Recording artists, television personalities, inventors, elite sports men and women, plus notable figures in Australian history attribute part of their education to Wollongong High School.
It may be renowned as the region’s centre for performing and visual arts students, but Wollongong High still covers every other section of academia and even began life as a selective school.
Celebrating its 100 year anniversary former student, television sports presenter and author Barry Ross was commissioned to collate the school’s history into book form and said he quite enjoyed the task.
Centenary: 100 Years of Wollongong High goes through each of the 200 male and female school captains, prominent teachers, war deaths and sports people.
“I limited that to full international honours, like test matches or Olympic games,” Ross said, as he realised the list was too great.
“There’ just such a wide variety of people and the research I did, I started to find these things I was unaware of … and none of them were in jail.”
Ross listed a raft of names like David Yates, school captain of 1972, who was now a supreme court judge.
Sydney neurosurgeon, John O’Neill, recipient of a Sir Robert Menzies Memories Scholarship; cricketer Brian Taber who played 16 tests for Australia as a wicket keeper; and a former world leading plastic surgeon Graham Rabey.
“There is a three generation test playing family, all played for Australia,” Ross said.
“Bob Young played for Australia at soccer in 1948; his son Craig played rugby league tests for Australia and won grand finals with St George in the 1980’s; and Bobby Young’s grandson Dean Young played one [rugby league] test for Australia and a grand final for St George Illawarra.”
At the turn of the 19th century primary schools were scattered around the Illawarra, some eventually becoming “district schools” which accommodated for primary and secondary students.
However it wasn’t until a motion at an Illawarra Labor Council meeting in 1914, according to Ross, that it was voted Wollongong should have its first stand alone high school.
After the then minister for education agreed, land was purchased at Smith’s Hill with construction beginning in March 1916.
By December, Wollongong’s new high school - the only one at the time between Sydney and the Victorian border - was ready for business.
The first official day for students was January 29, 1917, 140 pupils coming from Helensburgh to Bega to attend classes in the double-storey brick building.
Age Quid Agas, was the original school motto from 1918 but later had to be changed when it was discovered it translated as “What on earth are you doing?”
The motto then became Age Quod Agis meaning “Whatever you do, do well.”
WHS remained on the hill until 1956 when, after seven years of building, classes were moved to a new facility at the current
Lysaght Street location in Fairy Meadow.
In 1992 Wollongong High was officially declared a selective school for students of the performing arts and in 2010 it also became a selective school for visual artists as well.
Rather than delve too much about the technical side of history, Mr Ross chose to write about people: “because people make schools”.
Dr Mary Puckey was the first female superintendent of an Australian hospital, and attended the school with her two younger sisters Grace and Selina.
She was one of the first students to pass the halls in 1917, completing her leaving certificate before going on to study medicine at Sydney University. She was awarded an MBE in 1963, never married and died at the age of 92 in 1990.
Flight Lieutenant Robert Nielsen went on to receive the Distinguished Flying Medal during WWII after flying a Lancaster Bomber home after bombing raids over Germany in 1943.
Prior to joining the RAAF Nielsen was one of the “best rugby league players on the South Coast”, winning a first grade premiership with Mt Kembla during the 1930’s.
Renowned Australian artist David Aspden left Wollongong High in 1950 to take up an apprenticeship as a signwriter in Port Kembla.
During his 12 years in the job he dabbled in painting and eventually became one of the world’s best abstract painters with works in the permanent collection of galleries around Australia including Parliament House in Canberra.
Mark Kerry dominated the pool for Wollongong High School sports and dominated also for his country, a three-time Olympian.
Kerry was to win one of two of Australia’s gold medals at the controversial 1980 Moscow Olympics.
Australian violinist, composer and conductor Richard Tognetti credits part of his education to Wollongong High before enrolling at the Sydney Conservatorium of Music.
Tognetti has worked on many film soundtracks including Master and Commander starring Russell Crowe, and is currently the artistic director and leader of the Australian Chamber Orchestra.
From the class of 1993 rose model Jocette Coote who graced catwalks the world over before eventually becoming a well known figure as the face of Nivea skincare, reportedly for 10 years.
Actor, singer and media personality Natalie Bassingthwaite was also in attendance that year, as was Drew Bailey.
Bailey launched into the film industry a year later, honing his craft in London.
He’s worked as an assistant director on more than 30 films including The Matrix II and III, X Men Origins, Blood Diamond and Charlotte’s Web.
- Centenary: 100 Years of Wollongong High, along with other memorabilia, can be purchased from the school office. www.wollongong-h.schools.nsw.edu.au
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