RENATE KAMENER ORATION
Patrick belongs to the Wathawurrung people of the Kulin Nation and is currently completing a Bachelor of Arts majoring in Ancient World Studies and Indigenous Studies. Patrick grew up in Cumnock, Central Western NSW, is the eldest of seven children, and his family currently lives in Ballarat, VIC. Patrick is Joint-Head of the Ormond Indigenous Subcommittee, a Mentor at the Murup Barak Institute for Indigenous Development, and is a Junior Editor for Under Bunjil, an on-campus publication showcasing the talents of the University of Melbourne’s Indigenous students. In his spare time, Patrick enjoys playing guitar, student theatre and reading. Patrick is passionate about Indigenous politics and history, addressing social, economic and educational disadvantage and hopes to pursue a career in these areas.
Wominjenka. Before I begin I’d like to acknowledge the traditional owners of the land on which Ormond sits, the Wurundjeri people of the Kulin Nation, and pay my respects to Elders past, present and future.
My name is Patrick Mercer. I am a Wathawurrung Man of the Kulin Nation, and I am in my third year of Bachelor of Arts, majoring in Indigenous Studies and Ancient World Studies. I am the eldest of seven children, my sister has followed me to Ormond and it is my hope that my other siblings will be inspired to do the same.
Growing up I watched my parents struggle. I watched them fight to give their kids a better life, to keep a roof over our heads and food on the table. I watched as they battled unemployment, mental illness and living below the poverty line, all the while making sure us kids never missed any opportunities. No matter how tight money was, they could always scrape together a tenner I needed for a school excursion, always made sure we had a good breakfast, that we got our homework done. Living on an isolated farm in Cumnock, NSW, hours from any big town, my parents somehow managed to enrich our family with a wealth of love, hope and compassion.
I would travel for five hours a day to get to and from school. Once upon a time my aspiration in life was to be a farmer, an honourable enough existence. However, if it wasn’t for the persistence and resilience of my parents I perhaps might still be in that little town in Central West NSW. Instead, my parents made me realise that I could do and be so much more, pushing me to apply for a bursary at St. Ignatius Riverview, Sydney. These were new horizons, the expectations and possibilities of a prestigious boarding school in Sydney were a far cry from anything I had been accustomed to. From there, the possibility of attending university, even the best university in the country, was totally possible, and as far as I was concerned, an inevitable future.
As someone who has crossed the thresholds of socioeconomic class, I know what it can feel like to be different. To feel at odds with your community, at times feeling like you cannot understand the experience of your friends and peers, and vice versa.
This feeling is fleeting. The true value of programs such as the Kamener Foundation Bursary is in the sharing of ideas and experiences, of injecting people with distinctly different backgrounds into a community such as Ormond where it is our values, humanity and compassion that is celebrated rather than our bank balance.
So often we view Indigenous “problems” with a deficit mindset, that Indigenous people need to pull ourselves up by our bootstraps. We are treated as a people who exist in the historical distance, a footnote to more important narratives, and we are so often denied the means and sovereignty with which to combat our contemporary issues. Increasingly so too is Australia’s refugee community; an easy target for the Herald Sun and A Current Affair, a group defined by the actions of the few rather than the overwhelming resilience, love, courage and compassion of the many.
Programs such as the Renate Kamener Bursary do not just benefit the recipient. Creating opportunities for people like Kinjia and I foster tolerance, empathy and understanding. Creating equity and access in our institutions benefits the entire community. Talent, passion, drive and resilience can go a long way on the path to success. Without the right opportunities however, it can be difficult to achieve our full potential. I’d like to thank the Kamener Family and Ormond college for their commitment and generosity to our Indigenous students. I also thank all of you for attending today and contributing to such a worthwhile cause.