1975 was a landmark year for Girton Grammar School. For the first time in its 90 year history it had a male Principal, Mr R.N.J. Bikerdike. Not only was it a bold step for the School, it was also a very brave step for Mr Bickerdike. For the previous ten years he had been on the staff of Geelong Grammar, with the last five years as the Head ofTimbertop. He had changed a purely male environ for a predominately female one. At this time only 12 percent of the students were boys.
Never one to baulk at a challenge, Bob began to make real his vision for the future of Girton. This vision generated many dramatic changes over the next ten years. During that time the School’s population grew, it was firmly established as a co-educational School, there was an increase in the number of boarders and new buildings were built on campus.
Bob was an innovative educationalist. He saw the need to make links with our South East Asian neighbours. Indonesian and Japanese languages and Culture studies were introduced, starting in Junior School. In 1981, the first overseas boarders, five students from Sabah and one from Hong Kong joined the School and by 1984 there were fifty overseas boarders.
He was a keen sportsman and camper and the curriculum reflected this. Although there was little room on campus for sports, we soon were playing cricket, soccer, squash and athletics, cross-country running, rowing and archery followed in quick succession. All this required students to be bussed to various locations. Annual camps were held for all levels, but the piece-de-resistance was the Year Ten camp. Under the expert guidance of Mrs Horvarth and Mr Derrick, a week was spent hiking and cross-country skiing at Mittagundi in the Victorian High Country. For many this was an unforgettable experience.
Bob’s strong Christian faith was also evident in all that he did and was reflected in the curriculum in an active community help programme, accompanied by a religious teaching programme. He believed that we should educate students mentally, physically and spiritually to prepare them for the future.
Another aspect of Bob was that he could not resist children that were “problem children”. During his time as Principal, Girton got quite a reputation as being a School that would help children that were having difficulties. Consequently we got some “rogues”, as Bob fondly called them. It is good to be able to say some of them are now very successful adults.
Boarding was an important feature of Girton and had outgrown on-campus facilities and boarders were housed in various locations around Bendigo. What boarder could forget Bob driving the bus on the boarders’ pick up run? Is this why he went to Bathurst?
Bob achieved all this and more. In 1984, when the School Council decided to move to a larger campus, he was ready for another challenge. He was to take up the position of Headmaster at All Saints, Bathhurst.
In all that Bob did, he was staunchly supported by his wife Winifred. She used her nursing experience in the position of School Matron. As well as handing out pills and potions, she believed in the curative value ofT.LC. She has an endless supply of it and was very generous in prescribing it. The Christmas lunch she put on for the staff was looked forward to and finished the teaching year on a very happy note.
Those of us who were at Girton during Bob’s time were fortunate indeed. Students and staff all benefited from his wisdom and understanding. As his Deputy, I valued the experience of working beside him; he was a natural mentor and I like to think I was a receptive pupil. Bob was a very special man who will be remembered by those in the Girton community with great affection and gratitude.
Deputy Principal Girton College 1977 – 1990
Honorary Life Member Old Girtonians’ Association
Overview of Bob Bickerdike
Born in the UK (Ipswich, Suffolk) in 1927, Bob received his secondary education at Monkton Combe School, where he was Head Prefect as well as being a keen runner, rower and rugby player. He graduated from Oxford with a Master of Arts (Economics & Agricultural Science).
Bob married Winifred on December 27th, 1952 and they became the proud parents of four sons. The Bickerdikes migrated to Australia in 1953. Wherever they lived, Bob and Winifred took an active role with local church groups. Bob had a particular interest in running bible groups throughout his life.
Bob’s working life:
- British Army, 1946-1949, served as an officer in Palestine.
- Research Scientist, 1953-1955, CSIRO, Deniliquin
- Resident Master, 1955-1959, Yarra Junction – rural farm campus of Caulfield Grammar School, Melbourne (awarded teaching qualifications)
- Teacher, 1959-1964, Caulfield Campus, Caulfield Grammar School, Melbourne
- Senior Biology Teacher, 1965-1970, Geelong Grammar School, Corio Campus
- Headmaster, 1971-1974, timbertop Campus
- Principal, 1975-1984, Girton College, Bendigo
- Headmaster, 1985-1992, All Saints’ College, Bathurst
- Principal, 1995-1996, Kathmandu International Study Centre (Nepal)