From the 1990s
In a casual conversation with a teacher from Melbourne who taught at Jesuit schools in Sydney and is now at Xavier College I learnt something which I was not surprised to hear. She described the new school she was at as the Riverview of Melbourne. What does that mean? Why not draw a parallel and say that Aloysius is the Xavier of Sydney? Well we wouldn’t because it is not so. The person in question did not make the comparison in any derogatory way but rather as a self evident observation.
Now where does that leave us? Are we the second string school? As a starter we do not belong to the clan of the very elitist schools as we are not a member of the G.P.S. establishment.Rather we come in on the next train, namely the C.A.S. grouping.We do not belong to the equivalent of the Windsor Club of Melbourne. Do we then have anything to be triumphal about or is there any need to search for a triumphal identity.
We go back a very long way. History has the habit of writing its own accolades. Do we have to plead our own case or can we live with what we are? As we all observe humility is not a natural gift bestowed on the human race rather it is acquired painstakingly and when one makes the boast of achieving it, it disappears like quick silver in its most pristine state. So where do we start to find an identity that suffers as few as possible traces of triumphalism?
We can start by acknowledging things that we are not. We are not one of the elitist schools. We are not the best sporting school in the state. Others have done better than us on the academic plane. Our facilities are limited. Our parents come from diverse backgrounds, occupations and professions. When we do well it is success that is earned through courage and effort as much as through an array of natural talent. So where does our raison d’etre lie? Are we just an inner city school which happens to have a remnant of Jesuits? Who does the college cater for? What is the ultimate judgement of success? The questions can come rolling off the tongue.
I think we need to go even deeper and tear away the veneer of superficial distractions such as social acceptability by society at large. The old school tie is the key to promising openings but haven’t we been told that we should earn what we want? In fact the role of education as offered by our college is not to make the student dependent on favours in order to make his mark on the society in which he lives. It is precisely here that we need to take stock of who we are and where we want to go. What are our students and your children to offer the world? To answer this let’s look at the experience of the school in the past. One hundred and twenty years is a long time and so we have had the time to actually do something already. In that time we have had famous old boys in many fields and reciting the names would compare with the longest of church litanies.
I was a second generation student at the college starting way back in 1950. My grandfather was a product of the Jesuit system in the urban environment of an English city. He definitely did not go to the Xavier of English Jesuit schools, namely Stonyhurst. Rather he was a product of less sophisticated surrounding. There were no massive hectares of playing fields, merely concrete jungle with bitumen enough for a cricket pitch and just maybe a basketball court. Students somewhat crowded together, vying for playing space, indulging in what greenery there was yet finding in this confined geographical closeness a sense of unity. Perhaps if we bother to look keenly at this experience we may find the reason why we are what we are and unravel the mystery of our identity.
Space has always been in short supply. It has been in the ingenious use of it that has determined who we are and where we have been going. In the 1960’s we almost closed down and it seemed that at best the efforts of one of our most famous old boys Eris O’Brien the Archbishop of Canberra might save the school. This meant relocation to the A.C.T. But no we stayed put in Milsons Point and survived. The odds were against us and yet we remained to fight another day. What was evident was that one of the major factors in this survival was the dedication of the old boys. This opens up another clue as to the purpose of our existence. Many old boys send their own children to the school. There must be the belief that the college still has something valuable to offer. It must be more than the camaraderie and loyalty. It is to do with what this college stands for.
If we are not the Xavier of Sydney and Riverview is what is the distinguishing quality of our place? What is our culture, our identity, our meaning? We can glory in our famous old boys, even those whose fame came through the stygean waters of politics. They have in various ways received their accolades. What about the rest of us, those who have been associated with the school, the old boys, staff, parents and the students themselves. Most of us will never lay claim to fame but hopefully lay claim to decency and goodness.
Last year in Holland an ex-student contemporary of mine was found stabbed to death in his house. Some years back an ex-Aloysian, after completing his autobiography, was found dead in his Berrima prison cell in tragic circumstances. There are those who may die with fame, maybe with dignity as well and there may be some who die impoverished. There may be some who die victims of Aids.
Some who will work and maybe die in Bombay or in the Manila slums. Some may answer the plight of our Koori brothers and rectify the imbalance of two hundred years. On the other hand there will be some who will fiddle the system for their own monetary gain. There will be others financially prosperous. There will be some wheeler dealers. Others will espouse the Catholic cause they were taught to see as the infallible truth. There will be the rejection by some of that same church replacing it with a faith that for them may be more real. There is and will be a kaleidoscope of differences and results. If Steven Spilberg or Bruce Beresford were to direct a film on an Aloysian of the past leading into the present it would make the most riveting of movies.
Are we getting any closer to what we can define as an Aloysian? Perhaps anything from a saint to a sinner. But again what is our definition or’: either? We know this much thoughithat it has nothing to do with an ideology. If the soul of the school rested on the superficial or the cosmetic then we would have been finished long ago as a creditable institution. So there is more. Jingoism, triumphalism, elitism, bigotry or even social acceptability as an end in itself can never be part of the trek.