Audax et Fidelis—bold but faithful: the Grammar banner

When this year’s Swimming Captains held the 1984 banner and led the team at the QGSSSA Swimming Carnival, they participated in their version of a broader ritual that has been observed in the School for nearly 150 years. Over the years, thousands of Grammar girls have gathered, marched, and cheered together behind banners and standards.

Early in Term 1 of 2023, as in previous years, the Brisbane Girls Grammar School Swimming team disembarked from the buses that had carried them to the Chandler Aquatic Centre (now Brisbane Aquatic Centre). They were there to compete in the QGSSSA Inter-school Swimming Carnival. It is not difficult to imagine the girls’ excitement as they formed in lines, ready to march as a team into the venue, already chanting and cheering (perhaps hoping to be heard before they were seen). Notably, the School’s contingent was led by the Swimming Captains and in their hands—held proudly—a Brisbane Girls Grammar School banner that is nearly 40 years old.

The banner was a gift to the School from the Year 12 cohort of 1984 and was presented to Principal, Mrs Judith Hancock, by Head Girls, Ann Harrap and Christine Farmer. It is a charmingly crafted piece. Measuring 175 x 90 centimetres, it is constructed of royal blue and white flag linen. The white crest and school name are hand-cut and have been sewn onto the royal blue fabric. The lettering uses the then formally accepted nomenclature—Girls’ Grammar School Brisbane—in a Blackletter or Gothic script font. Its shape is maintained as it hangs from an ornate timber rod. The base of the banner is embellished with tassels and, perhaps with a nod to the success that it was hoped the banner might inspire, a laurel victory wreath surrounds the School crest.

Swimming Captains Marina Abu Shamaleh (12G) and Brooke Tolhurst (12G) holding the 1984 School banner at QGSSSA in 2023

From the outset, it was designed to be a formal and decorative banner. Beyond its investiture, it made its first recorded appearance at the 1988 Speech Day, perfectly placed behind Mrs Hancock as she addressed the audience, and it undoubtedly lends the proceeding additional gravitas. The banner seems quite quickly to have been co-opted for less ceremonial occasions as well. Less than a year after the formality of Speech Day, the banner was pictured being held (but not completely clear of the grass) by the Girls Grammar Ball Games team. This is perhaps the time that it began its dual life as both a working banner (leading the charge at QG carnivals) and a decorative one. Unfortunately, these two roles are not always compatible and, with the original beginning to show signs of wear, in 1997 it was decided to replicate the banner keeping the new one for formal occasions and using the older one for sport. In 2006, then Principal, Dr Amanda Bell, commissioned a third banner—featuring the School’s contemporary crest and wordmark. The newest banner is displayed in the Gehrmann Theatre and was proudly donated by the Parents & Friends Association.

It is, of course, not the only banner to have been carried by Grammar girls and the School holds many others in its archives. A favourite is the large (400 x 200 centimetres), decades-old banner that is simply adorned with ‘B.G.G.S.’. Striking in its simplicity, and large enough to be seen from a great distance, it too has been carried into sports venues and hung from railings to proudly proclaim our presence. Possibly the most innovative use of this large banner came from Mrs Alice Dabelstein, the Cross Country Coordinator throughout the early 2000s. Mrs Dabelstein used to lay it out on the last heart-breaking incline just before the home stretch at the QGSSSA Cross Country course at Limestone Park in Ipswich. Just as the Girls Grammar runners thought they had given their all, the sight of the banner that close to the finish line reminded them that they still had more to give. It was a none-too-subtle prompt—a visual reminder for each girl to continue to work hard until the very end of the race.

The most intriguing ‘banners’ are also those that we know the least about. These objects, resembling those carried by Roman soldiers, are better described as standards. In the Roman Army, where only the best soldiers would be picked to be standard-bearers, these objects became very important sacred symbols that went beyond identifying the units (Segedunum Roman Fort, 2022). These Girls Grammar standards featured hand-painted, brightly coloured School crests on wooden boards (mainly in the shape of scallop-edged shields), supported by an attached staff that allowed the shield to be held aloft or to support a banner held between two standards.

The first documented image of one of these standards is from an Athletics photo from 1924. The girls are resplendent in bloomers and babushkas (bandannas) while, in the top right-hand corner, the standard is held aloft. This standard was to be the first of many. By 1926, a different standard appears. It is shaped differently from the original, but it too had a short lifespan. A third standard emerges in 1932. The shape of the shield is more consistent with the original 1924 shield; however, there are some subtle yet noticeable differences in the School crest. This 1932 standard appears to have had a long and active life with it having been photographed through to 1961. Often adorned with ribbons, it rallied supporters on the sidelines, it featured prominently in team photographs, and was held proudly as Grammar girls entered fields of competition in the march past. One photograph from 1941 shows the athletics teams from Brisbane Girls Grammar School, Clayfield College, Somerville House, St Margaret’s Anglican Girls School, and Brisbane State High School, each with their own version of a standard.

The style changed again in 1962, with the shield now sporting a narrower waist and a less pronounced scalloped top edge. The evidence indicates that this iteration was active from 1962 through to, at least, 1985 when it appears in a photograph with members of the senior Ball Games team. This standard differs from the others in that we know that there were two of them. These were identical standards that could be used to support a banner, as seen in the photograph of Grammar girls participating in the 1970 Commonwealth Youth March. Finally, a different style appears for a short time from 1967 through to 1970. This standard has a white border and is more square-shaped in comparison to previous iterations. Unfortunately, the School does not have any of these standards in its archives. As is the case with many items that have high use, they sometimes wear out or break and are thrown away. Perhaps they were regarded as being disposable and replaceable? It seems unlikely, given the prominent role they were given at the front of the team. It is possible that they went out of fashion, were put aside, and replaced by hanging banners that looked modern and could be placed more prominently.

Brisbane Girls Grammar School has always carefully managed the delicate balance that comes with a desire to both maintain traditions and embrace innovation. The School is currently engaged in the process of acquiring new banners (including the manufacturing of new standards that will be made by students in our very own design studios). These banners and standards will be of their time, just as the banners and standards of the past were. The new ones will be made from modern materials, using modern techniques like sublimation and laser etching but, importantly, they will be connected to the banners of the past, sharing similar design elements. When this year’s Swimming Captains held the 1984 banner and led the team at the QGSSSA Swimming Carnival, they participated in their version of a broader ritual that has been observed in the School for nearly 150 years. Over the years, thousands of Grammar girls have gathered, marched, and cheered together behind banners and standards. Each of these banners is, quite literally, a piece of the School that the students can rally behind—a tangible reminder of who and what they represent. Gathering in concert behind the banner is just one of the ways that Grammar girls confirm to the members of our community that they value the achievements of the past, even as they look most expectantly to the future.

Mr Stephen Fogarty
Director of Health and Physical Education

Reference List

Segedunum Roman Fort. (2022). Standard Bearers.