Principal’s Message – 22 March 2013

The penultimate week of Term 1 is upon us and we can all sense the time for taking a break is within reach. The weather is finally cooling the days getting shorter, and we are reminded that autumn has well and truly replaced the heat of summer as we are fast approaching the Easter break.

The first term has been very full, and time has passed quickly. We have moved frantically from one event to the next, from one experience to another, and I ask where has the term gone? The holidays will provide us with the time to reflect on what has happened and what is ahead of us and just to take stock. Whilst I, along with everyone else, look forward to the holidays we have to be careful not to wish our lives away and miss out on the joy each day can bring between now and when the term finishes.

Over the past week a number of staff have had the pleasure of interviewing the boys and their families

who will join us next year. This job is always a positive undertaking as we get to meet some wonderful young men who will bring their own gifts and talents to continue the story of Salesian College. I would like to thank Mrs Mary Menz for all the work she does in welcoming the boys and families into our community especially at this time where it can be quite stressful for them. Also to all the staff who have given up their time either on Saturday morning or one of the evenings this week to undertake this vital task, it is very much appreciated.

Parent Teacher Interviews

I wish to thank all the parents who were able to take time out of their busy schedules to join our teachers to celebrate the work of their sons and to look at ways of improving their learning. I would also like to thank our staff who made themselves available outside their normal working times to provide valuable feedback to their students. I hope all boys take something from the feedback they received to improve on their results. As we reflect on how we can improve our performance and prepare ourselves I would like to share a short story with the community.

2013 – Triumph or Defeat?

In October 1911, two teams of adventurers aimed to be the first to reach the South Pole. For one team, the outcome would be successful and a safe return home. The other team reached the Pole only to see the flags of their rivals planted 34 days earlier. This was followed by a long slog home that ended in their deaths in the Antarctic snow.

The two leaders – Roald Amundsen and Robert Falcon Scott – were around the same age and were both experienced explorers. They both faced a round trip of over 200 kilometres in freezing temperatures and gale force winds. It was 1911 so there were no radios, no satellite links, no high-tech gear, no modern protective clothing, little possibility of rescue.

One leader led his team to victory and safety; the other to defeat and death. Why?

When Amundsen was in his twenties he made the 3,000 kilometre trip from Norway to Spain on his bicycle to build his strength and endurance. He earned a master’s certificate to sail a ship. He trained himself to eat raw fish. He spent time with Eskimos, learning how to move slowly and steadily in the snow so his sweat didn’t turn to ice, how to use dogs to pull sleds, and how to survive in freezing temperatures. His attitude was: why wait until you are in a storm to find out you need more strength. Don’t wait until you are starving to see if you can digest raw meat. Don’t wait to become an expert skier and dog handler. Always prepare yourself so that when things go wrong you can overcome them and when things go right, you can make the most of them.

Scott, on the other hand, made none of these preparations. He chose ponies which, unlike dogs, sweat and become encased in ice. Ponies don’t eat meat, like dogs, so feed had to be carried for them. The engines in his motor sledges cracked in the cold so his men had to pull the heavy sleds themselves.

Amundsen put black flags at every possible point to show him, on his return home, where his supply depots were. Scott put a single flag on his depot and no markings on his path. Amundsen stored three tonnes of supplies for five men. Scott had one tonne for 17 men. Amundsen carried enough supplies so that, if he missed every depot he could still keep travelling. For Scott, missing one depot would bring disaster. Scott had one thermometer which broke. Amundsen carried four in case of accidents.

On December 12, 1911, Amundsen and his team reached a point 70 kilometres from the South Pole. He had no idea of Scott’s whereabouts. Scott had taken a different route slightly to the west, so for all Amundsen knew, Scott was ahead of him. The weather had turned clear and calm, and Amundsen had perfect ski and sled conditions for the remainder of the journey to the South Pole. Amundsen noted, “Going and surface as good as ever. Weather splendid – calm with sunshine.” With the anxiety of “Where’s Scott?” his team could reach its goal within 24 hours in one hard push.

And what did Amundsen do?

He went 27 kilometres only.

Throughout the journey, Amundsen stuck to his plan of never going too far in good weather, giving his team time to rest and sleep, but still making progress in bad weather. In contrast, Scott would sometimes drive his team to exhaustion on good days and then sit in his tent and complain about the weather on bad days. In early December, Scott wrote in his journal about being stopped by a blizzard: “I doubt if any party could travel in such weather”. But when Amundsen faced similar conditions, he wrote in his journal, “It has been an unpleasant day – storm, drift, and frostbite, but we have advanced closer to our goal”.

Amundsen knew the conditions would be perilous and made every preparation possible, planning for things going wrong. Scott left himself and his team unprepared and then complained about his bad luck.

When Scott finally, on 17 January 1912, stared in despair at the Norwegian flag Amundsen had planted in the snow a month earlier, Amundsen was already only a few days from his home base, before the winter season struck. In mid-March, Scott and his remaining team came to a halt, exhausted and ill with dwindling supplies. They all died in their tent.

Two men – the same goal, the same circumstances, the same weather. Amundsen triumphed because he was prepared in every way he could possibly think of. Scott also dreamed of success but failed to make the essential preparations.

Both men were heroes. But one of them built on all he knew and worked hard to reach his goal. He didn’t look for luck or excuses. Nor did he trust to chance.

One may ask how this story relates to me or my studies. I believe there is some good learning in the story for us all. The first thing it says to me is that we need to have clear in our minds our end goal for the year, whether that be an ATAR score for our Year 12 students or a particular average study score for boys in the other year levels and then keep this end point within your sights. Secondly we must come to the understanding that we know we cannot control or predict everything that will happen. So we must plan and prepare ourselves to be able to cope with whatever comes our way and not allow circumstances beyond our control to determine how our year will turn out. Studying, working hard, being organised, completing all set tasks is our way of knowing we ‘can eat raw fish’ if we are forced to do so. You can plan and prepare and grasp your destiny in your own hands, just like the great explorer Amundsen.

We cannot predict the future. But we can create it.

Acknowledgement: Great by Choice by Jim Collins

Robert Brennan