Farewell To An Old Friend

On Friday 29th March 2019, Girton Grammar School’s long-standing and much esteemed Deputy Head and OGA Honorary Life Member, Mrs Robyn MacCulloch, gave her final speech at an all-school assembly, followed by a moving speech for staff members, past and present, and OGA members, in the School’s Black Box theatre. Both speeches appear below, as well as speeches delivered by Mr Clayton Jones OAM, founding Headmaster of Girton Grammar School and Mr Dennis Garoni, founding Head of Junior School and long-term colleague of Mrs MacCulloch.

Mrs Robyn MacCulloch: Deputy Head, Girton Grammar School
Final Assembly speech to students: 

Good afternoon Mr Maruff, Colleagues, students and honoured guests.

May I start please by thanking Mr Maruff for his most kind words and for this beautiful present from the school.  I am very deeply touched and appreciative.  I thank Mr Jones for that very special speech which has left me deeply humbled;  I thank Ms Schatzle, Ms Long and the Chamber Choir for that so moving and beautiful rendition of a song I have always loved; I thank Mrs Dusseljee, Mrs Higgs, Ms Hamilton, Year 1 (so gorgeous) and the Girton Singers, our powerful and so talented gold winning choir; I thank Lucy and Georgia for that extraordinarily lovely song – you are truly talented and thoughtful young ladies; I thank Alexi and Ella for that beautiful tribute speech. I am deeply humbled and touched and so very happy to stand here as a proud, through and through Girtonian, and to know that I am perceived by you as such.  My deepest gratitude to you all for the recognition and appreciation you have extended to me today.

Today of course is a truly sad day for me.  There is nothing joyful about retiring from a profession I have loved so much.  My decision to leave has not been made lightly, or without tears.  However, there comes a time in life when such a decision must be made and so……it has been so made.

My address today, however, is not about me; it is to say thank you to the many people who have played a role in my teaching life.  Most of those I will be thanking at a function after school today, but that is a function at which you, the most important people in this room, indeed the most important people at this school, will not be present.  So…. I want very directly to address the rest of this short speech to you – our students.

You are the reason we come here each day and the reason that I have remained in the teaching profession, since I first commenced almost 51 years ago. It is you who give the energy and vibrancy to our lives as teachers; it is you who can brighten any day for each of us.  Your natural enthusiasm for life, your cheerfulness, your happily extended greetings to us in the classroom or playground – they make our days.  Being a teacher is not always easy and sometimes the going can get quite tough, or exhausting, but the “cure” for those days is always the same. We just need to go into a classroom and teach.  That has always brought immense joy to me.

I have taught in many schools and in different sectors of the education system in two States.  But…. I will let you in on a secret – though I have enjoyed all those schools and the relationships I had with the students in them, it is you, the Girton students, who hold a very special spot in my heart.  I think you are amazing and I want to thank each and every one of you here today and, from a distance, those I have had the pleasure of knowing throughout the last 26 years, for the richness you have brought into my life, for the friendships you have extended, for the smiles you have greeted me with, in coming and going, and for the way you have added extra depth to my life with your performances in music and drama;  with your speeches at Assemblies and House Dinners;  with your Spirit Cup and House Singing competitions; with your sporting triumphs and recalling of such at Assemblies;  with your academic endeavours and your striving for excellence and with your wonderful capacity to give generously of yourselves in community service.   You are very special people, each of you unique in your own right, but, collectively as Girtonians, proud of your school and constantly demonstrating your deep awareness that Girtonians always, and must, “take the banner and hold it high”.

As our School Song says, “the time will come for paths to sever, memories fade though never die” it is my fervent hope that I can remain always a Girtonian, that I can continue from afar to read about the wonderful things you will continue to do and the wonderful people you will continue to be.  I hope to be invited back to special school events so that I can continue to enjoy witnessing your amazing talents and your wholehearted goodness.  I say, therefore, only au revoir and I sincerely hope that we will meet again.  Thank you for everything you do to make this school such a fine one and for allowing me to walk alongside you on what has been a truly memorable 26-year journey.

Good afternoon.

 

Speech from Mrs MacCulloch, to colleagues, past and present, in the Black Box Theatre: 

Good afternoon everyone.

Before I commence my speech, I have a duty I need to perform – one that honours a long-held tradition at Girton and that is to pass on a special object to the now next longest serving member of the Girton staff – it is my honour now to bestow this very special walking stick to Carol.  Please come forward and accept this magnificent artefact of the school.

________________________________________________________________

Colleagues, my family, honoured guests, among you many of the early pioneers of Girton.  I make special mention of Tony, Roger and Mal who have left their Headships of their own schools to be with us today. I acknowledge the great Chairs who have served our school so well – John, Chris, and in absentia, with apologies, Don and Rob and our current Chairman, Dave. I also acknowledge the presence here today of the remarkable Foundation Deputy Chair of the Board, Mrs Jan Thomas. Thank you, to everyone here, for your presence today – it means a great deal to me that you would wish to share this time with me. I extend very special thanks for those beautiful and touching speeches for me by Matthew, Clayton and Dennis.  I will remember them always and I thank you for them (warts and all!)

2018 was quite a pivotal year for me.  It marked not only the 25th anniversary of Girton Grammar School, but also 50 years since I commenced teaching as a sessional History Tutor at the University of New England.  It appears therefore quite appropriate that 2018 would be the year I would decide to retire and take on new adventures in life.

That decision has not been taken lightly. My love of teaching has not abated since my very first time in the classroom in 1968, to this week, when I had final sessions preparing my 2019 students for a History SAC.  I know that over the course of these 50 years (with some breaks occasioned by the births of 4 children) I have touched the lives of thousands of students and I hope, have done so for the better. I have learnt a great deal from them. I have taught children in all sectors of the education system; I have taught children from many ethnic backgrounds, culture and religions.  One thing was always apparent to me though – children are children, regardless of background differences – love them, work hard for them, believe in them and respect them – everything else flows from that.  I have also had the privilege of working alongside so many inspirational staff in all sectors of education – from Professor Russell Ward at the University of New England, to the dedicated staff at Canley Vale High School in Sydney and at the more affluent Castle Hill High School, and then to Parramatta Marist Brothers where I taught alongside the religious and lay teachers and, of course, the utterly dedicated staff at Girton College and GGS. It has been a privilege to share my teaching journey with these very special people.

It has also been my privilege in these past 31 years to share my love of teaching with the very special young people who have come to Girton for their education.  We are blessed by the nature of our students – overwhelmingly in the main, cheerful, co-operative, happily involved and ready for daily adventures in a shared spirit of embracing and enjoying life.  I believe I am in much common territory with others when I say that my greatest joy each day has come from the time spent in the classroom, working hard with, and for, the students, but also enjoying much laughter with them as jointly we have explored the vulnerability and complexity of people of the past and the ideas (some great, some flawed) that arise from that study and, of course and more broadly, all the students over these last 26 and a bit years at Girton Grammar who have walked this very memorable journey with me and taught me so much along the way.

My greatest challenge as a teacher came, not in the classroom but outside it when I worked alongside the extraordinarily devoted Friends of Girton to help establish the school we now know of as Girton Grammar School.  The professionalism of these hardworking Friends, and the dedication and selfless sacrifice, in particular of John Higgs and Jan Thomas, were second to none and how they all accomplished what they did defies description. Twenty-seven years ago, that institution almost fell over and I would like to specially acknowledge those here today, and those who are unable to be here, who refused to allow the School to die.  They voted with their feet; they placed their trust in a skeleton staff and returned to a rundown campus to commence this new school.  They painted walls, they tiled bathrooms, they laid second hand carpet; they transported and carried all the books upstairs to the library and all the science equipment to the laboratories.  Together with the staff they forged the traditions of this new school as it resurrected itself.  We owe a great debt of gratitude to these foundation members of Girton Grammar School.  I know by their presence here today they are acknowledging that their decision to support the school in 1993 was a wise one.  We will certainly always hold them in pride of place as the ones who took the banner and held it high at a time when they could indeed have been forgiven had they decided to let it go!     So, to all of you who steered the school through those troublesome times and in its early foundation years, thank you for refusing to let our school die and for being resolute warriors in that time of challenge.  Twenty-seven years later you have well and truly proved all the doubters of 1992 wrong.  Your achievements in that year, and since, have confounded all those early critics indeed.  We are very proud of you and very grateful to you.

The role of two people, in particular, can also never be ignored in the annals of the Girton story – Clayton as Head of the School and Dennis as Head of the Junior School. Clayton – a man of towering intellect and true clarity of purpose, knew exactly what type of school he wanted to create.  It was a designer school from the outset, quite unlike any school I had worked in before.  As Matthew often said upon arriving “This is not a normal school.” It is true – it is not – but it was specifically designed not to be so.  And in many ways, it was those staff pioneers of 1993 – not very many of us, but some of whom are here today – Carol, Viv, Rachelle, Dennis, Clayton, Robin, Betty, Nik, Monica, Tony and Pam and, I would like to must mention here, Betty, Kerrie and Nancy (sadly departed but all such powerful presences in those early years). It was our collective job to ensure that Girton’s foundations would be solidly embedded and it could become, indeed, a success story – a true phoenix rising out of the ashes.  And now to Dennis who left Melbourne and a secure position, to come to Girton with Lynette and a six-week-old Christopher and he grew rapidly that tiny Junior School which in 1993 had only 9 students in Prep and 16 students in Year 6.  Within 7 years it was obvious to us all that the JS would need their own campus and the move to acquire land and build on the other side of High Street began. There is no student who was under Dennis’s tutelage who will ever forget his constant refrain – “You are a walking talking advertisement for GGS”. They knew the standards they had to live by and they did. Matthew and Don now stand in those two sets of shoes and do so with the same passion and striving for excellence which are the guiding principles of a Girton education.

The role of the Board from 1993 has been immense – from the exemplary courage of John Higgs and Jan Thomas to the extraordinary contributions of Chris Morey as Chair and chief advisor and indeed builder of some of our landmark buildings; to Don Naunton and his continued emphasis on the values which underpin our school and are the hallmark of a Girtonian and to Rob Ketterer whose work for the school over 20 years will inevitably occupy a vital chapter in the history of our school; to Sally Ross, who did strong work in her short time as Chair of the Board before her move to Brisbane and now Dave Jemmett, who has recently taken over the reins and I know that he will lead with the strength and commitment he has already shown at Board meetings, both as a Director and since he took over the helm.  To all the Board members collectively from 1993-2019 who have so generously given of their time and who have shown great resilience and courage as they developed our school, I say a profound thank you.  To the great figures who have steered our ship financially, from Richard Trigg, to Richard Guy, to Ken Belfrage and the inimitable Graeme Stewart – my very deep thanks.  You made and make sure that we were, and are always, in a financially sound position and that we could, and can, undertake the very busy building schedules the School has required and yet repay those loans with extreme rapidity.  I suspect we have become the despair of our bankers because they simply cannot make enough money from us! As a person who saw the rather ghastly shambles of the buildings we started leasing in 1993 with their missing floor boards, the lack of hot running water and the bullet holes, to one who constantly admires the beautiful spaces our students now work and play in, I express my thanks to all of you. In those I need to thank I want also to acknowledge Archdeacon Geldart.  In a time when the relations between the Anglican Church and the School were so strained, he stood up as a true follower of Christ and asked if he could render chaplaincy service to the school.  His faith and courage were inspirational then and will surely also ring on through the narrative of Girton. His successor, Archdeacon Harris, has assuredly carried on strongly in his footsteps.

I also wish to acknowledge the many colleagues alongside whom I have worked at GGS for the past 26 years and a bit.  Girton’s teachers are generous and caring – their dedication to the students, their continued good humour despite the many testing times which are a teacher’s lot; their camaraderie and support for each other; their wholehearted commitment to the school; the strength they offer when one of their colleagues is a bit down or needs support – the staff are one of the great strengths of Girton.  I said in an address to the staff at the end of Term 3 last year the following words – I repeat them now because to me they aptly reflect the power of teachers, of our Girton teachers and the role that they exercise daily.

You have the most rewarding and, also, the most difficult of jobs. It is terrific when you have the good times, but the tough times can be truly tough. Times when you must comfort a child or a parent and steer them through traumatic events; times when you have had to deal with confronting situations; times when you have been told confidential matters meaning you are the holder of many secrets, some of which will travel with you to the grave. You are our front-line troops – the protectors of our culture and traditions; the guardians of the children in your House or class. Your role is often not easy. At times you might go home after a hostile email wondering why you are in the job. Please know that you are valued, and your role is central to our school’s culture and critical for our school. Without you and our House system of pastoral care, what would our school be? The fact that we can have students aged 18 happily embracing our culture and wanting to preserve it, is driven by their understanding of the importance of the culture we have and to make sure that those who come after them will also work to preserve it. This doesn’t happen by accident; it is a deliberately cultivated culture which has been successful, and you have been vital in creating and preserving it.  I thank you.

I also want to thank the most important people who have helped me on a daily basis – and by golly I always needed their help – for …..where exactly is the on button on my computer (I had spent 15 minutes prior looking for it) to being a wonderful confidante at some of the more difficult moments I have faced. These people were always there: Marita – thank you; Buffy –you coloured many worlds –  thank you; Mitch, unable to be here today, but a true warrior for Girton and a wonderful support for me  – thank you; Debbie for her great sense of humour that coloured and enriched every day – thank you and, of course, my astonishingly, good natured, cheerful, deeply caring and so very supportive current helper and colleague, Cathy – you are simply amazing. Thank you.

Most importantly I want to thank my family – my husband, Ian, who has had to put up with my many long days and nights out at school functions; and, recently, given my now well entrenched dislike for driving, has been my daily chauffeur; (actually that is a true bonus for the driving public of Bendigo); I want to thank my beautiful children of whom I am so proud and with them, the great delight of my life, my grandchildren – 5 of whom are here today.  These are the people who are the centre of my life; without them my world would be a black and white one; instead, it is peopled with rich family occasions and celebrations. They are indeed my world.

Before I make my final remarks, I would like to acknowledge and thank the extraordinary people who worked so assiduously and so secretively to make this such a special day for me.  It has been wonderful – far more than I could ever have envisaged and it has created memories which will sustain me forever. So, to you secret people – thank you from the bottom of my heart.

I intend to finish now by reflecting on 135 years of History.  What an extraordinary legacy those founders of ours –  Mrs Aherne and Mrs Millward have left for us all; what an amazing contribution; what foresight and what a vision they held out for the education of the young.  Their work, supported by Mrs Frew in the early days, has given us a school with 135 years of history, rich with the stories and narratives of so many children and so many teachers, and peopled with the great drama of recessions, and wars, of difficulties and triumphs and yet, our school still continues and still pays homage to those past large figures in our Girton story. The tiny school of 135 years ago has certainly been a vital influence on the lives of countless young people and on their teachers.  All of us here today have been changed, and formed, by our respective Girton experiences.  All of us have contributed also to the shaping of that web of experiences which has given Girton the unique character that it has.

I pray and hope that all who play a role in this continuing story of Girton, in this chapter under Matthew and Don’s leadership, will live on as true and rightful inheritors of that legacy and that the Board, students and staff will always triumphantly, purposefully and cheerfully, continue to take our banner and hold it high.

Farewell my friends and thank you for 31 amazing years as a teacher at Girton.

 

Speech delivered by Mr Dennis Garoni to colleagues (below).
Photos through the speech script are from the final all-school assembly dedicated to Mrs MacCulloch, featuring Year 1 Singers, The Girton Singers, the Chamber Choir and Lucie Griffin (11 Frew) and Georgia McMillan (11 Riley). 

Many people believe that a person is defined by what they do – “You are what you do”.

But I disagree with that statement.

I think “You do what you are”.

Robyn MacCulloch teaches brilliantly because she is a brilliant teacher.

Robyn leads courageously because she is a courageous leader.

Robyn loves her family and friends because she is a deeply loving person.

Robyn cares for those around her because she is a deeply caring person.

Robyn laughs generously because she has a wonderful sense of humour.

It is human nature to judge ourselves differently to the way we judge others. Most of us judge ourselves on the value of our intentions rather than our actions.

When we judge others however, we often judge based on their actions, i.e. “what we can see”, because we are not sure of their intentions or values.

With Robyn it’s different. In the school environment we know Robyn’s intentions. She wears them on her sleeve. We understand completely what Robyn intends for us as colleagues and for the students over whom she has had such a powerful influence.

And what have been her intentions these past 26 and ½ years?  Well that’s easy to answer – Robyn has intended to maintain standards. And these are standards for which Robyn unapologetically sets a high bar.

When you know Robyn well you understand that she intends for students and staff to be the best they can be. This encompasses academic performance, personal integrity, co-curricular involvement, public speaking, personal presentation, behaviour and so on.

Robyn intends for those who pass through the School she loves to act with integrity, fairness, and honesty.

Many years ago, Robyn introduced the notion of “the professional student”. This clearly indicated her intention to influence the academic atmosphere of the school, and it worked. The students at our School by and large uphold very high standards of personal integrity and academic rigor. This is owed in large part to the expectations, values and example set by Robyn MacCulloch.

Away from School Robyn has always been a present, involved and loving family person. Robyn now intends to be an ever more present wife, mother, grandmother and friend.

Now, this leads me to Robyn’s alter ego – her Marvel Supercomic identity. As well as being a wonderful leader leaping small buildings in a single bound and a crackerjack teacher who can see through the walls of a VCE study room, Robyn is also a “Niddy”. A name bestowed upon her by her grandchildren.

What is a niddy? I googled…

Wordnik says that Niddy is a noun meaning: a fool; a dunce; or a noodle

Urban Dictionary goes with:

  • Someone who initially appears intelligent but is found to be idiotic in the majority of situations.

It goes on to say that a Niddy will:

  • Ask the same question more than twice
  • Not be able to see something directly in front of them
  • Have a terrible memory
  • Be extremely clumsy
  • Overuse telephones
  • Think that sarcasm is wit
  • And – Under no circumstances can a Niddy multitask nor even think and speak at the same time.

Word Hippo tells us that Niddy is derived from Niddicock which is a foolish person; a noodle.

Oxford gives us this:

A Niddy is a hand-held device used to skein and measure yarn, consisting of a vertical central bar with shorter horizontal bars at either end.

Robyn of course is none of these things. Robyn’s grandchildren love their Niddy and we all know what a wonderful grandmother she is. How fortunate they are to have such a powerful role model and a ‘hands on’ carer.

In many ways, Robyn is a woman ahead of her time. She has broken glass ceilings all through her life. She has dealt with hardship and difficult times, both personally and in her career, with courage, grace and leadership – and our wonderful school embodies those qualities and values.

Some of us here were present when Girton Grammar School began in 1993. In a tough and uncertain time, Robyn gave us confidence that everything was going to be OK. She led us to believe that we could bust through walls as long as she was with us.

The Friends of Girton had the vision; side by side with Clayton Jones, you Robyn, had the courage and the work ethic to see the vision through on a daily basis.

No better person could epitomise the history of the transition from Girton College to Girton Grammar School than Robyn MacCulloch – that is your legacy Robyn.

Without Robyn MacCulloch the Girton we know today would not exist.

Farewell – we love you, we will miss you and we wish to see a great deal of you in the future.

Speech given by Mr Clayton Jones, OAM, founding Headmaster, Girton Grammar School at the all-school assembly on 29th March 2019

It is a fine honour to be here today to speak for Mrs Robyn MacCulloch, Deputy Head of Girton Grammar School from December 1992 to today, almost 26-and-a half years. For over seventeen of those years, she served as my Deputy and over nine years for Mr Maruff.

We live in an age of overly exaggerated people or events:  incredible, awesome and so forth. Yet it is difficult to over-state Mrs MacCulloch’s fine contribution to Girton Grammar School.

I first met Mrs MacCulloch in the dark days between the closure of Girton College in August 1992 and the opening of Girton Grammar School in February 1993.  She was a pillar of the Girton Parents and Friends group, led by John Higgs and Jan Thomas, which was responsible for the re-founding of Girton. She was one of several fine teachers who refused to let Girton die.

On my appointment as Headmaster of the renascent school late in 1992, John Higgs asked on behalf of the Board if I would mind having Mr Tony Sheumack, the long-time Headmaster of Beaconhills College, and Mrs MacCulloch as my co-deputies. They were stellar in their performance.

It took very little time to understand that I had a lady deputy whose intelligence and perspicacity were in inverse proportion to her diminutive stature. She had poise, grace and elegance not just in appearance but much more importantly in the things that mattered – wisdom, ethics and demeanour. She was highly respected by the other colleagues whom I had hired from Girton College. (There were quite a few whom I didn’t hire, another story.) More importantly, she had the great respect of her students.

Very quickly, a division of labour emerged. Mrs MacCulloch took on the development of the academic curriculum of the new Girton. To be registered with governments, many teaching documents had to be produced from scratch. Need I say, she produced excellent work which sailed through the school inspections – we had three in a very short few years – and the registering bodies.

Perhaps owing in part to her school education with the nuns at the convent in Grafton, NSW, and their strong Irish influence, I quickly found that Mrs MacCulloch and I had similar views and philosophy about what a school should be and what striving for excellence looked like.

Yet, she was nobody’s apparatchik, nobody’s yes-man/yes-woman, as it were. She was always ready to test my ideas, my views: to understand them, to refine them, to add the needed nuance and polish or sometimes to tell me they were mad!  Excellent team-players never follow a leader blindly. Like the small boy in Hans Christian Anderson’s story of the Emperor with no Clothes, she was always willing to speak up and out. When the decision was made or the policy agreed, there was no more fervent, loyal and skilful executor of the plans.

Throughout the many difficult occasions, Mrs MacCulloch’s counsel was always relevant, sympathetic and intelligent.   I could rely 100% on her discretion and her ear when I was boiling mad with fury when some idiotic behaviour by a staff member, the Board or a student occurred. You cannot buy such wise and able support. Any success that I had as a Headmaster owed significantly to my Deputy.

Mrs MacCulloch taught mostly senior History during her years here. Year on year, her most able students were at or near the top of the State in VCE results. Her less able candidates gained scores well beyond their expectations. She was demanding, rigorous and marked countless essays and their re-writes weekend after weekend.

Her expertise in events management – Foundation Days, Services of Carols and Speech Nights – was there for all to see. Year on year, the already fine events had more innovation and polish. She with Mr McMillan and others pioneered the Boys’ performance at Speech Night as a partial answer to my quest to get boys to sing, dance, act and articulate. That the culture of performance by boys is so strong that it is a combined effort now is testament to her idea and of course, the great work by Music and Drama staff.

Mrs MacCulloch was also the leader when it came to intimate difficulties that girls might experience in their lives and relationships, matters which someone as hapless as I could not possibly understand, never mind manage. So many have attested to her grand conduct of these matters in the years that followed.

In 2003, I had accumulated enough professional leave to take a year finishing my studies at the Australian Graduate School of Management in Sydney. The Board supported my sabbatical because they and I knew the School would be excellently run by the Acting Head. And so, it was.  My main fear on returning was that she might seek a headship elsewhere. Fortunately, she was happy to resume where we had left off.

While Mrs MacCulloch was teaching in her early years and then providing such massive service to the School, she also reared four high-achieving children while her husband Ian was often away in strange and wonderful mining sites all over the world. I suspect she may rank her family’s achievements above her own, but she should be very proud of both.

Finally, when I was contemplating stepping down from the Headship, I asked her if she would remain as Deputy for at least the first three years of the new Head’s reign. As in all things, she has more than fulfilled that promise.

“We make a living by what we get. We make a life by what we give.” (Churchill). Mrs MacCulloch has given so much!

In my 47 years as a schoolmaster, I have come across very many fine teachers, but Mrs MacCulloch ranks in the top echelon, the VCE equivalent is the 99.95. Mrs MacCulloch,  I congratulate you most warmly, but I thank you for your magnificent service to the students, the staff, the School and me.

Hail and farewell!