Address to Glen Innes High School Graduates

Address to Glen Innes High School Graduates Main Image

21 September 2023



Well, thank you very much for that.


I should say at the outset of this that, as a very old man now, I purchased multifocal glasses because I can’t see you and see my speech at the same time.


I lost my multifocal glasses.


I agonised over this speech, so I hand wrote it in a series of aeroplane trips, so any errors are really results of that failure.


I want to join with everybody here in the college and country and I watched the welcome to country with great interest.


I wish we had done that, you know, when I was a kid here. I think it would have meant a lot to Aboriginal students and to their mums and dads. It would have made a real difference.


And I can just tell you that it matters, that kind of thing, a lot. And it matters at a national level too.


It matters what we do in social justice terms for Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Australians, but it matters for the current country, for the future health and strength of our democracy.


And I continue that in my travels around the world.


I am often asked about these questions and the fact that we have a 65,000 year – the oldest continuous culture in the world is an enormous national asset for us – an enormous national asset – and it is and should be a source of great pride and I really enjoy watching that Acknowledgement of Country and the singing of the national anthem.


We should be proud of all of these things; we should be deeply proud.


I am really honoured to be asked to say a few things to you today.


There are a lot of great things about being a politician.


There are a lot of great things about being a Senator in a Federal Parliament and a Minister, there are a lot of tough things too.


The best thing that's happened to me this year was when my staff and team came into the office and said we've got really good news, you've been asked to come and speak to the Year 12’s in Glenn Innes High School.


It is the best thing that has happened to me all year I can tell you, I'm just utterly, utterly delighted to be here.


Also, I should say, what a fantastic leadership team. Wasn't that fantastic?


All of the speeches, all of that room, absolutely marvellous. The music, absolutely beautiful.


I remember Mr McCann when he looked a lot like you.


I don't think I've seen him since, but that beautiful music was a credit to the students who delivered it.


And it was a credit to Mr McCann and the school, so thank you, thank you very much.


I did think very hard about what I would say to you and to your parents and carers, to your teachers and the school community at large.


So I asked my son, D’Arcy, who is 17, and finishing his HSC and I asked him what I should say to you and to this community.


I called him D’Arcy after D’Arcy Niland who grew up here, was born in Meade Street – I think I’m pointing in the right direction aren’t I? Meade Street’s that way I think.


He was born in 1912. His father was a wool classer and his father named him after Australia’s greatest boxer, Les Darcy.


The nuns at St Joseph’s College took up the collection and bought him his first dictionary and a collection of books, because even then he could tell stories; he could spin a yarn, even as a kid.


He was one of our greatest national storytellers.


He wrote some of our greatest Australian novels – not dense and inaccessible novels, they were written for ordinary Australians. Written for ordinary Australians to read.


They were priced at a very low price, for ordinary Australians to read, and they were written about real stories – about the people that he knew and the people who were like him.


He wrote stories like The Shiralee, about a man on the road in the Great Depression with his daughter, Buster, walking from town to town, looking for work with a daughter he isn’t sure that he even wants or could possibly care for in the circumstances that he’s in.


It’s one of the great stories not just for Australia, but for the world of fatherly love – parental love – of parental success and failure.


You know, it's one of our great Australian stories.


They made a movie, some of the older characters in here will remember the movie – it had Bryan Brown in it.


If you haven't watched it, you should. If you haven't read it, you absolutely should.


You know, when you drive through Guyra and see the hotel, it’s called the Shiralee, it’s named after the book. The movie’s old now but you should, you should read it.


As you can see, I feel strongly about this town and its community, even though I haven’t been here very much.


When people ask me where I'm from, I say I'm from Glen Innes.


You know, the landscape, the beautiful street -- I acknowledge the Mayor, recently re-elected, congratulations -- the work that the Council's done improving the main street.


You know, the town, its history, is a constant in my life.


I even named my son after Glen Innes’ most famous son.


Anyway, I asked him, you know, what should I say to you?


And he looked at me, he sort of scratched his head, and he said, I don't know, Dad, but I'd keep it short.


That was it.


Not very much, not very much guidance at all, and I'm not sure I'm going to deliver on that promise I have to say.


First thing I want to say to you, the class of Year 12, all 46 of you, it has been, I know, a roller coaster of a high school career for you.


Your high school career, I think, was very different to mine, the COVID experience.


Glen Innes being at the centre of much of the fire activity in that really tough year in 2020.


You know, that and many other things, that you are here tonight, just shows how resilient you are, and how much I can imagine you must have looked after each other in that process.


I got an opportunity to tour around the school this afternoon.


It is – and Mr. Forrester, I met Mr. Forrester, the leadership team, Leanne Eastwood from the P&C, who I remember from school.


The bones of that school are the same as when I was here in 1991, that long ago.


But so much has been achieved, it is a beautiful school and it's a testament really to the love and care of the teaching staff, the school leadership.


I was really pleased to see the captains call out the teachers' aids, the cleaning staff, the maintenance staff.


It's a testament to the love and care of the community and the fact that people see that school as being absolutely valuable for your education, but also as the centre of the community and a marker of how much Glen Innes cares about the young people in this community.


It was really apparent to me how much effort and care and, dare I say it again, love your teachers have shown you and supported each other in this enormous challenge that it is teaching teenage young people, who are sometimes more challenging to teach than maybe they should be – or certainly my experience.


I wanted to say three things to you, really.


One, you are not your ATAR. Two, be a builder and not a wrecker. And three, be curious.


And let me tell you what I mean.


Firstly, you are not your ATAR, you are not your HSC mark.


Some of you are going to do really well and deserve it. You should be really proud.


Some of you, like me, would not expect to do well, didn't necessarily deserve it.


Some of you will be unhappy about how you go, but your mark does not define you.


It simply doesn't and cannot and shouldn’t, although I know that the way that the system works makes you for much of your school career think that it does.


It doesn't, it doesn’t say very much about who you really are. It might get you into a course that you want to do, it might not.


John Lennon said that life is what happens while you are making other plans.


And that's right – there are so many pathways in this life.


Into work, into study, into apprenticeships, into opportunities – indeed, into things that don't really work out – into knots and defeats as well as successes.


And what you think you really want now in terms of your life after school will change.


Your ATAR doesn't define who you are now, and it certainly won't over the course of the years, the many years that are in you.


Secondly, while giving out insurance advice, I want to say be a builder and not a wrecker.


Some people are wreckers – it's very fashionable at the moment.


They'll tear something down, knock an idea.


The easy living of cynicism, rather than add solutions.


Be a builder instead.


Whether it's in your workplace, in your business, in your university, when you join a union or a church group or your faith group, in your community, in the family that you are born into, or the family that you join, or the family that you make.


Make them better than when you found them, just like the leadership team said they were committed to making the school a better place – making it fairer, making it better, making it stronger, making it bigger and that goes for our national environment too.


And thirdly, be curious.


Be curious about the world that you live in – ask questions, lots of questions.


Don’t always listen to the loudest voices, look for the quiet ones, the kind ones.


Not the knockers or the cruel voices – and there’s a lot of that in the social media that we’re all forced to consume.


Look for what’s real, what’s solid, what’s positive.


And being curious is also about looking for beauty as well as kindness and truth for a sense of wonder.


It really matters and it’ll have an impact on how happy you are and on the way that you contribute to your community.


You know, politics is not just for politicians.


My job is to work as hard as I can to help build a government that makes Australia a country we can be proud of and meets the challenges of our age.


But citizenship is just as vital.


You know, in the world that we live in, where things are less certain, perhaps more dangerous than average, more challenges, active citizenship really matters.


Defending the strength of our democracy really matters for our future.


Politics is not just for politicians – and at the time now when democracy is under threat around the world, it's vital that all of you take the right set of responsibilities of being a citizen in Australian democracy very seriously.


Some of you will now be eligible to vote, all of you will be eligible to vote shortly.


The quality of our democracy depends upon the active participation of Australians in community life and in all the various institutions.


And you should take as you walk from your school life, your life as a kid, into your life as an adult.


I just say to you as somebody who's involved in the parliamentary democracy, that is so important to us to make the democracy and the country stronger and that really matters.


I hope that the next few weeks go very well for all of you.


I hope that tonight and in the inevitable celebrations that follow, you really do take stock in this moment and you take some satisfaction in your lives and this moment in your lives.


It is a door from one part of your life into another.


Reflect on your own growth, reflect on your family's contribution and commitment to you, your friends, your teachers and your community. Enjoy it.


Life throws its ups and downs at you, but the next few months once you get through that last exam there is no feeling like it really in your life getting through that last exam.


Maybe the birth of your children, if you have them, these are important moments, finishing that last exam – absolutely fantastic.


So I do hope, I do hope you enjoy it.


It's been a total delight to come back here to Glen Innes.


Some of the-I have to say, some of the surnames that I heard were surnames that I remember from my school life.


I understand that Neville McIntyre, [INSERT FIRST NAME] McIntyre, and the boys – Neville was my athletics coach.


He was partly responsible for the fact that I was a fine physical specimen at the age of eighteen.


He is not responsible for my obvious decline ever since, so I’m slightly uneasy about Neville being in the audience.


I know that this community is a wonderful community and I’m absolutely delighted, as I said, to be here.


I wish you, and your families and carers, the teachers and staff at Glen Innes High School all the very best over the next few weeks and for everything that comes after.


Thank you very much.