Objects of Substance - Dinner Sixth Forms

A celebration and a farewell: the program for the Fifth Annual Dinner for the Sixth Forms of 1967

Sometimes it is astonishing how those apparently uninspiring and often overlooked items can trigger vivid memories. It is also fascinating to be confronted with just how much these same items bring home the significant changes that have occurred unnoticed since you were a schoolgirl. For me, this happened when I opened the one-page, Gestetnered [and that, in itself, is a technology most people might not know in 2023] program for what was my “Fifth Annual Dinner for the Sixth Forms of 1967”. This single piece of folded paper belied its bland, faded appearance: it turned out to be rich in historical detail and triggered some long-thought-forgotten memories. Firstly, I did not know that my dinner was the fifth one held. A little research revealed that, in the 1963 Annual Report, the Headmistress [as she was deemed then], Louise McDonald, wrote that one of the innovations of that year was the “Sixth Form Dinner. This was made possible by the generosity of the Parents and Friends Association. Each girl was accompanied by one parent and staff were also guests. The guest speaker was Dr Beryl Hinckley (1931), another distinguished Old Girl of the School.” (1963 Annual Report) Dr Hinckley was indeed “distinguished”, a Grammar girl who worked as a teacher until she could fund her medical studies and who, while practising as a gynaecologist, was also a committed contributor to a wide range of community causes and welfare. What was a relatively low-key, in-house meal for mothers and their daughters – because I remember no fathers attending my 1967 event – has become the much grander Valedictory Dinner, like the one held this week. When I think back, it was held very late in the year, and I am guessing that it was after the conclusion of the external Senior examination schedule. The date on the program would appear to verify this. It felt to me, at the time, to be a symbolic exit from my schoolgirl life – and a glimpse into the adult world beyond the safe and predictable realm behind the picket fence. Perhaps the fact that we wore “grown-up” dresses, not uniforms, reinforced that idea. For some reason I remember what I wore – and little else about the evening. My dress was white silk with a sequined bodice. I know I felt very mature. How short-sighted a 16-year-old can be! Indeed, for this dinner and many of those that followed, Grammar girls donned semi-formal attire. I remember my daughter wore a red dress to her Valedictory Dinner in 1998.

2023 Valedictory Dinner 56 years later: a much more gala event.

Clothing is metaphorical. The dress code for these end of year 12 dinners seemed to signal that point in a girls’ life when the next year offered a totally new experience: for my year, university, teachers’ college, nursing quarters, the workforce? A plethora of possibilities seemed ahead of us. Accepted attire changed over thirty years later. The decision that Grammar girls should wear their uniforms occurred in 1999, under the principalship of Judith Hancock. I remember, as a staff member, that part of the rationale for this change was that the girls were still students of the School and the Valedictory Dinner and the End of Year Assembly and Prizegiving were the final two significant events of their school lives and should be celebrated as such. The second aspect of note gleaned from this 1967 program is that it was held at School, in the “Main Hall” and the “Gymnasium” – what are now known as the Annie Mackay Room in the Main Building, and the auditorium building that was demolished in 2006. The program, entitled “MENU”, “ORDER OF TOASTS” and “SPEECHES” reveals an obvious effort to create a memorable occasion – with the pale blue paper, details of the events of the evening, and the hand-drawn badge. Its formality of tone is obvious. As the School population grew, an on-site dinner became problematic and, in 1972, the first off-site venue, the Endeavour Room at David Jones in The Valley, was used.

Inside the 1967 program, the formalities were listed: grace, said by the Second Mistress, Miss Doreen Thomas; the loyal toast, interestingly with no person designated; the School toast, a number of addresses by important members of the School community, and two votes of thanks. [Head Girls still have a role to play right until the very end.] The national anthem, God Save the Queen, played by student, Annice Cummins, closed proceedings. It occurs to me that Australia has changed considerably from 1967. The conventional 1967 indication of a single religion and two acknowledgements of the Queen feel very traditional, even anachronistic, to the 2023 me.

The intended formality of the occasion was perhaps at odds with the informality of the rather modest menu. The food was catered by the mothers, although this was not acknowledged in the program. I know this because my mother was involved in this 1967 dinner and my sister’s four years later. I even helped set up, serve, and clean up, at that event in 1971. I am sure that, in 1967, meat balls, salad, and trifle were considered options, knowing the paucity of kitchen facilities in the auditorium. There are aspects of this event, however, that have not changed from the inaugural one in 1963. Significantly, the dinner was sponsored and hosted by the generosity of the Parents and Friends’ Association – and it is to this day. This Association has always contributed so much, and so liberally, to the school experience of their daughters.

2021: Parents and Friends gift and the Old Girls complimentary membership badge

Official 1967 attendees included senior staff, representatives of the Old Girls, the Parents and Friends, the Trustees, and a guest speaker. The tradition that the guest speaker should be a past student was obviously established at the outset and, despite a period when outside speakers were invited, the guest speaker has always been a past student since 1990. How fortunate was my year to have Grammar’s illustrious alumnus, Professor Dorothy Hill, address us? A second 1967 program from our archive reveals the names of some of the staff in attendance. Sue Jordan [1967] collected a full page of autographs and included were those of staff members Marjorie Neil, Anne Walton, Heather Tuckett, Susanne Heindorff, and Elizabeth Hatton.

The back page of Sue Jordan’s program with teachers’ signatures

Perhaps the most appropriate and obvious change is that, instead of one parent, both parents have attended since 1972 to celebrate the end of one daughter’s years at the School. I would have loved my father to have attended my dinner, and I know how my husband attended our daughter’s event in 1998 with such pride. This program is the only one of two donated to our archives from the earlier years of this event and belonged to my Form 6A schoolfriend, Wendy Clarke. On the back was a place for the autographs she collected. While this activity was of the moment, the autographs written by students and staff on the back of such programs as these are immensely valuable to the School as they verify student names and provide nicknames that may not be noted anywhere else. Since 2006 the random autographs on programs the archive may never see has been replaced by the Valedictory Register with its blue leather cover. It chronicles every Year 12 student in hand-drawn calligraphy by Trisha Smout. The Head Girls and the year motto are clearly designated.

2008: Valedictory Register

2017: Lucinda Duke (Head Girl), guest speaker, Lieutenant Natalie Davies (2006), and Elizabeth Prins (Head Girl) The program to celebrate the end of secondary school life in 2023 looks much more professional, but perhaps it is not that different from Wendy’s 1967 memento. Both documents capture specifics of an event: one of those moments in time that are experienced and celebrated and then remembered with a complexity of emotions. I have attended many Valedictory dinners as a staff member, often being invited to sit with my students and their parents, and what I take away from these times is the sense of community: everyone on the room is a member of a special family but one that will never meet like this ever again. Kristine Cooke [Harvey 1967] English teacher


McDonald, L. BGGS [1963] Brisbane Girls Grammar School Annual Report

2021 Valedictory Register

2023 Valedictory Table setting.

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