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Are you a Liberal watermelon or a Nationals strawberry?

Canberra Times logo Canberra Times 26/05/2014 Ian Warden
Learning to lead: Children at the GRIP conference on Monday. © Jamila Toderas Learning to lead: Children at the GRIP conference on Monday.

Is the Abbott government a truckload of watermelons? Did Liberals and Nationals pose as strawberries during the last election, only revealing their secret watermelonry (especially through their ruthless budget) once elected?

We ask this fruity question after spending Monday morning at the GRIP Leadership conference at the AIS at which 500 primary school children were asked to imagine all of us and all of human behaviour being a watermelon (boo! hiss!) or a strawberry (hooray!).

GRIP Leadership is abusiness that exists, GRIP's dynamic Jenn Connaughton explained on Monday, to "develop leadership potential" in schoolchildren. It emerges lots of schools choose leaders (a bit like prefects) from among their pupils and that GRIP (Generosity, Responsibility, Integrity and People) exists to polish these leaders. Monday's session all about watermelons and strawberries (in which Connaughton was deeply involved up on stage as a kind of inspirational MC) was designed, she explained, "for practically teaching the students things that they can do straight away in their schools".

The huge and exuberant event (seats and a stage took up three-quarters of the floor of the AIS indoor arena) embraced children from more than 40 schools of Canberra and our region. Catchy, danceable modern music pulsated in the interludes. 

Now, the things leaders could do straight away in a variety of school situations all turned out to need displays of "berry good integrity" and the turning away from watermelonry. Connaughton had begun with pictures on a screen showing how different the watermelon and the strawberry are. We were asked to notice how a watermelon looks like one thing but when opened turns out to be another. On the outside it is green and inedible but on the inside it is pink and edible. It is like someone who says one thing but does another.  

The straightforward strawberry by contrast ) has what Connaughton calls integrity because it is the same, red and luscious looking, without and within. 

"And so we want to always be a strawberry leader," Connaughton enthused, reminding me in her on-stage dynamism, microphone in hand, of (a more-chastely-dressed) Madonna.

And so we were all asked to imagine five school scenarios at which we would have the choice, as leaders, of responding as watermelons or as strawberries. This was the berry good integrity quiz.  Scenarios included one in which, patrolling the school grounds as a leader/prefect we come across a group of the school's children playing football out of bounds. What should be the strawberry leader's response? In another scenario we come across a $10 note in the playground. We think of using this windfall, this godsend, to buy ice cream. But is that just the watermelon way? What would a strawberry do?

As each quiz question was posed some suspenseful music was played while we had a couple of minutes to fill in the space in our project books.

We got the answer to the first question wrong. We thought the strawberry leader's response should be to congratulate the children playing out of bounds on showing some initiative and some refreshingly rebellious qualities, instead of just displaying a mindless obedience to rules imposed by a tyranny of teachers. Those fascists! But no, the strawberry leader's proper response turned out to be to mildly point out to the footballers the error of their ways and to invite them to come and play somewhere in bounds. Quite what the strawberry leader should do next if the footballers' feisty response was the unprintable equivalent of "Go and jump in the lake, teachers' pet!", was not explored.

The other scenario, the one involving the stray $10 note, created one of many moments when one thought what a good idea it would be for parliamentarians, most of them instinctive watermelons (and some of them even pomegranates, Kiwi fruit and feijoas).* Which Liberal parliamentarians would have known the honourable, strawberryish thing to do with the $10 (which GRIP says is to hand it to the nearest teacher, explaining where it was found)? Wouldn't most of them, the Liberals, have plonked the $10 in the nearest bucket (perhaps in speaker Bronwyn Bishop's suite) of Liberal Party campaign funds?

Try as we might we couldn't discern from Connaughton, quite what GRIP International is. We hope she wasn't being a bit of a watermelon with us in insisting it is just "an international organisation", with no religious or other ideological affiliations. It felt a little evangelical and American ("developing leadership potential") and entrepreneurial.

But we're fairly sure she was being an utter strawberry with us. Certainly GRIP (look for it at www.gripleadership.com.au) enjoys the trust of schools of all kinds. Monday's bubbling and free-spirited congregation came from government and private, denominational and non-denominational schools. Lots of us educated in the olden days will be envious of modern schools having purposeful leaders among the children when our own schools were such Darwinian, kid-eat-kid jungles, where the man-eating bullies roamed like velociraptors and where the teachers didn't dream of looking for any leadership potential in urchins like us.

*CORRECTION. Blush. Readers pounced on last week's mistaken assertion that the feijoa is native to New Zealand. It is a native of South America.

Photo © Provided by Canberra Times Photo

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