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Opening of the Scientia Building, University of New South Wales, Sydney, Friday, 3 September 1999: address on the occasion.

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At the outset let me say how delighted Helen and I ar e to be part of this evening’s event, which is a central feature of the University’s 50 th Anniversary celebrations.   As I look around, I am reminded of how many familiar names in public life, the professions, commerce and the arts are counted among UNSW graduates.   Those names include, of course, Vice-Chancellor John Niland and his wife Carmel.   It is a particular pleasure for me to be in the company of two close friends and former Chief Justices of Australia:  Sir Anthony Mason, who has, in recent years, brought such distinction to the role of Chancellor and Sir Gerard Brennan, the Chancellor of the University of Technology and the Foundation Scientia Professor at this University.


We are all privileged to be associated, in even a small way, with the visionary complex we are gathered to open and to celebrate.   Its scale and proportion reflect the status of a University which ranks among the world’s best.   It is a truly outstanding blend of great hall - the Leighton Hall, the hi-tech Ritchie Cinema, the Tyree Function Room, state of the art teaching facilities and planned auditorium .   I offer my warm congratulations to the design Architect, Richard Francis-Jones, of Mitchell Giurgola & Thorpe, to the builders, and to all who have been directly or indirectly involved in what is both a brilliant achievement in itself and a fitting tribute to a great University.   I particularly acknowledge Mr Peter Ritchie, the Chairman, and the members of the Scientia Appeal Committee and all those who have generously contributed to the cost.


It is most appropriate that this complex - the symbolic and ceremonial heart of the University - is named The Scientia … knowledge … the ultimate quest of tertiary study … and the Latin word which has appeared on the University’s Arms since its inception.  


The University of New South Wales was originally established with a primary focus upon the study … and knowledge … of science and technology.   The context in 1949, notes Professor Patrick O’Farrell, also a Scientia Professor, in his “Portrait” of the University, was “that of post-war urgencies and insecurities and its intellectual emphasis [was] vigorously practical rather than theoretical”.   But all students were required to study some of the humanities so that they would emerge as well-rounded individuals with more than bare technical expertise to offer society.


Today, the University is undoubtedly one of the great general universities of our nation.   It has 30,000 students, making it also one of our largest.   Almost a third of its enrolments [31%] come from a non-English-speaking background.   This is an important statistic.   Not only for the testimony it provides of the richness and success of the multiculturalism which, I believe, sustains our nation.   But also because of what it indicates about the role of the University itself.


Perhaps more than any other Australian university, New South Wales has always had a strong association with students from other countries in our region, going back to the Colombo Plan days.   Around 5,000 of the present students come from overseas … from some 80 countries.   The University boasts a vast alumni network in Asia, including ministers in Indonesia, Singapore and Malaysia, several Asian Vice-Chancellors and thousands of others, not just among the region’s political and business élite, who have an understanding of and warmth towards our country thanks to their experience here as students.  


For me, in the forefront of the many other notable things about this University are its leadership role, through its Aboriginal Education Programme and other initiatives, in the education of indigenous Australians, and the important contribution it has made to indigenous studies in this country.  


As we all know, Australia’s indigenous peoples are immeasurably disadvantaged, as compared with non-indigenous Australians, on almost every measure of material well being - health, welfare, housing, community services, employment.   In all those areas of disadvantage, education provides an essential ingredient of successful resolution.   There are two aspects of that.   The first is better access to full educational opportunities for Aboriginal people themselves, which is why the University’s Aboriginal Education Programme and other initiatives are so important.   The second is more effective education for the broader community about Aboriginal perspectives, approaches, achievements and problems so that there will, in time to come, be new understandings and a better general recognition of the innate worth of Australia’s indigenous peoples and of the extent of the present consequences of past oppression and injustice.   In that regard, I pay particular tribute to the leading part this University has played in promoting indigenous studies in all areas, including indigenous legal studies.   I am conscious of the fact that there are many people entitled to share in the credit for that.   However, I hope that I will be pardoned for singling out for particular mention the foundation Professor and Dean of Law, Hal Wooten, and Professor Garth Nettheim whose respective contributions over the years have been of immense importance to our nation.   I add a brief commercial for the major reconciliation event which, I understand, the University is holding on the Village Green at noon next Thursday.   I wish it well.


Let me conclude by offering my congratulations to the University of New South Wales, not only on the opening of The Scientia, but also on reaching 50 in such great shape.   The coming years will be filled with many challenges, not just intellectual.   Bu t this University has always shown great resourcefulness and adaptability, while maintaining a strong commitment to the advancement of learning and scholarship.   The Scientia provides a wonderful example of that commitment.   May it mark the commencement of a second half-century which is in every way as wonderfully successful and rewarding as the first half-century has been.


And now, with great pleasure, I declare The Scientia to be officially open.



jy  1999-09-06  11:45