Friends of Grossmann & Brough Houses presents

The Maitland Girls High School Oral History Project

The Oral History Project

The Maitland Girls High School Oral History Project documents the memories of day girls and boarders who attended Maitland Girls High School between the years 1937—1967.  MGHS commenced at Grossmann House (formerly Entcliffe House) in 1894, continuing there until 1963. The MGHS hostel opened in Brough House in 1919 and closed in 1969.

A brief history

Grossmann House was built as Entcliffe for Isaac Beckett, a successful Maitland merchant, in 1870. Its twin building, Brough House was built for business partner Samuel Owens at the same time. In 1893 the Department of Public Instruction resumed Entcliffe to become Maitland Girls High School (MGHS). It was a large house and close to the railway station. Classes began in 1894 with approximately 50 students. 

The principal Miss Janette Grossmann, a Master of Arts graduate form Christchurch, New Zealand, raised the profile of Maitland Girls High School to become an elite secondary girl’s school in NSW.  Miss Grossmann and her mother and sister lived upstairs, and classes were held downstairs.


In 1919 Brough House was added to the school as the Hostel for country girls. From small beginnings MGHS ended in 1963 as a First Class High School with over 800 students and more than 30 teachers. The campus spread across the site which now comprises Maitland Public School bound by Church / Scotia / Elgin / Olive Streets.


Teacher Hilma Ellis explained that the school buildings …. scattered around the playground. All the teachers had to have a nice umbrella for the heat to get from the staffroom to the lessons.   

Often mentioned by our interviewees was the Black Bean tree behind Grossmann House and the Jacaranda in the playground offering shade.


With the exception of St Mary’s Church Hall and the Domestic Science House, all of the buildings of Maitland Girls High School are still standing. Scotia Street disappeared in the development of the shopping centre Pender Place. 

The hall, was used often for concerts, physical education, choral practice and some large assemblies. A gate on the school side led to the hall and students were ushered across narrow Scotia Street.


By the time most of our interviewees attended Maitland Girls High School, between 1939 and 1963, the Secondary Education component of the West Maitland Superior School had been altered.

In 1939 the Domestic Science girls moved to the High School and the boys in the Technical School were sent to Maitland Boys' High School. This released Pender House to Maitland Girls High School and McKenzie House on the corner of Olive and Church Streets to the Primary school. 


Across Olive Street on the corner of Elgin Street was the Home Economic Department where the girls learned about cooking, with student Maurine Osborn noting that the classes were quite useful for when she married.


Pender House was where the majority of classes were held, and also contained the library and the office of the Headmistress. A few interviewees recollected the bare boards in classrooms and the difficult job it would have been for the school cleaner with just a broom, mop and bucket.


Parkes House was the dedicated science block after 1939, although student Pat Barden remembers that in her time the Science Room was on the Church Street side of Grossmann House with tall desks and bunsen burners. Situated on the corner of Olive and Elgin Streets, Parkes House tended to be the home of the science staff, with 2 labs and a large table where teachers could do their marking.

Scobie House was used variously for opportunity classes and commercial subjects.


Students ventured from the school grounds to buy lunch at the Calooda Café on the corner of Steam and Church Streets, and also from the shop on the corner of Bulwer and Olive Streets.

Grossmann House

From the 1940s to the 1960s, Grossmann House was used primarily for teacher staff rooms and senior classrooms. Staff rooms and a sick bay were located downstairs, with senior classrooms and a prefects’ room situated upstairs. 

The junior girls mostly only visited to talk to a teacher. Val Randall recalls that the only time we went there was when you had to give letters from our mothers to allow you to go down the street. 

The Deputy Principal had her office in the Grossmann House building, and Mary Wilkes recollects that students were sent there if they were naughty

The current kitchen of Grossmann House was in use as a staff room with approximately ten teachers working around a large table. Science/biology teacher, Hilma Ellis, describes the knocking codes used by students to ask for a particular physical education teacher, they had to knock two or three times depending on which teacher. 

There was another large staffroom downstairs comprising the current dining room, box room and butler’s pantry. The walls between these rooms had been removed to create a bigger room to house the teaching staff. 

The present drawing and morning rooms had been converted into one large room. It was used at one time as a sickroom, with three iron beds and double glass doors leading to the back verandah. This room had previously been in use as a library, and a book storeroom had been built on the back verandah.

Upstairs were small classrooms used for senior classes such as languages and art. Margaret Guy recalls that the art room was one large room where the current bedroom and textile storeroom are located. She remembers there was no running water, and that buckets of water had to be obtained from a tap in the playground and carried upstairs, and then downstairs again to be emptied at the end of the lesson. 

June Bates and Pauline Fairhall recalled classes in Room 14, above the teachers’ staffroom downstairs, where you could look across Church Street to a boarding house and watch the shenanigans going on. The prefects’ room was also located upstairs, directly above the teachers’ staffroom. Joy Poole remembered an occasion when a message came up to say could you all quieten down, we don’t like plaster in our sandwiches. 

Lyn Richards described her reaction when asked to take a message to a teacher upstairs at Grossmann House. On the landing was an impressive portrait of Miss Grossmann. I don’t know how many girls would have made that trip. Lyn felt very privileged to have had the experience. 

In 1963, MGHS relocated from Church St Maitland to East Maitland. In 1987 the school merged with Maitland Boys High and was renamed Maitland Grossmann High School. The hostel in Brough House closed in 1969, after housing country girls for fifty years. 

In 1964 the Education Department granted permissive occupancy of Grossmann House to the National Trust, and a Victorian house museum was established within the internal structure left by the school. In 2001, the National Trust undertook a major building project to restore Grossmann House to its original 1870 floorplan and to further develop the property as a house museum. 

Getting to school

Getting to school was a chance to spend time with friends.  June Bates walked to school from Horseshoe Bend with her friend Jan.  Sometimes on the way home they would call in to see her father who worked at Fry Bros, and he would give June a few pennies and they would buy a potato scallop to share.


Val Randall had a long way to travel, catching the 7.15 Singleton train from Greta, and the 4.15 train home in the afternoon, getting home late. In wintertime it was nearly dark and there was still a long walk home from the station in Greta.


Nell Pyle caught the Singleton train at Telarah station to travel to school.


Joy Poole caught the 7.30 train at Farley station, however the platform there was too short for all the carriages on the train, and the girls’ carriages, the first two, couldn’t be accessed from the platform. The MGHS girls had special permission to board the train in the fourth carriage and walk through past the boys to the girls’ carriages at the front.


June Howarth was driven to school by her mother or father in the pony and sulky, her father never learnt to drive a car. Her classmates were envious of June arriving for school with a horse.


Margaret Guy travelled by bus from home at East Maitland straight to the school.


I got on my bike and pedalled into school, from Mary Wilkes


Another bike rider was Pauline Fairhall who rode her bike from the family farm to Mindaribba Station, near Paterson, where she then caught the Dungog train to school. Once at the station we had to line up and walk in a crocodile down to school.


Lyn Richards came by train from East Maitland with a group of other girls from that area. It was a nice start to the day to have those people to talk to and to walk down to school with.


The boys and girls travelling to school by train were not allowed to mix and had separate carriages.   Prefects sat at the back of the girls’ carriages to make sure they were well behaved. Joy Poole, who was a train prefect, said they had to make sure the girls walked to school in pairs in an orderly fashion.

MGHS students who boarded at the hostel had the fastest trip to school, needing to just walk a short path past the fence dividing the hostel (Brough House) and the rest of the school.


Janece McDonald boarded at the Hostel. Her father would drive her to Dungog station from the family farm on Monday mornings to catch the train to Maitland.  Then there would be another train trip home from Maitland Station on Friday afternoons, sometimes taking another girl boarder home with her for the weekend.


Joan Dunlop travelled from Moonan Flat, an isolated farming area near Scone, to stay at the hostel to attend MGHS. 


Pat Barden also had to board at the Hostel as there was no transport available from Hillsborough to Maitland when Pat commenced at MGHS in the 1940s.

In the school room

We had some nice teachers; they became your friends in a way. Joan Dunlop


The teachers were concerned about the girls and did a lot to help students. Lyn Richards


Languages were popular subjects, with French, German and Latin being studied. Maurine Osborn recalls her French teacher, Miss Stronach, who taught the girls French songs and travelled through France with them (from afar).


The German classes were enjoyed as there were only a few girls, and Pat Barden recounts that in World War II they still studied German, It seemed to have nothing to do with Hitler or the war.


Those who studied Latin report a long-lasting usefulness and benefit from their efforts.  Miss Lewis, Latin teacher, inspired her students. She made Latin live and everything interesting Pauline Fairhall.

Physical Education was highly regarded at MGHS.  PE classes were taught in the playground and St Mary’s Church Hall. Teacher Kath McMillan was posted to MGHS as a first-time teacher in 1959 as one of two PE teachers.  As well as PE teaching, she taught dancing and looked after girls in the sick bay. Kath believed in personally demonstrating PE for the girls, including doing cartwheels and backflips down the school path.


Art classes were held upstairs in Grossmann House. Margaret Guy remembers there was no running water upstairs and water for art lessons had to carried by bucket from a playground tap.


Val Randall studied Home Economics including cooking using the Commonsense Cookery Book, which cost 2 shillings sixpence at the time.  It was a book she kept and used for years.

Male teachers were few and far between at MGHS, however some are remembered as inspiring and dedicated.

Clem Ellis taught science at MGHS, and was a wonderful teacher. Janece McDonald describes him as having a way to make the students want to do their best for him. Other notable male teachers were Mr Tonks, Mr Robinson, who taught geography, and Mr Dinning.

Hilma Ellis started her teaching career at MGHS in 1946, and taught science, biology, geology, physics, chemistry and botany. Hilma was great friends with other teachers, Marjorie Ross and Betty Paine. Before marrying Clem Ellis, Hilma boarded with a lady in Bourke St Maitland, with six other teachers from MGHS.

In the 1950s there were three Mrs Clarkes who were teachers at the school: Mrs Music Clarke, Mrs Cooking Clarke and Mrs English Clarke. Miss Cordingley was an English teacher and also house mistress at the Hostel.  She had a positive impact on many students. ‘She was strict but set a good example and helped us with homework prep in the hostel”, Joan Dunlop.

Miss Tilse was Headmistress from 1959 to 1961. She had attended MGHS herself on a Scholarship and her name is recorded on the school’s honour board for academic achievement.


Joy Poole remembers her as a small, quiet woman, who could however command the attention and respect of the one thousand girls who attended MGHS in 1954.

Music & celebration

One of the teachers, a Maths mistress, she took a group of us from a Fourth Year French class and we learnt the Habanera chorus [from Bizet’s Carmen] and sang it at a Bastille Day concert in Newcastle. Margaret Guy


Miss Brenda Croft the music teacher — we had music lessons and you could belong to the school choir — she was a brilliant musician. [June was a singer] There were lots of concerts to raise money for the war effort over in St Mary’s Hall at lunchtime. There was an excellent pianist called Nola Paterson. Our favourite ones were The Holy City — I won a talent quest one day doing that — and then we could also let our hair down with a tango melody called Jealousy. [June continued as a performer after school.] I ended up going to study with Madame Austral and John Probyn in Newcastle at the Conservatorium. June Howarth


All the hostel girls joined the choir because we’d go on little trips to places, and it was like a day out. I mean, probably half of us couldn’t sing, but we’d all go. Mrs Clark was the teacher, and she was a lovely, lovely lady and they even recorded a record when we were there and the main song was the Hallelujah Chorus and it was recorded over in St Mary’s Church Hall, across the road. When you listen to it now, the acoustics are not wonderful, but we all bought an LP and I still have my copy. Joan Dunlop

There was a school dance which was over at the Boys High School. (BHS) If the Girls’ High School ever held dances, that was usually in the Supper Room of the Town Hall, because there was no large space on site … Some of the functions were over there [BHS], there was a great big garden party over there, the senior girls must have gone across, because I remember being involved with that … we put on an exhibition of fashion through the ages, and six or seven of the girls dressed up in different clothes and standing on the benches in the science laboratory, posing all day. Margaret Guy 


Introduced in 1938, the house system was a very important MGHS institution, not only sport but for other inter-house competitions such as debating. Girls were proud of their house.

CAMPBELL, GROSSMANN & WATSON were named after MGHS headmistresses: Miss Campbell 1914-1918; Miss Grossmann 1890-1913; Miss Watson 1887-1889. BREWSTER and GARVIN were named after prominent educationalists and headmistresses of Sydney schools. McKENZIE named after Miss McKenzie, an old girl and Headmistress of Maitland Domestic Science (1916-1931).


Sports at MGHS began in 1922 with the introduction of Physical Culture. Next came tennis when a school tennis court was constructed, followed by hockey and netball, leading to inter-school competition.


Until the demolition of St Marys Church Hall (1970s), it was used for P.E., exercises and dancing-In inclement weather we used the St Marys Church hall for PE-it had a lovely sprung floor-great for dancing and jumping around-also used for special events-a bit of a squeeze to get all the girls in said Kath McMillan (nee Miss Duffin, PE Teacher). We did vaulting (both indoors and outdoors) said Lyn Richards. 

The girls wore full school uniform to sport, changing at the pool or at the oval-definitely not allowed outside the school in sports uniform said Margaret Guy. The sports uniform was a navy cotton three pleated tunic, with two lines of white tape just above the hem, a waist tie in the same colour as the house. The length of the tunic was strictly adhered to, 4 inches above the knee when kneeling.


Pauline Fairhall remembers the sports day slow bicycle race –I knew it would suit me as I spent most of my life on a bike-put my bike on the train and rode to Robins Oval from the station June Bates said the orange and sack races– were lots of fun!


Before the Maitland baths were built, we had to catch the train to Newcastle baths –by the time we got to Hexham the weather had cooled down and on the return trip it got hot again at Hexham said Pat Barden.


I loved sport-we played tennis from dawn to dusk on the court outside the hostel—every weekend-I ended up being in the tennis team for the school and hockey said Joan Dunlop.


I loved hockey-Friday afternoons at Maitland park-we all marched down, over the railway bridge to the park said Lyn Richards.


Joy Poole recalls each year we used to have week where we just did lifesaving...we used to go to Maitland baths - I got the award of merit, had to swim 16 lengths of the pool, perform 3 rescues, resuscitation and heaps of theory.

Major events

On the day WWII finished in 1945 the girls were allowed to go home early.  Maurine Osborn and her friends went to Maitland Station to get the train home and threw the eggs they had taken to school for cooking into the water tower at the station. That was our way of celebrating, laughed Maurine.


…food rationing at the Hostel, you had a ration of butter which had to be handed over each week. Beyond that, knitting socks, no two alike, watching the teachers make camouflage nets outside the staffroom. Pat Barden


I learned to knit when I was six. I was taught how to knit scarves, khaki for the soldiers and navy blue for the Navy and the Air Force and then you graduated to socks in khaki or navy, and you had really graduated when you could turn the heel on four needles and finish off with the toe. You had to be meticulously careful that that there were no knots because that could rub and cause irritations in men’s shoes. We used to have tuck-shops and make toffees and so forth and make money for the war effort. June Howarth


There were many soldiers in camp at Rutherford and we used to see them in High Street and one distressing day there was a funeral at the church opposite the hostel, a soldier from the Light Horse had died and we could hear the muffled drum beat coming down the street, the funeral march, and then the gun carriage appeared with his coffin on it and behind it, which really upset me, was this horse with the saddle on and the boots, his long boots hanging backwards in the saddle. Pat Barden

They started to bring them [the girls from Greta Camp] into the high school. It was a very big eye opener for us, because we were young, silly, we hadn’t seen what they’d seen. To us they were very well-built, grown-up young ladies. It was a shock to the system. Val Randall

The water came down under the Long Bridge and what a disaster that was, and we saw, my family and I, we must have walked in to see what was happening … we walked down to the hospital and we were actually sitting on the bank of the hospital and what was unfolding before our eyes was quite incredible because when the bank of the Hunter River broke a lot of people who were living in Mount Pleasant Street, they got caught and the only place they could go, they got up on the roof of their houses … pouring rain, and then a house’d pop up off its foundations and then it would come floating down and smash into the Long Bridge and people’d be scrambling and trying to grab on to the railings. Joy Poole

When the floods were on, we didn’t have that much time off, because, once they’d cleared the main part of Maitland, even though the water was still nearly up to the level of the platforms, we could go to school, because they used to stop the train at Farley, they used to grease it, we’d go on. Val Randall


I remember walking down to the Long Bridge and seeing all the water. We didn’t see Mum and Dad for a short while. They didn’t have a very nice job to clean out the house, all mud. There’s a lot of things, why didn’t I take this, why didn’t I do that?  Mary Wilkes

Because I came on the Singleton train, we also had all the girls that were coming from the Greta Migrant Camp, they were all on the train too, and a couple of those girls were in my class, in 1A, and both those girls were speaking English as a second language and they were in 1A and they went and did really well. Joy Poole


School uniforms were worn with pride and NO girl was allowed in public without being in FULL uniform and policed by prefects & teachers. The first photos of girls at Grossmann House shows the girls wearing white long sleeved shirts, long black skirts, stockings and ties.


The three pleat navy serge tunic, was introduced in 1922, and worn with a white long sleeved blouse, navy & white striped tie, black stockings, navy blazer, navy gloves, black shoes and topped with a navy felt hat...the shoes had to be clean said Lyn Richards.


During the 1940s, a summer uniform was adopted to include white short socks and short sleeved shirts.

The school badge was worn on the tunic, directly under the tie and beneath it was the house badge. Prefect, House Captain and Class Captain badges were worn on the lapel of the blazer. A woven school badge made the upper blazer pocket and school blues were stitched onto the lower pockets.


During the 1960s a lightweight synthetic navy tunic was introduced for wear in summer.


They were very strong on uniform...if you went up the street after school and if you were not dressed accordingly, the Prefects would catch you out –they used to walk around—even out of school hours said Mary Wilkes.


Pat Barden and Nell Pyle remember having a broad brimmed straw hat in the summer and a navy felt hat in winter. During the 1960s when Mrs Wylie was headmistress the felt brimmed hat was changed to a beret and a white straw boater was introduced for summer.


The navy serge tunic had to be below the knee said Nell, while Pat Barden remembers walking to the station without my hat on and a teacher made me put it on-she then walked behind me all the way to the station to make sure I kept it on!


We were like soldiers-all dressed alike said Joy Poole….there used to be a Prefect on the gate monitoring our uniform…. we were not allowed out the gate without hat, gloves and stockings she said.


We (Hostel girls) used to put our tunic under our mattresses on Friday afternoon and take it out for Monday school said Janece McDonald.


The MGHS badge was originally a silver shield. The current school and prefect badge was designed in 1919 by the Art Master, Mr Piper.


With the change to a co-educational school in 1987, after much debate, the school’s name was changed to Maitland Grossmann High School and the MGHS badge was retained.


Former teacher, Hilma Ellis recalls of how teachers were rostered after school to make sure that the girls were properly attired to leave the school grounds ...they had to walk in twos to the station...the girls al had to bend over so we (the teachers) could check that they had the correct coloured bloomers-navy blue! Also that their tunics were to the knees and they were wearing hats and gloves.


The school motto Labor Omnia Vincit means work conquers all.


Miss Campbell, Maitland Girls High School Headmistress, 1914-1918, campaigned for a girls’ hostel. In 1918, The Department of Public Instruction purchased Brough House and in1919 it was opened, enabling country girls to attend Maitland Girls High School. The staff included Matron, a cook/housekeeper and a laundress. Nineteen girls comprised the first intake.

The number of girls grew to an average of 30, coming from diverse country areas and backgrounds, though the majority came from rural properties.

Based on memoirs, the overall impression of the MGHS Hostel was of caring, supportive but strict Headmistresses, Matrons and Resident Mistresses. Most girls had happy experiences, despite homesickness and the adjustment from country (often one-teacher) schools to a large high school.

I was so shy and homesick for the first few weeks...after a couple of years I quite liked being at the hostel and at the end of fifth year was sad to be leaving said Pat Barden.

Both Willow and Cord were very strict, but we had the utmost respect for them...we will be forever grateful for their guidance and advice said Joan Dunlop.


After school we had free time from about 4.00 to 5.30-we played hockey –tennis in the school grounds, gymnastics or play acting on the lawn. We also read or washed our hair or did the necessary hand washing. There was no TV-if went up the street we had to go in pairs, wear full uniform and report to the matron on return said Janece McDonald.


Girls remember the progression in dormitories-from the Balcony in first year-to the Long room in second and third years to the Blue and Rose rooms in senior years.

The Balcony had green bedspreads, the Long Room yellow, and rose and blue in the Rose and Blue Rooms respectively. Eiderdowns were very useful for hiding anything not in the correct place! said Maude Woods.


Peg Moore recalls-those long dining tables with the seniors sitting at the end watching juniors struggle through the food that in no way resembled Mum’s...

Perception of the “hostel girls was often that of mystery-how did all those girls live behind “that fence”? The big high fence around the hostel—it was bit mysterious said Lyn Richards. ...used to feel sorry for the hostel girls-it was very private there was a big hedge between Grossmann House and the hostel-what did they do after school? ..although they all seemed happy...said Kath McMillan.


Midnight feasts were documented in the 1920s and still occurring until the Hostel’s closure. Girls would bring back delicacies from home-these goodies were stored under the bed-the alarm set for midnight– a lookout kept an eye out for the matron-her arrival meant girls feigning sleep with an assortment of food under the blankets!


There were various outings and events over the years-the annual hostel hike, school dances, Saturday afternoon at the pictures, Church on Sundays, the annual Hostel concert, TV at the Rectory, group walks and of course who can forget visits from Evelyn the Ghost!


The move of MGHS to East Maitland meant that the hot lunch was replaced by sandwiches and fruit and dinner became the hot meal of the day.

Overwhelmingly there was a high representation of School Captains, School Vice-Captains, House Captains and House Vice-Captains from the ranks of the Hostel girls. The girls were involved in all school activities such as sport, debating, choir and drama.

The common memories are of the companionship and life-long friendships formed during hostel life.

Life after school

The MGHS Oral History Project interviewed students from 1939 until 1963. Their stories reflect the changes in education policies as well as societal expectations for these girls.


MGHS attracted students from a wide area of the Hunter Valley as unlike some other local high schools, it took students from 1st Year through to the Leaving Certificate. In 1962 the Wyndham Scheme was introduced, extending the stay at school to 6 years. Country girls were able to board at Brough House.


The passage through MGHS was determined by academic results in primary school, deciding which stream of 1st Year the student would enter – 1A to 1H. Students tended to stay in these streams until the end of their time at the school. 1A meant studying 2 languages and the expectation that students would go on to become primary school teachers, work in libraries, or nursing. At the end of 4th Year, doing commercial subjects, girls could work in offices or banks. Students leaving after the Intermediate or when they turned 15, could expect to work in offices, retail or in some of the local factories.  Career counselling was not a feature of the girls’ education.


Employment after leaving school was not an issue, although work was often considered to be only for a few years before girls married. For many careers once a girl became engaged, she needed to resign. Domestic Science classes at MGHS readied the girls for a future life as a housewife. Many of our interviewees returned to their chosen career after their children were older.


For Pat Barden, leaving school in the Depression meant going back to the farm and working until her brother was old enough to help. Then, under the guidance of Maitland Librarian Miss Cribb, she became the first librarian at Cessnock.


To become a teacher, it was necessary to win a Teacher’s Scholarship, which after passing a medical examination, guaranteed training in return for employment. MGHS graduates could choose to go to Armidale Teacher’s College in the time of Nell Pyle, or by the time of Joy Poole, Newcastle. June Bates also took up primary teaching, explaining that after WW2 there was a shortage of primary teachers.


Nursing was a very popular choice after leaving school. Lyn Richards explained that when starting at MGHS she chose the 1B stream like her sister. Lynn followed the path of both her sisters by taking up nursing training at Maitland Hospital. When she became engaged after 3 years, she needed to resign. Royal Newcastle Hospital was a destination also, with Joan Dunlop explaining that the ex MGHS students looked after each other.


Some girls gained employment in laboratories such as Margaret Guy at Courtalds in Tomago, and Janece McDonald in Newcastle as an industrial chemist at Hunter Water Board and Stewart and Lloyds.


A number of interviewees speak of a family friend or relative mentioning a position coming up which might suit –at the Library for June Howarth, the X-Ray Department at Maitland Hospital for Pauline Fairhall, and for Mary Wilkes at Sim Bros and the NRMA dealership.


Maurine Osborn explained that although she wanted to be a teacher, a lot of her friends had started work. She left school and worked at the Pandora Lending Library until she married.

WW2 brought employment for women in some of the local factories.  Val Randall started work at Burlington Mills when she turned 15, explaining that you could just walk straight into a job.

Questions or comments?