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Friends Luncheon 2023

Held at the College Library on Wednesday 3rd May

It was our pleasure to host the annual Friends of St Ann’s College luncheon earlier this week and to hear from distinguished Alumna, Dianne Davidson AM.

In a year where we are celebrating an overall pass rate in the mid-high 90%, and with a record number of students achieving academic medals for their results, it’s a pleasure to reflect that the strong culture of learning is a legacy of extraordinary women, like Dianne Davidson (better known as Di).

Coming from a farming family in Angas Plains, near Lake Alexandrina, Di lived at St Ann’s between 1966 and 1969, studying a Bachelor of Pharmacy before changing to a Bachelor of Agricultural Sciences degree at the University of Adelaide.

Di distinguished herself while at St Ann’s and no one who knows her will be surprised that she held leadership positions here.  She served as an office bearer in the College Club in 1967 and was elected President in 1968. She was awarded several prizes – including the Elizabeth Morris Prize and the Nellie Wilcox Prize.

Di has served on a number of boards throughout her career. Among them, she has been a director Horticulture Australia Limited, which manages research and development funding for Australia’s horticultural sector and has also served on the Premier’s Climate Change Council in South Australia. Di has worked closely on water policy reform since 2006, having served as a member of the Murray-Darling Basin Authority for nine years, with responsibility for crafting the Basin Plan, and as a Presiding Member of the former South Australian Murray Darling Basin Natural Resources Management Board in 2019 and 2020.

Di has had a strong involvement in higher education administration. She is a Fellow of both the Australian Academy of Technological Sciences and the Australian Institute of Agriculture, Science and Technology. She was a councillor of the University of Adelaide for twelve years, four of them as Deputy Chancellor.

Di is the current Chair of the South Australian Murraylands and Riverland Landscape Board. In 2015, she was appointed a Member of the Order of Australia for her services to the wine industry, horticulture management and higher education administration.

In reflecting on how her experience at St Ann’s College influenced her life and career, she recalls that when she joined the College there were still relatively few women at universities – particularly women from regional and rural backgrounds – and even fewer who were the first in the family to undertake tertiary education.

Australia was also embroiled in the Vietnam War and the associated protests. As a results of those turbulent times, her family saw St Ann’s as the safest choice for housing. The College soon became to her what it is today for so many St Ann’s students and that is a community and a home away from home. When Di was at the College it was still a Women’s College, and the other Colleges were only open to men.

Di’s experience of the College and its range of support enabled her – as she said it still does today for students – to concentrate on the main job at hand, which is study. Do well and get through. All the statistics over a great many years show that it’s a formula which is successful.

One of the reasons it works well is the invaluable support of having delicious and nutritious meals cooked for you and of course, you don’t have to do the cleaning. She said, “I remember not having to clean vividly. I also remember getting into huge trouble for boiling a frog in one of the small kitchens – indeed, where else would a Biology student boil a frog? There you go – that’s what we did”.

“The other significant memory was that I was able to experience – which would be much more emphasised now – the opportunity to work with and meet students from other cultures. It’s fabulous here”.   Di also reflected on the values of St Ann’s College and the strength of the culture with a genuine respect for the individual and urged us to do all we can to preserve it.

Joining us for the afternoon were guests Mary Couros, Adelaide City Councillor, Chair of the St Ann’s College Foundation, Jason Turnbull, Chair of Governors, Jim Howard AM RFD, Chair of the College Council, Ashley Hams, Governors Gary Lines, Maggi Miles, Fellow Kae Martin, President of the Collegians, Paul Newland and Denise von Wald, Principal and CEO, her husband, Stephen Johns and Dean of the College, Wendy Fleming. St Ann’s valuable commercial partners, Millennium, Stephen Holmes and Michelle Pollard and Tammy Michalitsianos from Compass Group.

Denise von Wald formally recorded the College’s gratitude to Di and other Governors and Fellows present noting their support of St Ann’s is humbling and encourages us all to work even harder to ensure our more than 75-year-old institution continues to thrive. She also acknowledged the Governors and Fellows who are not able to be with us and said, “The College is acutely aware of the extraordinary contribution that you and your fellow Governors have made over so many years. I often say the College is so successful because we are walking on the shoulders of giants and remain committed to their vision.”

Denise von Wald, Principal and CEO

“In Her Own Words” from Dianne Davidson AM

“1968 has been a year of considerable activity for St Ann’s and a year in which the students have had the opportunity to ask themselves what it is that they expect from living in a college. Living in St Ann’s, we are given many opportunities to contribute to college life as well as to take from it, and a balance between these is necessary for a student to lead a full life in college” – Di Davidson, Vesta, 1968

“When I entered the College, we had back then, before the lunar landing, two or three women from Thailand and a woman from Singapore whom I still see occasionally as a friend – she’s living in the Hills as a GP – and one from Malaysia. There weren’t many but we all gravitated to them because they were different. The point of this is that across the age groups, the College doesn’t differentiate, and I think this is possibly still the case. It doesn’t matter if you’re new in the door or you’ve been here for six years, the value is the same and it is that respect for the individual. It is the culture of this great College that I think is so important and we must preserve it.

The College was all about the people and the important role it played in being our home.

“The other thing, I grew up on a farm in an area that we now know as the Lower Lakes, down near Langhorne Creek. Even I’m guilty of calling my home the Lower Lakes after all these years working in water reform.

“I was the first in my family to come to university and frankly my parents were terrified and didn’t really know what it meant – remembering then that it was when the Vietnam War was in full flight and there were regularly demonstrations in the streets.

“Here, I gained some real understanding about the value of tertiary education and about how universities work. What is a university? What are the university’s values and the traditions? And how it all contributes to the richness of life on campus. If you come in from the suburbs or you just moved into a flat to attend university, you may not understand or fully appreciate the value of the college experience. It was wonderful to be able to walk down to the University of Adelaide – in my first two years that was every morning and then again coming back every night because I was fed very well, and I certainly wasn’t going to go anywhere else.

“I came here to study Pharmacy because I had done well at school and my teachers, followed closely by my parents, said that if you studied Pharmacy, you could get married, have children and then do locum work. This was only after they understood that others had suggested I should do something scientific. I did one year of Pharmacy, and I was bored witless with Organic Chemistry and I thought that I needed to be out doing something. I know this is still the case, that you can change courses, I changed to Science and then after three months the penny dropped – that I really did need to study Agriculture

“In my life, it was what I really understood, but I think it is fair to say that my parents were totally appalled that I should want to study Agriculture because they saw agriculture as the agriculture, they practised on a property in a marginal region and couldn’t understand why would I do this.

“Besides that, I had a brother who would do that anyway. I persevered with Ag Science, and I did a Master of Science afterwards up in North Queensland at the then new James Cook University because I wanted to learn something else about the other end of Australia and I’d met people from Queensland here.

“When I came back to South Australia, I was fortunate to join Penfolds Wine Company when it was still owned by the family – most of you may not even remember that. The family gave me an opportunity, really with a capital ‘O’, because I had grape-picking breaks as a student. They had no agricultural expertise in their company at all at a time when they had vineyards all over Australia and so they asked me to go and talk to them about something for me and I went off and I came up the wonderful title of the “National Company Vineyards Manager of Australia and New Zealand”. The rest is, as they say, is history.

“What that did, why that happened, particularly then – was that they were working in developing what was to be Australia’s largest vineyard, at the time, in the late 70s, at Morgan on the River Murray. For those of you who don’t know, Morgan is the location at which the water quality for Adelaide is measured. It is interesting to me now to reflect on my agricultural journey, but which was actually the water journey. I worked in the wine industry in many different ways for a number of years. I ran my own consultancy practice for 30 years, whilst doing all those other things that Denise has mentioned but I stopped the wine industry work, mainly, in 2012. I still though have the vineyard that I manage at my home in the Hills and my water journey continues.

“The point of this tale is that you don’t know where your education is going to take you or the network opportunities that you will find at St Ann’s College and university.

“So, agriculture morphed into wine and viticulture but the water bit which started way back in Morgan is why yesterday, I found myself still working in Albury. That whole water journey, my work with the Murray Darling Basin and now my work with the South Australian Murraylands and Riverland Landscape Board and dealing with the floods is a sort of parallel career which I was a slow to recognise.

“I think I’m a very good example of someone who has been able to use both the education I was given while I was here, and the network, to say you can do anything. You are not your ATAR and neither when you graduate are you just a lawyer or a doctor or whatever your degree says you are, you can do anything.

“It’s a place like St Ann’s that demonstrates this opportunity to its students by creating the comfort and security of home and the culture of respect that I think is so important. Long may St Ann’s continue.”