Speech by His Honour Judge Alexander Horneman-Wren SC
His Honour, Judge Alexander Horneman-Wren SC is a past student of the College. Last Friday we were lucky enough to welcome him and his Associate, Jack Larkin, as they generously spent the day exploring our campus and speaking with our students . Below is his address at the College Academic Assembly on 17th August 2018.
I can honestly say that I never thought that I would be piped into this place! May I commence by thanking you for your kind invitation to address the student body at this assembly? It is truly a great honour.
I have a long standing, deep and abiding affection for this, my old school. It houses many great memories: memories which I must say came flooding back just thinking about my return here.
I will do my best not to topple the lectern off the stage. I did that in 1977, managing to split the wooden panel into which the “Their Names Liveth” had been beautifully carved. Fortunately, it was a clean break and could be repaired. Not by me, as I was completely abysmal at woodwork. But there were cleverer people than me about.
I am conscious of the fact that when someone such as me is invited to speak on an occasion such as this, there is an expectation, or at least a faint hope, that they may prove inspirational. That, of itself, makes it quite a tough gig. It is made no easier by the fact that when judges are asked to speak on occasions such as this, the expectation is that they will also be wise, and will eloquently impart that wisdom on their audience.
I am not at all sure that I am wise, or inspirational. In fact what I hope to convey to you today is that I am entirely ordinary.
In considering what to talk to you about today, which the students in particular might find somewhat inspirational, I decided to start with what, I hope, is a shared inspirational experience. For me, walking into this assembly hall to attend my first assembly in 1976, was truly inspirational.
The portraits of former headmasters, but most especially the honour boards, gave me a real sense of not only the history of this place, but also of the potential for achievement. It is somewhat depressing to think that 42 names have been added to each of those honour boards since that time. Even more depressing that mine is not amongst them.
As I say, I hope that this is an experience I share with you all.
So here you sit, on a weekly basis, surrounded by inspiration.
But it should not only be the sense of history of those who have gone before you from which you draw inspiration. The teachers and other staff with whom you have daily dealings should also be a great source of inspiration to you. There is, in my view, a no more noble profession than to dedicate one’s life to the education of following generations.
Mr Pickering came to the school when I was a student here. He remains here still. He has dedicated his professional life to this institution and its students; as did many of my teachers here.
To me, this is indeed inspirational.
The extent to which your teachers have inspired you may only be fully appreciated in hindsight after you have left these halls. I say this from experience. Later today, I will visit Mr John Simpson. Mr Simpson was my art teacher here. He persisted, God bless him, in trying to teach me to draw and paint.
My talent for art was only slightly greater than my talent for woodwork; so let’s rate it as hopeless rather than abysmal. But we also learnt art history; and that I loved. I have never thrown out my art history text book, which also included a lot of classical architecture. I have been to neither Greece nor Rome – but I could still spot the difference between a Doric, Ionic or Corinthian column at 50 metres.
I also got my first glimpses of the paintings of the great masters.
They could draw and paint; but they probably would have made terrible lawyers. Except Da Vinci. He could do anything!
Mr Simpson was also the master in charge of Kingswood House where all primary and Year 8 boys resided, so he had a great influence in my formative years, as did the Senior School housemasters and other staff.
There were many things I loved about Scots. As a student body, we were in those days small in number, so you pretty much got to know everyone in the school quite quickly.
And there was so much to throw yourself into. It was constant activity.
I did not complete my secondary schooling here. My family circumstances changed and I had to return to Rockhampton half way through Year 10. I was quite devastated at the time, as I loved it here so much. But I was resilient, enrolled in a new school and made new friends. I am delighted to say that one of them, Mr Peter Campbell, is here today.
One major change I experienced when I left Scots and became a day boy (there were no boarders at my new school) was the loss of structure. My days and activities were much less structured. Most importantly, I lost the structure around study that I had been so used to and which had been instilled in me here. I became easily distracted by television and the radio.
I achieved well enough, but not brilliantly. Only two members of my class obtained the maximum leaving score. One of them is here today; but it is not me. I rather suspect that you now know who it was, though.
That I did not apply myself to my full potential in my last few years of school is a matter which I regret to this day. I actually still have a recurrent nightmare about being under prepared for my Year 12 English exam. Fortunately, my English teacher forgave me. We still write to each other and speak on the telephone.
And to be entirely truthful with you, I didn’t work as hard as I should have at university either.
It is only with maturity that I have fully understood how disappointed in myself I am in that regard.
The reason I am sharing these personal reflections with you is that if I were to inspire you in anyway today, I would hope that it would be not to make that mistake yourselves.
We are all blessed, to a greater or lesser degree, with intellect, talents and abilities. We can thank (or perhaps blame) our parents for the extent of those things; but there is little or nothing we can do to alter our organic makeup in that regard.
What each of us can do, however, is strive to make the most of that which we have been given. Wasted potential is a very sad outcome.
The skills that you have learned at this school in terms of resilience, independence, confidence, time management and self-discipline, should place you well on the path to avoid such disappointment.
I would also say to you that if you pursue your talents, and exercise your intellect to your potential, you are highly likely to achieve your goals. For me, application to achieve my full potential only came when I commenced practise as a barrister.
I loved the work; and I worked very hard. I was driven by the need to offer the best advice to, and representation of, my clients that I could. I was driven by a desire to earn the respect of my peers and the judges; and by a fear of making a fool of myself.
My career has been one of hard work and dedication to a purpose, and I have enjoyed every minute of it.
So here are my three tips:
First: Finding what you are passionate about is important.
Few of us ever truly excel in things we do not enjoy.
Most of us can, and with proper application and dedication will, succeed in things we do enjoy.
Secondly: Suck the marrow from the bones of every opportunity that comes your way.I have never felt, nor have I ever known anyone who has said “I wish I had not studied so much”, or “I wish I had not taken up that excellent experience”.
Thirdly: Mentors are important; choose them well. There will probably be no more profound influence upon you than that drawn from those for whom you have the deepest respect. So that respect needs to be well placed.
And having identified those who deserve your respect, shamelessly appropriate their finer qualities which you so much admire. And as you progress through your lives and careers, be generous in sharing your knowledge and time with others who will follow you. Sooner than you now expect, you will be seen by others, even if you don’t necessarily feel it yourself, as being the experienced one. They too will be carefully choosing their mentors. Endeavour to be the person who they would choose.
And if you don’t believe me on this, or think it is so far out in the future, then we must be in different rooms. Because from where I stand I can see young students who admire older students – and Year 12 students who are now, literally, the senior-most members of this student body, providing the leadership and mentorship, even though only a few short years ago you sat in the junior rows, looking up to those who you admired.
The final thing I wish to say to you is that everyone’s journey will be different. But your background and circumstances, whether privileged or humble, will not determine your destiny. You will come to appreciate that the playing field is more level than perhaps you thought (or perhaps feared).
There really is very little to stop you. And that is a very exciting prospect.
But none of this is new to you. It is inherent in the country values which are so entrenched in this school. It is enshrined in the motto on the school crest that I broke so many years ago: Always Aiming Higher. It is a motto which has given me hope, comfort and inspiration for more than four decades. I trust it will for you also.
So aim high. Do wonderful things. And when you have, always tell them that you went to SCOTS PGC!