Wesley College Melbourne Australia
Wesley College Melbourne

Principal's Lines: Legacy

28 September 2017 Helen Drennen
Induction of new prefects during the Commencement Service at St Paul's Cathedral

There is a well-known English play by Alan Bennett which I have long enjoyed which seems to sum up a number of things happening across Wesley recently. In the final moments of The History Boys, which dramatises many ideas about how and why we educate, and about the role of historical legacy, the principal character (a charismatic history teacher) urges his students to ‘pass it on’ – whatever it is they feel will nurture those yet to come. The assumption is that schools abound with things to ‘pass on’, and I totally agree. The role of legacy in schools like ours is part of the life-blood that keeps our traditions and our values alive and healthy. Legacies, of course, are determined by others in a way, but they can also be objectively assessed. I have been having these thoughts in relation to several moments in our present history which are intimately connected to ‘legacy’ and its continuing power.

Some legacies are hidden away and finally subsumed in the evolving culture of a place. Others may be more transparent. A classic example of the latter is the famous Nicholas brothers’ bequest, by which the school was substantially re-built in the 1930s. It provided a legacy whose transformative spirit has been with us for 80 years now. It changed Wesley more than just architecturally. And so it was with great joy that this year, on May 11, we welcomed to Wesley many of the descendants of the Nicholas family, most of whom had not stepped on Wesley soil, but who felt an immediate sense of belonging. They felt connected to a legacy of which they had probably at best only heard about, but sensed immediately its abiding influence on the modern Wesley. It was an occasion for which even the phrase ‘passing on’ could barely do justice.

Australia, too, is moving slowly towards a recognition of another kind of legacy which we can all share: that handed down by the First Peoples of this ancient land. National Reconciliation Week, in which we seek to build upon relationships between our many different cultures, was beautifully celebrated at special assemblies, at a breakfast in the Hartnell Dining Room at Glen Waverley with guest speaker Wurundjeri Headman Murrindindi, at a barbeque at St Kilda Road which re-united friends from the Yiramalay/Wesley Studio School, and by a display of student Indigenous artwork. These were further great moments of ‘passing on’ essential things.

Our legacies are shared and built upon by all who come to the school, and are frequently taken beyond the gates to the world beyond, where we hope they continue to resonate with the broader Victorian and Australian communities.


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