History and Archives

In 1926, the first Federal Parliament House was nearing completion, surrounded by sheep paddocks that dominated the rural landscape of early Canberra, which at the time had a population of less than 5,000. 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 Community of the Sisters of the Church, founded by Mother Emily Ayckbowm, had answered a request from Bishop Radford, of the then Diocese of Goulburn, who saw a need for an Anglican school in the small community of Canberra, the future Federal capital.

From such humble beginnings, both the city of Canberra and Girls Grammar School began, and the School’s development has continued to reflect the story of Canberra’s growth.

On Sunday, 8 May 1927, the Foundation stone of the School was laid by Bishop Radford for the mock Tudor building which today comprises the Boarding House on Melbourne Avenue. It was no accident that this was just one day before the Duke and Duchess of York officially opened Parliament House.

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. Prior to this, in 1933, St Gabriel’s had been renamed Canberra Church of England Girls’ Grammar School.

The decades following the end of World War II saw both a boom in the birth rate and in the number of migrants to Australia. 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 independent) to meet the enrolment demands for the generation known as ‘baby boomers’. The School’s building program was assisted greatly by the Government science grants of the 1960s, and the expansion of the city mirrored the optimism and buoyancy of these years. In 1972 the Junior School moved to a new campus on Grey Street to allow for the expansion of both the Senior and Junior Schools.

From the beginning, our School has been home to boarders - meeting the demand created by parents from defence forces and embassies, as well as students from rural, regional and overseas locations. The original Melbourne Avenue school is still contained within the central buildings of a much-expanded and improved Boarding House.

Today a grander Parliament House dominates the original building, and our 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 three and four-year-olds, a multipurpose building and additional staff and student facilities were opened in 2011, providing flexible teaching and learning spaces. In 2012 the modern and versatile Science wing was commissioned, and in 2016 the Innovation Centre for the promotion of STEM subjects was opened.

In 2018, a new multipurpose learning facility, known as Yhuuramulum (Ngunnawal for ‘to dream’), was opened next door to the existing Elizabeth McKay Aquatic Centre. This building provides extended opportunities for contemporary and flexible approaches to curriculum delivery for students from Prep to Year 12.

How far CGGS has come since the sheep paddocks and the original ten students at the old St John’s Rectory.

Archives

The CGGS Archives were established in 1987 to serve the needs of Canberra's oldest independent school.

In 1995, the Archives moved to a purpose-built facility and with enhanced storage capacity in 2012, the collection continues to grow. 

The Archives collects and preserves records relating to the School and its associated bodies. The collection consists of the School’s official records from 1926, photographic and uniform collections and school memorabilia.

Donations of items are always welcome.

The Archivist may be contacted on 6202 6457, Monday to Friday or by email at archives@cggs.act.edu.au