Miss Freda Whitlam AM

Miss Freda Whitlam 1958 - 1976

Miss Freda Whitlam, PLC Sydney’s sixth Principal, led the College through major changes in secondary school education and the curriculum.

Freda Leslie Whitlam (1920-2018) was born in Sydney but grew up in the new federal capital, Canberra, where her father was with the Commonwealth Crown Solicitor’s Office. She completed her secondary education at Abbotsleigh and received her BA and DipEd from the University of Melbourne and her MA from Yale University.Miss Whitlam had experienced a rich and varied life by the time she arrived at PLC Sydney: a stint in the WAAF during World War II, study and work in the US, France and England, and teaching posts in Canberra and at Frensham School in Mittagong.

Freda Whitlam was a strong woman with firm ideas about the education of young women. Her educational philosophy encompassed the importance of the Scriptures, intellectual growth and moral education.1 She wanted to make changes and improvements at PLC Sydney: to the physical plant, the curriculum, co-curricular activities, and to the staff.

Part of improving the calibre of intellectual endeavour meant upgrading the physical plant of the College. During her tenure a Junior School and Library were constructed, and the Boarding House was renovated.

Miss Whitlam was particularly keen to improve Science facilities. Science subjects were taught in “the hut”: one of the Nissen huts erected by the RAAF when they occupied the College during World War II. By 1963, conscious that in 1967 the implementation of the Wyndham Scheme would mean an additional year of secondary school and hence greater demand on the outmoded science classrooms, she began to plan for better facilities.2 In 1965 a new Science Block, with two new science laboratories, a science theatre with a seating capacity for 100 students, prep and storage rooms, was completed.

Having better science facilities quickly led to PLC students gaining awards at the Annual School Science Research Exhibition. She re-introduced the School Orchestra and purchased the first set of handbells. She employed Miss Audrey Keown and charged her with directing a classical drama production each year using every student in what is now Year 11. As well as learning about Shakespeare, Sophocles or Marlowe, the girls would form bonds to help them in their final year, when they would be the leaders of the College. Finally, the extensive and successful public speaking program we now value started under Miss Whitlam’s tenure.

Serving the community was part of the Whitlam family ethos and Miss Whitlam encouraged charitable activities and service to others. As well as Dorcas, she broadened the scope of the Pet Show (originally the Pet and Doll Show) with the expectation that every pupil in Year 9 participate. And the students also raised money and donated it to various charities. The College’s application to participate in the Duke of Edinburgh Award Scheme was approved in 1975.

For nineteen years Freda Whitlam’s life was the College. Her passion for PLC Sydney was unquestioned and she was relentless in pursuing her aims to improve it. Ironically, these very strengths were also weaknesses in that they led to difficult relationships between herself and the College Council. These tensions no doubt contributed to her decision to retire at the end of 1976.

Yet her contributions were many and her vision for the College remains true:
Above all I see this school as a place of opportunity for growth.
A school is a hopeful place in a demanding world because it gives time to overcome weaknesses, to start again, to make new relationships and explore new possibilities.3

  • The Freda Whitlam School of Science, opened by Miss Whitlam in 1998, recognises her interest in Science and contributions to the College.
  • Adelaide Elizabeth Perry (1891-1973) was an Art teacher and Art Mistress at PLC Sydney from 1930 – 1962. She studied with Frederick McCubbin at the National Gallery School and later at the Royal Academy of Arts in London. She exhibited works at the Salon des Artistes Français in Paris. Her works are held by the Art Gallery of NSW, National Gallery of Victoria, the National Library and the Queensland Art Gallery.

1 The Golden Hope Presbyterian Ladies’ College Sydney 1888-1998, John McFarlane, 1988, p. 109.
2 Series 43 Principals, Miss Freda Whitlam, Box 403, Folder 2, “Science Needs and Facilities, PLC, 1963”.
3 Series 43 Principals, Miss Freda Whitlam, Box 403, Folder 1, “What the School Means to Me”



Miss Freda Whitlam 
Portrait by Adelaide Perry, 1965