wonderful ambassadors of the School and fine role models to our younger students. I thank them personally for their outstanding contribution to their school. I have observed them over the whole year putting in the hard work required to achieve their personal best, and I know that their teachers and families have wrapped much support around them. Year 12 has been difficult for them on the back of an interrupted Year 11. They have experienced two years of extended remote learning and have grieved many of the ‘rites of passage’ and the Year 12 events that they were looking forward to. They are a united cohort and they have lived the values of the School. Over the term break, they will be studying hard with the support of their teachers so that they are well prepared for the upcoming exams. Our students will sit their VCE exams with the bravery for which they are known. The School will ensure that appropriate Valedictory moments are in place, even if it means they are continued next year.
When our Grammarians return in Term 4, we will hopefully be on site and enjoying each other’s company in person. We have postponed many events to Term 4, so it is going to be action-packed and full.
Take care, be safe, stay well!
Yours in learning
Dr Toni E. Meath