Principal Sally Renouf Reflects on What Makes Burgmann Special

Principal Renouf's Speech at the Back To Burg Gala Dinner - August 2022

Good evening Vice Chancellor Professor Schmidt, Dr Aunty Matilda House, Lady Hicks, former Chair of Council Mr Len Goodman AO, Chairman Greg Mills; Co-Patrons of the Burgmann College Alumni Association Judy Middlebrook and Peter Garrett and President, Matthew Lobb; former Burgmann College Master Professor Colin Thomson, and Principals Bob Northey, Rev Dr Lewis Rushbrook and Dr Philip Dutton; Heads and colleagues of the ANU, Residential Fellows Lara Nicholls and Professor Asmi Wood, BRA President Bas Braham, members of our wonderful staff, distinguished guests:

Welcome, everyone, to the Burgmann College, 50th Anniversary Gala Dinner.

I would like to start by acknowledging that long before this country was settled by Europeans, it was a meeting place for a number of different Aboriginal groups, including the Ngambri, Ngarigo, Walgalu, Wallabalo and Ngunnawal peoples. These people would gather on this country, using it as a meeting place in accordance with their customs, just as we do now.I pay my respects to the descendants of these peoples on whose lands we meet, and seek to learn more about their customs from Elders now and into the future. I pay my respects to Elders past present and emerging, and extend that respect to all Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people here this evening.

How do you capture 50 years of this incredible place? Its history, its characters, its culture? I’m sure you can imagine that as principal, I take this responsibility very seriously and as such, I’ve made some notes.

But actually, I don’t need this. It’s easy to sum up: what’s special about Burgmann is its people.

Recently I’ve had the pleasure of meeting with many of our alumni, and I was asked a number of surprising questions. I think tonight is the perfect opportunity to provide some answers.

Firstly, no, the roof doesn't leak anymore. After 48 years of cracks, cockies, water and concrete, we replaced it in 2019. Unfortunately, there was an enormous hailstorm in Canberra at the start of 2020, which promptly damaged the new roof, so we replaced it again in 2022 - faulty roof for 48 years and two brand new ones in the last three!

Yes, Luigi's, our much-loved Sunday morning tradition of jam, scones, tea and coffee is still going strong. Not even a pandemic could stop it. During the COVID lockdowns, we packaged over 250 containers of scones, jam and cream, and volunteers delivered them outside resident rooms. Our catering manager described it as 'an assembly line of love'.

Yes, the Principal has dogs, and a number of our residential staff do too. Bob Northey, none of them are bright enough to attend a lecture like Melba Northey did, but they do bring a smile to the residents’ faces.

Yes, we still have a rivalry with our neighbouring College Johns. It’s in good spirits, and sometimes involves decidedly less-quality spirits.

Professor Colin Thomson, you'll be pleased to know there are no longer any food fights in the Dining Hall - and I would discourage the tradition from re-commencing this evening.

And if you thought that 2RS, the College's radio station was a thing of the past, I am pleased to let you know that in 2020, when residents were sent back home for four months due to COVID, our then BRA President Ben Jefferson and his friends revived the radio station. The station broadcast for up to 30 hours a week; showcasing a variety of themed shows from arts to sports, and even creative writing. Over a period of just five weeks, the station attracted 17,000 individual listens.

One of the biggest differences you may have noticed on your return, is our newly refurbished undergraduate building. When I became Principal in 2016, it was clear that our undergraduate resident rooms in Homer and Barassi needed refurbishment. And while we know, for the residents, it was never about the rooms, I have to say even the handy sink-wardrobe combination lovingly known as the Tardis, is also starting to show its age. So, we started with a building condition report. The advice was that we needed to bring everything up to code, including our fire egress and accessibility, before we could consider refurbishing rooms.

Wooden fire-stairs weren't the preferred option under the National Building Code, so we embarked on a major upgrade: the project saw the controversial linking of Homer and Barassi Wings on each floor. We introduced ramps to our entrances and a lift, as well as a number of refurbished and accessible rooms upstairs.

It was driven home how important these works were when Janice from our Housekeeping team told me she had been up on 3H and saw a young woman in a wheelchair who shared that she was just visiting to see where her sister was going to live. For 48 years, no one in a wheelchair had been able to participate in the undergraduate life of the College up on the floors, until now. I am proud to say we are truly inclusive for all Burgies.

As we celebrate our 50th year, we turn our minds to the next 50 and beyond. My vision is to ensure that there is a Burgmann in 50 years’ time, the thriving community that we all know and love.

It may come as a shock, but we nearly lost all of this. We are always prepared for adversity, but the enormous toll COVID has taken on the College's reserves stretched us to breaking point. We are now in recovery, working towards getting back on our feet, with the ultimate goal of future-proofing the College.

With the help from this incredible community, we are increasing our bursary and scholarships program so that as many students from diverse backgrounds, (rural and regional students, international students), can come to Burgmann without the financial barrier. We are setting up an Endowment program for the College that will provide for Burgmann indefinitely; and, we are working on creating physical spaces where residents can come together, grow, learn and connect.

When people ask me why they should choose Burgmann I say: if you want to be supported in a community where you are known and celebrated for who you are, where you are challenged to bring the best of yourself, in order to make the community the best it can be, then live at Burgmann while you study at ANU.

And what do you get in return? The collegiality. The antics. The convo chats late into the evening. Watching your fellow residents in BurgPlay or on the field, and win or lose, celebrating their effort. It's the lifelong friendships - you know each other in a way that nobody else in the world knows you; because you knew each other when you weren't whatever it is you worked so hard to become.

Together, we have done, great things; and together, we will do great things.

Before I go, I want to acknowledge the extraordinary staff, residents and volunteers for their dedication to making this weekend possible. Every single member of our team has gone above and beyond to get the College ready for you all, because they are immensely proud of our community, and so excited to welcome you all back home. Special thanks to Amelia Zaraftis and the Advancement team for taking charge of putting this event together for the past two years.

I would like to especially thank Fiona and Ralph Nixon. Fiona is the creative force behind our spectacular floral arrangements across this weekend, and Ralph has been by her side every step of the way. Thank you for making this weekend so beautiful.

Lastly, I would like to thank my family: in particular, my parents, Sue and Michael Renouf for their incredible support. They always go above and beyond to be there for me and the College. My sister Kate who never fails to make me laugh and always keeps me grounded. And to Brodie, I love you and our girls so much, it’s an honour to do this thing called life with you.

Photos from 50th Anniversary Back-to-Burg weekend (from the top):
1) Principal Sally Renouf with her sister Kate
2) Principal Sally Renouf's notes for her speech
3) Past and present principals of the College: Professor Colin Thompson, Mr Bob Northey, Rev Dr Lewis Rushbrook and Ms Sally Renouf
4) Guests enjoying the 50th Anniversary Gala Dinner
5) Residential Fellow Brodie Buckland, Ralph Nixon, Fiona Nixon and Principal Sally Renouf



  • Front Page
  • Alumni