Speech to Mayoral Civic Reception celebrating public education in Gawler

Simon Birmingham: It’s great for parents and carers and others, that you’re able to create the type of environment that is supportive, ambitious, that seeks to ensure every child can pursue their dreams and be their best. And that of course is what we all seek and hope to have from our education systems.

I look back on my years at Gawler High – as it then was – many years ago now and I was trying to think, well, what are a few of the things beyond the obvious, perhaps; beyond the public speaking competitions; or beyond the academic that I can look at as traits that are important. And I think of persistence in meeting Sebastian, the SLC President on the way in, who told me that he nominated for Vice-President and ended up being elected President of the SLC. I have to say, my success always seemed to be a little more inverse to that. 

And so I think as somebody who went on and lost a couple of elections before I found myself in the nation’s Parliament, persistence at a whole range of levels was one of those attributes, one of those important traits of life that I enjoyed and found out of school.

I think of relevance, the importance of thinking about who are you speaking to, who are you engaging with, how do you make sure that the elements you are speaking to them about are relevant to different people. And in a funny sense, I look back at a conversation I had at the end of year 11 with Ms Hughes, my English teacher. This is a little cruel to Ms Hughes to tell this story; she was most aghast that I had not chosen to do year 12 English as a subject. And of course words as a politician have been a very big part of my life as to how you get messages and put them together, and enjoy success. And as you heard, debating and public speaking were a bit part of my school education. Back at Ms Hughes, and I said; well yes, you’re correct, I’ve chosen other subjects for year 12. But why, but why? I said; Pride and Prejudice. I was still a teenage boy and the idea of sitting there in year 11, grinding our way through Jane Austen as we did with Pride and Prejudice, which happens incidentally to be one of my wife’s favourite novels, and of course a television series now. So she has, sort of, tried her best to turn me around. But relevance. And it’s an important thing for everybody, and I know that today – in particular, leaders in schools like Andrew and Ian – teachers work so hard to ensure that they can capture the attention and the imagination of students to ensure the message is relevant. Now that said, of course, so many great teachers – and Ms Hughes was a great teacher as well, in fairness to her – but others, and it’s a wonderful thing of a public life like mine, that often you suddenly find people walk up to you. I was at a Crows game last year and a man with a big, gray beard and a set of grey hair came up and said; do you remember me? 

Did I just hear the name said down the front there?

Unidentified speaker: Brandon Mitchell.

Simon Birmingham: Brandon Mitchell, correct. Do you remember me? [indistinct] I’m at the footy, and we’re all [indistinct]. Mr Mitchell? Year 12 legal studies teacher – and one of those great teachers as many others – who made such an impact in terms of the education through life. 

But perhaps most importantly, particularly most relevantly at this time in talking about achievements of last week and school education policies for the future, I think Gawler High School well and truly an environment of inclusion in my day. And I look at a school community that at the time at that era had very much first generation Vietnamese migrant families from the Adelaide Plains areas, second generation Italian and Greek families from the community – all of whom making a very big impact in different ways on the economy of our region, on the town of Gawler in different ways, but of course particularly in a school environment. Coupled together with, in a public education sense, the need to have- and students coming from all different backgrounds and walks of life are merging and are blending very much – even today still I suspect; certainly then. [Indistinct] Gawler’s catchcry, the best of town and country, that you had children from rural and semi- rural backgrounds together with those coming from urban environments. So you had a blend of cultures, a blend of lifestyles, a blend of economies, and of course, a blend of capabilities, challenges, disabilities, and otherwise, coming together in an environment where inclusion was so important.

And that is really the driving force behind what I’ve sought to work on over the last couple of months publicly – much longer than that in the background – as we seek to put in place the types of framework for school funding models and support in the future that can guarantee supportive, inclusive, and ambitious environments. Because ambition, of course, is so critical to help ensure that everybody is striving to be their best.

And the type of funding model that we’re putting in place – and I don’t want to get too political about it now – but one that does provide additional support to ensure student with a disability, students from a language background other than English, students whose families have not enjoyed much academic or educational success in the past, that they all attract additional support, that we have the type of structure in place to ensure that we can give everybody from every background and every circumstance the opportunity to achieve their best.

Now, Gawler and Districts College – Gawler High School before that – has clearly managed to do this over the years, often in the face of some challenge, some adversary. And look at the names and faces flashing up behind us there of people who have worked through the school over the years, gone through there as students, and gone on to achieve so many different things. And I see of course, former Mayor Bruce Eastick here featuring on those shots behind me as many, many others have gone on as contributors in the community to make such a big, big difference.

I’m very proud to be an alumni of Gawler High. I’m very proud of what the school taught me. I am very proud to be able to go out and champion those values from the school, and to champion its merits today in the new shape as the – probably not quite so new anymore – but in the new shape as the Gawler and Districts College; and to hear the likes of Andrew, and Franco(*) speak with such passion about what is achieved now will absolutely empower me even further to speak publicly across the nation about the great things that are happening here, backed by a hard-working school community, backed by a foundation around the community providing the additional support that is necessary which will ensure that so many more people will go on to achieve so much more in their lives for their community in the future.

Thanks so very much for the chance to be with you all.