Our Old Girls

Abbotsleigh's vision is for each girl to be empowered to be a courageous, constructive and compassionate world citizen, who embraces diversity and has a will to serve others. Our Old Girls' lives, careers and adventures demonstrate the reality of this vision and we are proud to share some of their stories. Below are ten Old Girls whose stories we know you will enjoy; we celebrate their successes and know you will too. Please visit this page from time to time, as we will share other stories to illustrate the breadth of our Old Girls' achievements and contributions to the community. You can read The Loom newsletter and more Old Girl news here.

Jill Ker Conway

Jill Ker Conway AC (Ker, 1951)

Jill Ker Conway is an Australian-born American scholar, whose research as a historian focused on the role of feminism in American history. Jill was educated at Abbotsleigh and the University of Sydney, where she took an honours degree in history. After her rejection by the Australian foreign service on the basis of her sex, she immigrated to the United States for graduate work. While earning her doctorate at Harvard University (PhD, 1969), she met and married John Conway. The Conways then moved to Toronto. There she taught 19th and 20th century American history at the University of Toronto, where she also became one of five vice presidents of the university. In 1975 Jill became the first female president of Smith College in Northampton, Massachusetts, a position she held for a decade. In 1985 she became a visiting scholar and professor in the Science, Technology and Society program at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology. Jill’s work on feminism and history yielded books including The Female Experience in 18th and 19th Century America (1982) and Women Reformers and American Culture (1987). After editing two anthologies of autobiographical writing by women, she explored the memoir as a literary form in When Memory Speaks: Reflections on Autobiography (1998). Jill wrote her own life story in The Road from Coorain (1989), which was adapted for television (2001), True North (1994) and A Woman’s Education (2001). She was also the author of Felipe the Flamingo (2006), a children’s book. Jill was appointed an Honorary Companion of the Order of Australia (AC) in the General Division of the Order of Australia in June 2013 for her eminent service to the community, particularly women. In 2013, she received the US 2012 National Humanities Medal from President Barack Obama. 



Sally Begbie

Sally Begbie AO (Marr, 1968)

Sally Begbie is co-founder of Crossroads, an NGO based in Hong Kong that gathers and sends humanitarian aid in Hong Kong and throughout the world. Sally and her husband, Malcolm, (a Barker graduate) have served developing nations since 1979. “As we looked at a world in need, we saw how much life had given us: a constant roof over our heads, more than enough to eat and, of course, privileged schooling. We didn’t know if our lives could make much difference to those in need, but felt compelled to try.” In 2012, Sally and Malcolm both received the Officer of the Order of Australia (AO) award.  The Begbies' work with Crossroads began in 1995, when they sent humanitarian aid to flood victims in China. Today, they routinely ship to scores of countries, helping orphans, refugees, disaster victims and people in medical, educational or economic need. The Begbie family is embedded in the fibre of Abbotsleigh. As Sally points out “My mother, aunt, cousins, sister and niece all attended Abbotsleigh. So did Crossroads’ international Chairperson. Over the years, we wondered, of course, who our sons might marry. Given the fact that they share this work with us, and have been in all kinds of countries, meeting people of many nationalities, we thought it unlikely they would marry Australians. Both, however, astonished us by marrying Abbotsleigh Old Girls!  As well, of course, we have the wonderful privilege of Abbotsleigh teams and individuals coming to Crossroads and helping with the work. There are three Abbotsleigh Old Girls on staff right now and, from time to time, we have more."  Sally concludes, “In a broken world, we hope, as our name suggests, to be a crossroads: bringing together those in need with those who can help.”

Kate Forsyth

Kate Forsyth (Humphrey, 1984)

Kate Forsyth is an internationally bestselling and award-winning author of over 40 books, ranging from picture books to poetry to novels for both adults and children. She was voted one of Australia's Favourite 15 Novelists, and has been called 'one of the finest writers of this generation'. She is also an accredited master storyteller with the Australian Guild of Storytellers.  Kate’s 2015 book for adults is an historical novel called The Beast's Garden, which retells the Grimm brothers' version of Beauty & the Beast, set in the German underground resistance to Hitler in World War II.  Kate is probably most famous for Bitter Greens, a retelling of the Rapunzel fairy tale interwoven with the dramatic life story of the woman who told the tale as it is best known, the 17th century French writer, Charlotte-Rose de la Force. Bitter Greens won the American Library Association Award for Best Historical Novel of 2015 and was nominated for a Norma K. Hemming Award, the Aurealis Award for Best Fantasy Fiction, and a Ditmar Award. Since The Witches of Eileanan was named a Best First Novel of 1998 by Locus Magazine, Kate has won or been nominated for numerous awards, including a CYBIL Award in the US. She's the only author to win five Aurealis awards in a single year, for her Chain of Charms series. Kate has a doctorate in fairy tale studies from the University of Technology, having already completed a BA in Literature and an MA in Creative Writing. Kate is a direct descendant of Charlotte Waring, the author of the first book for children ever published in Australia, A Mother's Offering to her Children. Kate is also a proud ambassador for the two initiatives to help disadvantaged children change their worlds through the power of books and reading - Room to Read and The Pyjama Foundation.

Pauline Griffin

Pauline Griffin AM (1942)

Pauline Griffin was a Commissioner of the Australian Conciliation and Arbitration Commission (Industrial Relations Commission) from 1975 to 1990 and a member of the Australian National University Council from 1978 to 1998. She was chair of the National Committee on Discrimination in Employment and Occupation in the 1980s and a member of the 4th National Women's Consultative Council in the 1990s. Pauline attended Abbotsleigh and then graduated from the University of Sydney with a Bachelor of Arts in 1946 and a Diploma of Social Studies in 1947. Her career included working for the Commonwealth Department of Immigration, and as personnel manager at Bradmill Industries Limited and at Ethnor Pty Ltd. Pauline served on a number of government committees including as Chair of the National Committee on Discrimination in Employment and Occupation. She was a member of the Fourth National Women's Consultative Council and a member of the Human Rights and Equal Opportunity Commission's National Advisory Committee on Discrimination in Employment and Occupation. She also served as a member of the Management Committee for Barnardos Australia and was a member of the Board of Directors, Australian-American Educational Foundation (Fulbright Foundation) from 1994 to 1999. Pauline was appointed to the Australian National University Council in 1978, elected Pro-Chancellor in 1991 and she served in that capacity until 1998. Pauline was appointed by the NSW Government as a Senior Executive Service Grievance Mediator from 1998 to 2002 and chaired the ANU Foundation for the Visual Arts from 2003 to 2005. Pauline was appointed a member of the Order of Australia in 1988 and received an honorary Doctor of Letters degree from Macquarie University in 1990. 


Karen Simmer AO (1973)

Karen Simmer was awarded Officer of the Order of Australia in 2015 for distinguished service to medicine in the field of paediatrics, particularly neonatal and perinatal nutrition and to medical education as an academic, researcher and clinician, and to the community. Karen studied at Sydney, London and Harvard Universities and is a leader in her field. She is Professor of Newborn Medicine at the University of Western Australia and the Director of the Neonatal Intensive Care Units at King Edward Memorial Hospital and Princess Margaret Hospital for Children in Perth. She is also Director of the Perron Rotary Express Milk Bank (human milk bank) which is viewed around the world as the 'best practice' human milk bank. Asked why she does this work Karen says: “My Abbotsleigh education inspired me to believe that anything was possible if you put your mind to it and never raised any doubt that women could achieve the same as men. I also appreciated that I have inherent attributes, an excellent education and endless opportunity and therefore felt a responsibility to give back to the community. I am privileged to work with young children and their families. My work is challenging but I enjoy every moment of it.” She sees her greatest achievements as: “My children of whom I am immensely proud. My clinical and academic team. We deliver high-quality care while continuing to advance neonatal intensive care through translational research. Our international reputation, especially our region of the world where we collaborate to improve clinical outcomes of vulnerable very young patients.”

Belinda Murrell

Belinda Murrell (Humphrey, 1981)

Belinda Murrell is a bestselling, internationally published children's author with a legion of loyal fans. After studying Literature at Macquarie University, Belinda worked as a travel journalist, editor and technical writer. While Belinda studied Children's Literature and Media Studies at Macquarie University, her passion for children's literature was reignited when she had her own three children and so began writing stories for them. Her 21 books include The Sun Sword fantasy trilogy and the Lulu Bell series for younger readers. She is also known for her collection of other timeslip tales including The Sequin Star, The River Charm, The Locket of Dreams, The Forgotten Pearl, The Ruby Talisman and The Ivory Rose, which have been recognised by various awards, including Honour Book KOALAS 2013, shortlisted KOALAS 2014, 2012, and 2011, CBCA Notable List and highly commended in the PM's Literary Awards. Belinda has also written four picture books for pre-school children. Belinda comes from a very literary family, with a history of Australian writers stretching back 180 years. Her great-great-great-great grandfather James Atkinson published his book on Australia in 1826, while his wife Charlotte published the first Australian children's book in 1841. Belinda's brother, Nick Humphrey and sister, Kate Forsyth (1984) are also both published best-selling authors. 

Denise Annetts

Denise Anderson (Annetts, 1981)

At school Denise Anderson was involved in athletics, cricket and hockey and was Captain of the Cricket 1st XI and Hockey 1st XI, and Vice-Head Prefect. Whilst at school she was selected for the Junior State Cricket Team. She made her 1st grade cricket debut with Gordon District Cricket Club at 14, and was Captain of the NSW team at 18. Denise made her Test debut for Australia in 1987 against England, alongside Belinda Robertson (Haggett). Denise played her final Test in 1992, scoring an impressive 148 not out. She is listed as the first female cricketer to score over 150 in a Test match (193 runs in 1987) – at the time, a world record for an individual score in women’s cricket. Her One Day International debut was in 1985 against New Zealand, and she played her last One Day International in 1993. Denise has the highest Test batting average of any living male or female Test Cricketer, second only to Don Bradman – an average of 81.9 for her 819 runs in a career of ten tests. In 1987 she was awarded the NSW Sportswoman of the Year Award, and she was inducted into the Cricket NSW Hall of Fame in 2012.  




Sue Fear OAM (1980)

Mountain Climber and Abbotsleigh Old Girl, the late Sue Fear was the first Australian-born woman to climb Mt Everest. Sue was introduced to adventure through her involvement with the Duke of Edinburgh’s Award, which she achieved at Gold level. A 1986 Outward Bound course introduced her to mountaineering, and her first climb was in February 1987 when she summited Tanzania’s Mt Kilimanjaro. In May 2003 Sue succeeded in becoming the second Australian woman to climb Mt Everest, the first Australian-born woman, and first Australian woman to climb from the technically difficult North face. Sue was Australian Geographic's "Adventurer of the Year" for 2003, and in 2005 she was awarded the Order of Australia for her achievements in mountaineering and her work with the Fred Hollows Foundation. Sue died in May 2006 attempting to descend after summiting her fifth 8000+ metre mountain, Nepal’s Mt Manaslu – at this time she had become one of only ten women to climb five or more mountains over 8000m which made her Australia's leading female high-altitude climber.

Meredith BurgmannOldGirl

Meredith Burgmann (1964)

Meredith Burgmann is actively involved in the local and global community and was an early feminist and anti-racism activist, an academic and MP. She attended Abbotsleigh and then Sydney University where she was active in the Vietnam and apartheid protest movements. She subsequently became involved in the early feminist movement in the 1970s. Meredith gained her PhD on the environment movement and then taught politics and industrial relations at Macquarie University for 18 years. She was the first woman President of the Academics Union of NSW. Meredith was elected to Parliament in 1991 and was President of the NSW Legislative Council from 1999 to 2007 and is the longest serving female presiding officer in Australia. In 1998 she co-authored Green Bans Red Union, Environmental Activism & the New South Wales Builders Labourers' Federation. In 2007 she co-published The Ernies Book: 1000 Terrible Things Australian Men Have Said About Women. She has also published various articles on industrial, environmental and aboriginal rights issues. Meredith started the Ernies Award in New South Wales to highlight things that Australian men say about women.  She is a founding member of the National Pay Equity Coalition and Emily’s List and a founder (1993) of the Ernie Awards for sexist behaviour. She has written three books, about the urban environment movement, misogyny and ASIO. She is also a foundation member and proud Ambassador for the Sydney Swans.

Kiana Elliott

Kiana Elliott (2014)

Kiana Elliott took silver in the Snatch at 94kg and Bronze overall at 204kg in the 2016 International Weightlifting Federation Junior World Championships at Tbilisi Georgia. Her lifting career has been filled with state and national records, and at the Youth Olympics in 2014 she lifted an Australian record of 78kg in the under-63kg snatch ¬division. At school Kiana was involved in all areas of sport. At IGSSA level she represented Abbotsleigh in Artistic Gymnastics, Basketball, Diving and Rhythmic Gymnastics. A gymnast from the age of six, Kiana took up weightlifting after participating in a weightlifting workshop in April 2013 – and she began training solely in weightlifting in July 2013. Kiana was selected for the Australian Junior and Youth Team for the 2013 Commonwealth Championships and the 2014 Oceania Championships. In 2014 she finished 7th in the 63kg division at the 2014 Youth Olympic Games in China, claiming an Australian junior record. She currently holds the NSW youth snatch record in the 69kg category by lifting 86kgs and the NSW clean and jerk record. Kiana aspires to represent Australia in the Commonwealth Games and Olympic Games.

Related News

Read below for the latest news and achievements by our Abbotsleigh Old Girls.