There’s a carnival atmosphere at St Brutes (motto: Tabula in naufragio) as the end-of-year speech day gets under way. Parents, boys and staff are assembled in a marquee on the oval. Professor Flint on the Wurlitzer falls silent as the headmaster, Mr Morrison, strides to the lectern, droplets of lunchtime pie and sauce on his chin catching the afternoon light. Pastor Houston is invited to say a short and meaningful prayer. By Richard Ackland.

Gadfly: Another year at St Brutes

There’s a carnival atmosphere at St Brutes (motto: Tabula in naufragio) as the end-of-year speech day gets under way.

Parents, boys and staff are assembled in a marquee on the oval. Professor Flint on the Wurlitzer falls silent as the headmaster, Mr Morrison, strides to the lectern, droplets of lunchtime pie and sauce on his chin catching the afternoon light. Pastor Houston is invited to say a short and meaningful prayer.

“God, keep our lads upright. Keep their hands from straying in unguided directions. Pray the Lord keeps donations flowing, in your tax-deductible name. Forever, and ever, and ever. Blessed be preserved fruits. Amen.”

The headmaster wastes no time getting down to brass tacks. The school, he announces, not only needs to balance its books, it should be returning a PROFIT. “If this means cutting back on teaching, so be it. It’s important that the school provides certainty, continuity and…” (His words are lost in the prolonged applause.)

“The profits are being managed by our very capable bursar, Mr Frydenberg. He tells me that this year’s profits will be lower than anticipated because several classrooms were burned to the ground by fires started by Green-Left students who failed to clear dried leaves from the gutters.

“Consequently, fees at St Brutes will increase and students from economically fragile families will be assisted by being asked not to return next term.” (Enthusiastic applause.)

Headmaster Morrison presses on:

“I’m very pleased to announce that we at St Brutes are redoubling our efforts to give the students a solid appreciation of the much neglected Old Testament. To that end, Pastor Houston will be joined in the Divinity Department by Mr Shelton, who may already be known to many of you.

“To afford this extra commitment, unfortunately, we have had to make some adjustments, and redundancies have been offered to all our science staff.

“We are also confident that further economies can be achieved in the art room.”

Grass isn’t greener

“You may have noticed that the grass from the oval has been sprayed with Agent Orange and looks in very poor shape. Who did this, we do not know, and we are certain not to find out. The school electrician, Mr Taylor, has had briefings from Mr Frydenberg about what can be done, if anything.

“One suggestion is that the grass should be replaced with asphalt, which I believe is a fossil fuel byproduct, giving rise to an amount of carbon dioxide emissions.

“But these are emissions we can offset against the petrol-driven lawnmower that will no longer be in service. In any event, asphalt is character building. A few split skulls and broken knees in a game of rugby league on this new surface can easily be managed by our resident medical team, led by Nurse Credlin.

“I should mention – quite apart from trying to get to the bottom of the poisoned grass issue – Mr Taylor has been attending to the decoration of the Christmas tree in the staff common room.

“The quality of the baubles, tinsel, decorative glitter and flashing lights are a real credit to him. We are fortunate indeed to have an electrician with such a grasp of Judaeo-Christian ethics.”

Sky hooked

“The media studies teacher, Mr Fletcher, who took over the reins from the departing Mr Fifield, is one of the school’s leading innovators. After discussions with Mr Murdoch, our most generous benefactor, the school council has adopted his suggestion that Sky News be on permanent relay in all the classrooms.

“This will be a fine educational tool as it can show the boys that people without any qualifications whatsoever can still lead thought-provoking debates on subjects that test their intellectual capacities to the limits.

“This term Mr Fletcher regrettably had to make major redactions to the school newspaper, The Brutalist, after students tried to publish articles critical of our master-in-charge of discipline, Mr Dutton.

“As we all know, Mr Dutton is vigilant and has done a first-rate job in cracking down on pocket billiards, a craze that regrettably was almost out of control in the playground.

“However, there was some very unpleasant commentary about his recent inspection of the locker room, where he seized an alarming quantity of mobile phones, cigarettes and condoms.

“As I have said on numerous occasions, it’s all very well having a free student newspaper, as long as it’s a responsible newspaper. At the moment there is too much gossip and stories that only interest people writing the stories.

“I have asked Mr Abetz, who has been on furlough for some time, if he would mind mentoring the editors of The Brutalist with a view to bringing the paper into line with community standards.”

Lapse dance

“A moment ago I mentioned the word ‘ethics’ and I don’t do that lightly. Ethics has been at the heart of much of what we do here at St Brutes. To that end I have asked our heavily tattooed school porter to draw up a scheme whereby there will be a committee of old boys overseeing complaints about ethical lapses.

“I emphasise that complaints are just that – complaints. Nothing is proved and under the proposed charter nothing will be proved. Nonetheless, we are confident that this committee of Old Brutalarians will keep everyone on their toes. So, socks up and hands out of pockets.”

Prefects and prizes

Enough speechifying. It’s time for prizes and who will move to the prefects’ study in 2020.

New prefects and monitors for 2020:

Tim Wilson, 5th form, who thoughtfully showed retired members of staff and parents how to get the most out of taxpayer subsidies.

Nick Cater, 6th form repeat. Cater is on a slow-learner’s scholarship and we feel it would be a useful boost to his confidence if he were appointed monitor in charge of possible flood dangers. A challenging task in times of drought.

Josh Manuatu. Like Izzy Folau, Josh is a Tongan lad on an IPA-sponsored bursary. He has been assisting Mr Taylor with the Christmas tree and redrafting documents for the school newspaper. He will now be the senior monitor-at-large with a roving brief to do anything he wants.


The George Pell Prize for Scripture: This year shared by Gregory Sheridan and Gerard Henderson for their joint essay, “Why George Pell must be found innocent”.

The Alan Jones Prize for Gender Awareness goes to Prue MacSween. Prue, who delivered a wonderful message to school assembly the other day, where she managed to bring together the themes of Christmas, gender identity and child abuse:

“So a 4 yr old is walking through Myer Bondi Junctn. Thrilled to see Santa. Then realises Santa, complete with beard, is a woman. Distressed, he cries ‘that’s not Santa’! Why are we traumatising little kids with this gender nonsense? Child abuse? You betcha”.

This award was a close call, with young Rowan Dean a runner-up following his suggestion for a royal commission into “messing up” children’s genders.

The Maurice Newman Science Trophy: There’s only one winner, Kris Kenny minor, from the Lower Remove, for his research project, “How fossil fuels keep bushfires under control”.

The Schicklgruber Award for Reconciliation: Andrew Bolt, for a moving “show and tell” to his class on how he ate a pavlova on top of Ayers Rock.

The McCormack Prize for Proficiency: Regrettably, no award presented this year.

The Headmaster’s Prize for Excellence: A captain’s pick. By popular acclaim awarded to Principal Morrison himself.

“How good am I?” he asked those gathered.

The school band struck up a snappy rendition of “Roll Out the Barrel”, as parents, staff and pupils mingled in amazement, wondering what possibly could outshine the achievements of the passing year.

Tips and tattle: [email protected]

This article was first published in the print edition of The Saturday Paper on December 21, 2019 as "Gadfly: Another year at St Brutes".

For almost a decade, The Saturday Paper has published Australia’s leading writers and thinkers. We have pursued stories that are ignored elsewhere, covering them with sensitivity and depth. We have done this on refugee policy, on government integrity, on robo-debt, on aged care, on climate change, on the pandemic.

All our journalism is fiercely independent. It relies on the support of readers. By subscribing to The Saturday Paper, you are ensuring that we can continue to produce essential, issue-defining coverage, to dig out stories that take time, to doggedly hold to account politicians and the political class.

There are very few titles that have the freedom and the space to produce journalism like this. In a country with a concentration of media ownership unlike anything else in the world, it is vitally important. Your subscription helps make it possible.

Select your digital subscription

Month selector

Use your Google account to create your subscription