Bethlehem College, Ashfield

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Bethlehem College
Bethlehem College crest. Source: (Bethlehem College website)
Ashfield, New South Wales
Australia Australia
Coordinates 33°53′6″S 151°7′28″E / 33.88500°S 151.12444°E / -33.88500; 151.12444Coordinates: 33°53′6″S 151°7′28″E / 33.88500°S 151.12444°E / -33.88500; 151.12444
Type Independent, Single-sex, Secondary, Day
Motto Este Fideles
(Be Faithful)
Established 1881
Principal Paula Bounds
Chaplain Michael Walsh
Employees ~58[1]
Enrolment ~660 (7–12)[1]
Colour(s) Purple & Navy Blue
Slogan Este Fideles

Bethlehem College is a high school for girls in Bland Street Ashfield, New South Wales founded in 1881 by the Sisters of Charity.[2]

Students are easily identifiable by the amethyst and navy school uniform—fondly known around the inner western suburbs of Sydney as "Ribena Berries". Bethlehem excels in their sport as well as academically. The Sisters of Charity ran the College until 1991, when it became a systemic Catholic School run by the Sydney Catholic Education Office.


Prior to 1953 Bethlehem catered for girls from Kindergarten through to the Leaving Certificate in Year 11. In 1953 the Junior (or Primary) School amalgamated with the Parish St. Vincent's Primary which was also run by the Sisters of Charity but which also catered for boys from Kindergarten to Year 2 (3rd grade). The boys then moved on to many other Catholic schools with the majority proceeding to De La Salle College Ashfield, located next to Bethlehem.

Bethlehem College was known for many many years as Bethlehem Ladies College; the nuns of the Sisters of Charity placing great emphasis on ladylike behaviour & dress both in school as well as to and from school. School rules included wearing of hats and gloves outside school; no eating or drinking in the street; and definitely no talking to boys on the way to and from school.

Class sizes, at least until 1962, ranged from 80 children in kindergarten to Year 2, 60 girls from Year 3 to Year 6 and 50–60 girls in Years 7, 8 and 9 with quite small classes in Years 10 & 11 because most girls were expected to leave by society at the end of Year 9 (Intermediate Certificate) only the exceptional Academic Stream girls continued to Year 11 (Leaving Certificate) and then to teaching, nursing or rarely other university courses.


Until 1957 the uniform of both Bethlehem Ladies College and St. Vincent's Primary was a beige or deep fawn colour but during 1957 the uniform changed to amethyst (or pale lilac/mauve) and gold.

The summer uniform consisted of an amethyst below the knee, waisted dress with self-coloured belt and deep purple buttons closing the bodice front. The bodice also had pleated insets over the bust to allow for the growth of the girls. The ensemble was completed by brown laced shoes, beige socks or 40 denier stockings, amethyst gloves and a white straw hat with amethyst gross grain ribbon around the crown and edge; there were a couple of rows of amethyst and gold straw stripes in the brim of the hat.

The winter uniform was a waisted very dark navy overdress with box pleated skirt, side zip and plain top worn over an amethyst, navy and white pin-striped blouse with a navy tie. The winter hat was very dark navy felt trimmed with a navy gross grain ribbon stipped[clarification needed] with amethyst and gold. Again amethyst gloves, brown lace-up shoes with beige socks or 40 denier stockings completed the ensemble.

The girls had available for both seasons a very dark navy jumper (with bands of amethyst and gold in the wrist, V-neck and waist bands) and blazer trimmed with amethyst and gold at the wrist and on the pockets.

The majority of students used a heavy, brown Globite suitcase for carrying books and lunches to & from school. When upended, it made a nice seat while waiting for the bus or train.

The Sisters encouraged excellent uniform standards by inspections each week when class completed against class for the honour (and it was considered a great honour) of winning best dressed class.

Education streams[edit]

The high school catered to students in two streams; the academic or science stream which offered choices from Physics, Chemistry, Geography, Mathematics I and II, Latin and French. Students could choose the business stream offering General Mathematics, Bookkeeping, Dress Making as well as the standard Religion, English and History.

Extras were offered in elocution and music.


The Combined Sisters of Charity Schools encouraged sports by an Annual Sports Carnival mostly at Leichhardt Oval and Annual Swimming Carnivals for each individual school (Enfield Swimming Pool for Bethlehem students until the Ashfield pool was built in the mid 1960s). Bethlehem coveted the Annual School Marching prize and drilled the girls accordingly. Bethlehem's greatest rival was St. Mary's Cathedral who Bethlehem felt had an unwarranted advantage in that the Carnival marching band was from the Cathedral boys school which often played for St. Mary's.

Girls were aligned in ranks of 5 from the tallest at the front to the smallest at the back. Summer uniform was worn at the Carnival (no matter what the weather) with the hem measured at 16 inches (41 cm) from the ground; this resulted in the tall girls having very long dresses and the short girls having very short dresses. Each girl's dress was measured by the Sisters with mother's often having to adjust the length of the dress until it measured exactly 16 inches from the ground.

Marching practice was often held daily when the girls considered it an excellent change for to be allowed to march to a nearby park for practice accompanied by the De La Salle marching band. "Normal" practice consisted of marching continuously around the playground to the strains of the loudspeaker blaring "A Life on the Ocean Wave", song of the Royal Marines and US Naval Academy.

The school had a basketball team and offered tennis as an elective. Entrants in the swimming and foot races were by student choice and no practice was offered.


Until at least 1962 the college held regular dance lessons for the students from Kindergarten upwards often with a ball at Ashfield Town Hall or latterly at the College for the Senior Bethlehem girls and the De La Salle boys. Dancing was then Ballroom Dancing only. The Kindergarten children each learned the same dance year on year; having been paired they learned to recite the steps and perform them at the annual ball where the girl's dressed in white "communion dresses" and the boys dressed in white shirts, black ties and, no doubt, school trousers.

Notable alumnae[edit]

  • Monica Attard – award-winning journalist, ABC News and current affairs journalist, presenter of Media Watch; awarded an Order of Australia for excellence in journalism
  • Geraldine Brooks – author and journalist; Pulitzer Prize winner for her novel March, author of Year of Wonders and many other books, previously political correspondent for the Wall Street Journal in Bosnia, Somalia and the Middle East
  • Angela D'Amore – Australian politician; elected as a member of the New South Wales Legislative Assembly, Member for Drummoyne[3]
  • Barbara Perry – Member of the Legislative Assembly, Member for Auburn, Minister for Western Sydney, Minister for Juvenile Justice, Minister for Assisting the Premier on Citizenship
  • Marcia Ralston – actress
  • Debbie Spillane – sports journalist and broadcaster

See also[edit]


  1. ^ a b Bethlehem College Annual Report 2006 Archived 28 September 2007 at the Wayback Machine. (accessed:16-08-2007)
  2. ^ "College History". Bethlehem College. Retrieved 27 August 2010. 
  3. ^ "D'Amore, Angela – Biographical Entry" Australian Women's Archive Project

External links[edit]