Celebrating 100 Years
St Hilda’s School, located at Southport on the Gold Coast, has reached its centenary milestone of 2012. However, the School’s true origins do not lie on the Gold Coast but at Ipswich where in 1880, Mrs Ann and Miss Helena Davenport opened their small and almost forgotten private school for girls, Goy-Te-Lea. By 1882, Ipswich had plans for a much bigger school - Ipswich Girls’ Grammar – and the Davenports with students in tow, boarded the paddle steamer President and re-located Goy-Te-Lea to Southport.
In 1911, Helena Davenport’s decision to sell Goy-Te-Lea proved timely for Archbishop Donaldson who was looking for a suitable place by the sea to start a Church of England School for Girls. He generously consented to advance the money out of his own pocket and the Diocesan Council approved the £1800 purchase. Charged with Archbishop Donaldson’s plea, ‘I wish we could persuade you to take it on yourself,’ Miss Catherine Bourne gave up her long-standing position as Headmistress of Maryborough Girls’ Grammar to become St Hilda’s first Headmistress. Challenged by what she described as ‘a struggling private enterprise,’ Catherine Bourne opened St Hilda’s doors in 1912. On that memorable first day, in a weatherboard house on the corner of Bay and Davenport Streets, Southport, 23 boarders sat at their desks.
To single out any one student is difficult but Amelia Lillian (Lily) Anderson, a boarder from Eureka near Lismore springs to mind. Born in 1899, Lily aged 12 years appears on the 1912 roll. Unaccompanied, her journey was no small undertaking. Before dawn she harnessed the horse and sulky and travelled to the nearest railway station at Nashua – eight miles away. On arrival by train at Murwillumbah, she engaged a horse cab which took her to South Tweed Heads and from the Tweed, she continued over the border by river boat to St Hilda’s School at Southport. For girls like Lily, St Hilda’s opened up horizons to public examinations, sea bathing, boating, tennis, divinity, history, classical dance, dressmaking, typewriting and bookkeeping, painting and wood carving, Latin, French, elocution, arithmetic, geometry and algebra, botany, geology and physiology.
By 1915, St Hilda’s had grown to 56 boarders and it was clear that the existing premises could not cope with further increases. Spending £1000 pounds of her own money, Catherine Bourne purchased 25 acres of bushland ‘up on the hill’ at High Street, Southport and petitioned the Church to erect a ‘proper brick boarding school’ upon the site. In 1917, the still impressive Whitby building was completed at cost of £13,000 and Catherine Bourne generously gifted title to the High Street land to the Diocesan Council. Instantly recognised as a Southport landmark, newspapers of the day boasted of St Hilda’s wide verandas, lofty and airy dormitories for up to 80 boarders, electric lights, septic tank, overhead tanks, ground wells, a bore and tennis courts...
Notable school ‘firsts’ include Clarice Andrews who, for the administration fee of £2 passed the 1917 Queensland Public Senior Examination and Moira McCullough, who won an open scholarship to the University of Queensland achieving fifth place overall and highest pass from a girls’ school in Queensland for the 1929 Senior Examination. St Hilda’s School grew resilient during World Wars and the Great Depression. When the 1919 flu epidemic came close to the school gate, a 10-week quarantine denied the girls visitors and home leave during term vacation. To overcome boredom, resourceful mistresses introduced the sport of Captain Ball. How could they foresee, that one day Ballgames would become an inter-school competition (withdrawn in 1996) and that today, St Hilda’s is home to the Queensland Girls’ Secondary Schools Sports Association (QGSSSA) trophy for the sport.
During World War II, every student was instructed to knit socks for the soldiers, fetes raised money for the Red Cross and donations were made to the Wounded Soldiers’ Fund. In 1940, the Queensland Government ordered the closure of all coastal schools and Headmistress Winifred Fittock re-located girls, belongings and willing staff first to The Glennie school in Toowoomba and later to the Rogerson family’s Pikedale homestead near Stanthorpe. When the all clear was sounded for the return to Southport, Toowoomba Preparatory School had taken up residence at St Hilda’s School and so, for a short period of time, St Hilda’s lays claim to ‘Old Boys’.
Some lesser known curiosities of St Hilda’s School include raising cows, pigs, chickens, donkeys, kangaroo, wallabies and aviary birds, the long-gone nine-hole golf course, the innovative 1920 Kodak Club and hosting of the British Olympic swim team in training for the 2000 Games.