From the Principal

Opening Address – Commissioning Service

Reprinted below is the speech provided by Mr Cameron Bacholer upon the occasion of his commissioning as the 22nd Principal of Pulteney Grammar School.

Your Grace, The Most Reverend Geoffrey Smith - Archbishop of Adelaide, my wife Louise, daughters Adelaide, Elizabeth and Madeleine together with members of my family, distinguished guests, Mr Allen Candy – Chair of the Board, members of the Board past and present, Mr Colin Dudley President of the Foundation, trustees of the Foundation past and present, Captains of the School Jessie Aldridge and William Rooke, Old Scholars, Parents, Staff, and most importantly, students of Pulteney Grammar School, Good Morning.

I find it a discomforting experience to see my name typed any larger than around size 12 point font and suffice to say I stand here this morning suitably humbled. As the longest welcome which I have ever provided attests, I also stand here fulfilling myriad relationships. At this moment, to various members of this audience I speak as a father, a son, a brother, a husband, a nephew, a colleague, a peer, and indeed, perhaps importantly today, a Principal. Now with various degrees of success and failure, I have fulfilled almost of all of these roles for a sufficient period of time be comfortable both with their expectations and demands. The role of Principal though, is, as this morning’s service suggests, a role with which I am slightly less familiar.

The expression to stand on the shoulders of giants is used to describe how in life we use the understanding gained by those who have gone before to make progress; in aiding my understanding of the term principal, I can think of no more apt metaphor. I am fortunate that today some of those shoulders upon which I have personally stood join us in the audience and it is my privilege to acknowledge Mr Stephen Newton OAM, former Principal of Hamilton and Alexandra College and Caulfield Grammar School; Ms Kate Hadwen Principal at Pymble Ladies’ College; and Mr Allan Shaw, Principal at The Knox School, for the lend of their shoulders throughout my life and career. Thank you for your support; your guidance; your inspiration.

Our mentors teach us much through their thoughts, words and deeds, but they are, in a sense, a narrow frame of reference; after all, and as was famously observed many years ago now: for every known unknown there are far more unknown unknowns. Knowledge is also by its nature contextual, relevant to a time, a place, a circumstance and in this, the past principals of Pulteney Grammar School offer an illuminating insight into the role of principal. And so, it was to the pages of the School’s history that I took in order to learn more.

As many will be aware, the Pulteney Street School is woven into the fabric of Adelaide; the threads of its history lying in the last few months of 1847. The first Principal, or HeadMaster as the term was at the time, was the Rev Edmund Miller a man whom I can best find description of as, and I quote, ‘fully competent for the situation’, which, as far as a character reference is concerned, seems to be a little lacking in insight. Nevertheless, under Miller’s Principalship, the school opened with 27 students on day one; rose to 50 students by the end of the week, and some 263 students by that Christmas. Faint praise for his personality to one side, Miller must have been doing something right and perhaps offers the first lesson of note from Principals of Pulteney Grammar School: have vision.

Amongst the twenty other Principals who have held this privilege two giants lurk bearing the broadest and strongest of shoulders: W. P Nicholls and Cannon W. R. Ray. It was Nicholls who in 1911, the tenth of his forty-one as Principal, introduced what is now the iconic elliptical emblem of the school replete with sword, book, and quotation from Psalm 90 with which we are so accustomed: O prosper thou our handiwork. Nicholls  was also, as I have learned, widely admired for having ‘a good baritone voice and a mane of white hair’; thus while I promise to treasure the symbols and traditions of the school, I fear I may never live up to some of Nicholls more defining qualities.

Then there is Cannon Ray, whom I fear I have already disappointed as I understand from the pages of our history that he forbade male teachers from growing beards. Can’t sing, no flowing white mane of hair and now a beard: It seems I’m not making a strong start.

Ray’s indelible mark on the school is enormous and continues to this day. Of the many lessons to be learned from Ray, the self-evident truth that the strength of a school’s culture can be measured by the strength of its community looms as perhaps the greatest.  

And so some traits and markers begin to emerge to guide the path as it progresses along South Terrace. Have vision. Value the School’s traditions. There is strength through community. There is great wisdom in these seemingly simple lessons. To them, I add two final thoughts.

Immediately following Cannon Rae, Jock Mackinnon served as Principal for ten years, a man who, in his own words, sore it as the principal’s duty ‘to know about every person involved in the day to day life of the school as far as that is possible’ because ‘education, is very much, a matter of relationships’. It is to this ideal, in the presence of those assembled here this morning, which I now dedicate myself for as Jock so aptly stated, ‘education, is very much, a matter of relationships.’

The final thought I offer on the role of the principal is draws from beyond the gates of South Terrace and are words from John Rae, Headmaster at Westminster School in London, between 1970-1986. Rae, no relation to Canon Ray, summarised as best he could the skills required as principal in his book Letters from School, when he wrote that, in his experience, a principal needs ‘a thick skin, a quick wit, stamina, a steady nerve, political dexterity, and a keen sense of the absurd.’ Perhaps more a survival guide than pearls of wisdom, Rae’s thoughts sit comfortably alongside the aforementioned lessons from principals of years gone by. 

More than a commissioning, ladies and gentlemen, today is a celebration of Pulteney Grammar School. A celebration of 172 years of history; a celebration of the twenty-one Principals who have served and forged this school and on whose shoulders I now stand, of the countless students who have walked through its gates, the teachers who have devoted their careers to bestowing the gift of education to the young men and women of the Navy Blues.  To all those who count themselves a member of the Pulteney Grammar School community past, present and indeed future I offer my gratitude and commit myself to your service. This School stands to rise or to fall by our name. We are part of this school from the time we begin it, we are part of this school for the rest of our life. May we all prosper by our collective handiwork.

Cameron Bacholer