THE BEST STORY OF ALL
When Margaret Margaret Gowanlock sat down to write a history of her former high school, she had no idea what a labour of love It was to become. Now, seven years later and all the hard work is paying off with glowing praise from the community for The Best School Of All: A Tribute To Neutral Bay/Cremome Girls High School - including one honourable former governor in particular.
"When Dame Marie Bashir endorsed the book saying it was a significant piece of social history, that was such a proud moment," Margaret (Maggie) tells North Shore Living. "Since then, I've had many emails thanking me for writing it."
Completing the weighty tome to coincide with the 90th anniversary of the opening of Neutral Bay The commemorative hardback also covers the school's controversial closure in 1987 that led to widespread anger in the North Shore community and a protest march across Sydney Harbour Bridge. "The government took away a wonderful public resource, which was then sold to a private school," says Maggie. "Now, in 2016, the lower North Shore is crying out for more public high schools. It was an act of political expediency and it caused a furore. It was a real hit to the solar plexus for many people."
More than just a history of the school, the book is a record of the lives of young women on the North Shore between 1926 and 1987. From tales of survival during the Depression to traumatic experiences during WWII, there are exhilarating stories of academic success, recognition in the world of literature and the arts, and heart-warming accounts of women who have reached out to improve the lives of underprivileged children.
And Maggie herself was more than equipped to research her subject thanks to an impressive career that began with a cadetship with The Daily Telegraph (during a male-dominated era) and led to a stint on London's Fleet Street, interviewing stellar names including Kathryn Hepburn, Luciano Pavarotti, Joan Sutherland, Sir Edmund Hillary, Peter Ustinov, Robert Mitchum and Frank Sinatra.
Later becoming a publicist for stars such as Sarah Vaughan, Johnny Mathis, Harry Secombe and Nina Simone (who she describes as "highly, highly intelligent and a beautiful pianist but quite a disturbed person nonetheless"), touring with Jesus Christ Superstar and meeting the Queen Mother while working as a governess in Antigua, Maggie definitely has a few stories of her own to tell.
"I had started on my memoir when it hit me that I needed to write this book," she admits. "Through my involvement with the old girls union, I began to realise what it meant to so many people. It was just a great school that people formed incredible bonds at and the book has been a joy to finish."