Leading Australian philanthropist, Tim Fairfax AC (M’64), became the fourth recipient of the Geelong Grammar School Medal for Service to Society on Thursday 7 April.

Tim received his award in front of a room filled with Old Geelong Grammarians, current and former staff, and members of the extended GGS community at the Geelong Grammar School & Geelong Grammar Foundation Black Tie Dinner, held at the State Library Victoria. The evening incorporated the 10th James R. Darling Oration, which was presented by acclaimed Australian playwright, screenwriter and novelist, Joanna Murray-Smith.

Click to view a gallery of photos from the Dinner

Tim’s leadership and philanthropic support has had a profound and transformational impact on rural and regional development, visual arts, and education in Australia, and particularly his home state of Queensland. Tim was Chancellor of the Queensland University of Technology (QUT), Chairman of the University of the Sunshine Coast Foundation and a Director of Australian Schools Plus, which promotes philanthropic support for schools in low socio-economic areas.

He has served as Chairman of the National Portrait Gallery, a board member of the National Gallery of Australia (NGA) Foundation and is President of the Queensland Art Gallery of Modern Art (QAGOMA) Foundation. He founded the Tim Fairfax Family Foundation in 2008 to support people in rural and remote communities in Queensland and the Northern Territory and is Chairman of the Foundation for Rural & Regional Renewal (FRRR), overseeing the development of mental health programmes for rural and regional Australians.

Tim said that he was “very humbled” to be awarded the Medal for Service to Society, which is the highest honour the School and our Foundation can bestow. The medal was established to recognise people who, by way of the excellence of their achievements, have made sustained contributions to the betterment of society. “There are so many Old Geelong Grammarians who have gone out and achieved, so you always ask, ‘why me?’. Hopefully, I’ve made a contribution, but I don’t think I’ve made a contribution that stands out more so than other Old Geelong Grammarians who have given service to society.”

Tim said that he was passionate about supporting the needs of rural and regional Australians. “Having had a rural property myself, which I worked for 20 years, and through living in a rural community, you get to know the inadequacies of that,” he explained. “When I left the bush, I was very passionate that people in rural and regional Australia should have the same quality of life and opportunities as those living in metropolitan towns.”

Through the Tim Fairfax Foundation and FRRR, Tim is focused on improving the connectedness, resilience, and sustainability of rural communities through programmes like Tackling Tough Times Together (TTTT), which supports local grassroots initiatives that assist drought-affected communities. “Having experienced a drought, it was very close to my heart. I knew what other people were going through and so this was a great avenue to help them in some way,” Tim said.

Tim was named as one of five Queensland Greats in 2013, was appointed a Companion of the Order of Australia (AC) in 2014 and was a national finalist in the Senior Australian of the Year category in 2016. He joins an eminent group of GGS Medal of Service to Society recipients, comprising Thai health and education activist Mechai Viravaidya (P’59), human rights lawyer and refugee advocate Dr Eve Lester (Fr’81) and legendary Papua New Guinea obstetrician and maternal health advocate, Professor Glen Liddell-Mola (P’64).

Joanna Murray-Smith has been a leading voice in the creative arts in Australia for three decades. Her 25th play, Berlin, was produced by the Melbourne Theatre Company in 2021, which coincided with Sydney’s Ensemble Theatre revisiting Joanna’s modern Australian classic, Honour, 25 years after its first public reading with Meryl Streep in New York.

Her plays have been produced on Broadway, at London’s National Theatre and on the West End. Joanna has won the Victorian Premier’s literary prize for drama twice and was awarded a Commonwealth Medal for Services to Playwriting in 2000.

In a wide-ranging oration, Joanna reflected on her creative journey as well as that of her father, Stephen Murray-Smith (Cu’40), the founder of the literary magazine Overland (coincidentally, the State Library of Victoria has held an annual Stephen Murray-Smith Memorial Lecture since 1992). Stephen Murray-Smith commenced his schooling at Glamorgan in 1928, arriving at Corio in 1934 in the fourth year of Darling’s headmastership, amidst a new cultural emphasis on the creative arts.

Joanna suggested Darling also challenged students “to engage with ideas that challenged the status quo”. She said that he believed “that a young man growing into himself should be exposed to a broad church of beliefs, not just confirmation of his own”. “Darling’s profound belief in nurturing the soul of a child was the foundation of the modern Geelong Grammar School; a school that still encourages challenging one’s prejudices, recognising one’s privileges, and pursuing a moral identity by advocating for a better world.”