The curtain rises and the Senior Singers lay into the national anthem.

“A-ya-a-ya-adva-ya-yance Austray-a-ya fa-a-a-ir. Oooo.”

Australian Idol has a lot to answer for.

Next the Junior Orchestra essay at harmony with something that should be familiar but isn’t. The student body writhes like a corpse invaded by maggots. Now is the moment that Principal Imre Kevorkian ascends the stage festooned with sporting pennants, mostly ancient, and approaches the rostrum with something like priestly mien. Will a lamb be ritually slaughtered or an unlucky captive from a rival school have his still-beating heart removed?

As the principal grapples with the microphone like Laocoon with the serpents, a thousand pairs of eyes meditate upon the school motto emblazoned on the curtain which has again descended. Ars, Labore, Rectas. Words that have inspired students over several generations to admirable feats of filthy invention. The microphone has been subdued. The school body twitches in anticipation:

Welcome students. Welcome teachers. A new year begins.

Last night as I sat down to prepare this speech, I asked myself this question: why are we here?

The image that came to me was of a car. I want you to imagine — and I don’t mind if you close your eyes to do this — that our great college is a car travelling — within the speed limit, of course [obedient laughter] — down the great highway of life.

Think of your teachers as the driving instructors and the curriculum as the Satnav on the dashboard.

So here you are behind the wheel of progress directing the engine of learning fuelled by knowledge. If you extend the metaphor further — and I think it is useful to do so — then the school rules are the traffic lights and speed limits. Respect for others is the aircon of our learning vehicle and courtesy the oil that keeps the engine lubricated.

It’s a marvellous machine, I think you will agree. But it does require maintenance. Rust in the door panels, worn brake pads, a fraying fan-belt or indeed a defective differential.

So instead of sitting down last night and concocting a long and boring speech [more obedient laughter] I hope I have given you an image to inspire in the year ahead.

Just remember: check the tyre pressure, the carburetor water, the wheel alignment and the brake lights and you can’t go wrong.

Happy motoring, everyone.

“What if there’s a bushfire?” an errant voice from the fragrant mass.

Principal Kevorkian pauses, blinks.

“And now if you’d like to welcome the Senior Orchestra performing two pieces by, um, Smetana, and, er, Janacek.”

The key having been turned in the ignition, the engine splutters into life.