The Early Years no image

Published on January 22nd, 2012 | by Leanne Waller


Pembroke School

Leanne Waller, 2011

Leanne Hoad, 13 yrs in Pembroke School uniforn

Pembroke School is a private co-ed school located only 10 minutes from home in the leafy eastern Adelaide suburb of Kensington Park.

It prides itself on its standard of excellence, academically, musically and in the sporting arena.

Past students include Nuala Hafner, baritone singer Kamahl, John Travolta’s actress-wife Kelly Preston, as well as Vickie Chapman MP, Natasha Stott Despoja and Stephen Wade MLC.

It was (and is) progressive, but more importantly to me, it was nationally renowned for its choir: the acclaimed Pembroke Girls Choir.

Under the musical directorship of its conductor Colin Curtis, the choir was known as the best in the state and one of the best nationally.

This was a choir I was determined to be in … once I knew I was going to Pembroke.

But I wasn’t yet enrolled. I was destined for the local state school, Campbelltown High.

It all started during the school holidays, a few weeks before the new school year when I was preparing to start my high schooling at the rough and unruly Campbelltown High School.

Private schooling hadn’t crossed my parents minds. Formal education in general, to them was something you accepted until you were old enough to leave and get a job. Real world life experiences was the best education in their eyes. This worked very successfully for them, but by the 1980’s, education opened a lot of doors and gave people more options and opportunities.

We spent every 5 weeks in December-January every christmas holidays at our beach house at Aldinga Beach, South of Adelaide.

Each year we had these large, fun new years eve parties where many of our friends and their kids would file into our ‘beach house’ and stay for up to a week.

Over a dozen adults would sleep upstairs, and all the kids would either bunk or sleep in sleeping bags downstairs

(from left) Leanne with family dog, Eunice and Leanne’s friend Tamara on Aldinga Beach in 1977. You can drive onto the beach and stay there all day!

We would all walk down to the beach everyday to swim, and return to play cards, board games and have fantastic feasts in the evening. Aldinga Beach is one of the few beaches where you can drive onto the beach and stay there all day. We would do this, set up all our gear around the cars and go canoeing, play cricket and water sports, read, or simply sunbathe with splashings of coconut oil and zink cream.

Only when commitments in Adelaide caught up with our guests, did they return to their homes in town.

It was when we were at the beach house in January 1979, when mum got talking to one of her friends. They were discussing education and how I was about to start high school that year. The friend made the suggestion of me doing private schooling. Mum initially dismissed the idea which had me challenge her. I asked “why shouldn’t I go to college?”

Apart from it being an appealing idea, I probably questioned mum partly because I thought she was a little narrow minded-the fact that she was closed to the idea-wanted to challenge her thinking more than anything.

Mum responded very positively. And a few weeks before the start of the new year, mum called Pembroke School to see if they had vacancies.

Fortunately they had a few last minute cancellations. I assume these parents decided they couldn’t afford the school fees and pulled out, opting for a cheaper public school.

This opened up the opportunity for me. I went for my interview and I started high school at Pembroke in 1979.

The founding co-Principal at the time Mrs Diana Medlin, was a lovely wise lady. She was understanding towards her students and was respected among them. She was a reasonable, firm and very kind lady. At the interview I mentioned to Mrs Medlin that I had full intentions of getting in the choir. She replied very kindly, with no hint of condescension: “unfortunately, it is not an easy thing to do. Not everyone is accepted in the choir.” She didn’t want to set me, who she thought may be a young impressionable girl, up to be disappointed.

Even though I saw her point of view and had no doubt what she said was true, I believed it didn’t apply to me. Leanne would get in!

I knew I needed to work hard to do whatever it takes to get into the Girls Choir. I have never expected things to be handed to me on a plate. I was always prepared to work towards what I wanted and this was my new project in life.

I went about my mission with steely determination. I attended ‘practice choir’ rehearsals twice a week, never missed a ‘chapel’ where we sang the hymns practiced at rehearsals. I learnt all my parts and made sure the harmonies were thoroughly learnt. I quickly earned a reputation for being reliable, conscientious and always going the extra mile.

What you sang in choir depended on your voice type. The highest pitched voice classification was soprano 1, followed by soprano 2, then there was mezzo 1 and mezzo 2 (mezzo being Italian for middle), and lastly, the lower pitched voices were alto 1 and alto 2 (the lowest). I was alto 2.

The alto ranges are, and always have been, the least common, simply because they require ladies, or in our case girls. to have low-pitched singing voices – not a traditional asset for either. I was blessed with not only a low ranged voice, but one rich in timbre. It is very unusual for a female.

I auditioned for the Choir in my second year at school, having trained with enthusiasm and commitment for over 12 months.

On the day the successful choir applicants were publicly notified, my high school girlfriend Julie Linke and I went to the pin-up board in the school quadrangle to check out the list of those who were accepted. Julie was (and still is) into horses. I was into singing and dancing. We accepted and supported each other’s passion. I was so anxious and nervous when moving my eye over the list hoping my name was there, thankful for Julie being by my side for emotional support. It took what seemed like forever, but I eventually saw my name. I jumped for joy and couldn’t wait to get home to tell mum.

Both mum and Julie were encouraging with a huge congratulations which I cherished to this day. I always had Julie’s support while at school and Eunice’s encouragement whenever necessary.

The official Pembroke Girls Choir Japan tour photo, taken at the Festival Theatre, Adelaide. Leanne Hoad is the top person on the right hand side middle stairs

Acceptance into the choir was a highlight in my life. It instantly became my love and passion.

In 1980, we toured Japan complete with exciting 5-star treatment throughout. In one of the hotels we stayed in, I vividly remember being utterly captivated, in wide-eyed amazement by the biggest chandelier I’d ever seen in my life – it was the size of an average sized room. A real wow moment. Travel really does broaden the mind.

The Japanese girls we came across found me intriguing.

On many occasions they would come up to me, giggle with their hand over their mouths in their shy manner, and touch my hair. I was very blonde from birth which went yellowy-white in the sun. I also have blue eyes. Pale, western features were obviously rarely seen in Japan in 1980.

I also clearly recall the deep humility, kindness and hospitality of the Japanese.

The highlight was when we sang with a Japanese Girls Choir in the final nights of our stay. The camaraderie we shared and the music we made sent a delightful, moving chill up the spine. It was sad to leave such warm and welcoming people.

The choir also toured the South East of South Australia. We sang at the Royal Gala Performance in 1980 to Prince Charles which was televised nationally. He wasn’t married to Princess Diana at that stage-they were only dating so she was unfortunately not travelling with him. I even spoke to him in the line up after the show.

We did numerous other performances with the choir, with Kamahl the popular singer back then, sang at the Adelaide Town Hall, the Adelaide Festival Theatre enjoying the green room experience, to name a few.

Attending Pembroke was such a good move for me.


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One Response to Pembroke School

  1. David B. Somerville says:

    I remember ‘the last days of Colin Curtis’. It was a shock to all of ‘us’ Pembroke teachers. I knew Colin as a jovial fellow staff member and often shared a few jokes with him at staff social functions. Although we ‘bumped’heads’ over a few tug-of-wars whenever it came to taking some of my students out of class for his girls choir practices, we were civil towards one another. He was helpful in supporting our fledgling middle school band, which I struggled to get established. That band became reknown as the school’s big band and played with luminaries as James Morrison, etc. I taught science and mathematics on the middle school campus (sometimes cross-campusing) from 1980-1997). I miss those old days but am happy to say that many of my old students still keep in touch through Facebook, etc.

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