Friday 27 May 2016

Towards Reconciliation

On this day 49 years ago, May 27th 1967, Australians went to the polls to participate in the most decisive referendum in our political history.  More than 90% of Australians voted ‘Yes’ to count Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples in the census and give the Australian Government the power to make laws for Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples. An event of equal significance occurred 25 years later on June 3rd 1992 when the High Court of Australia ruled in favour of native title in the Mabo decision, which recognised that Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples’ rights over their lands survived British occupation and colonialism. Since that time this week has been identified as Reconciliation Week, with June 26th being pronounced National Sorry Day in acknowledgement of the great suffering caused to the Indigenous people through the dispossession of land and the extirpation of culture that has ensued over the last two centuries. It is a time when all Australians should take time to reflect on the need to reconcile a fractured past and to work towards a future where all, Indigenous and non-Indigenous, will walk together to ensure equal opportunity and access.

The Riverview Sorry Day Assembly, perennially held in the Gartlan Centre to profile the importance of Indigenous culture, is a highlight of Term 2. This not only acknowledges the wrongs of the past but promotes the cause of reconciliation that is so central to Australia’s future. As a school we are gifted to have 35 Indigenous boys in the College from Year 7 to Year 12 and also to have two Indigenous staff who work closely with the boys to promote a strong sense of their own identity and how that can be strengthened into the future. It will be through educational opportunity that the future will be built for all Australians, and we need to work assiduously to ensure that this occurs.

A feature of the week was the Artists in Residence program, which saw three artists from Borroloola in the Northern Territory join classes to profile the cause of Indigenous art. For the last seven years, boys from the College have travelled to Borroloola and spent time with the Indigenous community, building bridges of understanding as part of a school-based reconciliation initiative. This has seen appreciable gains for both communities and has also resulted in the biennial Artists in Residence program. Many thanks are extended to our visitors from Borroloola for sharing their talents and their culture with the staff and students, and especially to Ms Malarndirri McCarthy who co-ordinated so many elements of the program.

During the week we officially passed the half way point of the term. Term 2 is notoriously short and made exponentially intense by a rigorous assessment regimen that incorporates End of Semester Examinations and a variety of summative assignments, the latter of which provide their own pressures as we move through the latter stages of the term. Year 11 completed their examinations on Tuesday and move into the next stage of their pre-HSC courses while the boys in Year 10 begin their examinations on Monday. In the following weeks the rest of examination cascade will come into effect so boys in the junior secondary school need to be well into preparation and revision mode over the coming weeks. And, it is clearly apparent in all educational research that performance is in due proportion to input, recognising that while not all students are in the top band of achievement, each student will secure the best by way of outcome commensurate with their ability through intense and structured revision programs.

On a pastoral level the last few weeks have not been easy for various reasons. Sadly, two parents of boys in Year 10 have passed away recently, a young man in the secondary school has been diagnosed with serious illness and a parent of four Old Boys, the last of which graduated last year, also passed away. At these times we come together as a faith community to support each other and to support those who are grieving and suffering. In the conundrum of life one doesn’t know what tomorrow holds but in Ignatian spirit we give thanks for the blessings of today, knowing that the vicissitudes of life move each one of us in directions that we don’t anticipate and can sometimes find difficult to make sense of along the way. For those who are working through their own adversity, we, as a school community, stand with you in prayerful solidarity and commit to whatever practical support we can provide along the way.

RioView thundered into life on Saturday night after months of intense preparation by the P&F, and, what a wonderful cause unpinned the gathering – one that responds to the core mission of the Society of Jesus and the school. In all, in all over 560 parents and friends attended an extravaganza that was predicated on social enjoyment and conviviality, but, one that raised significant funds – and through them, life opportunity for young men through the Bursary program. It was one of those evenings where the calculus of enjoyment was matched by the generosity of those who came to support those boys who could otherwise never dream of an education at Riverview. It was also a time to launch the new Bursary promotional video.

To all who gave with such willingness, to all who supported a program that lies at the centre of Gospel teaching and to those who commit to social justice, I wish to express a statement of profound appreciation on behalf of those who will be the beneficiaries of this extraordinary generosity.

Another of the extended community gatherings I was fortunate to attend last Friday evening was the OIU Reunion in Brisbane. The very first boy to enrol from Queensland, William Corbett, joined the inaugural class at Riverview in 1880. In the early years there was considerable interest in Queenslanders attending the College, with some coming from as far north as Rockhampton and by 1894 – the time of the first Riverview reunion in Brisbane, 66 Old Boys had completed their education. This story has continued to the present and while the majority of those who attended the function were Old Boys, there were also some parents who registered interest in sending their boys as boarders in the years ahead. President of the OIU, Tim Peisley, also travelled with me to Brisbane to speak of the many social justice activities that are undertaken by the Old Boys, be they supporting the homeless, the infirmed, the disabled and one ministry which has its own unique challenge – the prison ministry.

As we begin to move towards the latter stages of the term it is important to pause and give thanks to a benevolent God for the many blessings, endowments and opportunities that this school brings to those who are fortunate to have access to a broad educational program and a wonderfully supportive community.

Dr Paul Hine