Know Your School – Barker’s End of Year Celebration
Thursday, 26 November 2015
With the academic year drawing to a close, we take a look at the annual prize ceremony, which has also been known as Speech Day and Celebration.

The annual prize ceremony is one of Barker’s oldest traditions. When Barker College was in its infancy at Kurrajong Heights, Rev. Henry Plume held prize giving ceremonies at Stokesleigh. The ceremony was at the beginning of the academic year in recognition of the prior year’s achievements. These ceremonies were often reported on in great detail in The Windsor and Richmond Gazette.

Beginning in 1896, when the School moved from Kurrajong Heights to Hornsby, prize ceremonies were held in a marquee erected on the front lawn near the Dining Hall. The marquee was often adorned by the boys with festive decorations, Christmas bush being a very popular choice. In 1925, the marquee moved to the front lawn in between the newly completed Classroom Block – Administration Building and Peats Ferry Road (now the Pacific Highway). The front steps with the elevated portico and colonnade provided a natural stage.

With the completion of the Assembly Hall (now Boyce Hall) in 1938, Barker’s end of year celebration was held indoors for the first time. In 1965, the venue for the annual ceremony changed to Leslie Hall, which is where it remained for 25 years. It was renamed Celebration in 1997 and has, more recently, been held at Hillsong. In 2014, Junior School Celebration returned to Barker and has since been held in the Multipurpose Hall.

As the number of students enrolled in the School increased, it became necessary to hold separate end of year ceremonies. The first Junior School Speech Day was held in 1944 and the first Middle School Speech Day was held in 1975. Prize giving for the Senior School became an evening event for the first time in 1958.  Today, the Junior School has their Celebration in the morning, whilst the Middle and Senor Schools finish the year with a combined Celebration in the later afternoon.

Right from the early years, the School’s end of year celebration has been about more that acknowledging prize winners. It has always provided an opportunity to showcase some of the extra activities that are part of a Barker education. In 1900, Barker students performed an exhibition of physical culture exercises. Drawing and carpentry works by students were on display in 1907, whilst musical items were played over afternoon tea. In 1930, the Barker College Cadet Unit formed a guard of honour, in recognition of the Governor General, Sir Philip Game, who was invited to the prize ceremony as the guest of honour.  At Celebration ceremonies next week, a number of Music ensembles will entertain and enthral audiences.

Despite all the meticulous planning and preparation that goes into these end of year events, not all have gone as planned. In 1912, a heavy gale of cyclonic force struck just before the prize ceremony was to commence and destroyed the marquee. The prize table was quickly transferred to the Dining Hall, from where the ceremony took place. The College Barker (April 1923, p. 1) notes that the 1922 event was memorable for the particularly hot weather, despite the shade of the marquee. A measles epidemic and the uncertainty of blackouts caused the ceremony in 1941 to be cancelled – the only time during the course of the School’s history that this has occurred.

Today, Celebration remains one of the most important events on the School calendar. It provides a time to reflect on the year that has been, the opportunity to reward those who have achieved outstanding academic results and co-curricular success and a chance to display aspects of a Barker education.

Caption: Speech Day on the front lawn under a marquee, 1937.