‘I can distinctly remember receiving the Topper Cup at the end of Year 10. In fact, I derived a greater sense of pride from receiving this award than I have from any purely academic awards because of the award’s criteria. Receiving the Topper Cup signalled that I was not only valued in the Grammar community for my own individual academic or sporting successes, but more generally as a kind and considerate student and friend. It is qualities such as these that I believe define a “successful” member of society. I truly hope that I have been able to continue contributing to those around me with the same attributes that the Topper Cup recognises—for me, there is no higher compliment.’
Thus wrote Josephine Auer (2015) in 2022. Josephine received many awards and prizes while at School: the Annie Mackay Bursary in 2014; the Lady Lilley Gold Medal for Dux of the School in 2015; prizes for Mathematics B and C; Latin; English Literature; and the Betty Woolcock Challenge Cup. Therefore, put into this context, her comments about how important being awarded the Topper Cup reveals its significance.
The Topper Cup for Citizenship (Year 10) came into being in 1955 when staff member, Mrs Elsie Veronica Topper, donated a cup for ‘citizenship in III’. Mrs Topper was a graduate of The University of Queensland Bachelor of Arts and, in 1943, became a Girls Grammar teacher of Junior French and Geometry. She added to her repertoire with Algebra in 1948 and Junior Latin in 1950. She completed her teaching career at the School in 1956 as a Senior Latin and Junior French teacher. She returned briefly to Grammar in a part-time capacity in 1971 when, in Miss Nancy Shaw’s words, she ‘came to our rescue’ to teach Latin.
Mrs Topper held strong beliefs in, and commitment to, service and giving to her community as demonstrated by her holding the voluntary position of Secretary of the Polish Red Cross in Brisbane in the 1940s. This sense of service was conveyed to her students when she consistently sought to encourage each girl to be respectful of herself, her friends, and the School. To this end, she created the criteria for her award for citizenship, first presented in 1955, which included:
- deportment and general appearance
- neatness, tidiness, and helpfulness in the House Group and grounds
- conscientious work in class and on the playing field
- courtesy and consideration of teachers
- observance of all School rules
- strict regard for personal property and for that of other people
- regular attendance at all practices that concern schoolwork
- cheerful and unselfish willingness to help her School
- greatest consideration shown to her School fellows
- consistent observance of the Grammar school motto, Nil sine labore.
This award was initially referred to in prize lists as the Cup for Citizenship in III (presented by Mrs EV Topper) and was first awarded to Joy Rackemann, a boarder, who received the cup at Speech Day accompanied by a book prize, Dust for the Dancers. The award was then presented across the next 15 years to deserving girls, including Head Girl, Jane Sellars (1965), Lady Lilley Gold Medal winner or Dux of the School, Caroline Cavaye (1968), and future staff member, Elizabeth Hatton (1961). Girls were presented with the cup and usually a book prize, handing the cup back to the School at the end of Speech Day.
In 1971, the cup was not awarded, the beginning of a six-year hiatus. During this time, the prize was always listed in the ‘Special Prizes’ section of the Annual Reports. Then, in 1975, the criteria changed from III Form to Year 10 and was reintroduced in 1977 to Katrina Heer who went on to become a Head Girl in 1979.
Unlike academic awards, the criteria are subjective and, unlike the Ida Woolcock Challenge Cup where the vote is entrusted to Year 11 and 12 students, girls are nominated by their Heads of House, and the vote is made by the staff, not the girls’ contemporaries. Voting is not compulsory; however, staff are encouraged to submit a vote for one girl to the Deputy Principal from a short list of one Year 10 representative from each House. Teachers have the advantage of seeing the students in a range of roles and situations—in class, working with others, on the sporting field, in plays and concerts, in clubs and activities, and simply in day-to-day life in the School grounds. They respect the privilege of being able to vote for a girl whom they believe captures Mrs Topper’s criteria.
Across the years, 62 students have received this valued award with 13 Head Girls and seven Lady Lilley Gold Medal (School Dux) recipients in their number.
In 2022, the 2019 recipient, Jill Campbell (2021), recalls:
‘I remember receiving the Topper Cup very well—I was pretty tickled pink!
For me, the award meant the way I felt about my School, and the way that I valued my relationships with classmates and teachers was respected. I’d always valued giving school a good crack but receiving the Topper Cup was the affirmation I needed to keep up my enthusiasm and School spirit.
I also want to add that I was so proud when my sister, Louise, received this award a few years after me. We are very close, and it is special to share this with her.’
Every student of Girls Grammar is a ‘citizen’ of our special community but there are some who stand up and stand out, displaying what Mrs Topper would call ‘good citizenship’. This sense of service to those around them is not the sole responsibility of the Year 12 students. Every student has the capacity to contribute, and this award is a meaningful recognition of those on the cusp of their senior secondary years that, while academic and the co-curricular excellence is valued and acknowledged, so should we celebrate the example of those who consistently display that Grammar girl spirit of service and make an ‘unselfish’ and, often subtle, contribution to the culture of the School. Perhaps Mrs Elsie Topper, as a teacher of an ancient language, would hope the recipients of her award would agree with Socrates when he said, I am a citizen of the world, and my nationality is goodwill.
Mrs Pauline Harvey-Short (1971)
Manager, School History and Culture
BGGS Board of Trustees correspondence 1949 – 1960
Girls Grammar School Brisbane, Confidential Report Book – for Trustees April 1913.