On 5 April 2017 the School community lost our beloved friend and benefactress, Girton old scholar (1934–39) and Foundation Patron Mrs Margaret Bennett.
Margaret started school at Girton in February 1934 along with 146 girls under the leadership of the then new Headmistress Miss Bishop. Margaret very much respected and admired Miss Bishop, describing her as ‘intelligent, dignified, empathetic, practical, feisty and fun-loving’. Perhaps it is not coincidental that all these traits were also evident in Margaret Bennett.
Margaret especially loved her years at Girton, enjoying the Arts, particularly English and writing. She had several short stories and poems published in the annual Girton magazine over her 6 years at the School and was immensely proud of these achievements. Margaret also excelled on the sports field, earning a place in A and B Grade Tennis and Basketball teams. She later became a skilled and formidable golfer.
Of great importance to Margaret were the lifelong friendships forged at the School; many friendships were rekindled years later in the early 1990s when she returned to Girton old scholar events, and many new ones were formed from 1996 when her involvement with Pembroke School began.
Margaret had enjoyed close relationships with her younger brothers Philip and John Sellars who entered King’s College as scholars in 1936 and 1939, respectively, and would often comment that it was only natural that she had formed strong bonds with Pembroke as their families had such strong relationships with both founding schools.
In 1996 Margaret was invited to join the Pembroke School Foundation. At the time the Foundation was preparing for the launch of a capital campaign to fund the Senior School Resource Centre on the Girton Campus. In 1997 she joined the Foundation as a major donor to this campaign and so began a magnificent association of support for and engagement with Pembroke School and its students over 20+ years.
In 2000 Margaret created the Margaret Bennett Art Awards to be awarded annually to Year 12 Visual Art students in SACE and the International Baccalaureate Diploma. In establishing the awards Margaret wished to recognise ‘the quality and diversity of works produced by our students studying Visual Art at the highest level and acknowledging the culmination of years of instruction from exceptional Junior, Middle and Senior School Visual Art teachers’.
The Middle School Resource Centre Capital Campaign was launched in 2001. Margaret was particularly interested in this significant addition to the fabric of the King’s Campus and strongly supported the campaign. The Philip and John Sellars Gallery in the Middle School Resource Centre was named in acknowledgment of Margaret’s benefaction and she was honoured as Foundation Patron.
In 2006 the School Council completed their new Strategic Plan, which formalised the fundraising objectives of the School: to raise funds to assist the educational, pastoral and physical development of the School. Margaret’s keen interest in and ongoing commitment to the Arts at Pembroke motivated her to support the next capital project, the Girton Arts Precinct / Dorothy Yates Hall development.
In recognition of Margaret’s tremendous benefaction over 10 years, School Council bestowed the honour of Life Membership of the School on Margaret in May 2007.
In mid 2008, aged 84, Margaret enthusiastically joined students and staff on the annual Marree Aboriginal / Pembroke Schools Exchange. She held a lifelong love of rural and outback Australia, and travelling with the students to Marree and camping on Lake Eyre and sleeping under the stars was a highlight. Margaret particularly enjoyed evenings around the campfire, surrounded by students discussing their lives and aspirations. She commented at the time that it reminded her of days as a young girl on travels with her father associated with his work in the meat industry.
Student activities on the 2008 exchange included a collaborative film and soundtrack reflecting the students’ perspectives and ambitions for reconciliation in their lifetime. Written, directed and filmed entirely by Marree and Pembroke students, the film was submitted for the Australia-wide Generation One competition. The film was the overall winner and earned the exchange program a cash prize, and Margaret was delighted.
Following this experience Margaret became further immersed in supporting programs at Pembroke. The Unreel Film program for Year 9 students was established and later expanded to Junior, Middle and Senior Drama curricula. She ensured that the Marree Exchange program was funded in perpetuity. Margaret also supported the Equestrian program and the Pedal Prix Team from 2008.
Also in 2008, in recognition of the Sellars family’s long connection with the School, Margaret established the Margaret Sellars Perpetual Trust Fund. The Margaret Sellars Scholarship, first awarded in 2012, provides full tuition for two successful boarding students from rural Australia each year.
Margaret generously provided the seed capital to establish Indigenous Education at Pembroke and the program was launched in 2009 with five students. As student numbers and the program’s success grew, Margaret continued to provide support and felt enormous pride as students graduated and moved into post-school pathways. Of all, this program was perhaps closest to her heart. A respectful and genuine relationship existed between Margaret and the IE@P students and their families; she was viewed as an Elder and warmly embraced as a family member.
In 2014 the Pembroke Improvement Plan initiatives were solidifying. A key initiative under development was a plan to engage students in an experience that brings to their consciousness the importance of sustainable practices in all aspects of life. The philosophy underpinning the planned experience was ‘building community’. Margaret was very interested in the concept and agreed that students should understand the key issues related to the great moral questions of their age, including food security, water management, active citizenship and community responsibility. This understanding could be promoted by engaging them in an experience that brings these issues to life. The long-term vision of having students growing and eventually selling crops and produce while managing and sustaining the land resonated deeply with Margaret and she immediately pledged her support. This vision will be brought closer to reality later this year when The Environmental Learning Centre and Garden of Earthly Delights will be officially opened at the School’s property Old Watulunga at Finniss.
Margaret’s long-held view that education provides all the opportunity a child needs to change their world is validated and reflected in current and past Pembroke students each day, all over the globe. Her legacy will continue to assist the equipping and providing of opportunities for future generations of Pembroke students.
Margaret, your astonishing generosity has provided opportunities, resources, and life experiences to literally hundreds of young men and women. Your legacy is lasting and tremendously significant. We salute you, we miss you and we will never forget you.