The following comments are a written version of my comments to the Middle School and Senior School students at the opening assembly for the school year.
Welcome back to the school – you are the school! A very special welcome to those of you for whom this is a start at a new school. This is a very friendly place and the students here look after each other well. To all the ‘old hands’, please look after our new people brilliantly.
Last November on Remembrance Day, November 11 2017, we stood in the Courtyard Amphitheatre with 15 flags flying. Three are local flags and 12 represent other nations.
The Indigenous flag acknowledges Australia’s first people, who have been here for at least 60,000 years and possibly many more. It is thought that they may have arrived from Asia many, many tens of thousands of years ago via a land bridge connecting Australia to Asia. We were privileged today to have Perry Wandin join us for a Welcome to Country and Smoking Ceremony, in front of the whole school. The symbolism of all of us gathering together, from the youngest to the oldest, the ceremonies we witnessed together, the Manna Gum leaves and of the flags in the Courtyard Amphitheatre is important.
The Victorian State and Australian flags acknowledge our British heritage. The flag design is a British ensign design. Many of our laws, systems, customs, politics, and traditions stem from that British heritage. For example, our school crest was designed using a tradition and system emanating from Britain.
On January 26, 1788, 230 years ago, this land was claimed as a British colony by Captain Arthur Phillip. This colonisation was but one example of what was happening around the world. There are only a few areas of the world that were not colonised by European countries in the 16th to 19th centuries.
The spread of British people across Australia displaced indigenous Australians, wreaking havoc with their way of life and many died, some violently, but most from diseases unknowingly brought by the newcomers and for which indigenous Australians did not have immunity.
January 26, Australia Day, acknowledges our British heritage but is not a day of celebration for many indigenous people. That is why the highly respected indigenous leader Noel Pearson suggests that January 25 be acknowledged as a time to celebrate our indigenous heritage and the next day, our British heritage and the subsequent contributions made by people arriving since.
The other 12 flags in the Courtyard Amphitheatre represent the nations from which the greatest numbers of our school community have come more recently.
After the British wave of immigration starting in 1788, the next big wave of immigration occurred in the gold rushes around 150 years ago. Miners and prospectors came from many countries but a large number came from China, especially Guangdong and Fujian provinces. Some of those families are now 7th or 8th generation Australians.
Around 70 years ago, Australia again opened its doors to large scale immigration. We have been doing it ever since. At the moment around 200,000 people come to Australia each year. Many millions have come in this fourth period of immigration and they have made substantial contributions to our country, some examples of which are mentioned later.
Initially these people came from all over Europe, and you will see the flags of Greece, Italy, Ireland, the UK, the Netherlands and Germany flying at school. More recently, large numbers have come from China, India, Sri Lanka, NZ, Malaysia and Japan and these flags also fly at our school.
Many more members of our school community came in smaller numbers from many other countries, over 50 countries in total.
All these waves of immigration have led to what is Australia today, a wonderfully successful nation, where nearly all can live well, with many great opportunities. A land that has welcomed people in waves of immigration so successfully is unusual in world history. There are few that have done so successfully. While ours is not a perfect nation, it is one of the best in terms of the quality of life and the opportunities we have here.
Our challenge as a nation, is how to make a great place, even better, celebrating and acknowledging our successes, learning from our errors and forging our future together.
Our future as a school is similar.
Like our country, we have much to celebrate and acknowledge as we commence a new school year. We are a small and highly supportive school, where we connect with each other, understanding and supporting each other.
Our challenge is how to do it better, understanding a changing world, growing and developing how we ’do school’ better. We are focussed on this in order to make your futures as good as they can be, to position you brilliantly for your adult lives and to allow you to enjoy the journey along the way!
That is our collective task and you each play a very important role in that process. Your teachers and the staff that support your teachers do their jobs well. You will be well known by the adults here. You will be treated fairly and with respect, care and empathy. You will be supported and you will be well taught. But only you can do your learning! This is your responsibility and the achievements will be yours.
On Australia Day, the Australian of the Year, the Local Hero, the Senior Australian of the Year and the Young Australian of the Year are announced.
In the four people named this year, we have two who are teachers, two are scientific researchers and another a sports person. A pretty good mix for a country like us!
Professor Michelle Simmons, Australian of the Year is a university teacher and researcher into quantum computing at UNSW. She is also a migrant who came to Australia because of the opportunities Australia offered her. She is now a naturalised Australian and a passionate advocate for her new country.
Professor Simmons offered four mantras she follows in her life:
• Do what’s hard.
• Place high expectations on yourself.
• Take risks.
• Do something that matters.
She said that great teachers place high expectations on their students, challenging them to be the very best they can be.
Professor Simmons especially encouraged young people to pursue what they love, to set their heights high and tackle the hardest challenges in life.
Mr Eddie Woo, the Local Hero for 2018, is a high school Maths teacher. He has over 100,000 followers of his ‘WooTube’ maths site. Eddie is the son of Chinese-Malay immigrants who came here so their children would get a better education. Mr Woo says his award is an acknowledgement of the extraordinary work that thousands of teachers do every day to see their students thrive and learn, because they know a good education is a priceless gift.
Ms Samantha Kerr is the Young Australian of the Year and a brilliant goal scorer for the Matildas, our national women’s soccer team. She said she accepted the award as a member of a team and as an endorsement of her team. She can only be her best within the team of which she is a member. She needs her team mates around her to be her brilliant best!
Dr Graham Farquhar is the Senior Australian of the Year and is a leading Biophysicist. His son described him as driven by an insatiable curiosity. He really needs to know why things work the way they do and how they work.
Dr Farquhar himself encouraged all of us when he said, we can be creative, we can struggle for honesty and we can deal with failures. We can always improve and re-evaluate our prejudices.
There are good lessons for us all to draw from last weekend.
• We live in a good place, we attend a good school and as individuals we are privileged.
• However, errors will occur and we can learn from them and improve
• Improvement comes through change, involving effort, high expectations and taking calculated risks
• Be curious and creative
• Take on challenges; do something in life that matters
• Be a good team member; good teams achieve much
Remember, a good education is a priceless gift!