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Ellen Reid talk 1995

Talk given by Ellen Reid (Boyle) to the 1995 reunion of girls of the 1960 Leaving year at the house of Janet Holmes à Court (Ranford)

First of all I’d like to welcome you here this afternoon. Five weeks ago I decided to find a few of you who could write to one of our fellow students who has been through the mill of life. The last thing I imagined was that a year re-union would be possible within such a short time.

We have even managed to find some of our surviving teachers, and we welcome Miss Clare Casey.

Forty years ago Bob Menzies was the Prime Minister. Princess Margaret was being forced to give up her divorced lover Capt. Peter Townsend. The Narrows Bridge and Freeway system did not exist. Trams still ran up Hay Street. And we could never have foreseen that in forty years time we would be gathered together like this.

We were all very bright twelve-year-olds who had sailed through primary school, and I think that we would have all been in the top half of the top class in our school. Some of us were already at high school, but most were congregated in classes in the more affluent inner and western suburbs.

In August of that year we sat for an exam, the results from which were to determine the courses we would take at high school. On 15 October the results of the Scholarship exam were published in the West Australian:
53 “Scholarships” were awarded, of which 18 were to girls.
68 “Entrances” were awarded, of which 29 were to girls.

From a total of 121 metropolitan area awards, 39 girls chose Perth Modern School for their secondary education. In the next six weeks, another lot of “Entrances” was awarded, so that when the new school year commenced there were an extra 24 girls, making 63 girls, in two classes.

From what I can gather, there was no difference between what the original scholarship winners received, and what we “late entrancers” received. Financially, we were not brilliantly off: three pounds per year for books, and free admission to the Junior and Leaving Exams. Two of our number, Wendy Dowsett, and Bruce Williams, won Shell scholarships, which gave them the fortune of fifteen pounds per year!

The main benefit of passing the scholarship exam was that you could attend Perth Modern School, where you would receive the best education the State school system could provide.

Those of us who went to Mod were initially separated alphabetically, with the first 30 in 1C, and the rest in 1D. Mainly based on exam results at the end of first year, we were then directed into either the arts or science streams. In Arts you could do French and Biology. In Science there were German, Physics and Chemistry. And your high school class was thus virtually unchangeable until you left. Only a handful of girls managed to escape this polarisation in fourth year.

When we were in third year, a terrible thing happened. The Government announced that Mod would no longer be a scholarship school, and that from the next year, it would accept all the local children ready for first year, and more fourth years than previously. To us this was a disaster. We also had to suffer the problems caused by the building of the new part of the school.

Some parents were so worried about the changes that girls were withdrawn at the end of third year, and transferred to colleges. Some girls also left at the end of second and third years because of financial considerations at home, remembering of course that most girls left school at fourteen in those days. To stay on at school after the Junior exam was the exception rather than the rule.

When our Fourth year began, we Old Fours felt under siege. The school went from about 700 students to over a thousand. We retreated within ourselves. The New Fours had to cope with leaving schools where they had been the prefects and top students to face these scholarship girls who acted as though they owned the place. The school system itself did little to achieve integration, and some of us have regret for the hostility generated.


Many of us at Mod came from comparatively wealthy families, whose parents and siblings may have also been students. But there were also girls from the other side of the tracks.

My family did not even own a car until I was about 10. We came from New South Wales, and because of the difference in school systems, I found myself in first year at Kent Street High School. When I received the Entrance letter, I did not want to go to Mod.

Neither of my parents had had a secondary education, and they were determined that I would go. We lived in a half built house in the unknown south of the river suburb called Riverton. It was a tremendous struggle for them to buy my uniform and pay the bus fares. I had to work on Saturday mornings, and in the holidays, to help buy my books. I spent long hours travelling to and from school, with no intellectual support at home. The only books in the house were my school texts.

There were others with problem backgrounds, but we kept them private from the rest. It is only now that I can appreciate the trials that some of the other girls had. The peer group pressures at the time were quite intense.

There were also the education pressures. We were scholarship winners, and as such we had to perform. Many of the teachers had had previous students pass the Leaving with distinctions, and we were going to do the same. And there were to be Exhibitions, for the school and the teachers’ reputation. Well, our “year” outdid them all. Six Exhibitions were awarded to girls, with another 13 to the boys. A total of 19 out of the 30 awarded. I don’t think there has been anything like it since.

Thirty five years ago this month we sat for the Leaving exams, and then dispersed. There were no “graduation” ceremonies, or any “rites of passage”. The exams were the climax, and then nothing. The majority of you I have not seen or heard of in all that time, and there has always been a feeling of loss, wondering where everyone had gone. When the “reunion” movement started a few years ago, I secretly longed for someone to find me, for a Perth Mod. reunion. But the call never came. And now I’ve found you!

Like many of you, one of the few people we heard of was Janet. I was watching the news one night, and the owners of the winning horse in the Melbourne Cup were shown. I nearly fell off the couch. It was Janet Ranford! The family have had to suffer ever since, that “I” went to school with Janet Holmes à Court! But Janet is not the only one who has been doing interesting things. You have all been ever so busy!


Of the 137 names we could remember between us, we have located 114 girls, in spite of their name changes. Nearly all have been married at least once. Quite a few have been married twice. Four have been widowed. Two have died: Francine Carroll and Catherine Kennedy.

Most of us have had children, either naturally, or by adoption. Most have had two children, with a few with only one, or three or four children. I have only heard of one girl with 5 or 6 (Sonia Smith in the USA).

Quite a few, like I, have had miscarriages. I also had one son live 3 hours. Some have had children with disabilities. Only recently Anne Forbes lost her only daughter, aged 25 years, from a melanoma.

Our mental health has taken a battering in quite a few cases, with three of our 112 still alive today being unable to work, because of such problems. One of the girls from our “year” is now a psychiatrist specialising in women’s problems. She blames many of the pressures of our schooling for our present situation.

On the other hand, because we were at Mod, we have achieved an amazing success rate in the professions. We were ahead of our time in having higher secondary and tertiary education, and have been among the pioneers in some fields.

Can you imagine this happening today? One school provided fifty new female teachers into the education department, from one year! Today, there would probably not be 50 female graduates obtaining work from all schools combined!

Today these teachers have spread throughout the world, in all sorts of situations. There are principals, guidance and advisory staff. Some have left teaching to pursue other careers, such as the public service, mission work, and tourism.

The medical fields have been well represented. Two girls are psychiatrists. Ten did nursing, with another diversity of activities. Some are administrators, nursing directors, midwives and clinical nurses. There are two physiotherapists, two pharmacists, and two radiographers. One is a speech therapist, and another a medical scientist specialising in cytology. One is the director of a nation-wide Government nutrition survey.

Five are librarians. Several followed the pure sciences, in biology, biochemistry, microbiology, and maths.

Two girls are now professors. Our head girl, Jennifer Chessell, is associate professor of plant science at Murdoch, while Val Kerruish is a professor in the Law School at Macquarie Uni in Sydney.

Some girls entered the public service, either after the Junior, or Leaving, or much later, as a development in their career paths. Some who left school after third year continued their studies at night school, and one is now a lecturer in Computer Programming at Curtin Uni. Many have done post graduate studies as well.

Quite a few have been involved in business, either as proprietors, company managers, directors, etc. Many have changed from their original career, and tried totally different paths:

Air hostess
Art therapy
Avon lady
Building society branch manager
Business proprietor
Clerical work
Company director
Craft work
Duck breeding
Fashion sales
Interior decorating
Medical receptionist
Minister of religion
Music teacher
Office manager
Promotions manager
Real estate
Social work
Taxi driver
Tourism director
Travel agent
Veterinary receptionist
Wine making.

Our private lives have also been very busy. We have been active in churches, community groups associated with our children’s schooling, amateur theatricals, Nursing Mothers’, car rallying, and so on. It is interesting to note that only one seems to have been involved in local government. We are not as “political” as a similar group of graduates would be today, although Barbara’s husband was the Minister for Education in a bygone era.

We have knitted and sewn and crocheted and quilted. We have cooked, and preserved, and gardened and read. We have travelled extensively, in Australia and overseas. Many of us have packed more into our life so far, than many would do in several lives, and in many instances, girls have said that they really feel they are only just beginning to live!

Our children have brought us much joy, as well as the heartache. Several of us are grandmothers, and that seems to be the main interest that we will all develop in the coming years. The next ten years should see us all enter a new phase as the men in our life retire from work outside home, and we have to find ways of keeping them from getting in our way! We should soon all be able to do just what we want to, relatively free from the pressures of work, money and lack of time. For myself, at least, I think the best is yet to come!


This afternoon has given us an opportunity to rejoice in our past achievements. And we are only the female students! The men have not had their turn, but we are hoping that now the majority of the girls have been “found”, we will be able to have a full re-union next year. This will also give the opportunity for people to organise travel from overseas. So far we have recalled the names of 95 of the boys, but only 27 have been located. We really need someone with access to the Taxation Department’s computer to track them down!

We need a committee to complete the search, and to organise the first full re-union. I will be leaving for England in a fortnight, so I’ve done my part here. I suggest that Valda and Frank Pitman be our contact point, as they have done so much already. But they would need help, especially in going through electoral rolls, marriage records, etc, which I have not had the time to do. If you want to help, please see Valda later today, or phone her.

On your behalf I’d like to thank Janet for being our hostess. She actually offered to cater for this afternoon, but I thought we should all be personally involved.

Several girls who have been involved more than others in finding names have been Valda, Marie Bonds, Barbara Collins, Lorraine Day, Russlyn Millar and Flo Smith. I especially want to thank the girls who have prepared their class’s talk, and Vivette Hughes who made our gorgeous name tags!

My husband Jim will be taking class photos this afternoon, so would you please find your former classmates, after the talks, and before we eat.

My daughter Jean is helping Mrs Stokes in the kitchen, and you don’t have to let her know all my past!

Garry Gillard | New: 21 April, 2022 | Now: 7 April, 2023