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Thursday, 21 June 2007
Page: 157


Mrs GASH (11:48 AM) —I want to read something by Michael Walton about the National Student Leadership Forum that he attended. It reads:

A little about myself first. My name is Michael Walton, aged 18. I volunteer at the office of Joanna Gash MP, Member for the Gilmore electorate. There I help out with whatever is needed, which usually involves mail-outs. I’d like to take this time to thank Joanna for sponsoring me to attend this life-changing experience.

Before attending the National Student Leadership Forum, I didn’t really know what to expect. Actually, I had a vague idea of what it could be like. Intense bible sessions, deep and meaningful discussions of faith, strong family values, and questions like “What is your favourite passage of the bible and why?” Knowing this I was a little nervous and somewhat sceptic of what this forum could actually offer me, and what I could possibly contribute to this bunch of passionate bible-revised people. I was soon to find out that I was greatly mistaken.

I arrived at the front doors of the Hyatt Hotel on a freezing cold, clear day. I was nervous at first, but knew I was here on a mission, and I intended to see it through. I walked up to the reception and had a welcomed greeting by a few girls that were also attending the forum, and with that, we all went to register.

I signed my name, checked my bag in, received my portfolio; had my photo taken and adopted my group, lucky number 7. The members of my group were all unique and came from different backgrounds and different areas of Australia. We had two veteran forum attendees, two boys, one from an Italian background, a girl from the country, a female with strong views on female empowerment with a Sri-Lankan background, and even one of the girls that I had already met at the reception.

Not long after that we had a short welcoming speech by Jock Cameron, the organiser of the event, and off we went to Parliament House. Parliament House was enlightening to say the least. Having the Prime Minister and leader of the opposition talk to us and answer our questions exclusively was a nice touch to start off our 4-day insightful experience.

Over the four days we had numerous guest speakers. The speaker who stood out from the rest, for me, would be Brian Egan. Brian had established a program called “Aussie Helpers” that assists Australians in the outback with the essential supplies they need, especially during these times of drought. I found what Brian had to say especially inspiring because it was such a classic Aussie story of the underdog.

He started out with basically nothing and collected money from meat raffles he had down at his local pub; and from that he has created a wonderful association to help others in need, like himself. Everybody was glued to their seats listening to this story, and showed their gratitude by raising a few thousand dollars to go towards his cause.

At this time, about half way through, I had become very close to my small group and started to learn and experience more about the lives that other people lived, and their aspirations they have for the future.

We had a few group activities, one namely a volleyball tournament, where we tried our best but didn’t get past the first round. But one of our more important activities was our community service, where we would go to designated houses around Queanbeyan to assist in anything they would like us to help with. We started with gardening, which included weeding, mowing lawns, and pruning plants and shrubs. We all had fun doing it, and it was probably one of the things I was looking forward to the most, and got the most out of.

I’d have to say out of the whole time I was there, the most influencing and memorable experience was when we gathered into our small groups during the day and late night. For hours on end we would share our experiences with one another, as if we were close friends who had known each other for years.

On our last night together, everyone gathered for a bush dance in a freezing cold shed somewhere in the “outback” of Canberra. It was a great experience to dance with members of your group and people you’ve never seen or talked to before. One member of our group and I decided to initiate conversations with people from other groups, people who we had never met before.

I found the diversity at the forum very unique, with people from all different nationalities and backgrounds. Everybody had a different story to tell and each had something special about them to share with everyone else. We even had the first female Muslim life-saver in Australia attend.

I’d like to thank my group facilitators, Don and Dee Fleming, from Adelaide for making this experience all the more inviting and enlightening, and to Jock Cameron for organising such a magnificent event.

Overall, I’d have to say that I had an amazing experience at the forum. I think the thing I’ll take away the most is how close you can become to other people, and what experiences you share together. I think it has given me a different approach to how I deal with things in life and it will be something I will not soon forget.

Michael is a wonderful young man who I first met whilst on a trip to Africa. He has a great future as he is a caring, thoughtful and compassionate young man. It was a pleasure to have been able to sponsor him for such a worthwhile project. I know he will use this opportunity to give back something to his peers in the Gilmore electorate and I wish him well.