Not Just Another Founders' Day…
Another Founders’ Day has passed at Fairholme – one that marks our 103rd year on site. It wasn’t a typical Founders’ Day but that in no way diminishes the importance of acknowledging our history and remembering from whence we began on this site, and for what purpose. It would seem that COVID-19 has its own liberating features – everything is, by necessity, different, and thus another change seems inevitable, rather than dramatic, or out of place. Therefore, we took the opportunity to celebrate on our actual birthdate – 17 July – and to incorporate the strong connected voices of two of our old girls, Sara Al-Bostanji (2010) and Cathy Heilbronn (1965) via video.
Our Year 12s joined us in the Assembly Hall, along with the Holmegroup of Year 11 student, Sophie McInerney, who was the recipient of the FOGA Bursary which honours the direct descendent of an Old Girl whose academic record is noteworthy, as is their exemplary approach to learning. ‘Shine Jesus Shine’ was a beautiful pre-recording featuring Breanna Collins on violin, Mrs Lebsanft on piano; Emma Johnston and Lilly Marsden sharing the vocals – it moved some of us to tears, as if we are all thirsting for that which is familiar in the midst of the unfamiliar; thirsting for a Fairholme connection.
Everyone who is or has been part of Fairholme holds a metaphoric square of tartan – a link to the vision of Margaret Cameron. It seems fitting that on the first Founders' Day held in 1918 … that W R Black (for whom Black House is named) handed each girl a memento, a card, and on it was printed the following verse: 'I shall pass this way but once; any good that I can do or any kindness I can show to any human being; let me do it now. Let me not defer nor neglect it, for I shall not pass this way again.' (Etienne de Grellet). That’s our foundation, our connection to the past … a compass point of kindness, service and action to direct us in our actions. And in 2020 – a year that will take precedence in history books for decades to come because of the unavoidable impact of COVID-19 and the continued need to reduce physical distance – we are all craving connection: perhaps more sharply than ever before.
Connection is an interesting concept when the regular ways in which we achieve connection have been disrupted or removed from our daily practices. Thus, the compass point of kindness provides sharp focus for that fundamentally important direction. It’s not hard to be kind, is it? It’s not hard to undertake one action each day that makes someone else’s life better, or richer. When I think of kindness, I am often directed back in time to the Christmas holidays of 2005. My husband, children and I were in Krakow, Poland and we had exited a Shopping Centre at four o’clock in the afternoon – unwittingly through different doors than we had entered. It was coal black outside, and heavy snow was falling with determination, stinging our Australian-summer faces. Donning beanies, our thick down jackets and quickly thrusting our hands into gortex gloves, we walked off with purpose towards the nearest main road; the Shopping Centre disappeared quickly from our vision. It was then we realised that we were lost: very much so. Our Polish was limited to a few words, and there seemed to be no taxis in sight. We stood huddled together in piercingly uncomfortable silence.
And then Biata arrived, a young Polish woman with an understanding of connection and kindness.
‘Can I help you?’ she said, in heavily accented English.‘Yes,’ we replied in anxious unison, ‘we are lost’: a statement of the transparently obvious!
My best efforts cannot conjure the precise details of what followed, nor does that matter, because I do remember with clarity, Biata clutching her mobile phone and calling a taxi for us, giving definite instructions to the driver and walking away, only to return shortly after.
‘I just want to make sure that the driver gives you a fair price,’ she said, emphatically.
It’s hard to put words around the impact of that simple act of kindness; it is one that draws our family to account whenever we see someone lost or struggling with directions. It pushes us all at the Brisbane International Airport to adopt stray first-time travelers to Australia, those clearly confronted by cultural cues that are well-intentioned but often meaningless. One act of kindness can have enormous weight. One connection can be pivotal in the difference it makes.
Founders’ Day Assembly 2020 was not a regular one. It might not have been as smooth, or as ceremonial; it was not punctuated by a whole-school singing of ‘Shine Jesus Shine.’ It was important, nonetheless. It was important to pause and remember and to celebrate our connections: to honour the forethought and kindness of Mrs Margaret Cameron. Connection at Fairholme matters; it exists as we walk in the footsteps of others, when we climb stairs after another, or walk across the homestead verandas like thousands before us – we see it and feel it through the jump’n’jive – but there are other more important things that bind us – our shared Christian foundation, our formidable spirit, our resilience and our tenacity … these qualities are hallmark Fairholme and they furl us back in connection to 1917 when … Margaret Cameron made such an important decision. It was in the midst of World War I that Mrs Cameron, aged 97, offered this property for purchase by the Presbyterian Church for 5000 pounds. She accompanied her offer with a gift of 2500 pounds on the strict condition that her home and grounds would be used as a girls’ school. She valued education, but particularly, she valued the education of girls and women – that they be given every opportunity to follow their passion – without hindrance.
Through Founders’ Day we honour Mrs Cameron’s memory. We have all become part of her legacy and thus we all carry a debt of gratitude … an indebtedness to do our best irrespective of how hard it is to do so – and an indebtedness to show kindness in our connections with one another – whenever we can, wherever we can: 'I shall pass this way but once; any good that I can do or any kindness I can show to any human being; let me do it now. Let me not defer nor neglect it, for I shall not pass this way again.' (Etienne de Grellet, Quaker Missionary). No, Founders’ Day 2020 was not just another Founders’ Day, it was so much more than that.