Still waters run deep: The celebration of 25 and 50 years of Water Polo

School Water Polo has celebrated two significant birthdays: the 25th anniversary and the 50th anniversary. Each has a different starting date. Why is that so, and do these elegant badges commemorate the correct timelines?

Any sporting program is as strong as the School’s Health and Physical Education program. Water Polo was introduced into the Health and Physical Education program and Interform competition at Girls Grammar as early as 1969. Lynn Robinson (1972) recollected: ‘Water Polo was initiated in 1969 as a DIY interform sport. Our form, 3D, started it, and we won that year with Debbie Handley as our star player. She went on to represent Australia if I recall correctly.’

Lynn continued: ‘We organised it ourselves as a way to get access to the pool at lunchtime and because we resented the lack of sporting opportunities if you were not in a rep team. We were an activist (euphemism for stroppy) year!’

1971 Woolcock House Senior Water Polo team including back (l to r)—Amanda Greaves (1972), Robyn McLennan (1972), unidentified; Front—Lynn Robinson (1972) and Susan Gynther (1972)

As the years progressed, Water Polo continued as an interform competition enhanced by class swimming lessons being devoted to the sport in Term 4.

Interschool competition started in 1972, as evidenced by ‘two competitions/shields. These were the Queensland Junior Amateur Water Polo Association U16 Girls A Grade shield and the Queensland Junior Amateur Water Polo Association Open Girls shield. The junior girls’ (U16 years) competition was the first organised competition for women in Queensland and consisted of teams from two private girls’ schools, Somerville House and Brisbane Girls Grammar School. The inaugural premiers were Somerville House Blue team’ (Harvey-Short, p372).

The first captain of Girls Grammar Water Polo, which can be verified, was Margaret Sinclair (1974), who also was captain of Swimming. The Water Polo organisation at School was somewhat relaxed, as in the early 1970s the interschool teams were ‘unofficial’ and the Open, U14, and U16 teams competed ‘if girls are willing to compete unaided as (the) PE programme (is) too full for staff to cope’ (Salzman, BGGS Sports Club Organisation, p36).

1970 BGGS Swimming team. Deborah Handley (1972) centre back row and Margaret Sinclair (1974) middle row left

The 1974 season saw a more formal organisation with coaches and parental support. It was the year of the first Combined State Schoolgirls Water Polo team with Margaret Sinclair and Nea Scott (1974) selected from the Girls Grammar team.

Margaret recollected: ‘Water Polo was a natural progression for me—I loved swimming and ball sports so the combination was very appealing and more fun than just swim racing. I had a lot more involvement in organisation of the Water Polo team than I did in Swimming. I do remember spending lunch times running around the School seeing who could play each week and if we were short, convincing others to play. Anyone who could swim well was a target, including the younger girls—Linden Seale (1976) and Sue Gordon (1978) that I can remember’ (Sinclair, email 30.09.23).

Another Girls Grammar woman was making a name for herself in 1974—Deborah Handley BEM (1972). Deborah was selected for the Queensland Open team and subsequently chosen in the Australian team bound for a Hawaii Invitational tournament. This was the beginning of an illustrious career in Water Polo which spanned 13 years, including captaining the national team for a decade, winning a FINA World Championship Gold Medal, and entering the Guinness World Records book for scoring a record number of goals in a match: 13 goals against Canada in Ecuador in 1982.

1985 The Sunday Mail, 27 January p44

In 1997, Debbie was honoured by her School when we created the Debbie Handley Trophy for Water Polo. The award was created for BGGS Water Polo players from Years 8 to 10 who demonstrated teamwork, sportsmanship, dedication to training, skill, leadership potential, and commitment to the sport. This honour was no doubt eclipsed by Debbie’s induction into the Sport Australia Hall of Fame 20 years later, where she was honoured for her role in pioneering women’s Water Polo, which led to its inclusion in the 2000 Sydney Olympics.

In 1974-75, the sport had gained momentum within the School with fathers such as David Gordon, Barry Seale, Ken Morton, and Roy Molyneux responsible for fixtures, coaching, and officiating. At the conclusion of the 1975 season, Ken Morton approached Principal, Miss Nancy Shaw, on behalf of the fathers, seeking permission to establish a formal Water Polo club. And hence, the 1976 season saw the establishment of the BGGS Water Polo Club.

1977 16A Water Polo team: Back row—Lindy Roden (1978), Philippa Dunn (1978), Julia Seale, Anne Martin (1978); Middle row—Jacqui Thomas (Australian cap No. 26) (1979), Carolyn Somerville (1978), David Gordon, Linda Sanders (1978), Susan Gordon (Australian cap No. 24) (1978) ; Front row—Anne Dingle (captain) (1977), Katarina Dobrenov (1978), Susanne Lucas (1978), Jennifer Morton (1978)

In 2001, Water Polo Coordinator, Chris Moore, a past Queensland Water Polo representative herself, agreed with President, David North, and the Water Polo committee, that the season represented a significant milestone for Girls Grammar Water Polo. So, in his President’s report, David North announced that ‘this past season was the 25th season which the Water Polo Club has competed in a junior girls’ competition. To mark the importance of the 25th anniversary, the committee has commissioned badges marking the season. These badges will be presented to all players who competed in the season 2000-2001’ (President’s Annual Report, 2000-2001).

The 1980s’ key ring, the prototype of the 1976-2001 Badge

The badge was sourced from AJ Parkes and inspired by a 1980s Water Polo Club key ring design. After a discussion with the manufacturer, the badge was created and distributed to all Girls Grammar Water Polo players who were given permission to wear their badge on their ties for the remainder of the year. Principal, Ms Judith Hancock, was presented with an honorary life membership and a commemorative badge in recognition of her 25 years of support and encouragement in what was her final year as Principal.

1976-2001 badge

The 2021-22 Water Polo president, Matt Rollason, and the committee, with Coordinator, Melissa Rippon—Australia’s 100th women’s Water Polo cap—elected to celebrate another milestone, that of 50 years of Girls Grammar Water Polo.

2022-2023 Water Polo season

Melissa Rippon, having seen the 25 year badge, suggested that design be the basis of this next celebratory badge and subsequently, the 50 year badge was minted by Photograve Pty Ltd through the BGGS Parents and Friends (P&F) Uniform Shop with the design created through discussion with Rebecca Goodman (P&F Uniform Shop), the manufacturer, and the Water Polo Support Group.

1972-2022 50 years celebratory badge made by Photograve Pty Ltd and 1976-2001 25 years celebratory badge by AJ Parkes

The 2022 Director of Sport, Jo Duffy, supported the concept of the badge and the ‘Grammar Round’—as suggested by Melissa Rippon—and coordinated with Brisbane Water Polo Incorporated to have as many BGGS fixtures as possible at Musgrave Pool on 18 February 2022, the site of the original BGGS versus Somerville House fixture. Melissa commented: ’10 games were played at Musgrave Park Pool with BGGS in each match. This allowed our players and supporters to turn the crowd blue, something which can be challenging in the regular competition’ (Rippon, email 10.10.23).

2023 Blue Round Opens v Barracudas supporters Chloe Burke (12H), Louise Campbell (12O), Georgia Feros (12G) and Principal, Ms Jacinda Euler Welsh

With regard to the celebrations, Ms Duffy reflected that ‘the 50 years of Water Polo badge was a fitting nod to Water Polo’s significant and lengthy history at Brisbane Girls Grammar School. It was a wonderful opportunity for the Support Group to collaborate with staff to create a tangible link to the sport’s original commemorative badge. Like the 25 years of BGGS Water Polo Badge, I am certain the 2023 badge will be a treasured keepsake for the hundreds of Girls Grammar Water Polo players who represented the School in the sport’s 50th year’ (Duffy, email 28.09.23).

2023 Opens Caitlin Small (11R) in Number 6 cap

Across its history, Girls Grammar Water Polo has produced 16 Open Australian players which includes two captains of the national team, five Olympians, numerous youth squad and team representatives, junior national team members, Australian Schoolgirls representatives, and countless Queensland representatives. It is important to acknowledge the roots of these amazing achievements, in what was, for many, a humble 25-metre School pool where at one end the team had a distinct advantage of being able to stand up!

The celebratory badges may have differing dates, identifying our first competitive foray and the formation of a Girls Grammar club, however, the acknowledgement of such a significant sport in the BGGS competitive landscape is most worthy. Rarely can the School boast of taking a girl, 12 years old with no prior experience in the sport, and teaching her the rudiments of the game, providing representative opportunities, and watching her grow into an international player. Water Polo has this capacity. It may have taken many years to gain equality with men in the Olympic pool, however, it is with pride we acknowledge the Grammar Women trailblazers and role models in this sport, the staff that supported it, and the parents who made it happen.

Pauline Harvey-Short (1971)
Manager, School History and Culture



BGGS Sports Club Organisation 1974+, Property of Sports Mistress unpublished.

Duffy, J. BGGS News 4 November 2022 ‘Celebrating 50 years of BGGS Water Polo’.

Duffy, J. 28 September 2023 email.

Gordon, D Interview 04 August 2010.

Harvey-Short, P. (2011) ‘To become fine sportswomen: The history of Health, Physical Education and Sport at Brisbane Girls Grammar School’ Brisbane Girls Grammar School, Brisbane.

Moore, C. interview 13 and 26 September 2023.

North, D. President’s Annual Report 2000-2001.

Rippon, M. 15 June and 10 October 2023.

Robinson, L. 25 September 2023 email.

Sinclair, M. 30 September 2023 email.

Sport Australia Hall of Fame Media Release 12 October 2017 ‘Hall of Fame nod for water polo pioneer Debbie Handley Cummins.’

50 and 25 year Water Polo celebratory badge

2011, Emily Neilsen (2012) in the new pool designed to enhance Water Polo training

2023 Anne Butler (12W) in goals, U18 Div 1 v St Margarets