Thursday, 26 October 2017
Fairfax, Mr Bruce Leslie
I rise today to honour and reflect upon the life and influence one of Tasmania's leaders in education, Bruce Leslie Fairfax, who became tragically lost in bushland this month. There are many debates in this place about the transformative power of education. There is not enough said of, too few words offered for and not enough recognition of the educators who inspire and mould young brains, making learning fun, challenging stereotypes and preparing young people for the wider world and, most importantly, for an uncertain future. Sometimes popular culture goes close to identifying the special relationship and the special responsibility of a great teacher to his or her students. An example might be Robin Williams's performance in Dead Poets Society. One thing I can be certain of is that Bruce Fairfax was regarded by all who encountered him as an inspiring teacher for over three decades at Launceston Church Grammar School.
Bruce Fairfax was appointed as Director of Studies at Launceston Church Grammar School in 1988. Prior to that he taught at the Armidale School and Canberra Grammar. He was a master English scholar. He taught religion and philosophy. Like many who excel where others only serve, it was the manner of his contribution and the mastery of his subject and his rapport with his students that distinguished his role as a teacher.
I have a particular personal interest, having served on the board of Launceston Church Grammar School, and my son of the class of 2014 was taught by Bruce Fairfax. I've read many tributes from former students. They have been fulsome in their praise of Bruce Fairfax. I asked my son to collate a few of the observations from his peers in the class of 2014. From Jesse, 'I remember us having really off-topic, heated discussions about so many things, and then thinking we learnt nothing. But then you come to do assessments and realise the questions here and there point the conversation in the right direction and you knew exactly what you were on about'. From Warwick, 'It was quite common to see him not standing at the front the classroom but sitting amongst it or casually leaning on some furniture and listening to us speaking. In hindsight it feels like he spent most of the class listening, very occasionally steering conversation.' From Frances, 'He once out-ran me to the chapel. He would have been 63. He had a holistic approach to teaching which taught us as much about life as it did the topic of our study. Also I remember chatting with him about different running routes, which radio programs to listen to, current affairs, bushwalking adventures, good books and even chocolate slice recipes'. From Steven, 'He knew that learning was not teaching you how to do well in exams or getting honours degrees. He encouraged the pursuit of knowledge in whatever form it came. I also have fond memories of him breaking out into fluent Old English or some medieval language, at various stages.'
He was chief examiner of matriculation TCE English studies, a life member of the Tasmanian debating society, and he coached numerous parliamentary-shield-winning debating teams. Indeed, Bruce Fairfax would probably lament the standard of some of the contributions in this place, given the expectations and standards he often set for his students.
He is fondly remembered as a kindly, friendly man of integrity, always generous and always patient, but remaining spirited. He was directed by an unwavering internal compass, boldly directed towards doing what was right, something that was recognised by his students. These are qualities which are better imparted to others through conduct and observation rather than instruction. Each of us knows instinctively that greatness as a leader comes from being able to bring out the best in everyone. Bruce possessed this quality and used it to inspire all he encountered, whether students, colleagues or friends. It is significant that he remained a mentor to many students beyond their time at the school.
He loved nature. He was a keen bushwalker. He refused to be limited by his Parkinson's disease, which he developed about a decade ago. He worked around and within that limitation. He is survived by his loving wife Louise. They were a remarkable couple, given that Louise is an accomplished orienteer, trail runner, bushwalker and mountain runner. They have two adult daughters, Yelena and Kirsten, and two granddaughters. He was reported missing on a walk to Duckhole Lake, one of Tasmania's 60 great walks. Over 60 people searched unsuccessfully for him. Staff, including the headmaster, of Launceston Church Grammar School, drove overnight to the south of the state to assist in the search.
This was a man who left an indelible imprint on the school he served for over three decades. More importantly, he inspired generations of students, who loved to learn because of him. My deepest condolences are offered to Louise, Yelena and Kirsten. Vale Bruce Fairfax. He was an educator and inspiration to many.