I write to you this week from the sun-bathed balcony of the Riverside Motel in Bourke and I must say that the sun’s warm embrace is most welcome after a very chilly night and morning. I’m here with our Director of Boarding, Mrs Kate Kovacs, and our Director of Mission, Mrs Libby Parker. We left Sydney for Dubbo yesterday for the second instalment of the Principal’s Country Road Trip for this year. Despite this being a quick visit, it is amazing how the great expanse of the western plains and the rhythm of country living have seeped into the bones. Yesterday on our way from Dubbo to Bourke we stopped at Narromine for afternoon tea with some of our parents from the area; I am grateful for the opportunity to chat about life and land over a cup of warm tea and some deliciously warm scones.
We have spent today in Bourke where this morning Ms Prince, mother of Vivica Turnbull, Year 11, guided us through sites and sounds of significance to families and girls in Bourke. We were so fortunate that Ms Prince could take the time to share stories and customs of Aboriginal spirituality and tradition with us, adding another dimension of understanding and appreciation of the many diverse stories and contexts that make up our community. Today we have also visited the local Catholic Primary School, St Ignatius’ Parish School, where many of our boarders from Bourke went to school before coming to Loreto Normanhurst. Tonight, we will be joined by current and former parents and alumni from Bourke, Enngonia and Louth. Tomorrow we are back on the road to Dubbo where we will join ex-students, current parents and incoming parents for a luncheon hosted by the Ex-Students’ Association.
This is my first visit to this beautiful part of our great southern land. I spent most of the flight from Sydney to Dubbo with my nose planted on the window, mesmerised by the changing landscape – watching as its colours went from the deep green and blue hues of the Hawkesbury, to the glistening silver and blues of the mountain ranges, to the spectacular open plains of Western NSW. As we got closer and closer to Dubbo by flight, drove from Dubbo to Bourke, and today walked by the empty banks of the Darling River, I could hear the cries of the dry, parched earth and the hollow dams. The stories I have read about the drought and the conversations I have had with families in country areas of NSW became immediately more real. I am humbled by the tenacity of those living and working in rural and remote areas.
You would all be aware of the drought conditions being faced across NSW. The depth of its impact is becoming more and more apparent to me as I visit country areas, speak with families and try to place myself in the shoes of another. Loreto Normanhurst has a very proud tradition of country boarding, with just over 80% of our boarders coming from regional, rural and remote areas of NSW and we are committed to this tradition continuing. We are doing all we can to assist families in these hard times and the impact of the drought in NSW needs our collective response. If you have not yet taken the opportunity to contribute to our Annual Appeal, I encourage you to contribute whatever you can by following this link, thereby supporting the Bursary/Welfare Fund. The Bursary/Welfare Fund offers financial assistance to families in necessitous circumstances. Through this fund, and the support of the Loreto Normanhurst community, these families can access the opportunity of a Loreto education.
This week we celebrated Refugee Week. This year’s theme is ‘Share a meal, share a story’, a theme which has allowed for positive images of refugees to be promoted so as to create a culture of welcome throughout Australia. In keeping with this theme, our school events have been aimed at sharing, talking, learning and acknowledging refugee stories to celebrate the positive contributions made by refugees to Australia over many years.
The House of Welcome’s initiative to provide work experience and employment though its Work and Welcome Program has been operating for a number of years with great success. The Work and Welcome Program at Loreto Normanhurst is funded by staff salary sacrificing and provides a term’s paid work experience for an asylum seeker or refugee in the school. To date, ten people have been involved in the program at the school which has helped to transform the lives of people whose life experiences have been traumatic and desperate. A member of our maintenance staff, Mohammed is from Sierra Leone. Mohammed came to the school as part of the Work and Welcome Program and since then, has become a much-valued, permanent member of staff. Mohammed says the House of Welcome and the Work and Welcome Program have been life changing for him. “It’s given me a second chance at life by believing in me and giving me hope. They are my family and being part of the program has meant everything to me.” If you are interested in finding out more about the Work and Welcome Program for your workplace, please do not hesitate to contact me. As part of our focus on Refugee Week, I commend to you this article from the Loreto Justice Network linking Mary Ward’s story with the experience of refugees. The article can be found here.
Towards the end of last year Ms Watkins informed the community that the school was progressing its application with the State Department of Planning for a 30-year Master Plan for the School and that a new boarding school would be included in this development application as the first development project. By way of update, the Master Plan State Significant DA has been lodged with the Department of Planning and the application will now be exhibited for public comment in accordance with the Department’s notification policies. Following the conclusion of the exhibition period, the Department will provide a summary of the matters arising from the exhibition and request that we provide a response to the matters raised and, if appropriate, refine the proposal. The application will also now be referred to all other government agencies for comment. I will continue to keep our community informed as the application progresses.
Best of luck to all girls who have progressed to the CSDA Elimination Finals rounds and to all girls competing in Term Two Sport Finals this weekend.
No one is a stranger to you and no one is ever far from your loving care.
In your kindness watch over refugees and asylum seekers, those separated from their loved ones, those who are lost, and those who have been exiled from their homes.
Bring them safely to the place where they long to be and help us always to show your kindness to strangers and those in need.