In 2022, the International Year of Glass, we celebrate one of our special stained-glass windows.
Among the fine arts and antiques that form an integral part of the campus at Brisbane Girls Grammar School, there are several beautiful stained-glass windows that contribute to the aesthetics and history of the School campus. The beautiful, Gailey-designed Main Building is enhanced by a number of these evocative stained-glass windows, the earliest of which dates from 1988 when Year 12 students gifted the window above the Gregory Terrace entry doors. The Principal at the time, Mrs Judith Hancock, had seen such windows in other institutions across Australia and believed they could have a place in adding to the aesthetics of the Gregory Terrace campus, and to the students’ appreciation of the beauty of their environment.
Three years later, in 1991, Mrs Hancock decided that the money raised and donated by the activities of the Mothers Group in 1990 would be used to commission and install another stained-glass window for the Main Building. The theme, in this case, was to commemorate and celebrate the contribution of the School to the education of girls in Queensland, a concept close to the mothers’ hearts.
The position chosen for this arched window, at the turning point of the stairs is most appropriate as it can be seen as visitors enter the School and also be visible from the central Annie Mackay room. This staircase, with its beautiful mahogany balustrades, would have at that period, led up to dormitories for the boarders, which spoke to the access given to all girls in the foundation of the School.
The window depicts, in symbols and images, the many facets of the School and its history of educational offerings. The lighted lamp at the top of the window is key to the narrative here: enlightenment shining through knowledge. For students at this School, knowledge, and wisdom have always come through physical, moral, and spiritual teaching and learning. The window reflects these values long held as the foundational ethos of our School.
Beneath the lamp is a scroll incorporating the year of the foundation of the School—1875—and the emblem of the State of Queensland. This emblem symbolises the government support for a secondary school for girls, the separation of the governance of Brisbane Girls Grammar School from Brisbane Grammar School in 1882, and the authorisation to become an independent entity, focused on its mission to educate young women.
Some images speak to the past and the long history of the School as an academic institution. Students at their desks is an image drawn from an archival photograph. The Beanland Memorial Library bookplate reminds viewers that a Library was, and is, central to student learning. The Lady Lilley Medal image, a medal first struck in 1883 and awarded today to the Dux of the School, pays tribute to the enormous contribution of Sir Charles and Lady Lilley in establishing and promoting a school to cater to the education of young women beyond the social niceties of sewing and serving in a domestic domain.
Other images represent the innovative approach Girls Grammar has had to curricula and approaches to learning. Science and technology were incorporated early into the curriculum. Laboratory facilities for Science, previously unheard of in a girls’ school, extended and enriched the possibilities for girls and their futures. Hence, the inclusion of the motifs that represent scientific studies: globe; pen; test tube; and textbooks. Balancing the image of the students of the past sitting quietly at their desks is the image of computer technology in the 1991 classroom. This image was speaking to a future. While the image of the rather bulky 20th-century computer may seem outdated and quaint to our 21st-century eyes, the introduction of this technology in the 1980s, showed the courage of the Principal, the Board, and the School community in committing to innovative approaches to an education that was deep, rich, and forever forward-looking.
The bottom image in the window depicts a 1920s-era high jumper, wearing the babushka of the time, confirming the underpinning role of sport and physical activity in the holistic education of all students. It is not farfetched to say that this athlete also symbolises the School motto about working hard in order to be able to aim high.
The window designs were created and crafted by renowned glass artists, Tony and Jude Vaughan, using historical photographs illuminating key elements in the philosophy of the School. The colours of the window include red and gold, the academic colours of Brisbane Grammar School and a recognition of Girls Grammar’s links to the School from which it was established. Also prominent is Brisbane Girls Grammar School’s own colour of royal blue and the green and gold of Australia. The flora of eucalyptus and golden wattle, so iconic to Australia, feature in the design. Motifs representing the fields of education and endeavour, in which students of Girls Grammar have gone on to play important roles, are portrayed in the scales of justice, symbolising law, the mask reflecting the arts, and commerce appearing in the image of the abacus.
On 21 October 1991, the window was unveiled and dedicated by Yvonne Bain AM. It was fitting that Mrs Bain dedicated the window, as she was a past student (1945), past parent, and past member of the Board of Trustees. She was also prominent in roles in Queensland and national associations that were committed to the arts and education of women.
While the Main Building is no longer a boarding house, it remains a central part of the history and everyday operation of the School, currently serving both administrative and teaching and learning purposes. The window, placed so prominently, continues to be part of this building, the heart of the life of the School. Grammar girls since 1991, and those who arrive in the future, owe a debt of gratitude to those who imagined and realised this emblematic artwork replete with treasured images of the history and philosophy of the School.
Mrs Lorraine Thornquist (Williams, 1967)
1991 BGGS Magazine