Some guests at the 2021 Brisbane Girls Grammar School Annual Speech Day and Distribution of Prizes may have been surprised to see Governor of Queensland, Her Excellency the Honourable Dr Jeannette Young PSM, in attendance, and assisting with prize giving. But this is no new initiative—the Governors of Queensland have maintained a significant role in the life of Girls Grammar since its establishment.
In 1860 Brisbane was, as one Girls Grammar alumna, Bertha Burdoff (1878), reflected, ‘little more than a village, without trams, electric light, motor-cars, moving-pictures: with no Technical College and no University’ (Burdoff, 1925). The streets were unpaved, and unlit until gas lighting was introduced in 1864, while water supply was unreliable until major reservoirs were constructed throughout the early twentieth century (Miller, 2014). The creation of a Grammar school during such colonial times was an investment in the future of what a frontier town like Brisbane could become.
The Grammar Schools Act provided not only the mechanism for funding a school, but defined a clear relationship with the state government, the monarchy, and the British empire. The Governor, as the representative of the Crown, provided ongoing legitimacy, as well as functional oversight. Until 1975, the Governor of Queensland selected, through the Department of Public Instruction, four government representatives to the School’s Board of Trustees, and appointed the three remaining members (Grammar Schools Act 1975). Under the current Act, the Governor is the Official Visitor to Brisbane Girls Grammar School, and still formally appoints the School’s Trustees, as elected by either the relevant Queensland Government minister or subscribers (Grammar Schools Act 2016).
More than this legal connection, the Governors have also played an important role in the daily life of the School. There are many occasions when our special guest has graced the School grounds but there are two events that are especially important: the opening of new buildings and Speech Day and Annual Prizegiving. Taken in 1915, the photograph (below) shows Major Sir Hamilton Goold-Adams GCMG, in his first year as Governor, opening a new building, the ground floor of what is now W block. These classrooms provided essential extra space for the expanding School. One cannot help but reflect on the weight his presence at this 1915 occasion must have carried, against a backdrop of a rapidly escalating world war. What a sign of hope for the future amid a global conflict.
This tradition has continued. In 2020, the newest Girls Grammar building was opened by our Official Visitor. His Excellency the Honourable Paul de Jersey AC, Governor of Queensland, opened the Science Learning Centre on Tuesday 20 October. In a little more than 100 years, the nation’s relationship to the Crown has changed markedly but the traditional link the Governor has with our School offers a sense of history and continuity no matter the crises faced.
Each year since the School opened, Governors have also been invited to the annual prize giving events. Initially held in conjunction with Brisbane Grammar School, from 1927, Girls Grammar hosted its own separate ceremony. Of course, on this auspicious occasion, our Official Visitor, His Excellency the Governor, Sir John Goodwin, accompanied by Lady Goodwin, was the first Governor to distribute our own annual prizes. It was often the case that the Governor’s wife was tasked with the presentation of prizes. Kristine Harvey (1967) remembers vividly that her mother had to rush out to purchase white, wrist-length gloves—to match her white Speech Day dress—so that she could shake hands and curtsy to receive her prize from Lady May Abel-Smith, the wife of the then-Governor. She recalls how protocol was strongly stressed and that curtsy practice occurred.
From their first moments in the School, Brisbane Girls Grammar School students learn that they are part of something—in fact, many things—larger than themselves: a legacy of education that opens doors to unending exploration; an institution tied to the very fabric of the state; a greater historical tradition that still connects Australia to the Crown, the Commonwealth, and the world at large. The governor’s role as Official Visitor is a reminder of the honour, the significance, and the possibilities offered a Grammar girl.
One such articulation of this potential was delivered by His Excellency, Lieutenant General Sir John Goodwin, KCB, KCMG, DSO, at the Girls Grammar Annual Speech Day and Distribution of Prizes in 1929:
‘I think Queensland girls have a better chance—a better outlook—than girls in any part of the world I have seen. They are brought up with great independence of spirit, and will be well fitted to take their place in life, and make good.’ (Goodwin, in Public Spirit, 1929).
Long may our ‘special guest’ maintain such belief in the School and confidence in Grammar girls to make a difference in the world.
Ms Keziah Sydes
Senior Communications Officer
Burdoff, B. (1925). Brisbane Girls Grammar School Magazine. Brisbane Girls Grammar School.
De Jersey, P. (2018, February). Governor of Queensland to Jacinda Euler, February 2018. [Letter].
Euler, J. (2016, 9 May). Jacinda Euler to Governor of Queensland, 9 May, 2016. [Letter].
Grammar Schools Act 1975 (QLD). (Aus). Retrieved from https://www.legislation.qld.gov.au/view/pdf/2009-12-01/act-1975-042/lh
Grammar Schools Act 2016 (QLD). (Aus). Retrieved from https://www.legislation.qld.gov.au/view/pdf/inforc e/2017-01-01/act-2016-052
Hamilton, R. (2015, 11 August). Brisbane Exhibition 1915. John Oxley Library Blog. https://www.slq.qld.gov.au/blog/brisbane-exhibition-1915
Miller, S. (2014, 21 July). Electric city : trams and power in Brisbane. John Oxley Library Blog. https://www.slq.qld.gov.au/blog/electric-city-trams-and-power-brisbane
Miller, S. (2014, 13 May). Water for a thirsty city. John Oxley Library Blog. https://www.slq.qld.gov.au/blog/water-thirsty-city
Public Spirit – Upholding High Traditions. Girls’ Grammar School. (1929, 14 December). Brisbane Courier, 29. Retrieved from https://trove.nla.gov.au/newspaper/article/21470567
(n.d.). Role of the Governor. Government House Queensland. https://www.govhouse.qld.gov.au/the-governor-of-queensland/about-the-governor/role-of-the-governor