Confronting the Big Questions
Wednesday, 30 August 2023

A new initiative launched by St Andrew’s Cathedral School in 2023 is a community seminar series called Big Questions. The aim is to stimulate parents, students and staff to think more deeply on some of the major topical issues facing our generation, while also utilising some of the vast expertise contained within our School community. 

Following discussions with students about the themes that are of deep relevance and importance to their lives, a range of potential topics were raised. One of these critical topics was around the environment, and more specifically, how can we be better stewards of our environment? This emerged as the ideal first topic for our Big Questions seminar. What’s more, two incredible resources within the School community – Pastor Ray Minniecon and Dr Andrew McGonigle – both have a wealth of expertise to offer insights in exploring the area of environmental protection and management. Thus, the event was born. 

Pastor Ray is a prominent public voice on issues such as Indigenous rights and land rights, reconciliation and climate change, and was the co-founder of Gawura, our dedicated First Nations school. In 2021, he was one of the Australian representatives who presented at the UN Climate Change Conference in Glasgow (COP26). 

Dr Andrew McGonigle is an award-winning volcanologist and inventor who understands the complex interplay of different environmental forces. His background as a physicist and educator gives him deep insights into the breakdown and natural processes occurring within our environment. 

“Last year in Christian Development, we asked students what big issues they most wanted to discuss, and racism and the environment were at the top of their list,” Head of School Dr Julie McGonigle said. “When considering how to broach the topic, we realised we had some internal expertise that could facilitate this discussion.” 

“The fascinating interplay of these two experts, who have very different life and education experiences, was too good an opportunity to miss. We thought we might be able to draw on insights into Aboriginal stewardship of the land as well as a scientific perspective on climate change to highlight some of the different approaches to the problem.” 

From the outset, both Pastor Ray, who has a busy schedule of speaking and consultative engagements around the country, and Dr Andrew McGonigle, who teaches International Baccalaureate Diploma Programme Physics, while also working on developing a scientific environmental data instrument for NASA, were keen to be involved. 


It was decided that a ‘chat show’ Q&A format, expertly facilitated by Old Andrean Lily Meek (OA2017), where both Aboriginal and scientific perspectives could be explored, would be the most engaging approach for audiences. 

The evening was divided into four segments, with the first providing a fascinating window into the life experience and passions of Pastor Ray and Dr Andrew McGonigle. Andrew said from a young age he was interested in understanding how the universe worked and found it extraordinary that science could explain much of what we observe. 

The second segment examined what environmental damage exists in Australia and across the world, and what events and evidence point to wholesale climate change happening. 

The third segment asked the big question: how we can be better stewards of our environment, and discussed the importance of stewardship, rather than ownership. “In Indigenous culture, there is no concept of ownership of land – it is always a shared responsibility and respect for the land, ensuring it is sustainably managed,” Pastor Ray explained. 

The final segment looked at how we can use science and technology to solve problems and how Indigenous wisdom on managing and conserving the environment could inform governments and councils. 

At the end of the evening, the comments from audience members clearly pointed to a highly stimulating and successful event. 

Head of Science, Ms Melinda Mestre said, “It is our responsibility as educators to develop the next generation who look after Country using the vast knowledge that our First Nations peoples hold. As Pastor Ray mentioned, our future success in dealing with climate change lies with the authority of our young.” 

Matt Noble (OA2005), President of the Old Andreans Association said: “It was a great event and I am glad I came. I loved that it was able to harness the compassion and curiosity of our school into action and hope for such a big issue.” 

Check out highlights from the ‘Big Questions’ seminar here - St Andrew's Cathedral School Presents: Big Questions 

By Layla Harris (OA2019) and Melanie Collins.