A year of triumph over adversity

Headmaster Dr Richard Malpass reflects on the challenges of 2021
and how our School community overcame them with remarkable resilience and resourcefulness.


I imagine that about a year ago most Heads and Principals delivered some version of an address to their schools in which they (almost invariably) set about denouncing an entirely dismal 2020 with forays into the optimistically prophetic territory that ‘never again’ would we, at least in our lifetimes, endure such uncertainty, fear and disruption. It goes thus entirely without saying that 2021 found such optimism darkly naive and delivered a few more potently disruptive upper cuts to our lives.

The period of lockdown and online learning has of course been more prolonged than that of 2020, and it hit us later in the year. To say that it has been cruel to our Form VI boys would be a banal understatement. It has been a very challenging time for all of our boys and their families with uncertainty about vaccination availability, uncertainty about the changeability of government guidelines and uncertainty about the degree of confidence families might have to send their children back to school once that became an option. Thus the lockdown denied our Form VI boys their proper Trial Examinations, denied our Form V boys their Annual Examinations, as well as denying our boys in Forms I-IV a fair and reasonable preparation for their Annual Examinations which ultimately could only take place onsite after a flurry of rather last-minute changes to the return-to-school schedule from the government. Whilst prizegiving is typically so central to our traditional Speech Day, the latter half of this year has robbed us of the rigorous grounds upon which we would base the awarding of prizes. Simply put, we did not feel it fair to award prizes in such a compromised and frankly unfair year.

On the staffing front, we farewell from Mathematics Derek Ward, who has commanded the loyal and loving respect of generations of Grammar boys, staff and parents, and whose service to the School has extended wonderfully over three decades, commencing at Grammar in 1991. Boys, to put that in perspective, your Headmaster was a boy entering Form III that year at College Street. Derek and his wife return to their New Zealand homeland for the next chapter of their adventures. Additionally, it was with fondness that we farewelled our Master of the Lower School, Dr Rollo Hesketh, midway through this year as he and his family returned to the UK. Dr Hesketh taught for fourteen years in the History Department served for five years as Master of the Lower School. I would like to thank him for all that he has done for the boys and the School. He is succeeded as the Master of the Lower School by Ms Kymberly Govers.

So, what to say of our experience of 2021?

In short, much was denied, but our boys and staff made the very most of the year despite the general uncertainty and the unpredictability of government ‘settings’ and restrictions on the activities of schools.

Sport and its consequential camaraderie continued to be a vital aspect of the life of the Grammar boy, whether against other schools or in friendly competition in House Sports Days. Many sports have of course suffered and been sacrificed in the pandemic period. Fortunately, the summer sports each enjoyed successful seasons. Our Basketballers and Tennis players all enjoyed an uninterrupted season of fixtures and a healthy range of successes. Of note in Cricket was the annual contest for ‘The Bat’ between Melbourne Grammar and Sydney Grammar School with our School triumphant.

Melbourne Grammar and Sydney Grammar Tri-Grammar teams

Whilst on Cricket, I would like to draw out one memory quite particularly. Those who were in attendance at the Shore vs Grammar First XI Cricket fixture will recall a range of emotions. Our marvellous boys fell only a handful of runs short of winning the GPS Trophy. Whilst our boys were humble in defeat, I will not forget how the Shore Captain of Cricket approached things. Just as the Shore team had begun to celebrate their GPS Trophy, their captain, noting the emotions of our heroic First XI boys, drew his own team away from celebrations in order to form an improvised guard of honour for our boys. The collective camaraderie between the two teams was unmissable. It was hard not to be quietly moved by the significance of the best of our GPS sport.

Ethan Kooner (VI) wicket celebration aginst Shore

Grammar boys cheer the Head of the River crew as they move through the tunnel

Kindly, 2021 permitted the Head of the River to go ahead, and our crews had their opportunity and showing at the big event at SIRC. In keeping with tradition, each of our crews enjoyed a spirited whole-School send-off through the middle playground, an image the latter half of 2021 would not have permitted.

The Grammar crews performed well. Our First VIII were marvellous. Even though they did not achieve the podium finish they had hoped for, it should be noted that their finishing time would have won the 2020 Head of the River. I fondly recall spending time with the crews out on the river during their preparations in the week before the race and have immense respect for what they achieved.

The GPS Swimming carnival was another event which thankfully evaded the COVID-19 cull and saw our swimmers perform admirably against the best of the other GPS Schools. Families will of course be aware that the School has now successfully and excitingly obtained the necessary planning approval to build our own proposed Sport Centre down at Weigall which would provide all Grammar boys for generations to come with far greater access to pools, courts and facilities for a wide range of our sports.

The winter season for our boys, of course, was severely compromised with the lockdown of onsite schooling wiping out all play in Term III when the majority of the competition fixtures typically occur. Nonetheless, the fixtures which did take place in Term II saw our boys in strong form. This was particularly the case in football, a sport which benefitted from having in place an annual pre-season competition to play for the ‘Plate’. It was exciting that both the First XI and Second XI reached their respective ‘Plate’ finals, both to face St Ignatius’ College, a school largely undefeated in recent history. So it was, on a deeply memorable day for Grammar sport, both the First XI and Second XI teams defeated Riverview 1-0 each in two rather tense yet ultimately thrilling victories.

CIS Swimming Championships.jpg

CIS Swimming Championships

Football First XI Plate winners

Football Second XI Plate winners

As I so often state to those who care to listen, the Grammar boy has his sport to keep him physically strong, to develop his teamwork and a healthy sense of competition, to enjoy victory with humility and to learn soberly and with resilience from occasional defeats.

Simultaneously, music remains at all times such an intrinsic and elemental aspect of the Grammar experience.

In his time at the School, through the omnipresence of such high quality music, from our extensive range of concerts to the weekly performances in Assemblies and lunchtime concerts, the Grammar boy is exposed to an environment of cultivated aestheticism where boys and staff dedicate countless hours to create beautiful music for its own sake. Whether or not a Grammar boy plays an instrument, his time at the School is always coloured by that cultivated aestheticism. Its absence from the second half of the year was cruel and debilitating.

Still, the first half of the year happily permitted a broad range of Grammar’s musical offerings. The Term I and Scholars’ Concerts were live, albeit with social distancing. Jun McPhee (VI), winner of the instrumental section of the 2020 Form V Music Competition, accompanied by the jazz orchestra, performed the Concerto for Clarinet by Artie Shaw in a memorable conclusion to the Term I concert. The ever-popular Grammarpalooza raised a considerable amount for the Prefect’s charity. We were fortunate to hold the James Morrison concert before lockdown at the end of Term II. Music classes, instrumental lessons and some rehearsals moved online for the remainder of 2021.

Scholars Concert, Michael Chang (oboe) and Daniel Lin (viola).jpeg

Scholars Concert, Michael Chang (VI) (oboe) and Daniel Lin (VI) (viola)

Term I Concert

James Morrison

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Welcome back after lockdown

Needless to say, as the mid-year holidays were upon us, society’s doors were beginning to close swiftly. There began a most alien Term III for us all. College Street, for the few of us in daily attendance, assumed an eerie emptiness which would stretch on far longer than its 2020 counterpart had done.

As every family knows, the Zoom screen came to dominate the teaching landscape. Boys and staff moved with efficient purpose into that territory, even if the dynamic of two-dimensional, disembodied heads and shoulders in small tiles on a screen began to shed its charm over time. Still, the boys and staff maintained their good humour, their inventiveness and purpose throughout.

It was a pleasure to drop in to a wide range of Zoom lessons during the twelve weeks of online learning to see the manner in which the Grammar classroom had adapted itself so well to a land of ‘muting’, ‘un-muting’, ‘screen-sharing’ and all those other terms which became inescapable verbal staples of that temporary existence.

For those of us left holding the fort at College Street, effort was undertaken to offer information and guidance for boys and their families as we sought to provide clarity and some degree of certainty in a period of unpredictability and trepidation.

Boys will recall that, on occasions, our Deputy Headmaster Mr Tom Watkins and I adopted slightly unconventional methods to share our messages with the boys during Zoom lessons. Indeed, I had not hitherto envisaged that my outfit from Grammarpalooza 2018 would see another outing or two in my time at the School.

Music credit: Form VI String Quintet (2021) performing Fireflies by Owl City, arranged by Alison Gillies