90 Years in the Making


A Story of Survival, Transformation and Planned Expansion

Foundation 1923

On a Saturday afternoon, 3rd March 1923, the Mayor of Mordialloc, Cr Charles Gideon Imes, opened Mentone Grammar School on the lawn in front of ‘Frogmore’ at 63 Venice Street. An incorporated body now governed by a School Council, this new Grammar School replaced an earlier Mentone Grammar School which was opened in 1920 by St Augustine’s Church Vestry and was originally accommodated in the Church hall. In 1921, this precursor School, with John Aubrey Ball as Headmaster, was to move to a site on Stawell Street, off what is now Warrigal Road. However, by 1922 a general lack of public confidence in Ball’s administration had made it almost inevitable that this inauspicious initiative would fail, and there were those only too ready to engineer its replacement.

At the 1923 opening of the new Mentone Grammar School, Cr Imes was joined by J Allan Anderson, President of the newly formed School Council. Anderson introduced Henry Lycett Tonkin, our founding Headmaster and formerly a Melbourne Grammar Junior School senior master. Parents who had supported the earlier school under Ball’s leadership generally threw their weight behind this new venture.

Anderson’s vision of  “a grammar school of some consequence”, which appealed to business and professional parents of the district, soon gained solid substance following the School Council’s re-registration of the School. New classrooms were scheduled and more boarders enrolled. The new Headmaster was soon to gain his pupil’s confidence and respect, both in the classroom and on the sports field. In both these critical areas his personal involvement served to reinforce his commitment to the twin pillars of scholarship and citizenship, so fundamental to his educational philosophy. It was through his constant encouragement that his fledgling School came to achieve noteworthy success in sport. In 1927, with an eye to establishing an enduring tradition within the School community, Tonkin launched the Old Mentonians Society.

Depression 1929

Towards the end of the 1920s, a local recession had seriously affected pupil numbers. In an ominous sign of things to come enrolments had fallen below 100 ever since 1925 and keeping the Grammar School afloat was to become a financial nightmare with the onset of the Great Depression of 1929. In that year seven parents stepped forward courageously to bail out the School. However, further bad tidings were to come when, in January 1931, Tonkin’s only son, aged 17, lost his battle with leukemia. Eight months later, Tonkin was persuaded to accept the vacant Camberwell Grammar headmastership from 1932, if only for the sake of his grief-stricken family.

Caretaker  1932

Farewelled on Speech Night, 1931, Tonkin acknowledged his successor, H D Irwin of The Hutchins School, Hobart. In fact, this appointment never became a reality as Irwin withdrew his application at the last minute. In his stead, the School Council appointed R J Royce Mayne, recently arrived from New Zealand. Young and eager to gain experience, Mayne acted as caretaker Headmaster during 1932. In third term of that year he confirmed his decision to join the staff of Geelong Grammar in 1933.

Proprietor 1933

Mayne’s Speech Night farewell in 1932 greeted with optimism the prospect of a school under the headmastership of Charles Campbell Thorold. Regarded as one of the great headmasters of his day - he had formerly been Headmaster of The Hutchins School and Barker College - his arrival at Mentone would, it was felt, all but guarantee the School’s future. Charles Thorold leased the School in 1933; an option to purchase was exercised later that year, freeing the Mentone Grammar Association of its existing debts. The final settlement was underwritten by Charles Thorold’s father-in-law, Francis Wellington Were, former Chairman of the stockbroking house of JB Were and Son. This outcome, J Allan Anderson remarked, “would dispel public doubt respecting the School’s future”, for this indeed was his greatest concern.

In a now privately owned and managed school, Charles Thorold’s gifts as a teacher were soon apparent. His influence was profound, attracting parent support and devoted staff. His eldest son, Jeffery, an accountant who was employed by JB Were and Son, tendered much valuable advice on cost-saving measures. However, the advertised adult evening business college of 1938 and the introduction of co-education were both desperate initiatives. Charles Thorold’s sudden death in October 1939 left Jeffery as sole beneficiary and executor with responsibility for 42 pupils. There was to be no enthusiasm shown for a school advertised widely for lease or sale, nor, in the shadow of war, was the real estate market interested.

Survival 1939

The financial support offered by the parent of a boarder strengthened Jeffery Thorold’s resolve to preserve his father’s legacy. He was also to rely upon his step-mother’s support in residential matters relating to boarders. The continuing, if somewhat sceptical, backing of Francis Wellington Were provided financial ballast until wartime enrolments (50 to 280 in six years) guaranteed the School’s future. The majority of these newcomers were boarders, evacuees from places then under threat to Australia’s near north. Jeffery Thorold accommodated the burgeoning numbers and found the requisite staff, many of whom were female during the days of war. Two staff members, Bessie Johnston, former Headmistress of Mentone Girls’ Grammar School, and Arthur Burnaby, briefly accepted the head teacher’s post. By this means they covered for their unqualified employer, who adopted the title ‘Principal’.

Jeffery Thorold’s search for a permanent headmaster ended in 1945 with the appointment of Lionel Ashley Large, a skilled and dedicated educator with high Christian ideals. He attracted qualified staff, raised standards, enhanced the curriculum and widened his pupil’s horizons. In his time the School gained Class A recognition for the internal assessment of the Victorian  Intermediate (Year 10) and Leaving (Year 11) Certificates.

However, in matters of governance difficulties were soon to become apparent. An awkward ‘dual control’ arrangement involving the roles of proprietor and professional awaited Large on his appointment to the post at Mentone Grammar School. This state of affairs continued throughout Large’s headmastership aggravating relationships between him and his employer, Jeffery Thorold.

Transformation, 1957

Post-war enrolments - 650 by 1956 – transformed the School. Acquiring or leasing additional properties along Como Parade and Lucerne Street stretched Jeffery Thorold’s limited resources and he was gradually forced to acknowledge that private ownership – subject to taxation – could never realise his vision of a great school on modern lines. In 1957 Jeffery Thorold sold the School on very generous terms, transferring his ownership to an equally concerned group of parents, led by Finlay Anderson, a solicitor and son of J Allan Anderson, the foundation Chairman of the School Council of 1923. It now fell to Finlay Anderson to arrange for Mentone Grammar School to be incorporated under the Companies Act. A Board of Management, established in accordance with the Articles of Association, would masterplan the School’s future. At the same time, Jeffery Thorold arranged for the School to be formally recognised as a Church of England School. A year later the School joined the AGS. These changes substantially affected the running of the School: a School Chaplain was appointed, ‘Bay View’, with room for a Junior School oval, was acquired. The ‘dual control’ of Principal and Headmaster, the source of strained relations throughout, had become untenable. For his part, Lionel Large accepted retirement in 1960 and the Board of Management subsequently appointed Keith William Jones, “the young man from Sydney”, as the Headmaster of Mentone Grammar School.

Expansion 1961

Keith Jones led from the front the moment he arrived early 1961. Initial masterplanned projects - a Science Wing, the first Keysborough playing fields, a new Library – received the backing of a new Parents’ Association and Building Fund appeal. In 1965 the breakthrough AGS premierships in swimming and cricket redoubled efforts to improve sports facilities and participation. Jones recruited and encouraged better qualified staff, insisting from the outset on an all-round improvement in classroom practice. Raising academic standards at senior levels was, for Jones, a sure measure of his success at Mentone. Meanwhile the Board of Management enthusiastically backed masterplanned projects to that end.

Jones and his staff kept the School on a steady and disciplined course through the late 1960s and troubled 1970s, rejecting teenage pressures to relax established dress standards and much else besides. Building permit and bank finance delays notwithstanding, no fewer than four Board projects came to fruition in 1977: Senior School classrooms, the Music School, the Thorold Hall and the new Keysborough playing fields off Springvale Road. These facilities and the growing stature of the School attracted attention and enrolments which, in 1980, topped 1000.  Nor were the needs of preparatory students overlooked: a Library, aptly named in honour of Finlay Anderson, a Junior School Staff Commonroom with offices, a Junior School Gymasium and the Mary Jones Sub-Primary Centre were all opened in quick succession from 1982 to 1984. In the Senior School the Diamond Jubilee Wing was completed in 1983. In 1984, display cabinets in the Thorold Hall paraded AGS trophies for Swimming, Cricket, Tennis and Soccer, attesting to the skill and drive of coaches and team players alike.

In 1986 the Old Mentonians celebrated their Headmaster’s 25 years of unstinting service. In turn he would celebrate the achievements of the School’s masterplan in the company of the Board Chairman, Mick White, Finlay Anderson and other Board colleagues. Ill-health led to the retirement of Keith Jones at the close of 1987 and his death on 10 January in the New Year.

Continuity 1988

The successor to Keith Jones as Headmaster of Mentone Grammar School, Neville John William Clark, MC, was commissioned on 11 July 1988. Decorated in the Vietnam Conflict, he subsequently taught senior English at Geelong Grammar and Fettes College, Edinburgh. ”Manners”, he firmly believed “mayketh man”. Clark introduced more houses – Deighton and Lionel Large in 1990 – while giving the house system a more important pastoral care function. The Headmaster’s Newsletter, issued weekly over the years under varying titles, kept parents informed of matters on the Headmaster’s mind and provided them with ready reminders of calendared events. Between completed Board projects – The Gregory Fish Library (1991) and the Bayside Aquatic Centre (1999) – a Strategic Planning Survey confirmed a school community, in 1994, with “a particularly high proportion of very satisfied parents”. The sudden death of Deputy Headmaster and esteemed Old Mentonian, Tony Drinan on 17 May 2000 was a grievous loss. In a fitting tribute School House, whose origin could be traced back to 1957, was renamed Drinan House.

The latter years of Clark’s term at the helm of Mentone Grammar were plagued by the 1990’s recession (Treasurer Paul Keating’s, “recession we had to have”). But despite this and the challenges of static enrolments and rising costs, the Board nevertheless was able to complete the Don Ingram Centre in 2001. However, the growing financial pressures that assailed the School were deeply troubling to Clark and it was against this background that he chose to retire on ANZAC Day 2003.

Change 2003

 Seen as a harbinger of change, Timothy Warren Argall supported the Board’s momentous decision to introduce co-education in 2006. Although this departure from the norm of over eighty years did not sit easily with some, it clearly was a measure that would both revive enrolments and embrace a more contemporary concept of education. Initial overtures to amalgamate with Mentone Girls’ Grammar School were firmly rejected. The management of the School then determined to pursue its own independent course, initially in the face of a small but strident opposition. Not to be deflected from his purpose, Argall pursued his considered plan for change in policy direction. Keen to see classroom practice embrace the ‘new pedagogy’, Argall spoke to this theme at various meetings with staff and introduced an experiential learning program, 9 to the power of 4, to enrich Year 9 studies. Structures were revised as a new tripartite organization of the School emerged along Senior-Middle-Junior lines. The co-education model was itself atypical, involving a together-apart-together approach to integrating girls and boys depending on year level. There were also unusual approaches to physical arrangements with ‘glass classrooms’, where glass walls allowed complete transparency to other classrooms and passers by. On a grander scale, the Sports and Functions Centre was opened in 2005. These momentous changes led to differences which were resolved by the mutual decision of Headmaster and Board to part in 2006.

Future 2007

Under the present Principal, Malcolm Jack Cater, and the Board of Directors, led by Simon Appel, OAM, the School continues to prosper. A succession of new projects - the Science and Environmental Studies Centre (2009), ‘Eblana’ (2011) for Years K-4 and ‘Greenways’ (2013) for Year 9 – have all served to meet the needs of record enrolments. These have now reached 1300, comprising 900 boys and 400 girls. Both co-education and the adoption of the ‘Learning Village’ concept in the four campuses - ‘Eblana’, ‘Bayview’, ‘Greenways’ and ‘Frogmore’ - bear witness to a vital and exciting school. The founders have been vindicated in full measure. ‘Labore et Honore’.

James Rundle (with editorial assistance from Hugh Green)