Shouldering history: the Grammar sling bag

In 2013, a small pilot group of students were testing the BYOD (Bring Your Own Device) concept. As a result of this successful trial, in 2014, the laptop became compulsory for each Girls Grammar student. This, coupled with textbooks, writing gear, notepaper, and any other item deemed necessary by a teacher or student, confronted each girl with a serious juggling act as she climbed the CLC steps from Instrumental Music on level one to her Art class on level six or ran up Gehrmann Lane from Physical Education to the Science block.

Grammar students are always resourceful and so one solution was to carry the load in a kaleidoscope of bags: Country Road canvas bags; Sportsgirl sling bags; shopping bags; and other colourful combinations. Not a good look!

As a current mother in 2014 and Old Girls Association (OGA) Executive member, Salliann Powell (Johnson, 1986), put her creativity to work to produce a range of attractive memorabilia for the OGA and provide a practical solution for the unattractive plethora of casual bags being carried between classes.

2014 Original bag design

The concept of a sling bag was common enough; however, what could be put on it to make it attractive, Girls Grammar identifiable, School approved, and make Grammar Women proud to use it?

While attending a Grammar reunion late in 2013, Salliann was talking with Grace Cochrane (2014), one of the Year 11 volunteers who assisted the OGA at their various events and functions. When standing in front of the Cherrell Hirst Creative Learning Centre’s wall displaying The Intent, Salliann mentioned to Grace how much she liked the words so centrally and elegantly presented. She asked Grace if these words resonated as strongly with her, and Grace responded that, in reality, it was the war cry that truly bonded Grammar girls. Regardless of what decade the Grammar girl, the war cry was known, remembered, and repeated with gusto not only while at School but also at reunions. It is a thread that binds all Grammar girls together.

2013 The Intent

The history of the war cry is difficult to research, as it was passed on by word of mouth rather than written down. However, with the formalising of competitive sport in 1908 and the establishment of the Queensland Girls Secondary Schools Sports Association (QGSSSA), a ‘call to arms’ was deemed necessary by the girls of the 1920s. In an interview in 1973, Old Girl and BGGS English Teacher, Marjorie Elliott (1922), spoke about the creation of the war cry in 1923 by the form group of her younger sister, Phyllis (1924).

The first written reference to a war cry is found in the 1919 School Magazine when Ellen Doak (1922) wrote a poem commencing with the words:

Go it, Grammar! Blue! Blue! Blue!

The sound swells up in th’ Assembly Hall,

And echoes loud from wall to wall,

This shout that erst our old girls knew,

Go it Grammar! Blue! Blue! Blue!

This is our war cry, with which we strive

To make th’ old Grammar the best school alive…

It is this phase of Go it, Grammar! Blue! Blue! Blue! which survived the creation of the full war cry in 1923 and became Come on Grammar! Blue! Blue! Blue! across the years. Interestingly, in the 2013 design of the calico bag, nearly 100 years later, this phrase was emphasised in a larger font.

It was Grace’s war cry comment which impacted Salliann most strongly and she then decided to suggest to the OGA committee that the war cry would be the perfect choice for printing on the calico bag she was planning.

With approval from the committee, a design was created after a lengthy discussion. The result was a cream, single-strap calico sling bag with the war cry screen-printed onto the front in royal blue. It measured 41.5 cm x 41.5 cm with a 98 cm strap. Not to waste a good idea, the OGA also printed a war cry tea towel and elegant letterpress, both framed and unframed. The company, Ecoshopper, produced a run of 300 bags in 2014.

As the popularity and convenience of the calico bag grew, shortcomings of the structure of this version presented themselves. Parents complained of the fragility of the bag and the narrowness of the strap, and the Principal was concerned about the light colour showing every mark. The calico bag became a victim of its own popularity as girls used it daily and crammed more and more items into it. It soon showed wear and tear.

So, in 2016, the P&F Uniform Shop suggested design changes that included two straps and a thicker fabric. The dimensions were: height, 40 cm; width, 38 cm; and straps, 65c m with a subtly different shape to better accommodate a computer. The manufacturer of this version was Weareco. The bag was still cream with royal blue printing and the shop continued to sell it on behalf of the OGA.

2016 calico bag—two straps

At this point the bag was not a compulsory item; however, the School ruled that only Grammar-approved bags could be used on excursions or on Speech Day, and, as the sling bag was so popular, more girls opted to purchase it.

In November 2020, the OGA minutes recorded that Mrs Julie Caton (1981), President, tabled the concept of a navy bag with white printing after meeting with the Principal, Ms Jacinda Euler. The motivation for the colour change to a navy bag rather than cream calico stemmed from the concern about the grubby appearance many of the sling bags had acquired. The Enrolments Department also expressed the less-than-appealing look of the well-used cream version when introducing new families to the Gregory Terrace campus.

2023 Year 8 Calico Book Bag

Thus, the next iteration of calico sling bags was introduced in 2021, with approval occurring in January by then Dean of Students, Mrs Emma Lowry. The first navy versions were purchased in July 2021. Since this date 1735 bags have been purchased, a testament to their popularity. Although not officially compulsory, the sling bag is found in the P&F Uniform Shop’s ‘fitting-basket’ list and thus future Grammar girls commence their six years in possession of the navy war cry bag.

The OGA is very proud of the introduction of the calico bag and owes much to Salliann Powell. The revenue contributes substantially to OGA funds and, as President, Mrs Julie Caton (1981), states, it ‘allows the OGA to “give back” to the School community and continue meaningful engagement with both Grammar girls and Grammar Women’. As for the P&F Uniform Shop, they just wished they had thought of it first!

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

The original calico bag (detail)


BGGS Magazine “Go it Grammar! Blue! Blue! Blue!” 1919 p16.

BGGSOGA Minutes 2013-2020.

Caton, Julie Emails to the author. February 3,15, 2023.

Goodman, Rebecca Emails to the author. February 14, 2023.

Powell, Salliann Emails to the author. October 2013, November 2013, February 14 2023.


Goodman, Rebecca “The Calico Sling Bag” Interviewed by author. February 15, 2023.

Powell, Salliann “The Calico Sling Bag” Telephone interview by author. February 14, 2023.

2023—Dana Jackson (8M), Maddison Cheng (8W) and Caley Mahon (8W)