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Hon Michael Kirby

The Honourable Michael Kirby AC CMG


OLEV MUSKA: You still have a connection with the old school - you visit it from time to time. What do you hope for the future with the school and with education in general?

MICHAEL KIRBY: Well I hope for better funding for public education. I think its disgraceful that so much public funding has been diverted to private and religious schools when the primary responsibility of government is to provide the system of public education which we developed in Australia.

It is actually one of the proudest boasts of our country that in the 1880's, right across Australia in Colonial times, we resolved as a people that every child would have education that was free, secular, compulsory and democratic and that didn't discriminate between people on the basis of their parental wealth or parental religion. This was a marvellous and, I think, a noble goal and unfortunately we've lost our way in this country in recent years, so my hope is that with the Gonski Report and the recommendations to restore equity and justice to public schools that we'll see a return to the idealism that I certainly felt existed in Strathfield North Public School and Summer Hill Public School and Fort Street High School when I was there.

Some people have said in response to my statements to this effect that I had a dream run; that I had wonderful schools, marvellous teachers and selective education. But they were not different in any material respects. All the public schools I went to were proud to be public schools. They were democratic. They had people whose parents were - many of them - quite poor and we sat together and we learned together and we shared our experiences together and I think that was / is a great strength of a country to have a strong public education system.

OLEV: So I'm curious to know where (were) the origins of this desire to have that egalitarianism and also, if you were a betting person, what chances do you give it?

MICHAEL: Well I don't know what the politics of it is. I certainly hope that there will be a wind behind the sail of the Gonski Report, after all, two thirds of all Australians are educated in public education facilities in Public Schools … and I never call them State Schools or Government Schools as some people in the private education sector do.

OLEV: Sounds 'Bolshie', doesn't it.

MICHAEL: As far as I'm concerned, they're public because they're open to any member of the public who is of the right age and who is living in the district and comes along, and I think excellence in education, including public education, is very important.

I'm not against the Private Schools. I think some competition and choice is a good thing in life, but the primary duty of the public purse is to the public schools and they have been neglected, and when I go past in my bus in the morning abutting extremely expensive private schools with manicured lawns and swimming pools and all the other money that's been poured into them - they're all there forever building - then I look at the neglect of Public Schools and the second class facilities that have been built there, many of them rushed up in the so-called 'Education Revolution', I really weep … I think its a tragedy.

I'm very proud of my education and of my teachers and of the values I received at my school, starting with Strathfield North Infants School and Miss Pontifex, my very first teacher, who marched us up those concrete steps - which are still there - up to the top level in a lovely well-lit room where I learned the alphabet and to sing. I've still got quite a good voice!

OLEV: Would you care to sing for us? ...

Strathfield North Public School 1970


View the trailer for the documentary film 'Michael Kirby - Don't Forget The Justice Bit'

Filmed during and after his time on the High Court of Australia, this documentary about Justice Michael Kirby explores the personal, moral and spiritual convictions of one of our most compassionate and incisive legal minds. Directed by Daryl Dellora. Produced by Sue Maslin.


In response to community consultation, a number of local residents were interviewed and recorded. The sessions took place in December 2012 and February 2013 at Concord Library.

A short excerpt from each resident appears on this website. Together, they form a cross-section of insights into the wonderful community that is of and around the North Strathfield area.

The full interviews will be archived and available for borrowing at the City of Canada Bay Council Library Services.

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