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Nothing good ever came out of Scotch College, until now ...

This speech was given by Melbourne-based popular novelist SHANE MALONEY to an assembly of boys at Melbourne's exclusive Scotch College in August 2001. Although it circulate by email it has only recently been published in print and on websites. Maloney had been invited to conduct some workshops on writing (which he did) and then to speak to the larger gathering (he was given no guidance on what to speak on). Needless to say his speech caused quite a stir, with some of the teachers and boys being very indignant.

(POSTED: 6 September 2004

When I first received an enquiry about my availability to come and talk at this school, I was naturally reluctant. After all, this school has little to recommend it in the eyes of the wider community. Historically it has been simply a machine for the transmission of inherited privilege. (At the height of the Great Depression, for example, when many Australian families hardly knew where their next meal was coming from, Scotch College was the largest private school in the British Empire).

It is a place where boys from middle class backgrounds are sent to improve their material prospects and to reproduce the values of their class, or where the boys of insecure parents are sent to fulfil the distorted ambitions of their fathers.

When I think of Scotch College, what comes immediately to mind are the values and actions of its most prominent Old Boys. I think of the scene I saw on television after Scotch Old Boy Jeff Kennett used his power and his philosophy to close down the only high school in the state specifically dedicated to the education of young Aboriginal people. How students from that school came here and stood at the gates and how your Principal went out and told them to go away.

I think of your old boy, David Kemp, the federal education minister, giving millions of dollars of public money to enhance the marketability of schools like this one justifying his actions with statistics and arguments that he refuses to apply to the needs of the 70 per centof Australian families who CHOOSE to educate their children in the democratic and equitable environment of government schools.

I think, too, of the newspaper reports of the violent behaviour of some of your students and the quick readiness with which these boys were defended and excused in the courts by their adult class allies. For these reasons, I was initially reluctant to come here. On the other hand, I thought 'Well, all this is hardly the fault of the current crop of students'. It is not your fault, after all, that your families decided to institutionalise you. It is not your fault that your mothers and fathers elected to place you in the emotionally distorting and educationally deficient environment of an all-boys school.

It is not your fault that your parents lacked sufficient confidence in your personal maturity and ability to respond to the opportunities offered by government school education, and Australia has one of the best systems in the world, by the way, despite the relentless propaganda to the contrary by the vested interest of the private school lobby.

Right now, you are the victims. Later, of course, society will be your victim, and will suffer from the attitudes with which you are indoctrinated here. But who knows? Just as prison does not always break the spirit of all who are incarcerated there, perhaps you will not turn out to be a burden to society. Perhaps when you leave here, some of you will even manage to contribute to the wellbeing of this country. I certainly hope so.
But just to hedge my bets, I will be donating part of my fee today to the campaign for public education.

Good luck with your studies and thanks for having me.


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© Shane Maloney
Reproduced here with the permission of Shane Maloney.