The Public Instruction Act of 1880 was responsible for the establishment of eight high schools in NSW- four for boys and four for girls - in Sydney, W.Maitland, Bathurst and Goulburn, in recognition of the need "to provide a course of instruction for the completion of the Public School Curriculum and the preparation of students for the University of Sydney". Previously males would have required private secondary education to qualify for entry to the University and there was no provision for females at all.
The Sydney Morning Herald of September 17, 1883 invited boys and girls to attend an examination to qualify for admission to the new Sydney Schools on September 20, 1883. Following this examination 46 boys and 39 girls reported to the school on October 8. Some had been awarded scholarships to cover school fees, some were to pay 8 pounds 8 shillings per year and the rest paid nothing because their parents were unable to pay fees.
The building chosen as the site of the new schools was a two- storeyed building on land now occupied by David Jones, surrounded by a high wall. It had been commissioned in 1820 by Governor Macquarie and designed by Francis Greenway and in the meantime it had been St James Church of England Primary School. The boys entered from Castlereagh Street and occupied the ground floor, the girls entered from Elizabeth Street and occupied the first floor. These conditions prevailed until 1892 when the boys moved to a new school at Mary Ann Street, Ultimo and thereafter the girls had the whole building to themselves. Trams travelling along both Castlereagh and Elizabeth Streets made the site very noisy and very dirty so eventually it became necessary to move to a new site.
The first headmistress was Lucy Wheatley Walker who later became Mrs Garvin and she held office until 1918. She was described as a "woman of the world, endowed with the social gift, the simplicity of good taste and above all, the breadth of outlook which the term implied". Since then there have been ten other headmistresses, only one of whom, Lilian McMahon, was an Old Girl. Miss Florence Campbell (1919-41), Miss Lilian Geer (1942-47), Miss Lilian McMahon (1948-54), Miss Lily Preston (1955-60), Miss Doreen Wayne (1961-68), Miss Helena Moore (1969-73), Miss Elizabeth Mattick (1974-76), Miss Dorothy Shackley (1976-91) and Dr Margaret Varady, AO (1992- 2008). Ms Andrea Connell is now the present principal.
In 1916 the Sydney Zoo moved from what had been known as Billy Goat Swamp to its present site leaving vacant what was to become the site of the new school. The new building incorporated all the most modern features necessary for the education of girls in the twentieth century and when the move was made in 1921 the girls were quite overwhelmed by the acres of grass and trees and the quietness, but sad to leave the Old School. Since then there have been extensions to the main building and replacements where necessary culminating in the opening of the new wing in 1996 when we celebrated "Seventy five years at Moore Park". This wing was named the Margaret Varady Wing in 2009. The remainder of the school has been reorganised and refurbished, creating offices for the second Deputy and HT Teaching and Learning, a refurbished HSIE staffroom and a counsellor's office. It was shining in the sun only to be hit with the hailstorm on 14 April, 1999. This resulted in the loss of all classrooms on the top floor. Fourteen demountable classrooms were established on the lowers and this "village" was named the "Pit we had to Bear". The DET, Public Works, insurance companies, parents, staff and students worked together and the school has never looked better.
From the very earliest days the school has prepared pupils for tertiary studies - at first only a small proportion went on to the University of Sydney but nowadays most pupils go on to one of the many universities that now exist, both in Australia and overseas availing themselves of the global opportunities for learning. Many girls have studied medicine and some of them played important roles in the establishment of the Rachel Foster Hospital for Women. Hundreds of girls have graduated in Arts or Science and become teachers - many of them returning to the school as staff members. The first legal graduate in NSW was Ada Evans who enrolled at the University of Sydney while the Dean of Law was on leave. On his return he was furious to find a woman among his students and tried to persuade her to take up "some less arduous study such as medicine". She persevered and in 1902 was the first woman to graduate L.L.B.. For sixteen years she tried to gain admission to the legal profession. Finally in 1918 the Womens' Legal Status Act allowed her to become a registered student at law and in 1921 she was admitted as a barrister. Florence McKenzie (nee Wallace) was the first electrical engineer and in WWII was instrumental in forming the WRANS, a body of women trained in Morse Code who did work previously done by naval recruits. She later wrote a cook book for the Electricity Commission when electric stoves were introduced. In recent years girls have studied Medicine, Arts, Science, Economics, Commerce and many other disciplines as they pursue the extensive opportunities for lifelong learning.
In 2008 the school celebrated its 125th Anniversary and in 2013 will celebrate 130 years of educating young women.
Distinguished Old Girls
Glenda Adams - Author
Dorothy Alison - Actor
Heidi Ahrens- TV Sports Reporter
Patricia Amphlett - Singer (Little Pattie)
Tamsin Angus-Leppan - National Rowing Champion
Suzanne Baker - Film Producer
Marjorie Barnard- Louise Mack - Author
Marie Bashir - Medico/Adolescent Problems, first female Governor of NSW
Hilary Bell - Playwright
Lucy Bell- Actor
Mary Breen - Athlete
Tracey Brook - 1988 Calgary Olympics aged 17 ( 25th/31) National Women's Figure Skating Champion
Mildred Brunston - Awarded M.B.E. for services to the cause of Equal Pay for Equal Work
Sophie Caplan - Research of history of Australian Jews
Justine Clarke - Actor
Lysbeth Cohen - Writer of several books including her magnum opus "Beginning with Esther" ( lives of Jewish women since the First Fleet )
Bettina Cass - Dean of Social Science Faculty
Edith Cochrane - 1956 Melbourne Olympics. Flat water - LK1500 m Kayak Single ( 5th place)
Toti Cohen - Former President, NSW Parents & Citizens Association.
Eva Cox - Sociologist, Author and 1995 Boyer Lecturer
Marele Day - Author
Marion Dormer - Books on the Australian countryside
Roma Dulhunty- Author & Explorer
Kate Dunbar - Singer
Ada Emily Evans- First woman in Australia to gain Law degree but not permitted to practise.
Margaret Fink - Film Producer
Nan Fullarton - Artist and Writer
Frances Hackney - Scientist, Poet and Artist
Tanya Halesworth - TV Presenter
Libby Hathorn - Author
Sascha Horler - Actor
Ann Jones - 1972 Munich Olympics ( 26th place) Diving 10 metre Platform.
Jeannie Lewis - Singer/Actor/Writer
Naomi Lewis - Artist
Florence McKenzie - First woman Electrical Engineer in Australia and Ham Radio Operator.
Eleanor McKinnon - Founder of Junior Red Cross.
Amy Mack - Writer
Rachel Maza - Singer and Actor
Carolyn Martin Scott - Journalist for many Australian and overseas newspapers and Time and Life magazine
Nuri Mass- Author & Illustrator
Gwen Meredith - Author, "Blue Hills"
Nina Murdoch- Author
Lilith Norman- Author
Pat Norton - Olympian 1936
Ruby Payne-Scott - Australia's first radio physicist
Catherine Prime (nee Wishart) - First woman president of Institute of Actuaries of Australia
Wilma Radford - 1968 appointed Professor of Librarianship at NSW ( first in Australia)
Lee Rhiannon - MLC NSW Greens ( nee Lee Brown vice captain 1969 )
Marilyn Richardson - Opera Singer
Jessica Rowe - TV News Presenter
Jane Saville - Olympic Walker 1996 and 2000
Eileen Slarke - Sculptor
Julie Speight - Olympic Cyclist - 1988 Seoul Olympics ( 5th place ) First Australian woman to compete at an International track championship
Eugenie Stapleton - Australian local history books
Sophie Steffanoni - Artist and embroiderer
Christina Stead - Author
Muriel Steinbeck - Actor
Joan Stuckey - Inventor
Ethel Turner - Author Seven Little Australians
Lilian Turner (sister of Ethel) - writer
Rachel Valler - Pianist
Anne Von Bertruch - Writer
Claire Weekes- One of the very early graduates of Medicine - specialising in Neurology.
Noela Young - Illustrator