With around 68 different cultures happily mingling under his school roof each day, the leader of  Mabel Park State High School would love the powerful to know what harmonious inclusion looks like on the ground. 

“I’d love to bring in a politician, the Prime Minister, and say ‘this is how we get along’,” he says. 

“It just happens. It has nothing to do with me and everything to do with the kids.” 

Yet chatting with the principal from his Queensland campus, one soon gets the feeling Hornby might be selling himself short.  

From his school’s multicultural canteen, which stocks everything from Halal wares to hunger-quelling curries, to the student-built ‘culture circle’ – characterised by 68 flints bearing ‘welcome’ in each language – Hornby has made it his personal quest to build what wider society can only yearn for: a culturally diverse community that rejoices in its diversity, yet stands tightly as one. 

“The students wanted the platypus at the centre of that circle to represent the culture that we have at the school,” Hornby says of the poignant sculpture. 

“I think that symbolises what we have tried to do here; we have come from different backgrounds, we have beautiful stories to share – sometimes not so beautiful – but it all comes together when we walk in the gate, when we wear the same uniform and we have the same levels of respect and expectation for every student.”

Having been infected by the “leadership bug” a few years into his teaching career, Hornby worked his way up the ladder, spurred on by his widening net of influence. 

“It’s just that opportunity to influence more children lives. I think once I moved into the head of department realm, I wasn’t just influencing the 25 students in front of me, I was influencing teacher practice across many different [classes],” he shares.

“There’s more opportunity to, I suppose, get greater outcomes for kids.” 

So when he arrived at Mabel Park two years ago, Hornby rolled up his sleeves and got down to business. 

His first goal? To learn the “intricacies of every culture” that came through the school gates. 

“This was probably the big learning curve for me,” he reflects.

“Making sure that I knew as much as I could about the different cultures … and the different opportunities; so the food – I needed to make sure that the tuck  shop food was appropriate, I needed to make sure that my staff were [culturally] aware.”

Hornby reached out to cultural leaders in his Logan community, chatting with local Polynesian, Muslim and Burmese groups among others to discover the cultural nuances that would help him to best engage his students in their learning.    

For the school’s growing cohort of refugee children, Mabel Park offers more than just a welcoming second home. It’s also a place of transition, a safe space to filter into Australian life. 

“Usually in a school you might have a separate Indigenous room, I created what we call the United Cultural Centre for parents and students,” Hornby reports.

“Where it wasn’t just our Indigenous liaison officer, we created a Polynesian liaison officer, we put in some representatives that could also help the resettlement [process]…”

A quick Google news search reveals this is just the tip of Hornby’s achievements at Mabel Park.  

From military-style cadet programs, to award-winning maths teachers, and now a first-of-its-kind drone project about to take flight, Hornby puts a large swathe of his schools’ successes down to “seizing opportunity”. 

“I saw a drone flying on the news after a big earthquake and said ‘why don’t we do that?’ I had a pilot who was an art teacher on staff, so it just fell into place.” 

“And now on Friday we are launching. We are the only school in Queensland to do the Certificate 3 in aviation, [with] drones … you just have to listen and make sure you know your staff on the ground.”