BRA President Bas Braham's Speech at 50th Gala Dinner

BRA President Bas Braham gave the following 50th Anniversary Toast at the College's 50th Anniversary Gala Dinner in August 2022. 

Good evening, Vice-Chancellor Professor Brian Schmidt, Chair of Council Greg Mills, Principal Sally Renouf, staff, and alumni.

To all of our alumni here tonight — I want to start by saying the same thing to you as I said to the brand new first year residents at my welcome address 8 eight months ago:

Welcome Home.

In fact, yesterday as I welcomed some of you back, and showed you around the college, I couldn’t help thinking how similar it was to that day in early February when we welcomed our new first years in. Both days started in the same way. The cars gradually pull up across the road. You then both walk over to reception looking overwhelmed, confused, and in need of immediate assistance. The questions—from both the first years and our alumni—were remarkably similar. In typical Burgmann fashion, they revolve around the sleeping arrangements, the food, and where the nearest toilets are.

One alumnus relished in educating me about the pros and cons of negative gearing. I must admit the first years are not half as interested in or insightful on that particular topic. 

As for the sleeping arrangements, Andrew Mainsbridge informed me that in the early years of Burgmann, due to ongoing building work, it was necessary to sleep two people per room. We’ve since fixed that issue. However, you’ll be glad to hear that while the need to sleep two to a room is gone, the practice remains enthusiastically supported.

Of course, none of you are first years, you’ve all known this place far longer than I have, and we have you to thank for allowing us to inherit the principles of a tolerant, inclusive and non-judgmental place, and the traditions which go along with it.

We have you to thank for Burg Day. This year we woke up early, got a shot of Bailey’s and pancakes in the dining hall, witnessed the blessing of the brick, cracked an egg on Sally’s head, and allowed St Beryl to cleanse us of our sins. There were no food trucks, no academic gowns, no formal ceremonies. On our most important day, we celebrate the lack of any pomp or pretention. We danced away the afternoon before the backdrop of Canberra’s most elegant landmark: the Telstra tower.  

We also inherited a rigorous academic culture. Anywhere else, 300 residents living in such a high achieving atmosphere might be competitive and stressful. Instead, we find it comforting, and mutually beneficial: we work together, study together, share notes, discuss ideas and lean on each others’ experiences. We residents call this teamwork. The college website calls it academic support. Our lecturers call it plagiarism! 

How ever you look at it, Burgmann is a melting pot of different minds which think in different ways, always pushing us to do better and work harder.

Whilst these overriding principles have stayed the same, it’s important to acknowledge just how much things have changed. I’ve spent some time looking around one of the Sydney University colleges, where a friend of mine lives. I remember the common room being full of oak panels, there was a great oak table, and plush red velvet and leather chairs. Rowing skulls hung from the ceiling. The windows, through which you can look out to the college cricket field, were stained glass. And the pictures on the wall were all oil paintings of Scottish kings with their hounds at their feet. It was a place of luxury and privilege and tradition. But it bore no resemblance to our fellow young Australians in the 21st century.

At Burgmann we start each year with almost entirely bare walls. Throughout the year, we then cover them with the faces, interests, and shared experiences of the residents living inside. As you walked in, you might have spotted the notice boards on the walls outside: portraits of our IT crowd; the faces of our gender and sexuality advocates, photos from Dawborn and Mr Burgmann. Upstairs, we decorate the floors with themes of interest to us: 1B Bakery, 2B Babies, 2H Too hot to handle.

Right down to its physical attributes, this is a place defined by us residents, for us, today. There are no statues, no fraternities, no heroes. Beyond all the traditions, perhaps the greatest gift of inheritance which you all gave us was the freedom to change - to redefine ourselves each year.

Steven Mottlee’s BRA President Report in the 1989 Omphalos yearbook included the following excerpt:

“Overcoming self-doubt and projecting those aspects of yourself that are unique, are two of the great aspects of living in a college such as ours. It is for this reason that the goal of creating a community of great diversity is a positive one; for, as to nurture and appreciate the qualities of others leads to innovation and progress.”

I spoke with Steven this morning, and he believed in a socially progressive college, where individuals were empowered to be diverse and unique at a formative time protected from any prejudice of an outside world. Progression and change are fundamental to this image. 30 years later I believe in that same college, and we are still carrying that torch.

It’s fitting that Burgmann— a place never focused on perfection—is celebrating its 50th anniversary in its 51st year. It has been an honor and a wonderful opportunity to meet you all, and I hope we’ve met your expectations. I hope to come back and see this place in 50 years for the 100th anniversary, or more likely, 51 years for the 102nd.

I hope the important principles of our shared Burgmann tradition are preserved; and yet I hope some aspects of the College’s ethos then challenge me—as I’m sure ours has challenged some of you. Above all, I hope that Burgmann continues to reflect the identity of its current inhabitants as it always has.

So, here’s to Burgmann.


Image captions:
1) 2022 BRA President Bas Braham shares the stage with alumnus Dr Peter Garret AM to deliver the President's 50th Anniversary Toast


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