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Celebrating our Women of Spirit


In what was a joyous occasion, the Wenona Alumnae Association held the 11th Women of Spirit Breakfast at Luna Park last Friday, with Professor Jane McAdam (1992PY) as guest speaker.


It’s a signature event in the Wenona Alumnae Association’s calendar, but after it was cancelled in 2020, the 11th Women of Spirit Breakfast felt even more special this year. Our alumnae are a strong, supportive and close-knit community, but the pandemic has underlined the extent to which digital interaction is no substitute for the real thing. Tapping away in a group chat or chatting via Zoom doesn’t come close to the wonderful feeling of hugging an old schoolfriend or giving someone that you haven’t seen for ages your undivided attention while enjoying breakfast together.


Last Friday, more than 185 alumnae, parents, staff and students gathered together in the Crystal Ballroom at Luna Park for the Women of Spirit Breakfast, hosted by Wenona Alumnae Association President Luisa Horton (Brown, 2005).


In her welcome address, Principal Dr Scott acknowledged just how wonderful it was to celebrate the joy of community. She acknowledged the importance of alumnae in their capacity as role models, inspiring our young women to challenge gender norms, expand their horizons and aspire to more. As Dr Scott said, this is particularly important at a time when the topic of consent is forcing us to reflect on how cultures are created and how they can be changed. Dr Scott also spoke about the addition of Wenona’s new building, The Athenaeum, which opened in July last year, providing the Wenona community with an exciting state-of-the-art teaching and learning space.


Scientia Professor of Law and Director of the Andrew & Renata Kaldor Centre for International Refugee Law at UNSW, Jane McAdam (1992PY) was the guest speaker. In praising Dr Scott for her public leadership over the issue of consent, she said, “I truly am delighted to be back at Dr Scott’s ‘raging feminist bootcamp’, as she described Wenona on Q+A last week… Your sensible, intelligent and much-needed contribution to the conversation about consent, interpersonal relationships and the role of those in positions of authority have made me feel particularly proud to be associated with Wenona.”


On both a personal and professional level, Professor McAdam said that the pandemic had resulted in some positive benefits for her, enabling her to spend more time with her young child and engage in different work projects in Australia. “It’s actually led me to new research projects about subjects I had never contemplated would be a thing – like the history of internal border controls in Australia, or the right of Australians to return home from overseas, or the protection of would-be refugees who cannot cross a border, or who are discriminated against in medical care and vaccine rollouts.”


However, she highlighted that the pandemic has had a disproportionate impact on the populations with whom she works, “Whether that be refugees in Australia on temporary protection visas who have been denied JobKeeper, JobSeeker and other support; people stuck in conflicts abroad, unable to cross borders to seek protection; refugees living in precarious settlements or camps where social distancing is impossible and medical care limited; or people caught up in disasters with humanitarian assistance unable to get through.”


Professor McAdam drew attention to the growing impact of climate change on vulnerable people. “As climate change takes hold, we are starting to see disasters on steroids. Most people who are displaced will move within their own countries, but some will cross international borders – and there are real gaps when it comes to their protection. Existing frameworks like refugee law don’t easily provide protection if people are forced to cross a border in the aftermath of a disaster. And nor do they enable people to move across borders in anticipation of future environmental harm, even though it is entirely rational for people to calculate the future risks and decide that they would rather leave now then stay and wait for the situation to become intolerable.”


She spoke about the importance of her work as an international lawyer, a message that resonated powerfully across the room. “With academia comes both privilege and responsibility. It’s clear why forced migration is one of the biggest challenges the world faces today, and why it demands clear, strategic thinking.


This is the mission of the Kaldor Centre for International Refugee Law, which I had the privilege of founding at UNSW in 2013. Our aim is to generate cutting-edge research that has real-world impact, which can shape law, policy and ultimately improve protection for people on the ground… Ultimately, the bringing together of diverse perspectives – from different countries, academic disciplines, international organizations, civil society, business and philanthropy – is not only desirable but crucial if we are to understand and to tackle the world’s most pressing problems. If there is one thing I have learnt over the course of my career, which has been driven home during the pandemic, is that we are all in this together.”


Director of Foundation and Community Engagement, Mrs Sonia Brennan said, “It was fantastic to come together for the Women of Spirit Breakfast last Friday and to see members of the Wenona Executive team, the Wenona Alumnae Committee, current parents, including several mothers and daughters, and alumnae of all ages mixing together as a community. Listening to the speeches by Dr Scott and Professor Jane McAdam highlighted just how fortunate we are to be part of such an inspirational group of people and the value of our relationships with one another and the School more broadly.


On behalf of the Wenona Alumnae Association, I’d like to thank everyone who generously donated a prize or bought a raffle ticket. All funds will go to the Wenona Alumnae’s Barbara Jackson Scholarship. I would also like to thank the current recipients of the Wenona Alumnae Scholarships, the School Captain and the Vice Captain who helped to sell raffle tickets on the day. The Women of Spirit Breakfast really encapsulates everything this vibrant community stands for. Thank you to everyone who supported this event and helped to make it such a success.”