Boarding at Frensham

By Madison White

About two hours south of Sydney is Frensham, a Winifred West school for girls. Frensham is a boarding high school, with a sprawling campus in the New South Wales town of Mittagong. Regarded as one of the best girls schools in Australia, Frensham was founded by Winifred West, who was still a fixture on campus when Vanessa Toose was a student at the school in the late 60’s to early 70’s.

books-1012088_960_720Vanessa said that several of the teachers would retire to the Frensham campus after having lived there for years while they taught.

Boarding school was a way of life for many people according to Vanessa. She said many of the students attending Frensham were from rural New South Wales, where often there were no high schools for young girls to attend. Vanessa described the founder of the school, Winifred West, as being quite forward thinking for her time.

Vanessa said that each of her two older sisters attended the school before her and that she enjoyed her time at Frensham, admitting it could be quite strict though.

“Even if you lived in Mittagong, you couldn’t go home if you boarded at the school,” said Vanessa.

These rules were in place to keep the small student population, of around 250 to 300 girls when Vanessa attended, a close-knit group. Vanessa said the school only had two public phones that you could call home on, and students were only allowed to ring home on Friday and Saturday nights. This separation from their families all contributed to an environment which Vanessa said made the girls mature at a younger age.

“Whether your parents were five kilometres away or 5000 kilometres away, it didn’t make a difference,” Vanessa said.

With such a small school population, Vanessa commented on how there was never really a chance for cliques to form. Being so far from their families, the girls needed one another for support, and there was rarely any separation amongst them.

“It was almost like a big orphanage if you like, because all our families were a long way away,” said Vanessa.

During their first few years of attending the school, the girls were not permitted to leave the campus by themselves, the only time they were permitted to leave was when they were accompanied by a parent or a parent of a friend. Only once you were in fifth year could you make the 15 minute walk into town on a Saturday morning, and even then, you had to be accompanied by other senior girls according to Vanessa.

Once you became a senior, you took on a larger role in the day to day running of the school, taking on chores like checking the younger students uniforms everyday and serving food at meal times. Another responsibility of the senior girls was to oversee an hour of homework that students were required to do after dinner each night. All of this went towards preparing these girls for being out in the real world, and having to take care of themselves said Vanessa.

Despite all the strict rules and distance from her family, Vanessa maintains that one of the hardest parts of attending Frensham was that the moment she finished her high school career, all of her friends were gone. She had lived for years with these girls, becoming the closest of friends, and once she left school they no longer had that contact.

“It was hard… All of my school friends were gone, there were no mobile phones or internet so you had no idea what they were doing or where they were,” said Vanessa.

Two years ago Vanessa returned to Frensham for her 40year- reunion, and was surprised by the developments the school had made. She thinks that technology has a huge role to play in the way that the school has developed, commenting on how many computers the school now has and the fact that all students would have access to mobiles and internet, meaning that they could be in constant contact with family and friends.

“They have tried to bring it into the new millennium because it might not be accepted otherwise. The rooms are full of computers and all we ever had were pencil sharpeners,” said Vanessa.

As well as new technologies, Frensham now also has an indoor pool and equestrian facilities to add to the tennis and hockey courts. The school now also accepts day students as well as full time and part time boarders.