A Discussion with Dr. Paul Hine, Principal, St. Ignatius’ College, Riverview, Australia
June 2, 2017
Background: As part of the Education and Social Justice Fellowship, in June 2017 undergraduate student Nicholas Na interviewed Dr. Paul Hine, principal of St. Ignatius’ College. In this interview, Dr. Hine highlights the necessity of the First Nations Unit as an expression of the school's Jesuit values and the importance of incorporating indigenous history into mainstream narratives.
Dr. Hine, let’s start with some background. What did you do before your current occupation, and now what is your role at St. Ignatius?
I’ve been principal of two other schools apart from Riverview. One was a K to 12 school, and that was a single sex only—boys. The other one was a year 10, 11, and 12 co-ed boarding school. They’re very different kinds of experiences. I guess prior to that, I taught in the United States. I did some academic work and presented papers in New Orleans. I’ve taught in the United Kingdom; I’ve taught in the Czech Republic...been all over the shop really. My role here is to be responsible primarily for staff, students, curriculum, and finance.
As I’ve conducted interviews, I’ve observed that there are a number of challenges indigenous students face when they get into Riverview, especially in academics. From an administrative point of view, you could say that these students therefore pull down the overall academic excellence of the school. Do you feel that the First Nations Program is a compromise to this school’s competitiveness?
No, it’s necessary.
It’s necessary that we have these boys here. It’s necessary that they get through school. They will never get into the 90s; many of them will not get above 60. But because of the affirmative action program of the universities, they will get into university, and they will be supported. But this is not a project for tomorrow. This is to say that at the end of this century, we need to be in a lot better place than we are now. Does that make sense? This is an intergenerational response. It’s taken 200 years to mess this thing up. It’s going to take at least a hundred to get it right. I won’t see results within my life. But later on in this century, we would like to think that, like in the United States where an African-American can become president, we will have an indigenous prime minister. And wouldn’t it be great if he came from here?
That’s quite remarkable.
It must be a big vision. It must traverse the divide that now sits between the institutions of this country. You’re probably aware in your own studies—I think the days of personal racism have gone or are just about under close. But the days of institutional racism are very much alive and well, the institutions of this country mitigating against achievement by First Nations students, boys and girls. So what we need to do is change the institutions of the country. We need to change schools in a way that they are not going to become first on the rankings but will become schools that will work assiduously for the deeper mission that resides within social justice. This is a Jesuit school, and Jesuit schools should be the voice of provocation. So maybe we can get notice of this in all of the institutions—in the theater, in the sporting fields, in academic life, in civic affairs, in government, in the whole range of things. That’s why it’s part of an audacious program that we need to pursue vigorously and relentlessly.
For example, Billy Gordon that came here two weeks ago: he’s virtually the operational manager of the Wayside Chapel here. He’s got hundreds of clients, many of whom are indigenous people who are homeless. He has an active ministry in his community, as a leader. He’s not way up there in terms of newspapers or politicians. But at the deepest levels, he is affecting change as a graduate of this school. So we don’t know the net impact of where this all goes. But what we need to do is work as hard as we can. Why? Because we can. Why do we do this? Because it’s problematic—we’re going to have boys here, and it just doesn’t work out. We get into tangles with families, we get into tangles with communities, we get into tangles with different nations and cultural contexts. Why do we do it? Because we can. It’d be easier not to.
You mentioned schools that have a similar program—for example, St. Joseph’s. But this is obviously a Jesuit school. You also briefly mentioned how Jesuit schools particularly are supposed to be provocative. Could you talk about that further? What do you mean by provocation?
When I think of the word “provocation,” I think of “agents of change.” When we provoke, we stir the pot, and it kind of bangs around a bit because it says something isn’t right. Father Ross [Jones, S.J., rector of St. Ignatius' College] once said this school isn’t here to cover the curriculum: we’re here to uncover it, what’s underneath it. So when we talk about agents of change, if we are to affect change, we are to be an agency that will redress where we see wrongs. What’s happened in this country is ascendant forces have grudgingly conceded one of these that they think that they’re prepared to relinquish in the event that they can still hang on to a lot. It took a long time to get land rights here. Out of 1,300 claims, only a couple hundred have been processed since I’ve come in. So how do we get indigenous people to take control of their affairs, rather than us doing the patrimonial thing and take over on their behalf? This is what this program was designed to do. But it won’t happen tomorrow. It’ll take generations.
Do you think there’s something that other schools with similar programs are missing?
I think they define themselves differently. We don’t have any scholarships here; we don’t have any academic scholarships, music scholarships, sporting scholarships. The only way in is if you’re a person of need. That to me is a Jesuit value. When the very first schools began back in the 1540s, they were all free. They were all paid for by benefactors because otherwise these kids would be consigned to poverty, consigned to subservience. Well, here, we can’t do that because this is our reality. If we do that, we don’t have a school. So how do we then take the spirit of that and make it work from within contemporary times? Our First Nations program, funded by various donors, is how it works.
When you look back at St. Ignatius’ story, he didn’t want to go into education. He wanted to go into prison ministries and go into orphanages with girls and try to save them from prostitution. He was persuaded by his companions ultimately that education had the greatest reach. If you’ve got them in those formative years, you can change their worldview so that they can become a force of change in the world. That’s why he was prepared to relinquish, in a sense. So by the time of his death, they had opened dozens and dozens of schools, because he could see value in the formation of young people that could transform societies to which these men and women would belong. And this is that.
Where would you like to see this program move forward?
We would like to get an indigenous person here on site that will give us advice and pastoral management of the boys and be a more complete interface with our school and the community. We would like to see the expansion to the Elders' Forum that will in a proactive sense address how we can best deliver education and incorporate the perspectives of those First Nations families. The numbers, we must maintain at least 3.2 percent in student numbers. But then in staffing numbers, I’d like to see that we could do that particularly in teaching staff as well as support and mentor staff. We’re doing this in conjunction with Sydney University. We’re looking at a destinations research program to see in the 20 years where have our kids gone. And then not just where have they gone, but why is it that some didn’t get there? Why is it that some did get there? To get better understand of how to customize, improve the educational (a) assessment of those students; (b) transition point; (c) management; (d) follow-up. There’s a lot of work that remains. It’s not just about numbers. We’re better to maintain a proportionate number and to do it well, rather than have larger numbers and kind of jeopardize one of these.
We talked earlier about uncovering the curriculum. Does the school have any courses for Aboriginal studies here? Part of a history of reconciliation is a necessary uncovering of the history. So how is that done here at this school?
That’s tough. I was part of group a few years ago before the national curriculum was developed. I was a part of 76 from across the country that flew back and forth from Sydney to develop a new national curriculum in history. And I remember going to that forum for the first time, and I looked around and there was not one indigenous person in the room. And I said so. I said, “How can we get a history of this country as a framework, and there’s no one even involved in all of this?” So what’s grown out of that is a selective rejection of the indigenous. This is on a national curriculum level. When you look at the patterns of settlement, in colonial terms, First Nations would call it the patterns of invasion. We don’t actually have a national history curriculum that looks intensively at where First Nations people lie. And we have to follow a board of studies national curriculum. We do have a dedicated Aboriginal studies program, but that’s just a subject. It just depends, like geography. If enough want to select that course, it gets up and running. It was here for a number of years. The last couple of years we haven’t had people who would take it. So there’s a limitation on that class, very significant ones. This is the most codified curriculum structure in the nation. You’ve got to do what they tell you to do.
So our final question: we’ve talked a lot about what this school has to offer to First Nations communities. But on the flip side, do you think that the First Nations boys here contribute to the school? If so, in what way? Has the school itself changed because of them?
I don’t want this to sound the wrong way. It’s not what the school does for those boys; it’s what they do for us. It’s what they bring by way of the richness of their culture, an understanding of their life, the perspectives would otherwise not be here, and indeed an appreciation of the difficulties of disadvantage. And it’s changed the way we do things.
Can I give you an example? Last year we had a fairly confronting set of circumstances, whereby we wanted in the year of mercy in the church to ask for mercy—not to give it, but to ask for mercy from those boys who had been abused while students at this school. We cut and landscaped a whole section of the grounds, and put in a brass plaque that says the school unreservedly apologizes to those boys for the abuse that was perpetrated in the past. But in that particular occasion, I was working with three victims of abuse. And I said what I think what we needed to do was invoke the reconciliation initiatives that’s part of indigenous culture. So if you go to the Ignatian, the school’s main publication, last year, you’ll see these rich images of Kaleb Taylor who performed the ceremony. That’s an example as much of anything. You’ll notice that we don’t have an assembly here without the acknowledgement of country by a First Nations boy. You’ll notice if you go out the front the First Nations flag. That’s part of who we are.