Cheltenham Girls High School

Cheltenham Girls High School

The Vicars Family and the commencement of a school

This school was established in 1958 on initially 6 acres that had been purchased in 1952 by the Department of Education and had previously formed part of the home Yallambee of Mr & Mrs Robert Vicars [1]. As a result of the sale of this land The Promenade was built to provide a new access to the Vicars home.  Following the death of Violet Vicars at the age of 93 years in 1970 the Vicar’s family donated the remainder of Yallambee to be added to the school. The home was demolished by the Department of Education in 1971. A number of trees and garden landscape of the Vicars home can still be seen in the grounds of the school. From the house, some stained glass windows were located and eventually installed in the school [2].

The house had been designed by James Vicars and covered 11,500 square feet over two storeys. It was built of brick with a rough cast exterior and deep verandahs. It had six bedrooms, lounge, dining, billiards, children’s and maid’s quarters. There were extensive gardens and a long curved drive way from the corner of The Crescent and The Promenade [3].

In 2009 John Laurie, Robert & Violet Vicar’s grandson, facilitated leadership programs at the school, offering one of the Vicars holiday homes on the Hawkesbury River as a retreat. He also funded prizes in honour of his Vicars and Laurie grandparents [4].

Building the school

Planning for the school began in 1956 and enrolments commenced for girls to begin in 1957. The building works were delayed and so the first students commenced High School at Epping Boys High. Girls commenced at the Cheltenham site at the beginning of the new school year in 1958. Occupying what are now blocks A and B there were 440 first year (now year 7) students and 120 in second (now year 8) year. Miss Mitchell later recalled “it was quite chaotic when the school first began. The buildings were not complete – only about twelve rooms were finished and we had thirteen classes…”

Building the school was opposed by a number of local residents who objected to it being built in a residential area, and then objected to it taking the name of their suburb.

The first extra-curricular activities at the school were the Inter-School Christian Fellowship (ISCF), a chess club and the Red Cross. In the second term a play was performed in the Beecroft School of Arts. The first speech day was held in the Odeon Picture Theatre in Eastwood and the address was given by Sir Garfield Barwick, the local Federal Member and a resident of Cheltenham.

Miss Mitchell was a leading teacher and advocate for education and this helped to start the school as a leading comprehensive government school in the State.

The school matures

In 1966 two events started to connect the school with the broader local community. These were that the Old Girls Union held their first Annual Dinner at the Carlton Rex Hotel in the Sydney CBD and the first Art Award Exhibition was held by the Parents & Citizens Association.

Between 1961 and 1966 one of Australia’s leading authors, Thea Astley (Mrs Jack Gregson) taught English at the school.

The first student news appeared in 1967 shortly to be followed by a Student Council established in 1969.

The early 1970s was an era most remembered for stringent enforcement of school dress rules – especially gloves, hats and the length of a dress from the girl’s knees.

At the same time, music under Mrs Jessie Murray, the school music teacher and choir mistress, led to new heights of achievement in this field. The Linnet Girl’s Choir was a high achieving choir which became associated with the school during this era, because of its founder, Mrs Murray. It was also Mrs Murray who introduced, in 1961, the tradition of the entire school body singing the Hallelujah Chorus at speech nights. Mrs Murray was awarded an MBE for her services to choral music [5].

Under the next Principal, Miss Nancye Harris there were further advances in student participation in school activities and the emphasis on particular subjects forming part of a girl’s education expanded into the sciences and advanced mathematics. Prior support of Stewart House as a community activity supported by the school was further encouraged and Miss Harris took a leadership role in educational practice more generally in a way that was equivalent to what had formally been the practice of Miss Mitchell. As she described her aspirations, Miss Harris sought to pursue excellence in all areas, and not just in a narrow range of knowledge, so that the school would meet the needs of all of its students [6].

This continued a tradition of the school as, in an address at the Speech Day of 1974, Marion Brown of sixth form, summed up her experience by saying:

“An appreciation of art has been nurtured in the fine displays that are part of Cheltenham’s own tradition. The Cheltenham Art Show, the Cheltenham Choir, the Cheltenham Orchestra, the work of the Home Economics Department and the high degree of sporting skill our School teams display are all a part of the cultural awareness or consciousness Cheltenham has helped us to.

It has often been stressed that as a school we are part of the community and at Cheltenham we have been educated as individuals to assume positions in the community. Our work for Community Aid led to the confrontation of Papuan Culture with Australian Culture in the visits of Daruan girls to our homes and School and a reciprocal visit, when some of our girls went to Daru” [7].

Academic, artistic, debating and sporting achievements continued to grow. In 1975 one of the key points of recollection was how strong the school’s InterSchool Christian Fellowhip had grown. By 2008 this group changed its name to ‘Revolution’.

In 2013 the school maintained its fine traditions in becoming one of the largest fund raising schools in Australia.

In 2016 the school had its best ever results in the Higher School Certificate – building on many years of academic excellence. Years when a girl’s school, in the public system, which remained comprehensive in its enrolment policy could yet again demonstrate its pre-eminent standing.

School song

The school song was written by Miss Erica Knodler to the tune of the hymn Hail Thou once despised Jesus [8].

School Principals

1958-1970     Miss Bessie Mitchell MBE. A biography of Miss Mitchell appears under People on this web site

1971-1976     Miss Beryl Smith. A biography of Miss Smith appears under People on this web site.

1977-1987     Miss Nancye Harris

1988-1990     Mrs Marika McLachlan

1991-2003     Mrs Margaret Shore

2003-            Mrs Susan Bridge

[1]      For more information on Robert and Violet Vicars refer to articles on each of them under People on this website.

[2]      L Langtry, In the pink: a 60 year history of Cheltenham Girls’ High School (Cheltenham Girls’ High School, Cheltenham, 2017) pp13-16.

[3]      H Barker & M Elven, Houses of Hornsby Shire Vol 1 (Hornsby Shire Historical Society, Hornsby, 1989) pp 106-109; L Langtry In the pink: a 60 year history of Cheltenham Girls’ High School (Cheltenham Girls’ High School, Cheltenham, 2017) pp7, 14-15.

[4]      R Ringer, An Australian Story: Twilight House 1915-2015 (Twilight House, Sydney, 2017) p 169.

[5]      For more information on music see the article on Music appearing elsewhere on this web site.

[6]      quoted in Cheltenham Girls High School History 1958-1988 (Cheltenham Girls High School, Cheltenham, no date of publication) p.5.

[7]      M Brown, “Impressions of Cheltenham Girls High School” quoted in Yarrabee (Cheltenham Girls High School, Cheltenham, 1974) p. 31

[8]      Miss Bessie Mitchell as quoted in Cheltenham Girls High School History 1958-1988 (Cheltenham Girls High School, Cheltenham, no date of publication) p.9.