Great achievements

Great Achievements

“Virtue is like a rich stone, best plain set … [and] Fortune is like the market; where many times, if you can stay a little, the price will fall.” Francis Bacon

There have always been high achievers at St Paul’s College, though some periods in its long history have been more impressive than others. The last ten or fifteen years have been the best so far, and talents vary widely. The many University Medals won by Paul’s men in recent years have ranged from Maths and Physics to History and International Studies, and the College also has had a stream of top students in Music (together with a very fine Chapel Choir).

Each period since the 1850s has had its distinctive flavour, but threaded through them, if sometimes very vaguely, has been a distinctive intellectual approach to spirituality, creativity and society, coming originally from the Church of England’s Oxford Movement. In the generation before World War One, the focus was on Arts, Education and Divinity. Several of students at that time, such as G.V. Portus, Ernest Burgmann and A.P. Elkin (see Humanities and the Church), inspired the rethinking of Australian Anglicanism after the war, especially in areas of social justice and Church-State relations. Elkin went on to be one of Australia’s great anthropologists. His success in giving a moral turn to the understanding of Aboriginal culture and ceremony is echoed in the pioneering work of another Pauline anthropologist, his student Kenneth Eyre Read, in New Guinea. For both, as for the Oxford theologians, ritual gave a moral fabric to communities.

Each period since the 1850s has had its distinctive flavour, but threaded through them, if sometimes very vaguely, has been a distinctive intellectual approach …

The 1920s and ’30s, when Canon Arthur Garnsey was Warden, the emphasis was more political – Paul’s housed two future prime ministers, McMahon and Whitlam, plus Donald Cameron, Nigel Bowen and Edward St John, similarly conspicuous as Federal parliamentarians, the remarkable State Labor minister Clive Evatt and the British Labour MP, Kim Mackay, a pioneer of united Europe (see Government, Law and Civil Rights).

During Dr Felix Arnott’s wardenship (1946-63) the emphasis, at least in student achievement, was largely on Science, Medicine and Engineering. During the 1950s the College housed one future Fellow of the Royal Society (Michael Hall), and eleven men who, as scientists and medical doctors, were to b recognised at the highest possible level for Australians, as AC or AO. There were also four future judges, one High Court and the others Supreme Court. And yet Arnott deliberately nourished poetry and drama, as a learned member of a new Church movement designed to reconnect faith with every variety of art. The theatrical careers of Michael Blakemore and Terence Clarke began in College in Arnott’s time, as did the architectural career of the late Tom Heath.

Since about the mid-1990s life in the College has been coloured especially by an interest in what has been called social entrepreneurship – the combination of economics, problem-solving and philanthropy. This echoes the social justice concerns of Radford’s days, and even the Christian Socialism brought from England in 1856 by the first Warden, Henry Hose, and enthusiastically reinvented by Garnsey. For two great philanthropic enterprises founded by Paul’s men as students go to (Jack Manning Bancroft’s Australian Indigenous Mentoring Experience) and (Nat Ware’s 180 Degrees Consulting).

This new, or renewed, focus might explain why the College has done so well with Rhodes Scholarships because active humanitarianism now counts highly for the Rhodes. Throughout the twentieth century, a quarter of the male Rhodes Scholars from this University had lived or were living at Paul’s. Since 2001 the proportion has suddenly leapt to half.

Also since 2001 half of the Presidents of the Student Union, the pinnacle of student leadership in the University, have been Paulines. And yet, this is a small College, housing 0.5 percent of the whole, and it spreads its favours evenly among a great range of interests and activities.

Throughout the twentieth century a quarter of the male Rhodes Scholars from this University had lived or were living at Paul’s.


In sport, achievements have been just as good. The College seems to have been the original base for the Sydney University Football Club, the oldest rugby club in New South Wales, in the 1860s, and in the 1880s the Sydney University Sports Union, a new invention in its day, was organised from one of the student rooms. Two of the VIII rowing in the 1912 Olympic Games in Stockholm were from Paul’s, and the boat belonged to the College.

Again, Harrie Wood was central to the revival of rugby union in Australia after World War One. Before and since, rugby has always been the most likely way for Pauline sportsmen to reach national celebrity. In 1968-69 Tony Abrahams and Jim Roxburgh played in the same Wallaby scrum – and were two of the seven who withdrew from the tour to South Africa because Black players were excluded from the Springboks. (See Sportsmen)
For names of Paulines whose achievements have been of national significance, go to the following lists:

Humanities and the Church;

Government, Law and Civil Rights;

Science, Medicine and Engineering;

The Arts;

International Leadership;




Go to separate pages for Rhodes Scholarships, for University Medallists, for University Service and Awards, for War Service, and for the College’s vicissitudes with the Rawson Cup.

[Criteria for “national significance”: knighthoods, CMGs, CBEs, ACs and AOs, judges in national and state courts (above District Court), bishops, ambassadors, fellows of national learned academies (FRS, FAA, FAHA etc), entries in the Australian Dictionary of Biography and in Wikipedia, obituaries in The Times, membership of national sporting teams, including Olympic and Commonwealth Games, etc. Lists are still incomplete, especially in the Arts and Sport.]

“Knowing others is wisdom, knowing yourself is enlightenment” lao tzu