I congratulate students involved in the Hawkesbury-Hills Student Leadership Program in 2016. The program, which I founded in 2014, gives students an opportunity to be mentored throughout their final year at school by some of Australia’s finest leaders. Importantly, rather than attend Schoolies Week the students choose to do something of much greater substance. In 2014 we trekked the Kokoda Trail. I had walked the Kokoda Trail when I was a university student and I was struck by the rows of gravestones commemorating young men in the Bomana War Cemetery outside Port Moresby. Those young men had died when they were a similar age to me at the time. They had died fighting for the freedoms that we enjoy today. In my view, there is no greater contrast than between the sacrifice those men made and how students celebrate those freedoms during Schoolies Week.
This year the students who participated in the program were mentored by Victoria Cross recipient Corporal Mark Donaldson as well as by former Premier Mike Baird, Virgin chief executive officer [CEO] John Borghetti, Commonwealth Bank CEO Ian Narev and the former Governor of New South Wales, Professor the Hon. Dame Marie Bashir. Last year’s program culminated with a service project at Nyangatjatjara College’s campuses near Uluru and Kaltukatjara in the Northern Territory. The students spent time in the classroom with local Indigenous students. We spent the week refurbishing the school and, most importantly, spending a lot of time with Indigenous students in the Northern Territory. Whilst the work we carried out over the course of the week was, in the scheme of things, relatively minor, the impact on the students was significant. They saw the contrast between how they live in great prosperity and how some of our fellow Australians live who do not share that prosperity. They experienced the way that many of our fellow Australians live. It was an eye-opener for some of the students.
This year’s participants were: Mia Ecob and Tilly Harry from Colo High School; Gemma Healey and Brent Silvers-Remilton from Windsor High School; Sam Foster and Thomas Dobson from Arndell College; Lachlan Smith and Gloria Nasr from Castle Hill High School; Lauren Chapman and Jessica Parker from Gilroy Catholic College; Erin Kavanagh and Talia Morris from Oakhill College; Ann-Maree Sarkis and Jennifer Healey from Tangara School for Girls; Anna Coote and Cooper Lee from The Hills Grammar School; Matthew Orellana and Cynthia Choy from William Clarke College; and Paul Touma and Charbel Bouchahine from Redfield College. At the end of the program Tilly Harry said:
Our service work included painting, gardening and general maintenance, whilst also being immersed within the school community. We learnt just as much—if not more—than the students. As a HSC student, it is easy to get caught up in textbooks. This trip broadened our horizons and we gained an awareness of the inequities faced by Indigenous people.
Sam Foster said:
“The highlight of the trip for me was definitely the two days we spent at Nyangatjatjara Primary School in Docker River.
Docker River is in the middle of nowhere, right on the border of the Northern Territory and Western Australia. He continued:
During those two days we picked up rubbish, hosed down sport equipment, sorted books and had the opportunity to spend time with the primary school kids in their classrooms.
The joy evident on their faces and their sheer wonder and excitement they displayed for life will stay with me for a long time. However, one cannot visit a remote Indigenous community such as Docker River and not notice the neglect and hardship all around. As we were leaving the primary school and saying goodbye, it broke my heart to think of the potentially horrifying and hard lives that most of these happy, joyful and smiling children I’d gotten to know would lead.”
It was a tremendous experience. On 30 March 2017 the leadership program will again be launched. The patron will be former Chief of the Defence Force, Air Chief Marshal Sir Angus Houston. I look forward to meeting the students.