A Remarkable Coincidence


In October this year, Knox will host the Australian Lace Guild during the school holidays for their Triennial conference and AGM.

The Australian Lace Guild had considered many ideas for their Triennial theme including the obvious ones of Sydney Harbour, the Opera House and the Harbour Bridge, but decided that they were all too “local” – they are not the Sydney Lace Guild but the Australian Lace Guild.

So, in October 2009, their Committee decided on a theme they hoped might inspire all their members – “My Country” based on the poem by Dorothea MacKellar.

Early last year (2010), they approached Knox Grammar School to see if our boarding facilities might suit their needs – and as we were just finishing our lovely new Boarding Centre, we were delighted to accommodate them. In January this year, as we escorted committee members around the premises, an interesting fact was mentioned which had previously been unknown to them – there is a link between Knox and the MacKellar family!

Dorothea MacKellar was born on 1 July, 1885 at Point Piper, a harbourside suburb of Sydney. On 8 August, 1885, she was baptised at All Saints Anglican church at nearby Woollahra. Her father, Charles MacKellar was a doctor who was very active in good causes, eventually becoming a politician as well as serving on various committees to help the less fortunate and on the boards of many companies.
Later, the family lived at Wahroonga, in a house called Earlston and it was here that Dorothea spent her childhood. Educated at home, she attended some lectures at Sydney University and travelled extensively overseas with her parents as they considered travel an important part of her education. She spoke French, German, Italian and Spanish and often acted as her father’s translator overseas.

And the Knox connection?
Several businessmen and a clergyman who lived in the upper north shore area of Sydney had a dream to start a school for boys based on Christian principles. In 1923 two local businessmen advanced £1,000 each as a deposit to purchase Earlston from Dr MacKellar for the proposed school, while two other gentlemen found £3,000 to convert the 12 acre property (which included the main house and two cottages, an orchard and a vegetable garden, with a “good close fence” all around the property), to a school. Dr MacKellar was obviously in sympathy with the plans for the new school, because he funded the rest of the purchase price of the property, giving the school the opportunity to pay the loan back at favourable rates over a period of years.
Knox was opened in 1924, with Earlston being used for the first classes held at the school, as well as the Headmaster’s home and boarding house for six boys. The school now has over 2,000 pupils and although there has been lots of building over the years, Earlston, Dorothea MacKellar’s childhood home still stands, right next to the new Boarding House.

Knox’s new Boarding House is full to overflowing, so Earlston (now called “Gillespie”) has been adapted to provide single room accommodation for 20 senior boys to expand on the new Boarding Centre. In doing so, many of the original features of the house have been preserved.