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Glossing over Kevin Rudd's Catholic school days

  • 15 May 2007

A recent article in the Sydney Morning Herald contended that Kevin Rudd’s experiences as a junior secondary school student at Brisbane’s Marist College Ashgrove in the early 1970s could have been responsible for his move away from Catholicism to Anglican worship and shaped his politics.

It has been suggested Rudd likes to gloss over his 18 month tenure at the so-called elite college because it contradicts the story of a hard-luck childhood he has allegedly 'spun' to the electorate.

I attended Marist College Ashgrove nearly a decade later than Rudd, as a day student not a boarder. However, my experience does share some similarities to what is documented of Rudd's experience. Both Rudd and I were the youngest children in our families, and we both attended the school in the year succeeding the sudden deaths of our fathers. We both had experience of the dormitory lifestyle of the boarding component of the college, mine as a lay supervisor in the late 1980s, and we both later joined the Australian Labor Party.

If the Herald article is correct it may explain Rudd’s apparently indifferent and tepid acknowledgement of his association with the college. The significance of the Ashgrove experience may go beyond any influence it may have had on Rudd’s faith and politics. More importantly, it may have influenced his personal integrity and approach to leadership.

It is true that too little is still known of the Opposition Leader. He has assumed the leadership of his party with less parliamentary experience than his predecessor, Mark Latham, whose leadership deficiencies are still raw in the minds of the Australian electorate. The polls — whether or not you put much faith in them — indicate Rudd is only a handful of months away from being our next Prime Minister.

Undoubtedly Rudd’s brief period at Ashgrove would have left a strong impression on a young boy still suffering from the loss of his father, but this period is less likely to have caused him to eschew his Catholicism, or forever to have shaped his politics.

The Herald article is misleading. Neither by the standards of today nor those of the Rudd era could Marist College Ashgrove be considered an elite school. Rudd would not have been the only son of a share farmer or a nurse boarding at the school at that time. Historically the college has had a broad socio-economic mix of boys attending the school. My