Welcome to 2020 and the start of a new school year. I bid a very special welcome to those families who join our community for the first time. I hope you all had a restful, safe and enjoyable break with loved ones.
Over the past few months, like many people across the country, I have watched with horror as bushfires have burned across multiple states. The devastation of people’s livelihoods and communities as well as the terrible toll it has had on wildlife and the environment has been hard to comprehend. My family in New South Wales were evacuated over the Christmas break so our festivities were tinged with worry and concern; something many of our Saints families can empathise with yet nothing in comparison to the hardship and loss experienced by many. Closer to home, the Cudlee Creek and Kangaroo Island fires have hit some of our community very hard and the impact will be felt for months and years to come. I am grateful to the many families who have already committed to and participated in the full range of support and recovery activities. Over the weekend I was fortunate to be able to take both my sons to Lobethal and assist with the recovery work taking place in the Cudlee Creek fire ground. Labouring and undertaking fencing work alongside what seemed to be an endless line of retirees was a formative experience for each of them.
Last week I spoke to old scholar Henry Carter (HWD ’12) who has been fighting the fires in South Australia and the east coast since December. He spoke with such clarity and honesty about the terrifying nature of these fires and the work he and others undertake, their resources and the challenges ahead. I am delighted that Henry will be able to join us at a muster once the circumstances are under greater control to talk about his experiences. His insight, and the feedback from those in our community most impacted by the fires has helped crystallise our thinking about the role the School might play to help those around us.
At present our emergency and crises management services are being overwhelmed by goodwill and the intentions of so many citizens and community groups. Given that the recovery from this disaster will continue long into the future it is important that we maintain our patience while we wait for key authorities to direct our efforts. The fire grounds can not be viewed as safe zones and offering assistance is a complex matter requiring risk management. It is essential that we assist with permission and in ways directed by those impacted. Thank you again for contacting my office and identifying ways we might assist.
At St Peter’s College our values of truth, respect and service provide essential guidance to our response to this disaster. Service and supporting our community is at the core of our philosophy. As such, I simply flag that parents should make their sons aware that at some stage throughout the year they will be called upon to contribute. It will not be immediate, yet they will be asked to share the load. It may be a weekend of labouring, it may be the option to participate in a remote recovery camp. It may be caring for wildlife or propagating seedlings and plants after the school day has ended. It will depend on age and need.
From a pastoral perspective, our School psychologists and School Chaplains are available to talk to students that are worried about the bushfires and its impact. I know that students may wish to talk about issues like climate change, fire safety, grief and loss, and our staff are preparing for these conversations. Our wellbeing program will continue to ensure our students have resilience and grit as well as the skills they will need to face such adversities in their lives after graduation.
From a practical perspective, I have spoken to many families directly affected by the bushfires. Any other families are invited to make direct contact with me as support from the School is available.
The bushfire season continues and in light of the past few months, I urge all families living in bushfire-prone areas to complete the bushfire risk form (SS form and JS form). This will ensure we have a complete understanding of where families may be located and can support both students and families in the event of a bushfire.
Our prayers continue for all those affected by the fires.