Question: What do these women have in common?
- Foreign Minister Julie Bishop
- Former British PM Margaret Thatcher
- ABC 7.30 presenter Leigh Sales
- Political journalist and commentator Annabel Crabb
- Sex Discrimination Commissioner Elizabeth Broderick
- National Farmers’ Federation vice president Fiona Simson
- Past president of the Australian Medical Association Professor Kerryn Phelps, and
- Pioneering plastic and reconstructive surgeon Dr Fiona Wood.
Answer: They were all head girl, school captain or prefect at their school.
Can’t you just tell?
These women aren’t just successful; they are, or have been, strong leaders.
I never wanted to be school captain, let alone a head girl (the private school version of the title). Yet I'm irresistibly drawn to the women who once wore the shiny badge and the big grin in school photos.
School captains are portrayed as often-bossy girls who respect the rules, genuinely love school and like the teachers. They work hard and participate. At my school, they were mature and had their act together. This made them deeply annoying, especially since I was a ratbag with red socks and they were immaculate. I mistrusted their desire for power - and their popularity.
Now, increasingly, I melt in their presence.
I was turned off ambition as a concept when the school captain at my primary school got eaten by a crocodile. He was a ranger. One minute he was charming Japanese tourists with his banter, the next he was dragged into the water right in front of their eyes. Any revival in desire for power was utterly snuffed when I heard an elected captain from my high school fell prey to the charms of a teacher and left school to marry him.
Then I became a mother. I now think being school captain would be "wonderful" (a word I use now that I'm a mother). I was bitterly disappointed when my daughter showed even less inclination than I did in running in her primary school election.
"I'm not wasting my lunch hour setting up assembly and having to do extra work because I miss class speaking at the boring things," she said, rolling her eyes.
As I began to roll my eyes at her bad attitude (our house is a Mexican wave of eye rolling at the moment), I remembered telling my mother I couldn't possibly do student council meetings because I had to perform a lunch-time ABBA concert in the toilet block.
Now the regret is settling in like a shadow across my youth. I should have cared, I should have tried. Because being a leader at school lives on beyond those days.
Margaret Thatcher looked like she was born to be head girl, Hugh Jackman cultivated his charisma as head honcho at Knox and Kate Winslet learnt to shine as captain of her drama school. Foreign Minister Julie Bishop has head girl written all over her since her glory days at St Peter's Girls' School and Malcolm Turnbull is easy to imagine as co-captain of Sydney Grammar.
Sex Discrimination Commission Liz Broderick has an identical twin. They were sent to separate schools so they could flourish with totally separate identities. Both became school captain. Annabel Crabb was captain, her friend Leigh Sales a deputy. Leigh says it only gave her a shiny badge, but I beg to differ.