HOUSE OF KNOWLEDGE: Lismore High School, 1920s
HOUSE OF KNOWLEDGE: Lismore High School, 1920s

Marjorie Oakes: Teacher and scholar

SCHOOL teachers have a major influence on the lives of most children, even today.

Some are remembered because of their teaching ability, others are remembered because of some talent such as in music or sport, while many are remembered for an amusing or traumatic incident.

Most of these people had strong and/or vibrant personalities.

One such person who will be remembered by many students who attended Lismore High School was Marjorie Oakes, English Mistress, Literary Editor of the School's journal "The Lens”, Mistress in Charge of Girls, Musician, and Historian especially interested in the people and language of our local Bundjalung Nation.

Marjorie Oakes was born Marjorie Jessie Edwards in 1914 at Chatswood, Sydney.

She was the daughter of Frank Lincoln Edwards and his wife Lucy Bertha (nee Hutton).

She attended North Sydney Girls High School and then went on to the University of Sydney.

At that time there were very few women attending universities in Australia.

In 1934 she graduated as a Bachelor of Arts (Honours). She had decided to become a teacher so completed a Diploma of Education the following year.

Although majoring in English and History her first appointment as a teacher was to Darlinghurst Domestic Science School where she taught mathematics and physiology.

In 1937 she took up an appointment at Lismore High School.

She continued to teach mathematics and before long she was introduced to local solicitor, Warren Frank (Frank) Oakes.

They were married in 1943 and, as a married woman, she was required to resign her position.

During the War years she was kept busy as the wife of a prominent member of the legal profession and the mother of three small children.

However, she also became very interested in the musical life of the area. She was especially interested in early music, unaccompanied choral singing, and this led her to an interest in Aboriginal culture and music.

She soon became involved with the study and history of the local Aboriginal peoples, especially their language.

In 1955 she returned to teaching and this time she was appointed to the English/History Department of the Lismore High School.

During her years there she was involved with the School's debating activities, coaching students in their presentation and speech-craft as well as the skills of argument.

She also organized and performed in both a madrigal choir and a recorder group.

This interest in madrigal singing and recorder playing continued long after she retired from teaching.

With a husband who was also interested in history it is not surprising that both joined and became active members of the Richmond River Historical Society.

Frank Oakes was legal adviser for some years and Marjorie held several official positions including President.

She retired from school teaching in 1974 but will always be remembered as a generous colleague who helped many a shy or inexperienced new member of staff, especially young women teachers.

Others may remember her as domineering and forceful. However, she had come through from the days before women's rights had been generally accepted.

She had fought for her own rights and the rights of others like her, and in so doing she had won and retained the respect (and in many cases the liking) of a male dominated service.

One way of improving the status of professional women in the community was her leadership in the local Women Graduates Association.

Prepared by Geoff & Margaret Henderson for Richmond River Historical Society, Lismore.

Telephone: 02 6621 9993. Email:

Hours: Museum - Monday-Friday 10am-4pm; Research Room - Monday & Wednesday 10am-4pm.

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