I Gave a Gonski…selected speeches by David Gonski. A book review by Alan Gold

May 29, 2015 by Alan Gold
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In his chapter on ‘Being a Chairman’, David Gonski says it’s easier to define a non-executive chairman by what he’s not, rather than by what he or she is. Which made me think of what the American astronomer, Clifford Stoll once said the internet age, “Data is not information, information is not knowledge, knowledge is not understanding, understanding is not wisdom.”

Reading David Gonski’s recently-published book of selected speeches, “I Gave a Gonski” makes Stoll’s aphorism much easier to appreciate.

David Gonski     Photo: Henry Benjamin

David Gonski Photo: Henry Benjamin

In a world of speech bubbles, selfies and instant celebrity, it’s a delight to settle back and read his carefully considered understanding of such a wide range of subjects. His speeches, delivered to a multiplicity of audiences over many years, shows Gonski’s knowledge and most especially his wisdom in the way he addresses some of the most vexed questions facing our society.

Only somebody as successful in business, law and as a patron of the Arts, and who’s name has become eponymous with far-reaching social reform (“We have to Gonski this approach to education”) can state in an introduction to his book, “…the reality is that my life does not justify a tome. Indeed, many would see such a book as arrogant in the extreme – and they would be right.”

When one looks at the autobiographies in bookshops of pop and movie idols and of sporting celebrities, whose lives would justify little more than a chapter, it’s a pity that David hasn’t given us a more intimate glance into his life.

But what we have is a glimpse of his mind, and through his speeches, we can understand the person he is. And what a towering intellect and social conscience Australia has in David Gonski.

This is what he says about his personal perspective on human rights in Australia … “I am saddened at how many people in Australia seem to see asylum seekers as ‘queue-jumpers’, or somehow bad people. As an immigrant myself, I can clearly see that this is wrong. Of course not all of them are genuine refugees, and no, we don’t want to encourage queue-jumping, but it is clear from our history that many asylum seekers are genuine, some escaping terrible regimes. I do not know what the solution is, but we need to try harder to find it.”

David became famous throughout Australia most recently when he was asked by then-Education Minister Julia Gillard to head up an inquiry into the funding of schools. “I was quite taken aback by this invitation. I was not a professional educator and I was at the time chairman of a selective private school for boys. I knew how controversial any such review would be. I told her I would think about it. As I did so, I realized it was a funding review, not a review of education, and further that it could be the most important contribution I could make to Australia.”

Alan Gold

Alan Gold

And it’s interesting to read what David thinks in retrospect, both from the change of government since he chaired the review, and in the ‘enormous’ use of his name by both those in favour of what the report said and those who opposed it. “I witnessed an intense community interest in education, and an absolute recognition of its importance to the future of individuals and society as a whole. Even today, I still get stopped in the street by people wanting to give me a pat on the back, say ‘thank you’ and generally egg me on. Whether they have read the report (which I doubt, as I have learnt that very few people actually have) doesn’t matter; they know that education is important and they are very positive about the efforts of our review team.”

David’s book of speeches deals with topics ranging from human rights to being a chairman, to corporate governance, to gender diversity, to Australia’s ability to compete globally.

And each chapter, each speech, reveals the depth of knowledge of a man who’s lifetime of experiences has flowered into true wisdom.

Published by Viking, an imprint of Penguin Books


Alan Gold is a novelist who’s latest book, Bell of the Desert, is published in America





One Response to “I Gave a Gonski…selected speeches by David Gonski. A book review by Alan Gold”
  1. Rabbi Pinchos Woolstone says:

    True, it was said in the Talmud 7 centuries before the author quoted by Mr Gonski.

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