Kerferd Oration 2015 honours ‘the champion of Beechworth’

AUSTRALIAN ethicist Simon Longstaff on Sunday will seek to extend the legacy of a colonial-era businessman known as “the champion of Beechworth” when he delivers the annual Kerferd Oration and challenges the Indigo community to recognise its “invisible people”.

The oration – now in its thirteenth year – is named for George Briscoe Kerferd (1831-1889), a Liverpool-born immigrant to the goldfields, a wine merchant and brewer who went on to become a Beechworth borough alderman, Victorian premier and, later, a Supreme Court judge.

Oration committee chairman Michael Evans – pictured with founder Joan Simms in the heart of Beechworth on Monday – said he believed that significant elements of Kerferd’s ‘gift’ were manifest in the oration series.

“In his day one of his nicknames was ‘the champion of Beechworth’ and he had a vision of the town as a thriving ‘city on the hill’,” Mr Evans said.

“He worked with others to bring to Beechworth some of the institutions that kept the town alive after gold.

“His vision was that they would serve a thriving town rather than be the economic mainstay of the town, but it’s worked out quite well for Beechworth.

“The other thing about Kerferd is that he was a businessman and a very active citizen, and the Kerferd orations, through Joan’s design and evolution, have always had this element about being a ‘good citizenship’ and justice and ethics.”

Kerferd was actively involved after he came to Beechworth in 1854 in the establishment of the Beechworth Public Library and Athenaeum, the Burke Museum and the Ovens District Hospital and Benevolent Asylum.

He was largely responsible for the design of Beechworth’s water storage, known as Lake Kerferd, and distribution system.

He was also instrumental in linking Beechworth to Melbourne by train – a line that now forms part of the Murray to Mountains Rail Trail.

Mr Evans said that Sunday’s oration at the George Kerferd Hotel at Mayday Hills was explicitly about ethics.

“We’re lucky enough to have Simon Longstaff here who can talk about ethics in plain language and challenge our thinking,” he said.

“It fits in with Kerferd’s legacy of being a good and active citizen, and keeping in mind the needs of people whom you might regard as invisible.”

Dr Longstaff, Sydney Ethics Centre executive director, will speak about “something worse than being forgotten – it is to be rendered ‘invisible’, unseen by the society in which you live”.

“There are those who are ‘invisible’ – either because they make us uncomfortable, or because their vote ‘doesn’t count’, or because they lack the economic presence to be recognised by a system that increasingly judges worth according to economic utility rather than intrinsic value,” Dr Longstaff said.

Kerferd Oration founder Joan Simms says that 10 descendants of George Briscoe Kerferd are expected to attend Sunday’s oration.

These will include descendants of three of George and Ann (Martindale) Kerferd’s children in three generations – great grandchildren, a great-great granddaughter and a great-great-great grandson.

“The message I get in talking with the family is that they’re so appreciative of the Beechworth community honouring their ancestor,” Ms Simms said.

The oration will be delivered at 11am at the George Kerferd Hotel at Mayday Hills in Beechworth.

This post is reprinted from the ‘Ovens and Murray Advertiser’, which is supporting the oration by publishing each question of the week.

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