Fine Sportswomen

Mr Stephen Fogarty, Director of Health and Physical Education

Teaching is a rewarding profession. One of its greatest rewards comes from seeing the development of students — their growth, maturity and independence. It’s a fine thing to see them move through the School as they ready themselves to face the world. Of course, the flip side of this is that teachers often find themselves wondering about students, long after said students have left — wondering if they have fulfilled their promise, if they are happy and if they’re okay. It’s a great thing then, when you are able to catch up with students who you care about, after they have left the relative safety of Girls Grammar. The encounter is even better when, because of the tyranny of distance, it is an otherwise unlikely occurrence. So it was that, in September of last year (2016), I was fortunate to be able to visit two Grammar Women currently studying in Boston, Massachusetts in the United States of America (USA) and share a little of their university experience.

Ms Christie Molloy (2012) is currently a Junior at Boston University (BU) majoring in Graphic Design and minoring in Computer Science. She transferred from the Queensland University of Technology (QUT) after receiving a partial scholarship for Track and Field and meeting the academic criteria for entry. As a BU athlete, Christie trains three hours a day and she travels across America competing in outdoor Heptathlon and indoor Pentathlon (with disciplines including hurdles, high jump, shot put, long jump, javelin, 200-metre sprint, and 800-metre run). The incredible variation of these events is fitting given that, in the ninety-nine year history of the Girls Grammar Sports Brooch, Christie is a three-time recipient (one of only two). As a BU student, Christie looks to enhance her studies by contributing to design events on campus. She has just secured a summer internship at Twitter, and she feels that the experiences and skills that she developed in the sports environment match well with the type of skills sought by Twitter.

Ms Sarah Tisdall (2015) has recently commenced study at Harvard University. Having met the academic requirements, and with her Rowing prowess, she was able to secure a place at one of the best learning institutions in the world. Sarah is working towards a Bachelor of Arts and Sciences and is looking to major in Social Studies, while currently studying Economics, Statistics, Entrepreneurship in Africa, and Swahili language. Sarah trains for Rowing twice a day, mostly on the water. Over the winter, when the Charles River was frozen over, she was forced to train on ‘ergos’. Sarah describes the team culture at Harvard as ‘amazing’ and is inspired by people’s efforts in all aspects of their lives.

During the visit, I was struck by Christie’s and Sarah’s humility, their sense of joy and quiet determination. I was struck by it but not surprised, as I had observed the same qualities in them as Girls Grammar students. These young women (products of their parents and of their environment) are quite unconsciously pursuing lives centred on education and sport. They are a living embodiment of Girls Grammar Principal (1900–1912), Miss Milicent Wilkinson’s desire to enable Grammar girls ‘to become fine sportswomen’. Meeting with Christie and Sarah, in the country that enacted the landmark Title IX amendment into law in 1972 (whereby no one could be discriminated against, on the basis of sex, in any federally funded education programme or activity paving the way for the extensive female sports programmes within USA universities and colleges), encouraged me to think about women’s sport and the changes that are taking place.

It feels like something is happening with women’s sport. Something positive. A point eloquently expressed by Melbourne-based journalist, writer, television and radio presenter, film producer and public speaker, Angela Pippos, in her recently published, fantastically thought-provoking book Breaking the Mould: Taking a Hammer to Sexism in Sport (2017). A change is occurring.  Super Netball, Australia’s new domestic competition is flourishing. Last season’s women’s Big Bash Cricket led to unprecedented coverage of the game and its athletes, including among them Girls Grammar alumnae and Brisbane Heat Captain, Ms Kirby Short (2003). This year’s inaugural Women’s AFL competition seemed to noticeably alter the community’s perception of women and what they can and will achieve if they are given the opportunity to compete at the highest level.

It hasn’t been all rosy. Female athletes are still unreasonably judged on their appearance in ways that would never be applied to their male counterparts. Media coverage of women’s sport is still too limited and the pay-gap between men and women is still too large (although Australia’s female Football, Netball and Cricket players have shown strength in demanding and rightly receiving more). Female sports journalists are still expected to accept casual sexism and aggression as part of their employment conditions. Witness West Indian cricketer, Chris Gayle’s on-air propositioning of (visibly cringing) Big Bash Cricket reporter Mel McLaughlin who was told, ‘Don’t blush, baby’, and Collingwood Football Club President, Eddie McGuire’s on-air suggestion that he’d ‘pay to drown’ Walkley Award-winning journalist Caroline Wilson. Clearly, we still have a long, long way to go.

One of the great joys of working at Brisbane Girls Grammar School comes with the realisation that the School’s Intent is not simply for show.

Proud of our Grammar tradition, we are a secondary school that establishes the educational foundation for young women to contribute confidently to their world with wisdom, imagination and integrity (Brisbane Girls Grammar School, 2016).

The School community lives by this idea, and it did so long before the idea was so clearly articulated. In the history of sport and Health and Physical Education at Girls Grammar, we have seen sporting women — teachers, coaches, students — who have lived by and inspired others to live by the words of our Intent, regardless of the barriers that they faced in relation to women’s progress in sport.

These women, who in many cases were pioneers, serve as role models for current and future Grammar girls and include long-serving teachers of Health and Physical Education, and accomplished sportswomen in their own right: Miss Dorothy Brockway (1899, staff 1913-1934), Mrs Meg Rorke (staff 1944-1955), Miss Elizabeth Hatton (1964, staff 1967-2011) and Mrs Pauline Harvey-Short (1971, staff 1977-present); Basketball Coach Ms Wilhelmina Smith (staff 1998-present); and former students Mrs Daphne Pirie MBE, AO (1949, athlete, highly influential sports administrator and ‘School treasure’) and Ms Sarah Lingard (2010, sports reporter for Channel 7 on the Gold Coast).

If one subscribes to the view that ‘if you can see it, you can be it’, then these sporting women have (for generations of girls) provided the vision of what a Grammar girl can be.

When it comes to role models, the current cohort of Grammar girls could do a lot worse than look up to Christie Molloy and Sarah Tisdall. Both of these Grammar Women, I suggest, would reject the honour. They would say that they haven’t yet achieved very much of note. I would argue that they have done at least one thing very well: they have recognised the opportunity inherent in their involvement in sport and Health and Physical Education at Brisbane Girls Grammar School.

In Christie’s own words:

When I chose Physical Education as a subject at Brisbane Girls Grammar School and participated in six co-curricular sports, I never realised the profound impact that sport would have on my future. Sport is commonly known for its physical benefits and can be seen as a distraction from education. However, I beg to differ, because sport has provided me with a vast set of life skills, including teamwork, discipline, hard work, punctuality, organisation, mental-toughness and determination, to name a few. These skills were pertinent when I applied for my college application and are still pertinent as I now apply for jobs. Girls Grammar’s encouragement of female participation in sport and Physical Education is incredible. Not only has it given me the motivation and drive that I have today to be try to be an empowering woman in the community, but I see so many of my fellow Physical Education classmates achieving great things all over the world. If it weren’t for sport at Girls Grammar I wouldn’t be living in Boston today. Sport has been a catalyst for my future career aspirations in the United States.

Sarah supports this when she says:

Studying at Harvard is a lot of hard work and the Rowing is very demanding but I think that sport and, in particular, Rowing at Girls Grammar has prepared me for it. Sport (at any level) is such an important way, especially for young girls, to learn confidence and hard work, and for them to know that they are contributing to something bigger than themselves. The sports programme at Girls Grammar is so much more than just physical activity, and while I believe that fitness is very important, I think that it is more important to learn the lessons that sport teaches. Lessons such as, how to get along with all types of people, how to push the boundaries and strive for things outside of your comfort zone. Most importantly, how to find something that you love, and that makes you happy.

The School’s seventh Principal wished to provide opportunities for Grammar girls ‘to become fine sportswomen’ and there has been a steady line of girls who have seized the opportunity. Christie and Sarah, with their humility, joy and determination, rightly take their places in the line. Others will follow. Miss Milicent Wilkinson would be proud.


Brisbane Girls Grammar School. (2016). Strategic Design 2016-2019 [Brochure]. 4.

Harvey-Short, P. (2011). To become fine sportswomen: the history of health, physical education and sport at Brisbane Girls Grammar 1875-2010. Brisbane: Brisbane Girls Grammar School

Pippos, A. (2017). Breaking the Mould: Taking a Hammer to Sexism in Sport. Melbourne: Affirm Press