Objects of Substance- The Climbing Wall

Left foot red! Right foot natural! The Grammar Climbing Wall Having the wall throughout high school introduced me to the world of sport climbing. I was already an avid climbing lover, always scaling trees and fences as a kid, but at the time really had no idea there was a community and sport behind it where walls were specifically designed to challenge like-minded people. This introduction was a key turning point in my life and opened up the beginnings of my professional athletic career. These are the words of Lucy Stirling (2010), Australian Sports Climbing Team athlete and routesetter and coach at Urban Climb. Lucy’s interest in climbing was serendipitous as Lucy’s father, John McLaren “Mac” Stirling was the architect of the McCrae Grassie Sports Centre and the climbing wall.

2008 Lucy Stirling defying gravity in Year 10.

“Mac” Stirling was the Director of PDT Architects, the School’s architects in the 1990s. When asked about the concept of the wall, Mac stated: “When we were designing the BGGS Indoor Sports Centre, in close consultation with then Principal, Mrs. Judith Hancock and yourself and staff, we were lucky to also have the advice of leading Recreation Consultant, Fred Smith, who was previously

head of BCC Department of Recreation, but then ran a consultancy company called Strategic Leisure. Fred, as a dedicated mountaineer and rock climber, had strong links to the then fledgling indoor climbing community on a global scale and during one of our meetings with Mrs Hancock, I advised that the sports centre needed to not only address where sport currently was, but where it was going in the future and that one of the up and coming, new age sports, was Indoor Sports Climbing.” With permission to go forward from the Principal, “Mac” Stirling costed the wall at approximately $70,000. In his words: “The design was revolutionary in that plywood panels would be fixed to a lightweight steel frame as opposed to the older flat, reinforced concrete panels which only offered a vertical slab style of climbing without overhang. The DR Walls are also prefinished in a special textured epoxy paint to the plywood panels and a grid of toggled screw points enables the many different epoxy/plastic hand holds to be changed and new climbing routes designed at any time. As it turned out, our design of the BGGS Indoor Sports Centre had two 10m high reinforced tilt up slabs on the eastern end of the indoor hall building.”

1994 Construction of the climbing wall section of the Sports Centre.

Each panel is 1.2metres square making the wall 7.2 metres wide. The heights vary but, from left to right, they are approximately 12.5m, 10.5m, 10.5m, 10.5m, 11.5m, and 11.5m. This construction allowed for coloured hand holds to be moveable providing multiple climbing routes and the facility

for changing those climbs regularly, usually every two years, to provide school climbers with variety and challenge. An unusual addition to a girls’ school gymnasium and an impactful focus for the opening of the centre, the wall became the envy of many schools and regularly hosted Brisbane Grammar climbers and the SEQ Rock Climbing Championships for two years.

1995 Opening of the McCrae Grassie Sports Centre

One of the most spectacular elements of the opening of the Civil and Civic built McCrae Grassie Sports Centre in 1995 was the inspirational display of a group of Grammar climbers scaling and abseiling off the wall. If there was ever a metaphor for the aspirations the School had for its students, this was it! After this opening, the dominant group to climb was Year 12. There were approximately thirty passionate climbers who were challenged on a weekly basis and, subsequently, it was decided that the first successful climber of a particular climb would be given the right to name that climb. However, the ’95 Seniors determined that they would name each climb as a group. There were six climbs to be named and all were conquered in 1995, except for the tallest and most difficult

on the far left of the wall. And so, by the end of 1995, we had from left to right on the wall, the unnamed climb, Deadset Legend, Sen 95, Purvis 3, Sheer Relief, and Goose.

1995 Year 12 climbers with mentor, coach and co-ordinator, Barry Greatorex.

Those names deserve explanation: Deadset Legend because the 1995 Year 12 climbers felt like that having conquered the climb; Sen 95 in memory of the first climbing group; Purvis 3 after a slight mishap to climber Anna Purvis (1995); Sheer Relief , because it was; and Goose because the climbers wanted a climb named in honour of the Climbing Club co-ordinator and coach, Barry Greatorex, and, to quote Barry, endearingly, they thought he was one! In 1996, the most challenging climb was conquered by Jillian Catt (1996) and the climb was appropriately named Catt’s Walk which remains the most difficult summit for the Grammar climber. Across the years, climbers enjoyed regular holiday excursions, progressing to a real rock face at Kangaroo Point cliffs. Barry Greatorex joked that some girls wondered why there were no coloured holds, but they soon learned to adapt!

What did this activity achieve? Was it an important addition to the physical, mental, and social learnings of the Grammar girl? In Barry Greatorex’s view, “…the wall gave them an opportunity to succeed in a physical and mental activity and to overcome some of their fears. For me it was one of the most rewarding experiences seeing these girls excel.” Lucy Stirling views climbing similarly. “Climbing is about having fun, but also accepting self-doubt, accepting our fears, pushing past them, and trusting ourselves and reaching our goals. Problem solving is a huge factor in climbing and learning how to visualise and trust your body, learning that each failure teaches us something more. I believe these attributes are important in any young person's development.”

2017 Lucy Stirling (2010) competing at the Oceania Sporting Climbing Championship

Climbing and associated skills were not new to Girls Grammar. Extension Education Activities (EEA) offered abseiling within the curriculum. Duke of Edinburgh expeditions and Marrapatta experiences also presented opportunities to climb. However, the climbing wall offered more with its inclusion in the Health and Physical Education curriculum for both Year 8s in their Creative Movement unit with bouldering in the late 1990s and 2000s, and in the elective units for Year 11 Core Physical Education. It took girls out of their comfort zone and introduced them to a completely different recreative and competitive activity: an activity which is now an Olympic sport!

1986 Boarder, Elizabeth Allman, abseiling on the top tennis courts wall as part of EEA Activities.

No doubt visiting families entering the sports centre might first look at the wall and see a piece of art with its colourful hand holds, roughened and moulded surface, and unusual shapes. However, what it does represent is the blood, sweat, and tears expended by many a climber; but it is also a potent symbol of achievement, lessons learned, personal satisfaction, and joy. Perhaps it is appropriate to conclude with the words of Lucy Stirling: “I remember the best days at school were ones where I could challenge myself on that BGGS wall after school and work on my "project climb". Learning the equipment and how to belay safely and even try to eliminate as many plastic holds as possible.”

Lucy Stirling, Blue Mountains. Set In Stone Photography

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

References: BGGS Magazines Rock Climbing 1995 to 2021. Greatorex, B Email messages to author. February 6, 7 and 15, 2023. Stirling, J.M. Email messages to author. February 9, 13, 2023. Stirling, L. Email messages to author. February 10, 2023.

1996 Volleyball and Rhythmic Gymnastics share the gym space with the climbing wall.


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