November 30, 2021

Prince Charles at Geelong Grammar

In 1966 the heir to the British throne came to Australia for two terms of high school. This is Prince Charles at Geelong Grammar.

Baby Prince Charles and Princess Elizabeth
Baby Charles and Princess Elizabeth

Charles Philip Arthur George Mountbatten-Windsor was born 14 November 1948, at Buckingham Palace.

His parents were the Duke and Duchess of Edinburgh, Prince Phillip and Princess Elizabeth. At the time the British Monarch was King George VI, a well-liked ruler best known for his steady leadership during World War II.

Charles’ mother would ascend to the throne while he was still a child. George died in February 1952, and she was crowned Queen Elizabeth II in June.

Prince Charles as a student of the Hill House School
Charles (centre) as a student of the Hill House School

Charles’ formal education began when he was five, and was initially managed by his governor, Catherine Peebles. But his parents had a bold idea for a royal child: external education.

When he was 8, Charles was enrolled in the Hill House School in West London. The headmaster, Stuart Gordon, offered assurances that Charles would receive no preferential treatment.

He was the first heir to the throne in British history, to be educated outside of the palace.

Later, Charles would be enrolled at the Cheam Preparatory School in Berkshire, which had been attended by his father. He would then continue his schooling at Gordonstoun in Scotland, as Phillip had done.

He commenced at the school in April, 1962.

Gordonstoun
Gordonstoun

Gordonstoun is a prestigious private school, one of the most exclusive in Great Britain. But in some ways, it is an unusual institution.

Its location is particularly remote; it stands in the small village of Duffy, in the far north of Scotland. The climate in this region is harsh, the winters especially are long and severe.

The school was founded in 1934 by Kurt Hahn, a Jewish intellectual from Germany.

Hahn had studied at Oxford and was a public servant in the Weimar Republic, before turning to education. He was convinced that improved schools were the key to social progress and, with backing from his patron, Prince Maximillian of Baden, founded a college to test his theories.

This was Schule Schloss Salem, Salem College, in southern Germany.

Schule Schloss Salem
Schule Schloss Salem

Salem College was a selective school, open to boys and girls, that sought to provide a broad educational experience. Students would be taught a traditional curriculum, alongside classes that encouraged their imagination, and that taught ethics and the responsibilities of good citizenship.

Hahn also believed in out of classroom activities, and students were taken on regular excursions. Older students were placed in work experience, in a variety of trades. Outdoor exercise and physical training was incorporated.

Hahn served as headmaster from the college’s founding in 1920. It quickly established a reputation as one of the finest in Europe.

Kurt Hahn
Kurt Hahn

When the Nazi’s took power in Germany in 1933, Hahn was an outspoken critic.

As a Jew, he was doubly vulnerable: he was persecuted, forced from his job, and then imprisoned. In 1934 he was deported, eventually landing in England as a refuge.

His education work had made him well known. With public support from then Prime Minister Ramsay MacDonald, Hahn found backers for a new boarding school, organised along the same lines as Salem College.

He was provided a location in the grounds of the estate of Sir Robert Gordon, a 17th century Scottish politician, from whom the school took its name.

Prince Phillip had been among the first students. The experience left a deep impression on him.

Phillip and Charles at Gordonstoun
Phillip and Charles at Gordonstoun

Charles was a sensitive youth, interested in the arts, shy and gentle by nature. Phillip hoped the rugged environment at Gordonstoun would toughen his son up.

‘The campus had an undistinguished collection of seven pre-fabricated wooden residences that had previously been used as R.A.F. barracks.

Physical challenges at Gordonstoun were at the heart of building character.

The testing began with the boys’ attire (short trousers throughout the year) and the living conditions (open windows at all times in the grim dormitories). The day began with a run before breakfast, followed by a frigid shower.’

– Sally Bedell Smith, ‘The Lonely Heir’

It was established practice in the boarding schools of this era, for the older boys to torment their younger classmates. Charles was not immune; he was teased for his jug ears, and bullied.

His position as the future king kept him isolated. He struggled to make friends, and spent most of his spare time with his bodyguard. In private, he referred to the school as a prison, ‘Colditz in kilts.’

After three years, seeing how unhappy he was, Phillip and Elizabeth relented. They would allow Charles to do a spell of exchange, at another school.

Geelong Grammar
Geelong Grammar

On the outskirts of Geelong, southwest of Melbourne, Geelong Grammar has built a reputation as a top-level secondary school.

It was founded in 1855 as a private religious school, and was initially not successful, closing again in 1860. It reopened in 1863 as a public, selective, school, and began to grow steadily.

In 1913 it moved from its original location in central Geelong, to its current one in Corio. This more extensive property allowed for additional school buildings, and more students.

The school continued to expand.

Mansfield; regional Victoria
Mansfield; regional Victoria

In 1953, under headmaster James Darling, the school opened a regional campus near Mansfield, 200km northeast of Melbourne.

Darling was aware of Hahn’s work in Europe, and had been inspired by him. Students at the new campus would mix physical labour and outdoor activities, with conventional studies.

The new location would be known as ‘Timbertop’. The first group of students spent their time helping to finish the property; erecting buildings, and laying paths.

Timbertop
Timbertop

How the British Royal family heard about Timbertop, is uncertain.

In some telling’s, it was Australian Prime Minister Robert Menzies who mentioned it to them, while on a state visit. Or, it may simply have been that Prince Phillip was aware of the school’s connection to Hahn.

However it happened, it was decided that Charles would spend two terms there. This would provide the respite he had been looking for, while still satisfying his father’s desire to see him challenged physically.

Charles arrived in Sydney in January 1966. The seventeen year old was accompanied by David Checketts, one of his father’s aides. It was Charles’ first trip outside Europe.

Charles greeting the crowd at Bondi Beach, 1966
Charles greeting the crowd at Bondi Beach, 1966

The Prince was taken on a short state visit, before term began.

He spent several days in Sydney, seeing the sights, before flying to Canberra to meet local politicians. Then he moved on to Melbourne, where he arrived in early February. Enormous crowds turned out wherever he went.

After a brief induction at Geelong Grammar, Charles was taken to Timbertop by train and then car. He would share a dorm room with the school’s head boy.

In some ways, life at Timbertop resembled what Charles had left behind in Gordonstoun:

‘Timbertop was all about physical challenges.

 

He undertook cross-country expeditions in blistering heat, logging 70 miles in three days—climbing five peaks along the way—and spending nights freezing in a sleeping bag.

 

He encountered leeches, snakes, bull ants, and funnel-web spiders, and joined the other students in chopping and splitting wood, feeding pigs, and cleaning out fly traps.’

 

– Sally Bedell Smith, ‘The Lonely Heir’

But now something remarkable happened: he embraced this physically demanding routine.

Prince Charles at Timbertop
Charles at Timbertop

Charles found his Australian schoolmates more accepting than their English counterparts. They treated him, largely, like any other boy.

Having lived his entire life in the public eye, Charles found he enjoyed life in regional Victoria, far removed from the fervent British public.

It was a knockabout existence, demanding physically, but laid back.

‘It was a more physically testing experience than Gordonstoun. But it was jolly good for the character and, in many ways, I loved it and learnt a lot from it.

 

I was able to communicate and talk to people so much more.’

 

– Prince Charles

Weekends, Charles visited Mansfield with his classmates, or went to visit David Checketts and his wife, who were renting a farm nearby. He discovered a passion for fishing, which he enjoyed in the rivers of the area.

In his second term at Timbertop, Charles went with his history class on an excursion to Papua New Guinea. Then still a territory of Australia, this was an exotic location for a group of impressionable teenagers.

The class studied the local customs and traditional village life. They met religious leaders, and spent time with school children from across the country, who had been specially selected to meet the Prince.

Prince Charles in Papua New Guinea, 1966
Charles in Papua New Guinea, 1966

Charles spent six months as a Geelong Grammar student. Most of this time was spent at Timbertop, although he travelled down to the city on several occasions for exams and study.

It was a relaxed and happy time; the respite he had been looking for. Charles emerged from his time in Australia more confident.

The students had found the Prince to be a friendly and intelligent young man, reserved by nature but with a goofy sense of humour. He was particularly fond of ‘The Goon Show’, a radio sketch comedy program that was widely popular. Charles’ had an adept impression of Peter Sellers, one of the Goon’s stars, that he performed for his friends.

At a farewell function for the Prince, his classmates lauded him with ‘Three Cheers… for a pommie bastard!’
Charles was tickled.

Prince Charles visits Geelong Grammar, 2005
Prince Charles visits Geelong Grammar, 2005

After Timbertop, Charles returned to England, and spent the rest of 1966 at Balmoral Castle.

He returned for his final year at Gordonstoun in 1967, but his newfound confidence was reflected in his achievements. He was made head boy, as Phillip had been, delighting his parents, and completed his final year without incident.

After graduation, Charles was accepted at Cambridge University, where he studied archaeology, anthropology, and history. He completed his Bachelor of Arts in 1970, becoming the first member of the Royal family to obtain a university degree.

Geelong Grammar’s Year 9 class all spend at least one term at Timbertop. Famous alumni of the school include Rupert Murdoch, Kerry Packer, Portia De Rossi and Missy Higgins.

Charles would later describe his time there as, ‘the most enjoyable part of my whole education.’

THE MELBOURNE FILES

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