Our Heritage

We had to find ourselves; our feet rang strangely on the red brick floor of the cloisters, as we marched for the first time along them to prayers in ‘The Elephant’.

So why is a school in Mount Eliza called Toorak College?

It’s an interesting historical quirk that Toorak College actually started life as a boys’ school, in the Melbourne suburb of Toorak in 1874. Not surprisingly, it was the guiding influence of the School’s first female Principal, Miss Margaret Tripp, who converted Toorak College to a girls' school in 1897.

Promising growth with a new sporting focus

When Miss Ellen Pye became Principal in 1898, only 18 girls were enrolled and they played no team sports. By the time she left in 1907, over 100 students were enrolled and several sports teams had formed, including tennis, rowing and hockey.

Miss Pye also established an annual sports day, chose the Toorak College Crest, with three daisies looking toward the sun to symbolise ‘purity and modesty with their faces ever looking heavenward’ and introduced the School motto, ‘in labore quies’ which means ‘in work is the true rest of life’.

Relocation and turbulence

In 1919, under the leadership of co-principals Misses Isabel Hamilton and Robina Hamilton, the School moved from its original Douglas Street Toorak home to more spacious grounds on Mayfield Avenue, off Glenferrie Road. By 1926, the sisters conceived a vision to establish a small boarding school in the countryside, reminiscent of the English model and sold the Glenferrie property.

However, after negotiations for a new site fell through, their plan was abandoned. The School was set to close. Forever. A passionate group of parents, students and old girls rallied to save the School. Thankfully, their efforts paid off. Land was soon purchased in Mount Eliza, 30 miles (48 kms) from Melbourne, and in September 1928, the first assembly was held at the newly-built school.

The post-war years

The Great Depression and the Second World War impacted greatly on the number of girls who completed secondary studies. It was Toorak’s post-war Principal, Dorothy Wardle (1943-1958), who encouraged the pursuit of academic excellence in her students. Another passionate educator, Miss Wardle’s ambition to establish a junior school was fulfilled in 1957 and the School’s evolution as both a day school and boarding school began as the population of the Mornington Peninsula increased. Wardle House, our Junior School, is named in her honour.

The names of Toorak’s founding women and the School’s original street locations are proudly remembered in the House names at Toorak: Douglas, Tripp, Pye, Mayfield and Hamilton. Cerutty House is named after the School’s long-serving Principal Dorothea Cerutty, (1967-1976).

‘The Elephant’ was born

A wooden building was transported to the new site in Mt Eliza. On hearing this news, school parent and chairman of the Board, Mr George Russell, was said to have exclaimed, ‘You are surely not taking that white elephant!’

The name ‘The Elephant’ stuck and that same building was used for the next 40 years as an assembly hall, classroom and theatre (until it was demolished in 1972). The name now lives on in the School publication, ‘The Elephant’.

A history of our buildings

Toorak College has benefited greatly from the hard work of our broad school community and its tireless fundraising efforts.

Below is an overview of our School’s enhancements over its long history:

  • Wardle House was established in 1957 in Woodlands Avenue.
  • A building campaign in the 1960s raised funds for the Mary Herring Hall, the Sir Norman Carson Library and the Science laboratories.
  • In 1972, we welcomed our beautiful Chapel and the new Boarding House (named Joan Ansett Hall after Lady Ansett who dedicated more than 40 years to Toorak College).
  • In the 1980s the Arts and Crafts centre was built, Joan Ansett Hall and Mary Herring Hall received extensions.
  • In 2001, Bardon House, our Senior Student Centre, was officially opened.
  • In 2004, the Aquatic Centre opened and the Pavilion Café replaced our old tuckshop.
  • Between 2007 and 2016, Junior School building projects have resulted in four new classrooms and the expansion of the Early Learning Centre.
  • In 2009 and 2010, we added a new all-weather play area to the Junior School, a purpose built music centre and the new Norman Carson Library.
  • In 2014, the bell and the clock tower were restored.
  • In 2015, the School Chapel was renovated and renewed.
  • In 2017, a state-of-the-art athletics track and hockey field was opened.

If you’re looking for a school that embraces tradition, open-mindedness, innovation and individuality, then discover what Toorak College has to offer. Book a tour today.

Visit our Archives page to find out more about the history of Toorak College.