Wesley College Melbourne Australia
Wesley College Melbourne

What does it mean to be Australian?

25 April 2011

Recently, I had the pleasure of attending the Asia Pacific conference of the International Baccalaureate in Melbourne exploring teaching and learning in the 21st century.

The conference themes covered topics of much importance today in our globalised world - citizenship, creativity, connectivity and compassion with an exceptional group of presenters from around the world including Mr Wade Davis, National Geographic explorer–in-residence and rare combination of scientist, scholar and poet. Other eminent speakers were Wesley alumni and IB Diploma graduates, Waleed Aly (OW1996), lawyer, academic at the Monash University Global Terrorism Research Centre, media and current affairs presenter (ABC 774 and SBS ) and rock musician, Matthew Albert (OW1998), co-founder of the Sudanese Australian Integrated Learning (SAIL) Program and named one of the Ten Most Outstanding Young People of the World for 2005 for his contributions to children, world peace and human rights, and Dame Evelyn Glennie, world renowned and extraordinarily talented Scottish solo percussionist, and genius in the world of sound therapy.

Keynote speakers at the International Baccalaureate Asia Pacific
Keynote speakers at the International Baccalaureate Asia Pacific conference:
Waleed Aly (OW1996), Randa Abdel-Fattah and Matthew Albert (OW1998)

As I was a participant and workshop presenter at this conference, a very special opportunity presented itself for me to examine again a question which is central to a school like Wesley – What does it mean to be Australian?

The age we live in brings new perspectives to this important question and some new imperatives. Today, children have so much more choice through technology of connecting to others and to other places across the world and in this new world of connectivity the complex question of identity is often separated from geography and culture of birth.

In giving a workshop on Wesley’s Fitzroy Valley partnership and the development of the Yiramalay/Wesley Studio School, I was quickly reminded about how this initiative is bringing together two different Australias – Australia today for the children of the First Australians and Australia today for the children of those who followed.

Rohanna Cheryl at Glen Waverley
Johanna Hoad and Rohanna Cheryl, Yiramalay/Wesley
Studio School students, with students at Glen Waverley

The theme of citizenship in this context in Australia raises questions about whether citizenship is a privilege that can be claimed or bestowed and by whom it can be bestowed.

Our story at Yiramalay is a story about what happens when it’s not bestowed. It’s a story about what happens when your country doesn’t recognise or accept you and when an education system doesn’t truly recognise your language and culture either. The Yiramalay/Wesley Studio School is developing a new framework for learning in the senior years in a unique way. It has precipitated the development of a new national qualification for school graduation, the National Diploma learning framework, which gives equal value to academic learning, industry learning and personal social learning across cultures. This learning framework for students in Years 11 and 12 commenced at Wesley and at the Studio School this year in Year 11.

With this approach to developing cross cultural understanding and personal growth, the Yiramalay/Wesley Studio School is modelling how to nourish cross cultural connections in education for change. In doing so it is bringing greater understanding about citizenship and about what it means to be Australian.

Throughout its history, Wesley has sought to encourage our students to think about citizenship, about contributing more broadly to national life, and what it means to be Australian in the most comprehensive way they can manage.

When our most recent historian, Andrew Lemon, completed his recent history of Wesley, I think all of us who love the place were glad that he emphasised the word Australian in his title. Aside from seeing ourselves more and more in an international context, we do cherish the Australian ideals we uphold.

On a daily basis I see energy and determination demonstrated in the work of our students and staff in the projects we undertake to enlarge our view of the world and in the values and beliefs that underpin a true Wesley education.

Finally, and most importantly, I would like to express my sincere appreciation for all the wonderful work and service that Gea Lovell has given to the College, and especially to the Elsternwick campus, in her time as Head of Campus, Elsternwick.

With best wishes

Helen Drennen

Add your voice: