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Brainboxes is a unique study of the lives of twenty six women who, as academically gifted girls in the late 1950s, attended Narrabeen Girls' High School in New South Wales. At that time, Narrabeen was the only government secondary school for girls in the entire Manly-Warringah Shire of Sydney, a huge area extending from Manly to Palm Beach. Manly Domestic Science School provided an alternative public sector education for some girls and Stella Maris (Catholic) College at Manly was the district's only private school for girls. 


Narrabeen Girls' High was a very large school of 1,400 students. The Brainboxes group began their studies at Narrabeen in a year with ten classes averaging 40 students per class. Students were allocated to classes according to IQ tests carried out in their final year of primary school. The school no longer exists, having been merged with the boys' high school in 1976 to become the co-educational Narrabeen High School, now Narrabeen Sports High School. All the old girls' buildings have disappeared, except for the former gymnasium.


The Brainboxes group was remarkably homogeneous, and almost impossible to replicate in the multi-cultural Australian schools of today. Virtually all the girls were Anglo-Australian, and age peers of similar socio-economic background. They were the first or only child in the family, overwhelmingly Protestant, and of similar intellectual ability. It made for an interesting test of life outcomes based on temperament type, as measured by the Myers-Briggs Type Indicator.


Louise Wilson née Louise Woodhouse interviewed these women thirty years after their high school experience at Narrabeen to see how their lives had changed and evolved - and to gauge what impact (if any) selective schooling and single-sex schooling had on the decisions they made about their futures.


These women hold a special place in Australian history as they were among the first of the 'baby boomers' generation, were part of the 'changeover' generation, the generation which came to regard tertiary education as a right not a privilege, and were part of the age group who created new momentum in the women's movement.


This important work explores the various elements that made up the lives of the 'Narrabeen girls' and looks at the patterns that arose in their stories of school, marriage, motherhood and work.


The book will appeal to anyone interested in women's stories, social issues, Australian history and the volatile topic of education of the gifted and talented.


Readers' Comments


Louise Wilson's book is, in my view, required reading for those who want to understand more about the history and experience of the education of women in Australia. It is an argument for some consideration of difference in education and what to do with the 'gifted', however defined. It is also a book on Australian types, involving real people. There are all too few of those. Review of 'Brainboxes', Aust Journal of Psychological Type, May 95


Thank you for the book. I read most of it in one straight lot. It is very absorbing. Librarian, Swinburne University, Oct 94


I would like to start with a little history behind my interest in your books.  A number of years ago a friend of my sister researched our family and was very excited to trace us back to Robert Forrester.  My cousins became interested and through them I became aware of your book.  In looking you up online to order copies for my sister and myself and reading through your information, I can't tell you how shocked I was to discover "Brainboxes".  As you have probably guessed, I was in that 1A class at Narrabeen Girls High too [earlier than you, in 1953, the school's first year]. It was a very emotional experience and took me quite some time before I could even order the book and then only with my son's urging.  I'm very glad I did!  I could only read a bit at a time but I think it has helped me see and understand myself and my experience of those years a little more.  I didn't recognise anyone but their stories somehow validated mine and left me feeling more confident and less judgmental of myself.  It has still taken me all these months to contact you, I kept putting it in the 'too hard basket', I'm wary of the memories and emotions that surface. Gwen ----, May 2010.


Loved your book, I didn't realise that it existed until meeting Carolyn in Melbourne recently.

I don't remember the girls you interviewed as I was in 1B, but it was wonderful to read about our school, our teachers, our uniform, our love of English and the lines of bare legs all suntanning! I was one of them.

My father was transferred to Fremantle at the end of my 4th year at Narrabeen, so the women's life stories were a great help to me and put into perspective my own terrible sense of dislocation and alienation. Not only that, but also how lucky I have been in so many other ways. Thank you. I feel very privileged to have been a Narrabeen girl. Anne Jamieson, Aug 2010.


Congratulations on your book "Brainboxes", which I found very interesting reading.  One would think that such bright women would have had happy lives, but as your book illustrates, that was often not the case. The fact that some of the ladies did not even want their stories published, even in "nom de plume", one wonders what happened in their lives. It amazes me that you were able to contact so many of your classmates from the A class. I have some contact with three of the girls from my A class (Leaving Cert. 1959).  I would love to know about the others, but as there have been no reunions since the 10 year reunion (which I was unable to attend), there is no way of contacting them. As girls marry, their surnames change. Laine Liira, Dec 2011


Thank you so much for all the effort you made in researching and writing Brainboxes. There was so much I could identify with and yet so much that was different in my case (Leaving Cert, 1958). I found your book a bit unsettling and I don't really know why. I don't think I realised that so many people were so driven and so unhappy. Perhaps I was just lucky or insensitive or both. After mullling over a response in my head for some days I felt compelled to write down my own story. It would be interesting but not practical to know how your participants are faring 18 years after the publication of the book. I am sure my daughter will find the book fascinating reading. Janice McCann, Apr 2012

News and Updates


This book continues to interest readers but all copies have been sold.


NGHS 50 Year Reunion, Class of 1962 - A champagne lunch was held on Wednesday 5 September 2012. Venue - H2O Restaurant, Pittwater Rd, Narrabeen. Time - 12.30pm. Cost $50. The reunion was such a success that a similar get-together is held on the first Wednesday in September each year.


NGHS 50 Year Reunion, HSC Class of 1968 - For information, contact Colleen Harvey (nee Colville) on email address laced at (you know what I mean, that format is trying to counteract the spammers).


NGHS 60 Year Reunion, Class of 1962 - A champagne lunch was held on Wednesday 7 September 2022. Venue - H2O Restaurant, Pittwater Rd, Narrabeen.

Publication Details






Hawker Brownlow Education, Highett, VIC, 1994

Paperback, perfect bound, 246 pages



To Purchase


All copies of this book have been sold but some public libraries in Australia have a copy