Good morning students, staff and friends of St Francis Xavier College here at the Beaconsfield Campus. Thank you for your invitation to speak with you on your theme of courage.
I would like to pay my respects to the first inhabitants of this land and to their elders past, present and emerging. I am grateful for their stewardship which had blessed us with such a beautiful country to live in.
As far as I know there are very few descendants of those first inhabitants in our community. Therefore, the vast majority her today are descendants instead of migrants.
People who left their place of birth because of war, poverty, oppression, opportunity or love.
My own family left Ireland in the early 1860s because of poverty and oppression, looking for opportunity. Looking for peace. Their gift to me.
About the time I was born many, many men left Europe to build the Snowy River hydro power scheme. They brought with them skills this country lacked.
My best friend as a young boy was from Sri Lanka. His family suffered from prejudice in their own country as a minority.
My niece-by-marriage left Germany 10 years ago for love. Now with three children, I think she found it.
When I was your age I lived in an area that had a lot of Italian migrants. They left after WW2 leaving behind a country in a shambles as a result of that conflict. They came without money, language or, in many cases, education. They came looking for opportunities and with a great work ethic.
My wife lived in Monbulk. There she went to school with the children of migrants who had left Holland to escape poverty and the deprivation caused again by that war.
Later during my university days many people had fled Vietnam. Again as a consequence of war. I worked with a Salesian priest who came here not much older than you. He had been arrested and imprisoned for being a Catholic. Tortured and in solitary confinement, he remembered his father’s plea. Spare nothing. Flee. Leave this land. After six failed attempts and some further stints in jail he made it to Australia in a boat. A boat trip on which he saw things he’d rather forget as pirates, rough seas and human nature not at its best each conspired to challenge him without relief.
Amongst this student body sit 15 students who are refugees from a number of war-torn countries. Their families have seen things we are fortunate enough to have avoided. Whilst there was some conflict in Northern Australia during World War II, this country has not been affected by war in anything like the same way that too many other countries have. And war makes your land unliveable.
Also amongst this student body sit other students and staff who were born in other countries and have left their land for many different reasons.
So, think about this. How hard would it be to leave the place you know, the place where you were born and come here? How many feelings of doubt, fear, uncertainty would you carry with you? How much hope would you hold that life would be better, not just for you, but for those who depend on you? How would it be to start up again with nothing?
And yet, all the groups I mentioned just from my own lifetime have made such a significant contribution to building this country; those men from Europe, the Sri Lankans, the Italians, the Dutch, the Vietnamese, the refugees and the many others. My list does not pretend to cover all groups.
Professional skills, culture, religion, food, fashion, arts, sport. All these contributions to our society.
But the one common characteristic that each shared was courage. Enormous courage. Bravery beyond anything that I have had to summon in my fortunate life.
So many of our students come from families that have stories that can both shock and inspire us.
Remember that when you meet, greet and share St Francis Xavier College life with those around you.