13 Aug 2014
‘We will call Australia Home - Seeking Asylum’: a striking title for the 2014 Ruyton Foundation Masterclass held on Friday 8 August. The Masterclass began with a compelling performance by VCE Drama Unit 3/4 students Laura A, Emma B, Sophie K, Tim D, and Durham M. Their ensemble piece portrayed the chilling story of a family’s flight from Syria and the miseries faced, miseries that both drove them to flee their homeland and met them as they arrived in the ‘lucky country’. As I sat next to our keynote speaker Mr Julian Burnside, the tears that Julian wiped from his eyes said so much more than anything I could write about the impact of the performance on those who had the privilege to see it.
Each year when selecting the theme for this programme, our goal is to present a Masterclass which extends our knowledge, deepens our thinking, challenges our perceptions, links with our curriculum, touches our hearts and helps us understand how we can make a difference as individuals and as a community. Our theme for 2014 certainly met all of these criteria.
Julian Burnside is a barrister, human rights and refugee advocate, author, Queens Counsel and Officer of the Order of Australia. Julian described himself to the students as someone who spends 70% of his time practising in commercial litigation, trade practices and administrative law, and the other 30% working ‘pro bono’ for those who need his help the most.
Julian Burnside’s address to the Senior School began with his own stories of asylum seekers he had worked to support. Julian used these stories to help us understand the human face of this issue, the role of government and media in the current public perception of ‘queue jumpers’, and the realities of our responsibilities as a nation that is a signatory to the United Nations Convention relating to the Status of Refugees.
Following Julian’s address, Year 11 and 12 students had the opportunity to participate in a ‘Q and A’ style forum with a panel that included Julian Burnside and three remarkable women making a difference in our community.
Hannah Colman is an old Ruytonian who completed Year 12 in 2001. Hannah co-founded SCARF in 2010 and is the General Manager of this volunteer organisation. Scarf provides hands-on training, mentoring and employment in the hospitality industry to young people who may not otherwise have the opportunity, including many who have come here as refugees, by borrowing restaurants and asking chefs to volunteer their time. Megan Reinwald volunteers as the Sunshine campus co-ordinator of SAIL (Sudanese Australian Integrated Learning), a volunteer-run, non-profit organisation which provides free English support and community services to the Sudanese Australian community. The final panel member was Sue Mitchell, a Médecins Sans Frontières (Doctors Without Borders) psychologist who has worked extensively with refugees in South Sudan.
The questions that our senior students addressed to the panel were deep, challenging and insightful and the ensuing conversation between the panel members provided a rich and unique learning experience.
I think the words of one of our Class of 2014 as she left Royce Theatre at the conclusion of the Masterclass sum up this unique and exceptional learning experience. ‘That’s what school should always be like!’
Mrs Cathryn Furey
Assistant Principal, Director of Learning
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