Tuesday, August 21, 2012

For the love of old buildings...

I was chatting to a friend recently about architecture and what our preferences  were and why we liked what we liked. I realised that my love for old buildings, their aged patina from years of use, the history and the lives they have housed, comes from where I went to school.  I boarded for seven years at Kambala Girls School in Sydney's beautiful eastern suburbs (from the start of year 6 in Primary through to the end of Year 12).  

This grand old dame below is the boarding house of the school. What is now the boarding house Tivoli, was originally the spacious home of Captain William Dumaresq built in 1841. Kambala, as a school was founded in 1887 and moved to the Tivoli property in 1913.  

Kambala has incredible sweeping views of Sydney right down the harbour to the bridge. It was such a privilege to sit on your bed and look out of the dormitory windows at the amazing views. A lot of the dorms had balconies over looking the harbour and we would spend much of our weekends either on the balconies or sweeping front lawn chatting (probably about boys most of the time!)

The boarding house was very interesting as it wasn't built as a boarding house but as a private mansion with lots of formal rooms, bedrooms, servants quarters and hidden stairwells etc. The building is very beautiful with French doors leading on to the verandah and marble hallways and lots of beautiful sash and casement windows. Even while I was there I totally loved the building and felt privileged to live in such an amazing space - despite the bright green carpet in the dorms, creaky old bunk beds and crappy showers that we were not allowed to linger in.

The main enclosed verandah along the first middle floor in the photo below was my dormitory in Year 8. It was freezing in winter as the windows were all very old and rattling and even when they were shut and locked the wind blew in. I remember being so cold in bed at night that year.  We had one mistress who would waltz in every morning at 6:30 am to get us up for prep (study) by saying "rise and shine, it's a real nice morning" even if it was freezing outside and raining. Although saying that she'd been a mistress previously at one of Sydney's private boys schools and she used to waltz into them in the early morning saying "wakey wakey, hands off snakey" hilarious...so I think we probably shouldn't have complained, it could have been worse.

In the photo above the little dormer window third from the right on the roof line was where my bed and desk were in Year 12. I could sit at my desk and look out across the harbour to the Harbour Bridge the Opera house and city lights. As a boarder we didn't have many opportunities to go out, school was very strict, but if you are stuck at school, it was a pretty good place to be stuck.

What an amazing view to grow up with. The boarding house has a sandstone verandah sweeping around it and the boarders used to sit on the flagstones and eat our lunch.  I'm sure the food has since improved but it was pretty dire back in my day and I really hated it. Luckily the day girls would often take pity on us boarders and bring us nice treats or swap lunches with us! 

Once a year (or possibly once a term) my dad used to  send us a big box full of yummy treats for our tuck. It sounds so old fashioned now and like something from an Enid Blighton novel, but we were allowed to have treats but they were taken from you and locked up in a bit wooden locker and every afternoon at 3:30pm the tuck locker was opened and you were allowed a small treat. We used to try and smuggle food up to our dorms for a midnight feast but usually you would be sprung by the mistresses who would confiscate the food, give you a detention and then later you'd walk by the office and there were the mistresses all sitting up eating your tuck!  We also would go and raid the kitchen in the middle of the night but there was never anything left unlocked except jelly crystals so we'd eat them by the cupful. I can remember an unsuccessful attempt once of making a whole bucketful of jelly, it was a big sticky mess.

I was very lucky to have such a classical education and I really appreciate the sacrifices my parents made to send me there. As well as all the normal classes (maths, physics, chemistry, geography, history, english, art, music etc) I studied French and Latin, I played the flute in the orchestra and woodwind ensemble, sang in the choir, I debated, I played tennis and softball, loved the hurdles and throwing the discus. I did 6 years of ballroom dancing, went to the ballet, opera and symphony regularly at Sydney's Opera house as well as singing there in an amazing 2000 strong combined schools choir which was such an incredible event.  

It was a pretty amazing school for a thoroughly rounded education and while it all may seem quite privileged, my parents sacrificed a lot to send us there. Mum had taught English and Latin at Kambala when she and Dad were first married so when my sister asked to go to boarding school (a desire borne from reading English novels), Mum sent us to the school she knew best. I have no idea of what it's like now though and won't be sending my daughter there across the city from Lilyfield.  I want her closer to home and closer to me.  I am really not sure how my mum (and Dad) managed to send us girls so far away to school.

Photos via 
so there you go, a little more about me.  beautiful buildings, no?

What's your favourite sort of architecture?  Why do you like it?

Fiona xx

PS Dad, thanks for my wonderful education and all the money you spent. I really appreciate it and value it! Thanks also for reading my blog! Love you very much.


  1. What an amazing building, and the views! Gorgeous!

  2. What an incredible building and an amazing place to go to school. I'm always interested in whether parents who have been to boarding school as children would send their own children. Interesting that you wont be sending your daughter. I don't blame you, my boys went to Joey's and I hated them being away from me and would never send my daughter. Toni

  3. Oh what a wonderful education you had in such inspiring buildings. Even more wonderful that you were so grateful for it! A-M xx

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