In February 1896 in a house in Mayston Street Camberwell, fourteen girls sat around a table waiting to be divided into classes. So began Fintona.
Annie Hughston’s teaching experience, combined with that of her brother William, promised to prospective parents that the education Fintona offered would be academically sound. Miss Hughston was the moving spirit behind all the school’s activities. To establish and lead one’s own school demonstrated not only determination but perseverance. In 1898, Fintona was moved to a site on the corner of Burke Road and Victoria Street Camberwell. By 1901 there were 100 pupils and Fintona was acknowledged for its scholastic excellence and a close affiliation with the Presbyterian Church.
By 1921, when Miss Hughston retired as Headmistress but remained as the Principal, the School’s numbers had reached approximately 500 hundred students and in 1923, under the guidance of Fintona’s second Headmistress, Miss Isobel Macdonald, the five houses of Boyne, Clarke, Maxwell and Murdoch were established. Hughston House was introduced later during the nineteen seventies due to expanding student numbers.
From 1927, during the time of Miss Marjory Black as Headmistress, much change was introduced with many curriculum initiatives and most notably, a change from a blue uniform to that of brown. In 1929, Miss Jeannie McCowan became Fintona’s fourth Headmistress during what was to become a very difficult time as the Great Depression was soon to envelop the world.
In 1935 Miss Margaret Cunningham bought the goodwill of Fintona from Miss Hughston and became Fintona’s Principal and fifth Headmistress. In 1936, Fintona moved into Tourmont, situated on the magnificent site where it stands today. When the flag was raised at Tourmont in 1936 Miss Cunningham announced she was bequeathing Fintona to the Old Fintonians. A company known as Fintona Girls’ School was formed with membership available to past pupils and past and present staff members.
Those early years of Miss Cunningham’s leadership saw the beginning of key events such as Drama Day and Shakespeare Day, along with the Music Concert, in the annual calendar. There was also a strong focus on developing a curriculum which would equip girls for life. The Fintona community faced the difficult times of World War II with stoic resolve for the war effort and the School was used for community training and evacuation practices. Following the lifting of war time restrictions the Junior School, including Buick Hall named after Margaret Cunningham’s maternal family, was built on the Mitiamo site in Balwyn Road. Margaret Cunningham was awarded an Order of the British Empire (OBE) for her services to education and in1961 she handed over the School to the Old Girls and established the Board of Management of Fintona Girls’ School.
In 1961 after 34 years of service, Miss Cunningham retired and was succeeded by Miss Elizabeth Butt OAM. Throughout Miss Butt’s time as Headmistress, she oversaw substantial building extensions to the Senior and Junior School, major changes in curriculum, a deepening of contacts with other schools, as well as expansion on the drama, sporting and musical fronts. The Elizabeth Butt Building and the Elizabeth Butt Public Speaking Competition are testament to her outstanding commitment to Fintona. Elizabeth Butt was awarded a Medal of the Order of Australia in 2010 for her services to schools and educational leadership.
Dr Deborah Seifert AM was appointed Principal in 1991. The Victorian Certificate of Education was introduced and under her leadership academic results improved further and many Premier’s Awards were obtained by Fintona students. Outdoor education programs were introduced as was the Connections program. The implementation of the Middle School also took place. The Elizabeth Butt Public Speaking Competition was established and the formalisation of the relationship between Fintona and Yokohame Eiwa began and Fintona celebrated 100 years of operation which was marked by the building of the Centenary Music Building. The blue uniform as reintroduced in 1995 and an Early Learning Centre was established. In 2016 Dr Seifert was awarded a Medal of the Order of Australia for her services to education.
Dr Karen Starr was selected as the Principal in 2000 and she oversaw five years of strong progress and development of the School. Under her leadership, excellence in education at Fintona continued. The Writers’ Festival and the House Choral Competition were also introduced during this time.
Mrs Suzy Chandler was appointed Principal in 2006 and made her mark with energy, astuteness and vision on every aspect of school life. Under her leadership the ELC was constructed at 82 Balwyn Road and, in 2010, the Margaret Ross Health and Well Being Centre was built. The Art Precinct was also redeveloped. Academic results continued to improve. Connection with Danila Dilba was established as were overseas trips and further exchanges to international schools. An annual School Play was introduced and the beautification of the Fintona grounds was continued.
In 2018, we welcomed Ms Rachael Falloon as Fintona’s Principal. Her goal is to develop young women who are agile learners - capable, confident and curious; young women who know themselves deeply, embrace opportunity and contribute positively to the world.
Fintona has remained true to the philosophy of its original Principal, Annie Hughson. It is a school dedicated to the education of young women, encouraging girls to think for themselves and to have concern for others; philosophies that every Principal has fostered in Fintona students.