History of Wilderness School

Established in 1884, Wilderness School is Adelaide’s oldest independent girls’ school.

The Wilderness School was established in 1884 by Miss Margaret Hamilton Brown. Her youngest sister, Mamie, then aged five, was considered too delicate to walk to the local state school and so it was decided that Mamie should be educated at home by Margaret, a trained teacher.

The school opened in their home on Mann Terrace, North Adelaide, with three girls and a boy as pupils. In 1885 the School moved to a site on Northcote Terrace, north of its present site, and in 1893, having outgrown that building, moved again to its present location at 30 Northcote Terrace, Medindie.

By 1895 there were sixty-two students on the roll, and eighty-three by 1900. It is thought that the first boarder arrived in 1893 and by 1906 there were as many boarders as could be accommodated.

As the School grew, the younger Brown sisters became involved. Miss Margaret was Headmistress, Miss Wynnie was in charge of the Kindergarten, Miss Annie took on the role of housekeeper and the care of the boarders, and Miss Mamie, the first pupil, joined the teaching staff in 1898. The School thus became known as ‘The Misses Brown's School', although its correct name was ‘The Medindie School and Kindergarten.’ In 1918 the name became ‘The Wilderness’, partly because of the wilderness-like nature of the grounds and partly because of the biblical connotation of challenge and renewal in the wilderness.

The School and its spirit grew despite the World Wars. It introduced the brown uniform and established the Semper Verus (Always True) motto. By the late thirties Wilderness was flourishing, having survived the effects of the Depression and taken on many new girls from other private schools which closed as a result of those difficult years.

In 1946, the Old Scholars’ Association hosted a belated Diamond Jubilee to celebrate the achievements of the Brown sisters, and the first history book of the School—The Wilderness Book.

Three years later, Miss Margaret was awarded the OBE for her services to education in South Australia. Soon after, the School’s ownership was transferred to a Company and Council of Governors to ensure its future prosperity.

The School has continued to thrive under the guiding hand of the Council of Governors. Although the running of a school today bears little resemblance to the administration of a small private school at the turn of the last century, the Brown traditions have been kept alive in a happy and caring family atmosphere, combined with academic excellence of which they would have been proud.

Margaret Brown always believed in higher education and self-reliance for girls, aiming to equip them for full participation in public life, as well as for the role of wife and mother. She strove to provide a sound academic education, although the expectations of her clientele also required training in feminine accomplishments and behaviour.

Today, the legacy of the Misses Brown lives on through the progressive education we deliver and through the young Wilderness women who lead lives of compassion and social justice.


Wilderness School’s archive collection preserves the unique chronicle of our School’s 140-year legacy and the history of our founders, the Missus Brown. The collection contains images, written documentation, and a significant repository of heritage items, all adding to the School’s living memory. Through these materials and records, we ensure the preservation of the Wilderness story for current, past, and future generations.

To experience our living history, you can access the Archive collection by making an appointment with School Archivist, Marg Keane.