BERNIE Curran is living proof of how transformative access to education can be for a boy from the bush.
Dr Curran had failed the first year of his arts degree at the University of Newcastle (UON) when he found work with Denman dairy farmer Bill Lieschke, who had left school at 13 despite “tremendous intellect” and devoured books on everything from “Plato to NATO”.
“He’d pass them on to me and we’d talk about them when we were milking cows, loading hay and driving cattle,” Dr Curran said.
Mr Lieschke supported Dr Curran to finish his degree and graduate with first class honours in classics.
Dr Curran went on to pursue a PhD in Roman religion and politics and hold roles including UON Foundation executive officer, UON Sport deputy chair, lecturer and college warden at country students’ favourite Evatt House, which he said was one of the “peaks of my life”.
He shed a tear when he was appointed a Member of the Order of Australia (AM) in this year’s Queen’s Birthday honours list, for significant service to tertiary education, particularly through higher learning opportunities for young people in rural areas.
“I was absolutely thrilled,” he said. “It’s an affirmation of what you’ve been doing – and everything I’ve done has been primarily because I enjoy it so much.”
Dr Curran said Mr Lieschke’s kindness helped him realise the importance of supporting rural students, who don’t have the same opportunities as their city peers, and fuelled his work in scholarships.
“I’d unconsciously drunk at the well of equity in education. In this day and age education is the key and it’s essential to remind these students that with the right support they can go to university – and the world.”