Michael Kirby and Julia Gillard honour Newcastle East Public School

Anniversary: Former high court judge Michael Kirby told the crowd: "I came across the world to be with you tonight to celebrate public education." Picture: Marina Neil
Anniversary: Former high court judge Michael Kirby told the crowd: "I came across the world to be with you tonight to celebrate public education." Picture: Marina Neil

NEWCASTLE East principal John Beach said he had to “pinch himself” at securing high profile guests including a former prime minister and high court judge to participate in the school’s 200th anniversary.

Former prime minister and education minister Julia Gillard received a standing ovation from about 600 visitors when she arrived at the school on Saturday to launch its new history book, To Climb The Hill: A People’s History of Newcastle East Public School 1816-2016.

“Ms Gillard gave one of the most detailed and considered book launch speeches I have ever heard,” Mr Beach said. “She was clearly very familiar with the book and related it to her current work with the United Nations; the provision of and right to education in the third world.

“She then brought that theme to the history of the school...and how we have always been very inclusive and never practiced discrimination based on religion, social standing or anything else.”

Mr Beach said there was a “lot of love in the room” when Ms Gillard introduced former high court judge Michael Kirby as guest speaker at a sold out “uplifting” dinner in City Hall. “His theme was the importance of public education in a democratic society and how we need a well informed populous to make rational decisions, rather than decisions based on three word slogans.” 

Mr Beach said Mr Kirby’s first job after studying law was at Hicksons Lawyers in Newcastle. He arrived in Sydney from New York on Saturday and caught the train to speak at the dinner.