Two bronze statues honouring Sir James Martin, philhellene and one of the founding fathers of the modern Australian state of New South Wales, are set to become the starting and finishing lines for an annual walk of school students from Parramatta to Sydney.
The pair of statues were crafted in the likeness of Sir James Martin by sculptor Alan Somerville, with one erected in Parramatta Square and its partner standing in Sydney’s Martin Place, both named to commemorate the life of Sir James Martin and his amazing backstory.
Irish-born Martin, the son of a stable-hand, was brought up in the servants’ quarters in Parramatta Government House however triumphed over poverty and anti-Irish discrimination to become a journalist, lawyer, three times Premier of New South Wales, a Chief Justice, and an architect of the public education system in NSW.
In the 1830s, there were no public high schools in Parramatta, so at age 12 James Martin resolved to walk hours every day from Parramatta to Sydney Grammar School in order to get an education, a decision which opened up opportunities which paved the way for the rest of his life.
It was at Sydney Grammar School that Sir James Martin acquired a love of classics and an affinity with Greek and Latin that lasted his lifetime and was eternalised in his replica of the ancient Athenian Lysicrates Monument, erected in the Royal Botanical Gardens, Sydney, Australia in 1968, which Martin built with his own money. The beautiful replica is still standing in the Royal Botanic Gardens in Sydney today.
It’s Sir James Martin’s unwavering focus on education and opportunity that has seen the current Premier, Dominic Perrottet, announce that the first Annual Martin Children’s Walk from Parramatta to Sydney will be held next year after the state election.
“This walk will commemorate the extraordinary efforts made by the young James Martin in 1832-4 to walk to school in Sydney from home in Parramatta in order to attend high school,” said Mr Perrottet.
“This will be an inspiration to all kids from all backgrounds to understand the importance of education, and to believe that they too can achieve great things with enough determination and hard work.”
In a display of bipartisanship, the Leader of the Opposition, Chris Minns, has said he supports that view and also wants to participate in the event.
“I enthusiastically endorse the Annual Martin Children’s Walk and look forward to participating in the New Year,” said Mr Minns.
“I very much support the message it gives that this country offers hope to young people of any background and circumstances that they can achieve their dreams.”
Also in support of the walk is Murat Dizdar, Deputy Secretary, NSW Department of Education.
“This walk will provide school kids with greater understanding of the overall importance education plays. Public schools will, I am sure, welcome the opportunity to participate”.
Luke Fulwood, Principal of Macarthur Girls High School in Parramatta endorsed the walk and the strong messages it represents to students in Australia.
“We’re all about instilling confidence in young women from Western Sydney in their capacity to achieve. This walk is a great reminder to students that you can achieve great things in Australia, no matter where you start,” says Mr Fulwood.
The campaign to install the a statue of James Martin in Parramatta and to establish the annual walk was driven by Co-Founder of the Lysicrates Foundation Dr Patricia Azarias, who says that, just as much now as it was in Sir James Martin’s time, education is the best way for young people of different backgrounds to have a fulfilling life.
Dr Azarias is committed to introducing students from all background to the magic of education, theatre and democracy in the form of the Martin-Lysicrates Prize, with students watching and voting for their favourite plays.
Dr Azarias explains the manner by which the walk is to take place.
“Kids and political leaders will complete the walk-in relays,’ says Dr Azarias.
“It will start at Parramatta Square, where one of the two statues of young James Martin walking to school now stands, and finish in Martin Place, where the statue’s twin stands in the grand boulevard which was named after him by Henry Parkes.”
The Lord Mayor of Parramatta, Councillor Donna Davis, stands strongly behind the initiative.
“We’re delighted that James Martin, the Premier from Parramatta, the boy who rose from servants’ quarters to become Premier and Chief Justice, is being recognised in the Annual Martin Children’s Walk,” says Ms Davis.
“James’ story resonates with the people of Parramatta, so it makes sense to start the annual walk in our city.
“We’re proud that the hub of Sydney, Martin Place, is named after a Parramatta boy. We’re enthusiastic that the Walk represents and celebrates the closer bond between Parramatta and Sydney.”