St Paul’s Anglican Cathedral is a Melbourne landmark. Opposite Flinders Street station, it marks the entry to the city from the grand St Kilda Road boulevard. For 130 years, the current bluestone building has been the scene of many significant events in the life of the city. I was at the cathedral recently for my youngest son’s final year 12 Assembly. Each of the 157 young men had 30 seconds to relate the significance of their years at Trinity Grammar. The class had experienced more than their share of loss and grief through the death of parents and other tragedies. The sense of community and working together was powerful. A real appreciation for the sacrifices of parents, the guidance of inspiring teachers, and the importance of community were recurring themes. By their own testimonies, shy boys were transformed into young men. As you would expect, there were references to study and sport, however, it was the values of hard work, mateship and looking out for others that shone through the series of short presentations. Trinity Grammar School fosters service to the community at every opportunity.
My parents were not wealthy, but they gave my brothers and me three things more valuable than material possessions: encouragement, the best education they could afford, and a sense of the transcendental. I reflected on this when returning to Rosedale, the small town in Gippsland where I grew up, for my mother’s 90th birthday recently. My father, Roy Gebhardt Andrews, was born in 1911, and left school after his primary years, working as a farmhand, jockey and stockman. When he and my significantly younger mother, Sheila Rosina O’Connor, married in 1949, they purchased a truck and established a livestock transport business. My mother continued the business for 14 years after my father died, rising early in the mornings to transport stock to local markets. She was well known by the farmers in central Gippsland as the lady who drove the stock truck. At her 90th birthday, many of the locals commented on her hard work. She had little choice. When my father died, she had three children still being educated. In their spare time, my parents contributed to the running of the local horse-racing club for over two decades. My grandfather had been the president for the previous 20 years. From the basinet onwards, I accompanied my parents to the district races most Saturdays. From primary school days, I wanted to be a race-caller. I honed my skills on cars driving along the highway, and my brothers running around the farm. On Saturdays at the races, I would station myself at the back of the grandstand, peering through my father’s old 7 x 50 field glasses, calling the events for anyone who preferred my description to that of the official course broadcaster.
I called my first race at age 14, hoping one-day to emulate the great Victorian broadcasters of the era – Bill Collins, Bert Bryant and Joe Brown. A young Collins had started his career at the old Lindenow racecourse in East Gippsland when the official caller failed to arrive at a race meeting. Collins had broadcast throughout Gippsland, including at Rosedale, before going on to Melbourne for an illustrious career in radio and television. For the next decade, I broadcast horses, cars, speedboats and athletics while finishing school and attending university. Eventually I gave broadcasting away to concentrate on a legal and – subsequently – political career.
It was an expectation that my generation would continue the family racing tradition, but the authorities of the late 1960s decided to reduce the number of racecourses. After 100 years of local racing, the Rosedale Racing Club was closed down. It was a loss to the local community that bureaucrats in Melbourne could not appreciate. Our dining room was my parents’ office. The table was covered with piles of invoices, receipts and racing club paperwork. They were small business operators and community volunteers long before the expressions were in vogue. Service to the community, hard work, and a desire to bequeath a better Australia to the next generation were the values imparted to their boys from our loving and encouraging parents. A respect for the transcendental instilled in me a sense of service for the greater good and an acknowledgement that I was not the centre of the universe – rather I was a small part of a bigger picture.
Reflecting on my son’s final year 12 Assembly and my return to Rosedale where I received my primary education, I wondered what makes a good school? As the end of the academic year approaches, parents are rightly concerned that their year 12 sons and daughters have achieved to the best of their ability. There are many more educational pathways now than in the past, but good results remain important.Yet most of us look for something more from our schools. We want our children to develop holistically, not just academically. As Jonathan Sacks writes in The Politics of Hope, the institutions of the family and education are ‘the twin vehicles through which society passes on its accumulated wisdom to the next generation’. This is the important process of socialisation: the achievement of maturity by acquiring a conscience and internalising rules and habits of behaviour.
My son’s Final Assembly and my mother’s 90th were connected in an important way. In both my and my son’s generation, the partnership of parents and school had played a role in developing mature individuals who would in turn contribute to the society in which they lived. This partnership is critical in developing well-rounded adults. When the institutions of both family and education are healthy, so too is society. When they are weakened, society suffers.