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February 27, 2014

180 students and me

Approaching the home of an ex-lecturer who now serves as Principal of a college accommodating more than 180 students, we expected an atmosphere of stern serenity. But the house of Dr Rosemary Brooks is almost the exact opposite.

  • Words: Marie Totsikas
  • Pictures: Ben McPherson

Prior to meeting Dr Rosemary Brooks, principal of St Ann’s College located just out of the city in North Adelaide, CityMag didn’t know what to expect. Perhaps a stern headmistress who wore only grey Armani from the ’90s? Our bratty high school selves were worried.

As we approached the front door a tiny lady wearing a regal-looking embroidered vest over a puffy white shirt, white jeans and matching green accessories (bonus points for perfectly matching eye makeup) greeted us. Surely, this can’t be her. But it was completely, and our teen anxiety was banished by her warmth and charisma.

Dr Rosemary Brooks has been the principal of St Ann’s College for twenty years. The college itself acts as accommodation and housing for rural, regional, interstate and international students attending any of Adelaide’s three universities. A former St Ann’s student herself, Dr Brooks resides within the college in her own Principal’s quarter that she shares with her husband Simon, who also works in education as a deputy principal.

“We all live under one roof… it’s a big sprawling roof but you can walk the entire interior under this one roof, so really it’s a family, a big family of 185 from all over,” Rosemary says.

The property, which originally belonged to Sidney Wilcox, chairman of the old wool firm Wilcox Mofflin Ltd, was established as St Ann’s in 1947 and was originally a women-only college.


Hidden amongst the gardens of St Ann’s is Dr Brooks’ residence

“Going back to the early 1940s there was a men’s college in Adelaide, but nothing of the sort for women; so a group of women – whom current buildings within the school are named after – searched around North Adelaide for a building,” says Rosemary.

“They bid for a house nearby on Kingston Terrace which they missed out on, then they came to visit the man who lived in this building. He talked to them and obviously liked them because when he passed away he left them the property…

“I don’t have any record of him telling them this before his death either – he wasn’t married and had no children, but only requested the college be named after his mother, Ann Wilcox – so it became St Ann’s.”

Despite its title, St Ann’s is non denominational, and completely self sufficient – receiving no university, government or religious funding

A friendly chap to greet visitors.

A friendly chap to greet visitors.

Everything in this house seems to have an amazing story to go with it.

“We are not-for-profit, but because of benefactors in the past we have been able to subsidise every student; we are so lucky and we still have fabulous friends who watch out for us – it’s so lovely.”

The home is culturally refined, almost museum-like, and warm with a rich palette of reds, browns, bronze and gold – but ultimately it is a welcoming space, and seems to invite one to explore the bookshelf-lined hallway, to fiddle with the assorted religious iconography, and perhaps even try the Japanese Kimono lying casually on the couch.

Some of the many reminders of world travel that fill the home

Some of the many reminders of world travel that fill the home

Dr. Brooks has made this somewhat communal space her own, and as one may expect, the ex-art history lecturer has adorned her shelves with books on art and faraway places – most of which she has travelled to. Then there’s the trinkets… by the hundreds; these are mostly gifts from past students or fascinating collectibles from her travels. Everything in this house seems to have an amazing story to go with it, from the rugs on her floor brought all the way from Morocco, to the (hilariously eighties) signed photo of John Travolta.

“He’s sent us a photo of himself every year to auction off at our fundraisers, and every time I see him on the TV I think, “That’s our John!’,” laughs Rosemary.

When I ask exactly how this connection came into fruition she shrugs her shoulders and laughs; “I don’t know!! I think the person working for us decided to write to a few celebrities to get them to send us things to auction – he responded – as did others, but no one had the staying power or success of Travolta! Everyone wanted that picture!”

The home of Dr Rosemary Brooks is visually engaging, entertaining and ultimately a concise reflection of the woman, the life she has lead, the people whom she has influenced and those who have had an influence on her.

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