Tomorrow, May 27th, will commemorate the national referendum of 1967 that formally included First Nations people in the political affairs of the nation. For the first time, Aboriginal people were included in the census and Parliament was given the power to legislate on behalf of Indigenous Australians. Both had been denied since settlement in 1788. In so doing, this defining moment in political history recognised the mistakes of the disenfranchisement and discrimination over generations, although it was still 50 years away from the national apology that saw children stolen from their families, the institutional marginalisation of health, welfare, justice and education, as well the the loss of land rights. It did however, begin the long and slow process of reconciliation that we are still working to achieve, one that aims to close the gap between the social, health, economic and political outcomes for Indigenous and non-Indigenous Australians. This event was commemorated at Riverview in a moving assembly that profiled dance, music and story. William Gordon (OR1997) addressed the boys about his work at the Wayside Chapel and the degrees of disadvantage still suffered by Indigenous Australians. Two of our most recent student additions in Year 7 boarding, whose families experienced the trauma of ‘stolen children’, gave compelling insights into the impact that this has had on their families over successive generations. To add to what was already a gathering of profound depth, Sam Rigney’s musical talents were applied to Archie Roach’s musical composition that has become emblematic of this sad chapter in Australian history: Took the Children Away. As a community, we pause to reflect on the injustices of the past, to work and to pray for a way forward that will see each and every Australian with the same opportunity for education, health care and access to the social, political and economic capital of the nation.
Our Special Education Inclusion Program (SEIP) boys treated the staff to the delights of the Blue and White Café during the week. Learning the skills of hospitality, the boys meet and greet staff, process their orders for drinks and fare, and then serve them in a gracious and efficient manner. Such activities are confined to the senior boys who are being challenged to prepare for the demands of the workplace as they approach their graduation and move progressively towards more independent living. The SEIP Unit works with our special boys to equip them with the life skills that will see them transition from school and be able to move confidently into the world with sufficient skills to undertake paid employment and contribute meaningfully to their world. This would not be possible without the commitment of a small but dedicated group of staff who work closely with the boys and their families to explore opportunities in the post-schooling world that would otherwise be very difficult to access. To each and every one, I offer a statement of sincere thanks.
Fr Ross and I, along with a contingent of the boarding staff, spent the week on the move across country New South Wales. Dubbo, Warren, Orange, Forbes, Young, Tumit and Coolac were hosts to Riverview’s Boarding Roadshow, where we met members of the past and current boarding community, as well as promoted the cause of boarding at various expos and functions. In each and every instance, we were greeted warmly and treated to some of the best of country hospitality, enjoying a number of dinners in the homes of the boarding families. Boarding speaks to the foundational story of the College, and boys from rural regions of Australia and overseas bring a very special character and esprit de corps to College life. To the many families who went to extra lengths to travel, host and promote the cause of boarding, I extend a heartfelt statement of thanks from the entire community.
Late last week the Rector, the Principal and the Director of Advancement were under the spotlight at the Old Ignatians’ Union (OIU) breakfast. All three joined a panel to respond to questions about current and future priorities and how they might look in 20 or 30 years from now. This forum promoted some provocative questions:
- Was the cultural mix of the College where it should be?
- Was the co-curricular program too diverse?
- How future-proof was the building program?
- Where is the tension between religious teaching and liberalism?
- Would Riverview ever entertain a co-educational enrolment?
Never resiling from the hard questions, it was an engaging exchange of views between the past, the present and the future. And, I am pleased to report that there was a large measure of consensus, despite the occasional disparate view of the panel and the audience.
Last week in the Viewpoint I profiled Nicholas Ha, a visiting academic from Georgetown University who is spending three weeks as a Scholar in Residence researching social justice. We have also been fortunate to welcome Bill Hobbs (pictured left), Director of the Jesuit Education Association, which is responsible for developing staff programs of formation for Jesuit schools across the United States. Bill is working closely with the Human Services Department at Riverview to implement similar programs that will add further depth to Ignatian spirituality, as contemporary ways are found to animate the Jesuit charism in the College.
On Wednesday we passed the hump of the term. Year 11 End of Semester Examinations concluded on Tuesday and the Ramsay Hall remained in exam mode for the rest of week in preparation for the Year 9 End of Semester Examinations which begin on Monday. Our term, as indeed our year, is moving quickly with the formal onset of winter next week. At the assembly last week I exhorted the boys to be mindful of the multiplicity of events that compete for priority and reminded them of the need for planning, structure and discernment to ensure that those of central importance take pride of place in the run home to the end of semester reports. We enter an intensive block over the coming weeks and the more the boys are prepared for them, the more appreciable will be the outcomes. Amid this crush, let us be mindful of the wider lens – the referendum of 1967 which shifted the political and legal framework of this country to begin an overdue process of reconciliation, and a special regard for the marginalised as a primary impulse of Ignatian spirituality.