It is likely that everyone reading this edition of Lion is connected to Wesley in one way or another.

As such, readers are also likely to know that in May each year, we celebrate Founders’ Day; a day set aside to recognise the enormous task and challenges our founders undertook and overcame in opening a school in the Methodist faith in Melbourne in 1866. They were extraordinarily young when they founded the school and they worked for a decade to raise the funds to do so.

Acting Principal Morag Howard with Principal Nick Evans at the 2023 Founders' Day Lunch

Founders’ Day was the invention of LA Adamson (Headmaster from 1902 to 1932). It became a great day of celebration in the Wesley and OWCA calendars and remains so today. Adamson devoted considerable time in his early years as Headmaster to rebuilding the OWCA as a means of developing school spirit. He wanted all boys who left Wesley to cherish their old school and their memories of it. This sentiment is conveyed in the words Adamson wrote for Grey Towers, from the Wesley College Songbook:

Grey towers at night are keeping
their watch o’er Wesley sleeping
moonlight is softly sweeping from above.
Stars in the sky are shining,
their golden eyes divining
how close the Old School’s twining round
our hearts her love…

...And so - rough or calm weather -
Old School, we’ll hold together,
so strong the binding tether love has made.
May lives of strong endeavour
defend your honour ever:
our love for you can never,
never, never fade.

Adamson declared that Founders’ Day should be celebrated in pomp and style, not just at a large celebration in Melbourne at the school, but at any place where Old Wesley Collegians might be gathered. The first such celebration was held on 28 May 1905, which was the birthday of late founder and benefactor, Walter Powell, though the date was later moved. Adamson was keen for dinners to be held in many parts of Australia and at the main celebratory dinner in 1906, telegrams were read out from smaller dinners and ‘smoke nights’ across the country. By 1907, dinners were held as far away as Johannesburg and London. The OWCA held its third Founders’ Day dinner by gaslight in the brand-new Adamson Hall in May 1908. It would have been a very cold affair, as in those days the hall was unheated!

When you meet Wesley folks here and yonder on your travels, it is amazing how varied their memories of Wesley and Founders’ Day are. At the most recent Founders’ Day lunch at the Kooyong Tennis Club, Principal Nick Evans (OW1985), at his last event before commencing his sabbatical, told the audience he has two enduring memories of the meaning of Founders' Day. The first was in 1983, while he was in Year 10. The President of the OWCA was the guest speaker for the assembly in Adamson Hall. That President was Dr Neil Evans - his father - and he got up and said, ‘I’m not here to talk about how great Wesley is and all that rubbish!’ Possibly quite mortifying for a Year 10 student!

His other recollection was of the Founders’ Day song which was always sung at assemblies. The music was composed by LA Adamson in 1907 with words written by Burnett Gray (OW1902), to be sung at the first Founders’ Day dinner. It fondly reminisces on where you might meet a fellow collegian. The third verse reads:

On ocean tramp you will meet them,
where grimy steamers throng
at Liverpool and London, Colombo and Hong Kong.
Good mates at school - they’re still so -
warm-hearted, staunch and true,
and just the friend in bad times to see their
old chum through.

When Nick was in Indonesia earlier this year, sitting two rows behind him on the plane was a bloke that he had been at school with, and two rows in front, was someone that he had taught. What brought them together, he reflected, was the school.

My own first memories of Founders’ Day are of resplendent assemblies full of toe-tapping performances by Big Band, Jazz Band and Jazz choirs, together with inspirational speeches delivered by old Collegians who were working, performing or achieving in a huge array of fields. This was quite a sight for a recently graduated teacher with no experience of school spirit on this scale! In one fanciful moment, as I was walking into assembly in 1991, I remember thinking that so important was this day to the fabric of the school, we should all be wearing richly coloured velvet robes!

Echoing the words of the Principal at the recent lunch, I ask you to give a thought to every person who has dedicated themselves to this great school, giving of their energy, time, talent and treasure over one hundred and fifty-seven years.

I leave you with some words from the school song The Best School of All, most recently sung by those 150 members of the Wesley Community who gathered at the Founders’ Day lunch:

For though the dust that’s part of us to dust again be gone, yet here shall beat the heart of us – the School we handed on!

Morag Howard, Acting Principal

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