Graduation address given by Jane Spring

Jane Spring gave the following occasional address at the Faculty of Economics and Business graduation ceremony held at 11.30am on 10 October 2008.

Ms Spring is President of Sydney University Women’s Rowing Club and recipient of the title of Honorary Fellow of the University.

The photo of Ms Spring is copyright Memento Photography.

Jane Spring

Graduation address

Your Excellency, Fellows of Senate, Faculty Members, Graduates, Friends and Family.

I am delighted and thankful to receive this Honorary Fellowship and to have the opportunity to address you on this occasion.

I would first like to congratulate the graduates. You have worked hard and this is a very important day for you, your families & your supporters … and for the faculty members who have worked with you.

I hope you have enjoyed your time here and will stay in contact with the University

This idea of staying in contact leads me into my message for today.

The University is a community - made up of current students and staff, but also of alumni like us - and the strength and effectiveness of the University as an institution grows directly in proportion with our involvement.

Involvement can of course take different forms - and it can start at any time in your life.

At the least, involvement can be ensuring the University has your current address and contact details so you can receive news of events and the Alumni Magazine.

At its most extreme, involvement can be intense and rewarding …… there are lots of people just like me who never really leave!

I spent a lot of time worrying about how I could address such a mixed collection of graduates.

Then I decided that I would just unashamedly talk about rowing and the University - because these are my passions and that is why I am here today

First some personal history.

I came here in 1982 to study economics and law and to become a banker, or so I thought at the time. I am very glad that I am not a banker.

I had plenty of family role models all of whom loved their time at this University.

My grandfather Fred Deer, an Arts, Economics and Law graduate, supported his family while studying during the Depression and then had a long involvement on University Senate looking after the University finances.

My father studied Honours in Economics at night and taught here and is passionate and vocal about economic affairs and the under-provision of infrastructure.

After three years commuting from home, I went to Women’s College in my Honours Year in Economics.

This may not have been the best move for my studies but I can tell you it was sensational for my involvement in University life.

I quickly made up for lost time - learning to row, discovering a talent for cross country skiing and, surprisingly for me, a talent for sports administration.

Within a very short time I was President of the Rowing Club and Vice President of the Women’s Sports Association and getting to know a whole lot of people who have become great friends and mentors.

Through Law School I improved as an oarswoman. As I finished College of Law I stepped up my training. At the end of March 1990 I won the Australian Championship lightweight double scull and seemed set to represent Australia later that year at the World Championship Regatta in Tasmania.

How quickly things change.

A week later, I went to Taree to cheer on the rest of the team. On the way back the fellow driving the car went to sleep at the wheel. I was the only one injured and after fighting for my life with a broken back, collapsed lungs and internal injuries I spent five months in Royal North Shore and in rehabilitation.

I had gone from being in peak fitness as a very healthy 57 kg lightweight oarswoman to a paraplegic with some serious pain management issues and some 10 kilos lighter.

Coming out of hospital, rowing administration was the one area where I felt happy and able to contribute.

Trying to put in the hours as a junior solicitor when I was in so much pain and so tired from the new challenges of managing paraplegia was desperately hard.

Fortunately my rowing involvement provided a new and sustainable career direction.

I had acquired a very helpful mentor in John Coates. John loves rowing and thoughtfully suggested I should look for a job at the Sydney Organising Committee for the Olympic Games (SOCOG).

Looking after the pre-Games and Games training programs for both Olympic and Paralympic Games was the perfect job for me.

As my strength returned and I got on top of being a paraplegic (as far as that is ever possible) my work hours increased and my skills grew.

One of the great elements of my job was being secretary of the subcommittee of the board of SOCOG responsible for sport.

I received a unique insight into how organizations operate and into how to effectively deliver results with resource and political challenges. There were some really smart operators at SOCOG - and I learnt a lot.

Through this period I was of course still working very hard at the Rowing Club. It was an important time for us.

With a lot of hard work by Dad and the support of the Chancellor Dame Leonie Kramer and Ann Mitchell from the Sports Association we were able to buy the Glebe Rowing Club for the University women.

We moved from the men’s shed at Linley Point to Glebe.

This was a huge step for us as it enabled the Women’s Club to expand, and to increase our beginner numbers, take on masters age rowers and ultimately employ a coach to help our elite oarswomen obtain national selection.

Through all of this expansion we enjoyed the strong support of the University.

I began to really get to know some of the University’s administrators and am grateful that they were equally passionate and excited about our successes.

Visiting the University started to feel like coming home and visiting the family, as it does for me today.

But being at Glebe also introduced massive challenges on many fronts.

One has been fundraising. Sydney University Sport & Fitness and University do for us a lot but there is always the need for more funding for members of Australian team travel costs, coaches and equipment. Especially nowadays when there are very few people who are prepared to simply volunteer their time.

For me, as President of a Women’s Rowing Club this remains a particular issue. The Club was formed in the late 1960s and was very small until we had our own shed so we have few alumni.

As well, women are traditionally less involved in sport and fundraising. Women tend to have less time for traditional fundraising events because of a greater responsibility for family life and less money because their earnings are lower.

I will take this opportunity to encourage women to get involved where they can - apart from the sheer enjoyment the skills gained and the networks developed will pay dividends.

The second set of challenges at Glebe was massive development pressures on Sydney Harbour.

We fought for protection of passive recreation during the master planning processes.

And as the master plans were completed Government moved to tender the harbour-side sites and a whole new set of wash, marina over development and traffic challenges began.

This was a particular challenge for me - as I was worried that my lobbying and campaigning would be ‘career-limiting’ for someone taking on sensitive roles in the public service.

Following the Games I had completed my Chartered Secretaries qualification and have had a series of jobs as company secretary in government agencies. I was rather horrified to find that I needed to take on the Government at the very time that I was working for very senior members of it as a board secretary.

In the end of course I developed a whole set of skills that were invaluable in my career as well and was quietly keeping my CEOs informed as I challenged various developments

Doing a DIY Dissent on the ABC’s Stateline to stop a power boat ramp in Blackwattle Bay and a DIY Dissent again in 2006 to try to stop a dry boat store in Rozelle Bay hasn’t seemed to hinder my working career.

In fact, I was rather surprised to find the Premier was giving me a Community Services Award at the same time as all this was happening.

And this is where I really do have the opportunity to address you as graduates.

I found the Masters in Public Administration course was extremely useful - both for my working career in the NSW Public Sector, but also for my campaigning for University rowing.

Preparing to brief Ministers such as Nori, Tripodi and Sartor and engaging our local MP, and now Minister for Education, Verity Firth (all graduates of Sydney University) became much easier with the invaluable training I had received here at the University.

I heartily encourage all of you graduates to think carefully about using your skills, not just in your career but for causes that are important to you and important to the community. Getting involved is the best fun.

The 2nd theme I wish to develop very briefly today is the role of the University in fostering student activity.

Voluntary Student Unionism (VSU) has seriously affected campus life. This has had a noticeable impact on Australia’s sporting performance, particularly in rowing.

Universities have always provided a great environment for sport. I am sure there are lots of parents, just like my own, who are very happy for their children to play sport … as long as they are getting their degrees at the same time.

I congratulate this University on continuing to fund student sport and other extra-curricular activity following the introduction of VSU.

I am also particularly pleased the Faculty of Economics and Business leads the way by providing sports scholarships to top athletes.

And thank you too to the University for their response to the loss of the boatshed at Linley Pont. For those who did not know, when the men’s boatshed on the Lane Cove River was burnt down a couple of years ago the University responded and resolved to re-build with a bigger facility. This will provide opportunities for our best male and female rowers. At a time when other Universities are abandoning sport or even selling sports facilities, ours is enhancing sport and enriching the student experience.

I will continue to work with the University on addressing these challenges - with a particular interest in the beginner level.

I want new students and alumni to be able to try our sport and others.

After all, without the opportunity to learn to row at University I would not be here.

I believe that the well-rounded student becomes the well-rounded graduate and, hopefully, a long term and loyal supporter of the University.

Whether or not you have been involved in the past it is never too late.

I encourage every graduate to stay in touch with the University.

I also challenge all of you to become involved in this unique and precious University community and to strengthen it further.

Thank you to the University for this extraordinary honour.

I will see you all in the Quadrangle.