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Mowbray House School Sydney

A recently published (2017) ‘Occasional Paper’ about a little-known and now defunct Sydney school provides a fascinating window into Sydney’s community in the mid-twentieth century.

Drawing from historical records and personal recollections – which complement each other neatly – the author, Colin Dennett, now of Canberra, tells the story of The Mowbray School which operated on Sydney’s North Shore from 1907 to 1954.

Dennett attended the School in the Fifties, and his stories about life there and the personalities whom he encountered enliven what might otherwise have been just dry information about a building. This is a highly readable narrative, especially for those who attended The Mowbray School and the other schools for which Mowbray was a ‘feeder school’, such as Sydney Grammar School.

Others, who grew up in New South Wales in the first half of the Twentieth Century and into the Fifties, will recognise many of the events recorded by Dennett, and the people-distinguished and otherwise – who dominated the State’s rich political, legal and societal scene; and who left their mark in particular on Sydney’s development.

Amongst the wide range of eminent figures who had an association with the school were –Sir Edmund Barton (Australia’s first Prime Minister); Justice George Rich (who drafted Australia’s Constitution and became a Justice of the High Court); Rev George Long (Bishop of Bathurst); Billy Hughes (7th Prime Minister of Australia); Sir Phillip Game (Governor of NSW and, later, Commissioner of London’s Metropolitan Police); and R J F Boyer (ABC Chairman).

The School survived World War I 1914-18 (the ‘Great War’), the Great Depression during the thirties and World War II in the forties, with ‘the numbers of boarders and day boys … maintained.’. Mowbray’s boys also saw, in 1952, the death of George VI and the ascension to the Throne of Queen Elizabeth II.

A quote from a 1919 newspaper article found in the School archives provides an interesting insight (probably shared by Mowbray’s two Headmasters) into the (then) NSW community’s perception of the cause of WW I:

‘Germany’s Crime… German school teaching will probably be found to be primarily responsible for rendering these lamentable war phenomena possible… There is abundant evidence that it was part of the preparation…by the conspirators who planned the onslaught upon civilized people…’.

Nowadays, as history is deconstructed and reconstructed, often for political and disingenuously tendentious reasons, those sentiments may be criticised as being anachronistic. Nevertheless, they were pervasive at the time, and readers should remember the old aphorism:

Those who cannot learn from history are doomed to repeat it.

What sort of school was Mowbray? Dennett compares it favourably with the English Grammar School, as reflected, for example, in Anthony Buckeridge’s ‘Jennings’ series of humorous novels of school life in England – life characterised in the novels by ‘schoolboy adventures and pranks’. Dennett himself confesses to taking part in Jennings- style pranks, both at Mowbray and, later, at Tudor House Preparatory School in Moss Vale, another school based on the English model.

This is an engaging story, with factual material neatly interspersed with personal perceptions and recollections, lively anecdotes and frequent references to Lancelot Bavin, the School’s Headmaster for some 48 years. In addition, there are several handsome photographs of the school itself.

Dennett observes that ‘…Mowbray…has involved many people… and by now, thousands of descendants’; and he expresses the hope that ‘(its) rich and meaningful history’ might find its way through to at least some of them’. Those who do read it will be, as was Dennett, ‘transported back in time to experience aspects of their lives and beyond which they never knew anything about’.

Highly recommended.

Fergus Thomson RFD BA MA

Barrister- at –Law

Canberra 2017

Launch of Occasional Paper

Canberra identity, Mr James Service, AO, launched a new ANME publication, Mowbray House Sydney: Reflections, at the recent ANZHES Conference held at the Inspire Centre in September. Mr Service has had a long and distinguished career in the property industry and has served in a range of capacities in public affairs and causes within the Canberra community.

The author of the Occasional Paper is Colin Dennett is a former pupil of Mowbray House Boys’ Preparatory School which existed from 1906 to 1954. Colin’s chance re-connection with his first school came about through his discovery of the school archive which was presented to the ANME by Sydney lawyer, Mr Trevor Fowler in 2014.

Colin’s exploration of this archive has resulted in a fascinating study of the Headmaster’s Reports over the first half of the 20th Century. Mr Service is also a former pupil of the school.

Director visits England and Ireland

During June and July, the Director toured a number of school museums and Victorian classrooms in England and Ireland. This enabled him to promote the ANME and to exchange information with curators and staff. His visits included the British Schools Museum in Queen Street, Hitchin, The Ragged School in London’s East End, the Sevington Victorian School near the village of Grittleton in Wiltshire and the Ballyverdaugh National School, in Northern Ireland.

Read the full article


Prof Geoff Riordan: ANME Annual Lecture

Professor Geoffrey Riordan, Dean of the Faculty of ESTeM, will give the 11th Annual Historical Perspectives on Education Lecture.

Mapping the History of School-based Teacher Education—from Normal and Demonstration Schools to the Contemporary University School

The lecture will be held in conjunction with the ANME-ANZHES conference at the Inspire Centre at the University of Canberra on Sunday 24th September, 5pm – 7pm.

Coast at the door: $20
Refreshments will be served.

Download the invitation

Preserving paper records

The Heritage, Museums and Conservation Program in the UC Faculty of Arts and Design is offering a one-day expert-led course on caring for records and other paper items:

Preserving paper records is a down-to-earth course on how to handle, store and transport paper documents, including practical sessions on how to clean and de-acidify old paper. This course is aimed at records managers, librarians, people who are familiar with basic paper preservation and would like to know more, including emerging conservators and students and anyone else who loves and cares for old documents.

Date: Friday 26 May, 2017 Time: 9 am to 5 pm
Venue: UC Conservation laboratory, Building 27C18, Bruce Campus
Cost: External $400 + GST / Full-time student $300 (excluding GST)
Course enquiries: Contact Mona Soleymani on

If you have any questions, or would like to attend this course, please email Ngaio Buck at to confirm your availability.
Course enquiries: Contact Mona Soleymani

This course will provide:

  • Background information on how paper works and what makes it deteriorate
  • Hands-on experience of the best ways of handling, storing and transporting paper documents
  • Introduction to paper conservation practice including surface cleaning, washing, deacidification, flattening, paper fibre identification and repair
  • Contacts with people you can call on for advice and resource sharing
  • Course booklet (digital or printed) for future reference
  • Certification of Attendance
  • Lunch, morning and afternoon tea

Field Trip 2017

A few places remain on the bus for the ANNUAL FIELD TRIP  which will take place on
departing 9.00 am (sharp) Departure from Daramalan College,
Cowper Street, Dickson, (closest gate to Dickson shops)
visiting  Cootamundra Public School (1875),
Bethungra Schoolhouse (Circa. 1886)
Murringo Public School (1860) (3) (3)
Binalong Public School (1861) (4)
Murrumbateman –
Download the full itinerary here.  Annual Field Trip 2017

Jessica Goodvinn wins ANME Prize

Jessica Goodvinn, Honours year student in the Bachelor of Heritage, Museums and Conservation has has won the 2016 ANME Prize. Jessica was presented with her prize by the Chair of the Board Prof Barbara Pamphilon  at the December 2016 Board of Management meeting.


The School Magazine turns 100

Enjoy a feast of who’s who in Australian children’s literature and celebrate The School Magazine’s 100th Birthday at an exhibition curated by the National Centre for Australian Children’s Literature based at UC.

The School Magazine is the longest continuously published children’s literary magazine in the world. Here are the memories of those who loved it as children – favourite stories, poems, illustrations, music and crosswords. A highlight of the exhibition is the artwork and manuscript for My Dog, first published as a short story in The School Magazine and later published as a much-awarded picture book.

Public talk: Join us at the exhibition from 4.00pm-5.00pm on Friday 14 October to hear Alan Edwards, Editor of The School Magazine, reveal highlights over the years.

Civic Library, Canberra from 23 September – 21 October 2016



If you have any queries, please contact


Belinda Gamlen

Archival Officer

National Centre for Australian Children’s Literature

(formerly Lu Rees Archives of Australian Children’s Literature)

The Library

University of Canberra  ACT 2601

T+61 [0]2 6201 5075

Rare 1917 schoolroom photograph


Wandana Schoolroom, 1917. Silver gelatine photograph, 21 x 16cm, held by Ceduna School Museum. Digital copy held by ANME courtesy of the Ceduna School Museum.

This  rare black and white photograph of the interior of Wandana schoolroom taken in 1917 is held by Ceduna School Museum, South Australia. The museum kindly supplied a digital copy to the Director on his recent visit. This image is highly significant because photographs of schoolroom interiors at an early date are very rare.

The Wandana Schoolroom was originally sited about 5 miles east of Ceduna on the Streaky Bay Road before it was relocated to the Ceduna School Museum.

The photograph is striking for the detail it reveals of teaching at the time. Banner posters were a highly portable teaching aid and these are everywhere evident. They are hung on the walls,  including one showing ‘The Theatre of War’ in  map form. There are other reminders of the Great War, like the flags of the Allies strung across the ceiling (that of Japan is visible).  There are charts referring to ‘Parsing’, a kind of grammatical analysis, and charts of wind and weather observations.  Various pictures are pinned to the timber boards cladding the walls.  Other banner posters are rolled up in various places. The children sit on long seats known as ‘forms’.  Children might have been grouped by age and ‘form’ (hence the use of this term to mean a class).

The class is small, reflecting an isolated coastal population and a provision for a range of boys of various ages. The children appear healthy. This indoor photograph would have required them to sit still for perhaps 30 seconds..

An important detail of the image is that the teacher has been identified as Miss Edith Lee, later Mrs Hawke, mother of Robert Lee Hawke, Prime Minister of Australia 1980-19988.

Have you a rare photograph like this? Please contact us, ANME would like to see it!

For more information about sharing historical images with ANME click here.