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Monday, 24 June 1996
Page: 2077


Senator WOODS (Parliamentary Secretary to the Minister for Health and Family Services)(7.35 p.m.) —In earlier centuries, the profession of teacher was greatly valued. The status of the teacher was very high, and deservedly so. The teacher's influence extended well beyond the classrooms into the whole community.

The word `education', in its root derivation, means a drawing out—not just a drawing out of facts and figures, but the development of the potential of each individual: the spiritual, moral, intellectual, physical and cultural attributes which are latent in all. A well-known educator recently said:

A liberal education presupposes free spirits and we must continually re-affirm that education at all levels is primarily concerned with critical reflection, personal development and sustained inquiry involving the body, the mind, the feelings, the imagination, the fantasy life and above all, the life of spirit.

Throughout history, there have been great teachers who have imparted and treasured the knowledge and values of their societies. And today there are also some great teachers, however unsung and undervalued. That same educator said:

It is difficult to define a great teacher. Largeness of heart is characteristic, generosity and love of mankind. The successful teacher draws on underground reservoirs of vigour.

One such great Australian teacher is Rod West, the retiring headmaster of Trinity Grammar School, a man greatly admired for his outstanding qualities as an educator and as a humanitarian who also happens to be the source of my earlier quotations.

Rod West has had a profound influence on the lives of tens of thousands of students and, indeed, upon their parents. A fine Christian in every sense, he is a warm, friendly, compassionate leader whose genuine affection for his fellow beings is manifest in his every word and action.  A moral philosopher with a rare gift of communication and expression, his message tinged with a gentle sense of humour, who draws often on the magic storehouse of English poetry to illustrate his values.

In our 20th century attitudes, leadership is usually measured in contributions to commerce, industry, science, politics and defence service. Sadly, we greatly underestimate the qualities and influence of the true teacher. We tend to measure our resources in the physical things around us—our minerals, agricultural potential, climate, land mass and rainfall. But there is one predominant resource which we frequently undervalue in its potential, the individual human.

It is the true teacher who can unlock the individual potential, who can impart values as well as a love of learning—above all who can inspire motivation and curiosity, who can beckon on. Was it Robert Browning who wrote:

Oh, that a man's reach should exceed his grasp

On what's a heaven for?

That seems to me to express Rod West's philosophy and his remarkable strivings in the interests of the betterment of mankind. And in all his life's work, he has been supported and encouraged by a devoted and understanding wife, Janet, whose contribution deserves full recognition.

Our schooldays—our formative years—are often the most important of our lives. There are great riches in their memories. Thoreau records this entry in his diary for 16 July 1851:

I think that no experience which I have today comes up to or is comparable with the experiences of my boyhood. My life was ecstasy. In youth, before I lost any of my senses, I can remember that I was all alive and inhabited my body with inexpressible satisfaction; both its weariness and its refreshment were sweet to me.

Thank you Rod for your great leadership, for beckoning on so many parents and students. Thank you for nurturing that inexpressible satisfaction in so many.

On the North Door of St Paul's Cathedral in London is a Latin inscription, a tribute to Sir Christopher Wren by his son. It says simply:

If you would seek his monument, look around you.

There are tens of thousands of living monuments to Rod West who well exemplifies Polonius' advice:

And this above all to thine own self be true.

If during my career in public life I make one-tenth of the contribution to society that Rod has made, I will consider myself a very fortunate man.