Sirdan’s Sunday lunch

25 Nov

The Empress, E, Sirdan’s neighbour and I had our post-election Sunday lunch today. There was no weeping or gnashing of teeth.


The conversation did get around to a remarkable story that was front page news in Saturday’s Sydney Morning Herald even with that day’s election dominating: Lesson for the school of hard Knox, concerning the young man above.

IT TAKES a lot of guts at the best of times to stand in front of 1350 fellow students, 150 teachers and 600 parents in the school assembly hall and tell it as it is.

But when it involves accusing some of your year 12 classmates of being cheats, and fingering influential parents for bullying the school authorities into giving prestigious positions to undeserving sons, the effect can be nothing short of sensational.

Especially when the school is the well-respected North Shore institution Knox Grammar, which counts among its alumni the veteran broadcaster John Laws, Macquarie Bank chairman David Clarke, former editor of the satirical Oz magazine Richard Neville, Hugh Jackman and ethicist Simon Longstaff.

The 20-minute speech by the Knox 2007 school captain, Mitchell Donaldson, was delivered to a packed “Leavers Assembly” – an occasion intended to celebrate the departure of this year’s 230 final-year students. Mitchell told the hushed hall: “Teenage boys have been forced to face up to the pressures of power-hungry parents.

“Those hypocrites who have slung the most mud do so because of a deep-seated sense of paranoia, inferiority and the unquenchable desire to social-climb. There have been people in our year group who have stolen, who have belittled, and who have cheated their way through the past six years. It is well known, as a year group, we have arguably lost more people to expulsions than any other.

“Sitting to my left will be people who have done the school, their families and themselves a tremendous disservice. Even so, these people will have, by and large, escaped official sanction – feeding off the mercy of the people in charge, exploiting the school’s insistence on their own protection.”

When Mitchell finished the speech, the hall rose to its feet. “Every boy, every teacher, every parent gave him a standing ovation: it was spine tingling,” Knox’s principal, John Weeks, told the Herald yesterday…

I suspect Mitchell will go far.

It was of great interest to The Empress, who used to go to this school.

I can’t say much about it, but The Empress is facing a very grave health issue at the moment. Very grave.

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4 responses to “Sirdan’s Sunday lunch

  1. marcellous

    November 25, 2007 at 10:52 pm

    For my part I was fundamentally unimpressed by that story.

    First, what was a bit of highly localised melodrama doing on the front page of the paper? (Answer: social cachet and, likely as not, Knox parent as journalist)

    Secondly, how come everybody cheered? There must have been people who felt they had been unjustly accused, or did they all think he was talking about someone else? (Mitchell himself must be a prime suspect for being a product of such toadying and other tactics successfully deployed, if what he said was true).

    Thirdly, if what he said was true, how come the headmaster was so happy about it?

    Fourthly, unless things have changed a lot, and they don’t seem to, those boys private school school captain types are beneficiaries of a truly corrupt power structure – based, as we know, on those tried and true leadership indicators, participation in sport and in the cadet corps.

    I had to laugh at the thought of influence being deployed to get your kid into the pipe band. If they practise at home, it doesn’t seem such an enviable achievement.

    But my overall response goes back to my first paragraph – woohoo! who the hell cares? why should we?

  2. ninglun

    November 25, 2007 at 11:14 pm

    The best part of the conversation was about life at Knox in the late 60s and early 70s, but publishing those details could be a touch unwise… Very entertaining though. Some names you would have recognised. One or two are names that have been in the news a lot recently.

  3. Uh...No thanks

    November 26, 2007 at 9:06 pm

    @ marcellous,

    The inside story on this is much more interesting than what was reported in the SMH. To address your queries:

    Firstly, localized melodrama is an interesting way of putting it. Knox is one of the more prestigious private schools and have a string of very influential alumni including politicians, journalists, businessmen and other jobs where lots of money and/or power are involved.

    Taking such a big swipe at the institution in front of the people who run it and the people who fund it to the tune of millions of dollars is a reasonably big deal.

    Second, Mitch himself is one of the most honorable people around and is quite capable of getting stuff on his own merits. Apparently quite a lot of people feel that is the correct way of achieving things and the extent of the cheering reflected the collective level of resentment felt towards the people who don’t. And not everybody was on their feet cheering either…

    Third, the headmaster was NOT AT ALL happy about it and spent two days prior to the story breaking attempting to smother it. Why did he appear so happy about it? Well, when faced with the choice of either slagging off a young man who is also more than capable of defending himself eloquently in the press and making a neutral-but-could-be-taken-as-positive statement to a paper that WILL be publishing the story despite best efforts to kill it, what would you do?

    If by “beneficiaries of a truly corrupt power structure” you mean Mitch’s long history of school debating meant he was able to say what he wanted without it having to be proof read first then yeah, you’re right.

    And for future reference, a good piper is able to earn way more than the average wage working part time at funerals, weddings and other official-type ceremonies. Worth remembering next time you’re about to laugh at a man wearing a skirt.

  4. ninglun

    November 26, 2007 at 9:13 pm

    Thanks for that contribution, which I approached with slight trepidation… Having worked in a variety of schools, state and private, I have to say your comments have a certain ring of truth to them. Not that I really know, of course.

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