Growing Together: A School and The Federal Capital
In the year 1926 the first Federal Parliament House was nearing completion, surrounded by the sheep paddocks dominating the rural landscape of early Canberra, which at this time had a population of less than 5000. On the other side of the Molonglo River, St Gabriel’s School was opened, with just ten pupils, in the old St John’s Rectory, known as Glebe House. The Anglican order of the Sisters of the Church had answered a request from Bishop Radford, Bishop of the then Diocese of Goulburn, who saw a need for such a school in the small community which was designated as the Federal capital.
From such humble beginnings both the city of Canberra and the Girls Grammar School began, and the School’s development has continued to reflect the story of Canberra’s growth.
In May 1927 the Foundation stone of the School was laid by Dr Radford, for the mock Tudor building which today comprises the Boarding House in Melbourne Avenue. It was no accident that this was just one day before the opening of Parliament House by the Duke and Duchess of York, when the appropriate dignitaries were in town.
Through the Great Depression both School and city weathered economic setbacks: with the decline in Canberra’s population, and hardship in the rural community which supplied much of the School’s enrolment, the School came close to closing down. It was rescued by the determination of Canon Robertson, and later by a dedicated group of Parents and Friends, who took the dramatic step of purchasing the School from the Sisters in 1935. St Gabriel’s had already been renamed the Canberra Church of England Girls’ Grammar School in 1933.
When the Second World War finally ended, in August 1945, the School shared the celebration of the whole Canberra community: shops stopped trading after the announcement of Peace, and workers and school children headed for shopping centres carrying flags and sprigs of the bushland wattle then in bloom.
The prosperity of the post war decades saw a boom in the birth rate, and in the migrants who came to this country. The acceleration of Canberra’s development saw the expansion of suburbs, and all their associated services. These were also years of growth in education, and the Girls Grammar School shared in the expansion of schools, both government and private, to meet the enrolment demands for the generation of baby boomers. The building programme of the School was assisted greatly by the Government science grants of the sixties, and the expansion of the city mirrored the optimism and buoyancy of these years. In 1972 the Junior School moved to a new Campus in Grey Street Deakin to allow for expansion of both the Senior and Junior Schools.
From the beginning the School has provided a boarding house, meeting the demand created by parents from defence forces and embassies, as well as the original rural population, for such a boarding facility for their daughters. Today the original Melbourne Avenue school is still contained within the central buildings of a much expanded and improved Boarding House.
Now a new and grander Parliament House dominates the original building, and the School just beyond it, with its name updated to Canberra Girls Grammar School, has expanded beyond recognition. In 2004 the School opened its Early Learning Centre for 3 and 4 year olds and overall it now caters for 1500 students on its senior and junior campuses. Also in in 2004, the School opened a 1,000 seat Hall and adjoining Music Centre situated in the Senior School. The Hall boasts state-of-the-art acoustics, tiered retractable seating on the ground level allowing for multi-functional use of floor space and tiered seating in the balcony area. The Music Centre consists of soundproof practice rooms, classrooms, a library, a Recital Room and a computer laboratory where students can work in groups or on a one-to-one basis with other students and music staff. In 2008, the School reburbished the Boarding House Dining Room and Kitchen, a new boarders' laundry and Senior School Canteen was built adjoining the lower floor of the Mitchell Wing of the Boarding House. How far we have come from those sheep paddocks and the original ten students at Glebe House!