Marbury School 1971 – 2004

When Marbury School opened in 1971, the policies of the school, were sensational. The media at the time seized on the priciples of ‘no punishment’ and ‘voluntary lessons’, as likely to lead to anarchy, and presumably the ruin of the attending students.

Within a few years, the differences between Marbury and the State Education Department system would start to become less pronounced, but at the time of the School’s opening, the contrast was stark.

The school became a ‘lightning-rod’ for the latent hostilities between the the old-guard on the one hand and a more free thinking, non-punitive philosophy toward education and child rearing on the other.

This tension between traditional thinking about schooling and the progressive education movement are clearly evident in the attitudes expressed by the reporter in this 1971 ABC television interview (below) with one of the founders of the School, Margaret Langley, (then Mrs. Margaret Edhouse). She deals with the skeptical reporter’s question about a five year old girl greeting her with “Hello Bum Bum” confidently. Looking back now, it is easy to see the reporter as staid and conservative, but his comments and questions reflected the prevailing attitude of the status quo at the time.

Marbury was a harbinger of social change

At the time, corporal punishment in Australian schools was quite widespread and although it took until the late 1980s and early 1990′s for most Australian States to repeal provisions that allowed for corporal punishment in schools (i.e. the Education (Amendment) Act 1991 S.A.), [1]
a general transformation of societal attitudes to punishment was well underway by the mid 1970s. Although Marbury School moved toward a more conventional curriculum with mandatory lessons, it maintained a strong commitment to a humanistic, non-punitive policy with regard to child handling.

Marbury’s initial enunciation of its set of progressive principles had raised the bar very high as a kind of moral thought leader in the local education landscape. The School’s subsequent membership of the Association of Independent Schools of South Australia, also served to increase understanding and extend an inter-school influence to the more conservative traditional private schools like St. Peter’s College, where Margaret Langley developed a close professional relationship with then Headmaster Dr Tony Shinkfield.


The roots of Progressivism

The philosophy of ‘Progressive Education’ is recognised now, to have had its roots in the writings of philosophers like Rousseau, who’s 1750 essay ‘Discours sur les sciences et les arts’ contended that: “…humans are by nature good – and it is society’s institutions that corrupt them” and in his two books published in 1762 ‘The Social Contract’ and ‘Émile’, where Rousseau divides human development into five stages: Infancy (birth to 2 yrs),The age of nature (2-12), Pre-adolescence (12-15), Puberty (15-20) & Adulthood (20-25).[2]

Early Progressive Schools

The inception of progressivism in Schooling can be traced to Dr. Cecil Reddie, who was, “educated in Göttingen, Ger., where he was greatly impressed by the progressive educational theories being applied there. In 1883 he joined the radical Fellowship of the New Life in England and decided to establish a school for boys based on socialist principles.” [3]

In 1889 he founded the Abbotsholme School in Derbyshire. The school, which continues to this day, states that Cecil Reddie: “…wrote down his aims for the school; not about academic success or being top at rugby or cricket but about how we should learn to love, and work cooperatively with, our fellow human beings; about compassion, unselfishness and service to others.” and records Dr. Reddie’s educational philosophy thus:

“Central to Reddie’s radical thinking was a shift away from the rigid conformity of the traditional public school towards spontaneity, leadership and compassion for others, based on co-operation rather than competition, a friendly, supportive relationship between staff and pupils, and a whole-hearted respect for the environment.”[4]

Marbury’s Direct Influences

The Marbury founders were strongly influenced by two progressive schools, Melbourne’s Prehsil School, founded in 1931 by Margaret J R Lyttle and continued by her niece Margaret E Lyttle in 1944, and A.S. Neill’s Summerhill in Suffolk, England, founded in 1921. (Some of the core-group of Marbury founders had personal experience as previous parents at Preshil so the culture and policies of Preshil were quite familiar to them) These two progressive schools symbolised a kind of polarity in the progressive education spectrum, between which Marbury struggled at first to position itself. As the 2006 ABC Radio National program ‘Hindsight’ opined, “Summerhill represents what the British writer Robert Skidelsky calls the ‘extreme libertarian wing’ of progressive education.” [5]

At Summerhill, controversially, lessons had always been voluntary, and this was the approach followed by Marbury in its first days. However, after only a few months, this policy was found to be unworkable and Marbury reverted to the more structured approach of Preshil, where classes were compulsory, but freedom of expression was encouraged. Over time, the school’s philosophy came to be encapsulated by the phrase “Freedom without License”, to reassure parents and the community that Marbury would uphold acceptable moral and behavioural standards. However, ironically, this phrase was in fact taken directly from the internationally renowned social psychologist and philosopher Erich Fromm’s introduction to A.S. Neil’s book Summerhill, published in 1960.

“Even though no school like Summerhill exists in the United States today, any parent can profit by reading this book. These chapters will challenge him to rethink his own approach to his child. He will find that Neill’s way of handling children is quite different from what most people sneeringly brush aside as “permissive.” Neill’s insistence on a certain balance in the child-parent relationship–freedom without license–is the kind of thinking that can radically change home attitudes.” – Erich Fromm [6]

Marbury’s Founders

Marbury was conceived as an incorporated non-profit association with a Board of Governors, who declared at the school’s outset that it was a “co-educational, non-sectarian, independent, non-competitive, non-authoritarian school.” However, even before the opening of the school in February 1971, there had been major ructions between the founding group of Adelaide intellectuals who conceived and promulgated the venture.

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[This article is still being written, please return soon to read: part #2, and take part in the discussion]

42 Responses to “Marbury School 1971 – 2004”

  1. ella says:

    As a former pupil of Marbury school, I came back trying to search for its philosophy after studying child development theories at uni.
    The theorists of reggio, montessori and steiner are well referenced and widely used but i think that the work of margaret langley should also be recognised too. From what i remember there was alot of emphasis on social interactions, that of a child centred curriculum and of solving problems by talking it out with the child. I loved the gardens and the outdoors that surrounded the school, the old buildings and the constancy of familiar teachers right through. I can remember doing woodwork as a young child and being encouraged to explore different mediums of art in the barn. I was sad to hear that Marbury had closed down. And I wonder why it was that that happened. I thought Marbury was a good school.

  2. Loopy says:

    I was a pupil at Marbury in the 80′s I tried for years to get info on it (the website had mysteriously disappeared). Then I discovered it had closed down.
    What was the documentary that was made in the 1980′s? Is it related to the Education Department filming us during that time?
    I’d love to see it.
    Marbury saved me, without it I doubt I would have made it to adulthood. I seriously loved that crazy but ultimately very sane (yes I know that is a paradox) school. I owe that place and Mag and Margie, and Leonard and Shep a lot.
    I even got into university because of them.

    I’ll never forget the day Leonard walked into the dining room at supper with a peacock under his arm.
    Only at Marbury!

  3. admin says:

    The documentary made during the 1980′s was a ‘sponsored documentary’ paid for partly by the school and a private sponsor. The film was produced and directed by Margaret Langley’s son Simon, (see author’s disclosure at the bottom of the 1st page of the article). There was a lot of editorial control of the film’s content by the school, which compromised the film’s already questionable basis as an objective ‘documentary’. However, despite the overwhelmingly ‘promotional’ nature of the content, and lack of any informed critical analysis or comparative context, the film’s strengths were in the various typical Marbury scenes of children happily playing in the grounds, interviews with some surprisingly eloquent young students, and of course footage of a ‘school-meeting’ with Margaret Langley, as was typical of her style, in full control.

    Your brief account of your time there clearly suggests that your own personal experience at Marbury was highly beneficial to you, and it is clear that many hundreds of children were helped by the devoted teachers and Margaret Langely herself of course. However, it has to be said that the same perspective will not be shared by all students or teachers who were enrolled or became involved in the school. The school was started with lofty ambitions and principles, but many would recognize now the degree to which Marbury became increasingly insular under Margaret Langley’s leadership, and that various problems developed in relation to the ‘organizational culture’ of the school.

    This series of articles on Marbury will grow over time and we plan to add some interactive features soon to enable free and open, threaded-discussions by the many people still interested to discuss and record their memories, both positive and critical. We will do our best to facilitate a fair and transparent account of the school and welcome all those who wish to contribute. – This documetary account of the school, will be without the previous editorial constraints imposed on the 1980′s film documentary. (Sections of that film will also be made available within the various articles)

  4. gremlin says:

    I went to Marbury and I hated most of it. The rules were so unclear! One day it was optional lessons, and the next day you got in trouble. Intense favoritism by some of the teachers especially towards the children of other teachers; sexist comments and a very restrictive atmosphere when it came to teenage relationships, and overall a very patchy and substandard bunch of teachers, including the monosyllabic Shep.

    Getting hauled out of yr 12 lessons just before the exams to serve bloody tea and scones to visitors didn’t help either, and  neither did the day-long inquisitions, called assemblies, where Mag used to put individual students on the stage and humiliate them verbally for all sorts of crimes, such as an attempted nose-piercing or dope smoking at home.

    And it was almost cult-like! You were not supposed to speak ill of Marbury, ever, in any circumstance! I remember that warning being repeated often, with lawsuits threatened.

    Sometimes Marbury was fun, sometimes it was bizarre, but most of the time it was bloody awful. And cold, and the sandwiches sucked.

    former student.

  5. admin says:

    Dear ‘Gremlin’… thanks for your comments. The aspects of the school to which you refer and your criticisms are valid and do resonate with the author of this article, and many of his experiences there. I’m curious about which period you were a student, the 70′s, 80′s or 90s?

  6. Nick Cooper says:

    Former Students – say when you were there.

    I was 1976 – 1978 and I had the best and the worst.

    I was Margaret’s golden child for a while, but I ‘crossed the line’ and became a widely demonised pariah, though some of the little kids refused to believe I was really that demonic, despite what Margaret said about me behind my back.

    I mean you Sarah, Chris and Chris.
    It was the best of times, but became the worst of times.
    Talk to me on

    Marbury Survivors – lets form a club. I don’t bite and all the kittens were asking to be raped, I swear. They were sluts anyway.

  7. Tanami says:

    I was also a former student from 1997-2003(?), I actually got to spectate the slow destruction of Marbury, which appeared to be a result of a lack of advertising, and poor handling by the new principals, I recall a particular time when there were less than 80 students! my parents had the good sense to let me choose to leave marbury in place of a public school (bellevue heights) before marbury completely shut down so that my education would not be hindered. I must admit that there was indeed a cult-like behaviour about the whole place but I have some of my best childhood memories there. I also owe the computing staff’s choice of operating system for my current skill-set and interests today. This general topic is of great interest to me so I may make a page on my website about my experiences there.

  8. admin says:

    Thanks Tanami,

    we will be expanding the information and opportuntities for discussion here soon, so hopefully you can take part in that.

  9. Nick Cooper says:

    During the early-mid 1980s, Adam Pollard and Michael Falconer died in cycling accidents, and David Davis (Devo) and Bradley Tutte died in motorcycle accidents.

    Four wheels risky, two wheels riskier.

    Eric Grosvenor died a few years ago of ill health.

    I don’t know anything about other former students from that era apart from Simon.

  10. Nick Cooper says:

    I won’t deny Marbury ‘saved’ me, but by the time I got there, large cracks were beginning to show.

    Two girls who had only just started were expelled on seemingly no more than rumours about them.

    I was warned by a fellow student. Not a lot of rules, no punishment. Except, if you didn’t watch your step, you too could be expelled, and in my first days it could as easily have been me, so thanks for the tip-off Andrew S.

    But how much do you love the Prince, and how much do you fear him, when he says no-one gets fined for any bad act, and no-one goes to prison, but if he doesn’t like something you’ve done, he will have show trial and execute you?

    • Angela Jones says:

      I was at Marbury in 1978 and did Matric with Nick and Eric, amongst others. Marbury changed my life after being institutionalised at a private girls school for most of my previous education. I guess it saved me too. I have sometimes wondered what happened to friends from those days.

  11. Pdfpdf says:

    I’m interested in the history of the Wairoa property (,_Aldgate) which, of course, led me to Marbury (,_Aldgate).

    Finding information and non-copyright photos about either is difficult.

    When did Marbury actually start its first class?
    Was the first class held at Wairoa, or elsewhere, and if so, where?
    Did the school purchase the property, or lease it?
    If purchased, when, and from whom, and to whom did they sell it?
    If they leased it, from whom?

  12. admin says:

    Thanks Peter, I will provide answers to those questions to you within the next few days.

  13. Rob says:

    I was at Marbury from late 77 to the end of 79. I have great memories of the school & in some ways like others here I think Marbury saved me. I also remember the place as kind of nuts – endless school meetings.

    Nick I remember you and I also recall Eric Grosvenor quite well.
    That’s about it I lost touch with the school aftter I left. Be fascinated to hear about any other folks from that era.

  14. admin says:

    Hi Robert,
    I passed your regards on to Nick.
    Simon E

  15. Soon Ming Tan says:

    I am a graduate form 1983 class, together with few other oversea students, those days at the school left me with lots of wonderful memories, Hi Richard, and Anne, the boarding house….

  16. Gorilla says:

    I’m a former student 89(??)-92.

    So I was there when Burnum Brae(spelling??) was sold (previously housed the middle school) and Beechwood was sold (Senior school in the grounds of the Mount Barker Botanical Gardens).

    In general, I found that the teachers took more of an interest in what is happening outside of school rather than just the syllabus as per mainstream schooling.

    I am curious to know if there was debt attached owed by it when it closed it’s doors. This has been the case with Mowbray College in Melbourne, which was different, in it’s own way, in that it was an independent school with a low fee structure.

    I remember once 1990??, when something was broken (might have been part of a water tank for fire fighting purposes). So the school stopped classes for the entire middle school (around 100-120 students from memory) for an assembly to find the culprit. Anyway, Leonard stated that the person responsible won’t step forward to confess but would eat his wide brimmed leather hat if they did. This one time, the person(s) did.

    It didn’t feel like a witch hunt, more on the principle that if you break something, let people know, especially in the case above as there is a safety at stake.

    Marbury did give plenty of kids another chance, even if expelled from other schools but one rule was never excused was smoking (both the brown stuff and the green stuff).

    For those wanting to know a little more, I found an archived email at which mentions a little more.

    Presently the Hills Montessori School is using Wairoa… not sure when they took up the lease.

    • Gorilla says:

      Let me correct myself. The Hills Montessori School is using what Marbury called the Joyce Dodd Building, but in the grounds of Wairoa.

  17. Leonard Cohen says:

    Dear Gorilla,
    I don’t recall the event but if it was as you say, I hope that I did in fact eat that hat. One must meet one’s obligations.

  18. remember well says:

    Typical Marbury double talk – you didn’t eat any hat and you know it Leonard, so saying “one must meet one’s obligations” is insincere and quite disingenuous, u haven’t changed much

    • Leonard Cohen says:

      Dear remember well,
      It’s a humour thing. Although I don’t remember the event, I am sure I didn’t eat a hat.
      Anyone would remember that.
      Therefore, I did not meet my obligations. The comment is a light-hearted confession rather than something disingenuous.
      As for double talk, it’s something that Marbury taught me how to avoid; as for my having changed, that’s something I am sure has happened-for one thing, I’m becoming more tolerant as I get older.

  19. Yvonne Routledge says:

    I was a teacher at Marbury for 5 years and my son attended Marbury as a student from aged 5 to matric.

    There was much of value at Marbury. I was able to teach children in a manner which I enjoyed and I believe encouraged a positive learning environment for the children. I learned much from Margaret’s philosophy of education which was appealing and valuable.

    However, the degree of control that was enforced was sometimes disturbing. There were times at staff meetings when dissent or deviation resulted in individuals being humiliated and in considerable distress. At the time this was disturbing and with hindsight and maturity I believe it did little to promote personal development although it did ensure confirmity. I believe Marbury would have benefitted from more debate.

    I was sad to hear that Marbury closed as it had much to offer. Perhaps the loss of Margaret’s direction and possibly a lack of succession planning may have contributed

    • admin says:

      Thanks for your comments Yvonne. Yes, what started as a noble venture, formed by a highly principled and balanced group of professionals, became corrupted in many ways by one woman’s ambition and desire for control at any cost. All those that could moderate her were banished, and thereby, she eventually became surrounded by those who couldn’t. Those who lobbied for appropriate succession were mocked and laughed at, and the circus continued on until eventually even they would wince and recoil at the specter of what it had become. – This is the tragedy, because there is no meaningful legacy left at all, where there could have been so much to carry forward.

      • Yvonne Routledge says:

        Dear Admin

        Thanks for your reply. I am sorry to hear that Marbury ultimately folded because of the reasons you outlined. However my experience in the earlier stages enable me to understand its decline for the reasons you state. I wish I had had the courage to speak out more clearly when I had the opportunity. Sadly any comments would have been viewed as negative and were most likely to have led to an even earlier departure for me.

        Are there any plans for a balanced history of Marbury to be written?


        • admin says:

          Yvonne, you would have needed more than courage… A small army might have been required! – Yes, the words “negativity” or “negative to Marbury” were used like weapons for many years, to neutralize and ultimately confuse people. Also, if anyone directly stood up to Margaret they were inevitably accused of having “Mother issues”. That and the accusation of “unclear thinking” were the great ‘straw-man’ misnomers developed to dis-empower people who were actually thinking more clearly and seeing through the powerful device of matriarchal authority, used quite inappropriately.

          A book to present a proper history of the school would be a very good idea, as many thousands of people were directly affected by that school and in the absence of some kind of ‘truth and reconciliation commission’ , which of course is an over-blown idea for this little school, a true history of Marbury and the people behind it would be a very good thing. – The seeds of Margaret’s own Machiavellian personality lay, I believe, in the tragic plight of her own father, J.S. Langley, who had a spectacular fall from grace in the late 1930′s, which affected Margaret particularly. So, understanding the events that influenced her family would be very useful for anyone wanting to really gain an understanding of what drove Margaret Langley.

          Margaret’s mother Vera wrote a lifetime of poetry and short stories which she left in Margaret’s possession after she died in 1978. I have all those writings and they tell the fascinating story of her father J.S. Langley through Vera’s eyes, and it is a truly amazing collection. For some reason Margaret disdained her mother’s writing, and would scoff at the idea that there was any thing worth reading there. However, quite ironically, there is almost nothing left of Margaret’s own legacy, as all her previous supporters can barely mention her name, let alone laud her in any way. Vera’s writings on the other hand are full of passion and life, and trace the decline of J.S. Langley and their once proud family from relative fame and power to humiliation and poverty.

          Life moves in strange ways, doesn’t it?

          - Simon

          • Yvonne Routledge says:

            Dear Simon

            Thanks for your reply and observations about Margaret’s family background of which I was unaware.

            I am a semi retired professional historian although my main field has been working with museums. I am currently President of the Professional Historians Association in South Australia. I would be happy to provide advice if you are thinking of pursuing some type of history project on Marbury.

            It would certainly be both a fascinating and challenging project.



  20. Troyg says:

    The school was originally in Wayville – near the showgrounds. I remember a lot of parents clashed with Margaret about the schools direction. I don’t remember many formal classes as such, just a lot of playing, climbing trees and long lunches.
    Still, a pretty bold experiment for conservative Adelaide circa 1971.

  21. Arthur says:

    Marbury for me was a bittersweet memory.
    I know my parent paid good money for the boarding privilege but the care was bare min. I remember being always hungry after dinner as they serve to you the bare min; it was lucky one of the older guy works in a Chinese restaurant and the owner of that restaurant always send the guy home with a few tubs of fried rice and sweetsour chicken.
    It wasn’t too bad, I made some fantastic friends that I sadly lost touch with cause I moved soo much and before the internet, keeping in touch was almost impossible.
    I would love to know if there’s anyone from 1985 that does frequent the forum as I would dearly love to get back in touch with some of those that I laughed and played with..

    • admin says:

      thanks for your comment Arthur, hopefully someone from that year will make contact with you. Sorry to hear about the food.

  22. Mark Jones says:

    Hi admin,
    Is there any way of locating/contacting past student via this website. I am trying to locate Rob and Phil Tindale..

  23. Diane and Steve Elsby says:

    Marbury may have had its faults, but it was still a haven for us and our kids. We will always be grateful that it was there when we needed it.

  24. Liana Vargas says:

    Hi there, I am currently living at Burnham Brae House, which I believe housed part of the Marbury School at some point, there are still signs of it being a school, graffiti here and there, odd signs and of course the old stage. A couple friends of mine went to the school and both have great memories of the place. I am interested in the history of this building, it has seen many uses. Together with two friends, who also live here, we are trying to resurrect the place, albeit with limited funds, but plenty of muscle, determination and a great desire to see it vibrant and alive again. Our dream is to have it become an arts centre. I teach flamenco dance, and visual art (ha…just got my visual art degree), Jennifer teaches singing…she’s amazing, and performing at the Jazz festival next month, and Zabi who is a sculptor. When we took over the lease the place was, can I say, ‘DISGUSTING’ it had been left to the caustic ravages of nature over man made objects, and time. Neglect was the major cause for its demise, but i am happy to say it is beginning to shine again. I would be more than delighted to house a reunion of ex Marbury students at some point. Our website is – ha and we have heating!!!!! Liana x

  25. Anthony Berglas says:

    I was there 1972 .. 1978, and had a generally good experience.

    The place was a bit insular, and Margret certainly was a strong character, but it generally worked well for me. A really good atmosphere, and the grounds were fantastic.

    As always it is the individual teachers that count. For me, doing maths/science Ian Sheppard deserves particular mention. His clear presentation of academic material would boost anyone’s grades.

    (My brother actually returned to Marbury for year 12 specifically to be taught by Ian, only to find that Ian took that year off!)

    Very sorry to hear that Eric Grosverner has died. I suppose we are getting to an age of funeral, buried another friend recently. Talking of Burnham Brae, Eric and I nearly accidentally burned the place down! Details best not repeated, no damage done in the end. Burham Brea was used for years 11 and 12 when I was there and worked well, and was maintained.

    It would be good to get some alumni stories going. I had created a Marbury page some time ago in case anyone Googled it but got no hits. I am now in Brisbane, have two primary school daughters.

    It would be great to see Simon’s film. Anyone have it?


  26. Demmi says:

    I don’t remember everything at this school, but I ended up after being there ending up at Saints and AHS.I kept meticulous diaries of EVRYTHING and stuff liek the WhiteHouse fire and being a boreder (thanks Angus,I still have your badge you made me and “ShaggyBear” Simon Follett I still have your towel you gave me !) .Marbury saved a lot of people esp us migrant kids like “Polish” Dale etc.I wonder where you all went ? It has been far too long since we went to school .I finallly finished school in 1993 with the internet and a mobile phone lol. E noho ra

    • admin says:

      Seems there is a steady stream of ex-Marbury people wanting to stay in touch or reconnect.. I will have another go at putting a specific Marbury Forum page together. – Simon

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