From the Head Master

National Sorry Day

This week I spoke to the Middle and Senior School boys about National Sorry Day and National Reconciliation week. The text of my address was as follows:

Each one of us has a story to tell. Where we have come from, what has happened in our lives, the events and experiences that have shaped us. In each of our stories, there are positive elements and negative ones. There are things that have strengthened us and things that have weakened us. You know someone better when you know more of their story.

We have collective stories too. Our school has a story. From our foundation in a church hall in Dulwich Hill, through our relocation to here in Summer Hill. From a couple of dozen students to a couple of thousand. Our story explains many of the things about the way we are now.

  • Why do we have a Preparatory School in Strathfield? Because long ago, the School Council took over Strathfield Grammar.
  • Why do we have chapel every week? Because we are an Anglican School that has made gathering around God’s word for prayer, song and sermon central to our lives.
  • Why are we in the CAS? Because there was a group of boys’ schools established around the same time as ours that wanted to have a regular sporting competition.
  • Why do we make such significant efforts in ensuring that you are safe and supported in school? Because at different points in our history, boys haven’t been safe at school.

We understand more about our present, when we understand more about our past.

Our nation has a story too. That’s one of the reasons that Australian history is compulsory in our schools. Knowing the story of our past helps us to understand our present. As with our individual stories, our family stories, or institutional stories, we need to know more than just the good things.

Tomorrow, 26 May, is National Sorry Day, which commences National Reconciliation Week. In acknowledging these dates, we are learning about and remembering our shared national story. Not in an attempt to shame ourselves or to condemn previous generations. But because knowing the story of our past helps us to understand our present.

On 26 May 1998, a report was tabled in the Australian parliament. This report was the result of an inquiry into government policies and practices during the 20th century that caused Aboriginal children to be separated from their families. We often refer to these Aboriginal people as the ‘stolen generation’. Over many decades, the Australian government took boys and girls away from their families, from the parents who loved them and the communities that they knew and in which they belonged. The trauma this caused has blighted the story of many indigenous Australians ever since.

The significance of the Bringing Them Home report was that it was an unambiguous formal recognition by our government that the policies and practices of our government had caused great harm. Although these policies and practices may have been well-intentioned, they had dreadful consequences. The prosperity, security and benefits of being Australian and living in our country have not been evenly shared. The vicious cycle of disadvantage that has been the story of so many indigenous Australians was the direct outcome of Australian government practices.

One year after the Bringing Them Home report was tabled, the first National Sorry Day was commemorated, calling the government to make a formal apology. Ten years later, in 2008, the Prime Minister delivered that formal apology on the floor of Parliament House. As it happens, one of the Prime Minister’s key speechwriters at the time was a Trinity Old Boy from the class of 1987. He once stood around this quad, as you do today, and his name appears on various honour boards around the school. The Biblical allusions, oratorical rhythms and powerful crafting of words evident in the speech arose in part from a mind shaped in the same classrooms you sit in. His story, our School’s story and the national story, are all linked.

What happened with the report, and with the apology, is that our nation formally recognised one part of our own story, and we came to understand ourselves better. In making this speech today, in acknowledging National Sorry Day – which is now sometimes known as the National Day of Healing – in hanging the Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander flags over the quad for the week ahead, we remind ourselves of our national story. Remembering our yesterday helps us to understand our today.

It also follows that knowing our story so far helps us to shape our story into the future. How will the Australian story become one of greater and greater reconciliation? Of breaking the cycle of disadvantage? Of healing the hurts? Of making good the damage previously done? It is a question for our nation. But it is also a question for our School. Most powerfully, it is a question for each one of us. It is a question for you.

Detur Gloria Soli Deo.

Tim Bowden | Head Master

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