Shaping Australia’s intellectual landscape

Across our 160-year history, Old Melburnians have taken their love of learning, knowledge and experience, initially gained at Melbourne Grammar, and put them to use for the benefit of their respective communities. Alongside their contributions in highly visible areas such as business, law, medicine, industry, politics, the arts and sport, a great many Old Melburnians have had a role in shaping the intellectual landscape of our country.  

Although there are many areas in which we see the legacy of these intellectual contributions, I would like to focus on just two of them here – the study of history and tertiary education leadership. Numerous Old Melburnians have taken on the task of documenting and communicating Australia’s rich history, and that of other countries, while others have held high-level roles in tertiary education, influencing the thinking of generations of students.

The vital role historians play in our society cannot be understated. Truly great historians have the ability to draw together threads of evidence to create new, coherent pictures of the cultures, milestones and events that have shaped our society. They then translate this thinking into a form that can be understood by those without their expertise. In this way, they not only create new ideas, but they also gift that knowledge to us all. 

Notable historians who have come from our community include Professor Manning Clark AC (OM 1933), one of Australia’s most influential historians whose views provoked both controversy and admiration. Sir (William) Keith Hancock KBE (OM 1916) contributed to our understanding of commonwealth history and other areas, and Professor Alan George Lewers Shaw AO (OM 1933), was another of our country’s most distinguished and prolific historians.

Tertiary education leadership roles often extend far beyond what might be viewed as traditional organisational leadership. Universities are places dedicated to knowledge and thought. At their best, they provide an environment in which nimble, inquisitive minds flourish. University leadership, therefore, has a crucial role in facilitating academic endeavour and discovery, as well as ensuring that our tertiary courses remain relevant as the world continues to change.

Businessperson and philanthropist, Simon McKeon AM (OM 1973), now serves as Chancellor of Monash University. LaTrobe University recently announced that John Brumby AO (OM 1970) will commence as its Chancellor next year.  He will be following current incumbent and eminent endocrinologist, Professor Richard Larkins AO (OM 1960), in the role. Professor Larkins previously served as Vice-Chancellor of Monash University from 2003 to 2009.

And, Sir Robert Blackwood (OM 1923), was influential in the establishment of Monash University, first as Chairman of Monash’s Interim Council and then as its inaugural Chancellor in 1961, a position he held for seven years. Sir Robert had previously served on the University of Melbourne’s Council for 12 years.

These are only a few select examples of Old Melburnians who have used their education to influence the way our society views itself and the way we think. While acknowledging the many highly significant contributions Old Melburnians have made in more immediately tangible areas – in shaping Australia’s financial landscape, practicing the Law, improving our health, designing our buildings and cities, pushing the limits of achievement in the arts and sport, and leading the successes of some of our most important companies – I would contend that the impact the Old Melburnian community has had on Australia’s history and thought is extremely significant. 

The Old Melburnians making contributions in these areas are worthy of our ongoing recognition. Their lives exemplify a legacy of knowledge, expertise and thought that is part of the fabric of Australia. 

Michael Bartlett Chairman