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Hundreds return to Gippsland Grammar to celebrate Centenary

IT WAS a celebration 100 years in the making and Gippsland Grammar’s community travelled from near and far to mark the centenary of Gippsland’s oldest independent school.

Over three days from February 23-25, more than 400 people attended Gippsland Grammar’s four Centenary events, including a gala at Maffco hosted by the Gippsland Grammar Foundation (the fundraising arm of the school), a book launch of two books the school has published to mark the occasion, a Centenary thanksgiving eucharist at the Chapel of St Anne, and a reunion BBQ for the former students of Gippsland Grammar School.

Gippsland Grammar Principal Michele Wakeham said the weekend of celebrations was an incredible success that brought together the school’s Old Scholars with its current students and families.

“It was amazing to see so many people with so many fond memories of their time at our school return for our celebrations,” Mrs Wakeham said. “Each of our events had its own distinct feel and was attended by a slightly different cohort of our Old Scholars and current families. My favourite part was watching old friends reconnect and listening to them reminisce. We can’t wait to continue celebrating with everyone throughout the year.”

Gippsland Grammar incorporates five schools: the original Church of England Girls’ School Sale, St Anne’s Church of England Girls’ Grammar School, Gippsland Grammar School, St Anne’s and Gippsland Grammar School (STAGGS) and the Gippsland Grammar we know today, which has more than 1100 students and 280 staff.

On Saturday February 24 the school launched two centenary publications; Memories, stories from 100 years of Gippsland Grammar by Ann Andrew is a wonderful compilation of 100 stories from students from the school’s earliest years until today; while its companion publication Wheelbarrow’s Birthday is a children’s book that reimagines 12 of those stories in a form more suitable for the school’s youngest students.

Mrs Wakeham said “While Memories is for the coffee table, Wheelbarrow’s Birthday is better suited to a child’s bedside table. And together they capture the spirit of schoolyard storytelling.”

Old Scholar from the Class of 1986 Hugh Williams shared his recollections of his school years in Memories and his story was also reimagined in Wheelbarrow’s Birthday and he returned to his former school to join the celebrations and to speak at the book launch.

Mr Williams was a trailblazer in the early years of the internet and has worked alongside Bill Gates at Microsoft as well as at Google and eBay. He is the person who invented the infinite scroll, a piece of technology used by billions of people around the world every day, and is also one of the world’s foremost experts on internet search and data management.

More than 150 Old Scholars, include many former students from St Anne’s Church of England Girls’ Grammar School, joined Mr Williams at the book launch, including former Gippsland Grammar Board member and member of the Class of 1969 Val Jones, who said she was absolutely thrilled to return to the school for the event.

Driving to Sale for the book launch I didn't quite know what to expect,” Mrs Jones admitted. “But I found my classmates and memories flowed and I was surprised to see many people I know although I didn't know they were associated with the school.

“The day showcased how many different people work to make a school - not just students and teachers. A highlight for me was meeting Year 12 student Eden Levchenko who illustrated my story in the Wheelbarrow's Birthday book.”

Another keynote speaker at the weekends’ events was Lindsay Tanner. A member of the Class of 1973, Mr Tanner was the Federal MP for Melbourne from 1993 to 2010 and served as the Minister for Finance from 2007-2010. Since leaving politics he has undertaken various senior roles including Director of Suncorp Group and Chairman of Essendon Football Club.

In his speech at the Gippsland Grammar School reunion on February 25, Mr Tanner reflected on the values the school embodied when Australia was still under the White Australia Policy.

“The Gippsland Grammar School sent out signals to us as kids that probably seemed subtle at the time, which were that all people of all different racial origins should be treated equal, that racism was unacceptable and that racial discrimination was unacceptable,” Mr Tanner told a crowd of about 90 of his former schoolmates at the reunion. “I absorbed these messages, and they had a big influence on me over time. They now of course are now mainstream, thankfully, but at the time for a country Victorian boarding school were pretty unusual.”

Gippsland Grammar will continue to celebrate its centenary throughout this year with a calendar of events that includes the launch of a historic ‘Centenary Walk’ at its annual St Anne’s Day celebration on July 26, events that celebrates multi-generational school families and a return of STAGGfair, the school’s biennial fete.