People passing by Our Lady of Mercy College in Parramatta today may have thought boy band One Direction or some other teen icons had arrived at the school.
Such was the screaming and cheering from the young ladies at the all-girl school.
But rather than a teen heart-throb, it was Prime Minister Julia Gillard who received the adulation.
Once inside the school’s walls, however, there were some serious questions for the PM.
Year 12 student Kara Fernandez pressed Ms Gillard on the government’s decision to return asylum seekers who arrive by boat to Nauru and Manus islands for processing.
How did the government reconcile its duties to uphold human rights and social justice against the deportation and incarceration of refugees, Ms Fernandez asked.
‘‘The asylum seeker issue is very complicated,’’ Ms Gillard began.
‘‘Many people with good at heart can have different views on the best thing to do.
‘‘But both sides (of the argument) don’t want to see people getting on boats and losing their lives at sea.
‘‘That has happened too many times.
‘‘The way we are approaching that now is by creating circumstances where you don’t get an advantage by getting on a boat and risking your life.’’
It could have been expected that in a community as ethnically diverse as Parramatta, questions for the Prime Minister might revolve around Australia’s multiculturalism.
As Education Minister Peter Garrett and Parramatta MP Julie Owens sat by quietly, Ms Gillard took more questions on Australia’s place in the world.
Year 11 student Alessandra Giglio asked Ms Gillard if she thought learning a foreign language should be compulsory in schools.
‘‘Because with the global community becoming closer together, foreign languages are becoming more important to get a job, for travel and to expand and broaden your horizons,’’ she said.
Ms Gillard spoke about the difficulties past governments had found in persuading students to learn foreign languages.
But it was something she thought the education system needed to make more attractive.
In the school’s science labs, the girls showed the first female leader of Australia how to wire a parallel circuit.
Year 9 science pupil Yasmine Sassine said it had been ‘‘really cool’’ to meet Ms Gillard.
‘‘It was very special to be able to interact with her,’’ Yasmine said.
‘‘She’s quite friendly and approachable.’’
The Prime Minister proved a real icon and a role model for the girls who were obviously in awe by her presence.
But for the teacher in the room, there was someone else who stole the show.
Merlina Reid was a big Midnight Oil fan, she said, and had brought along an album for former singer Mr Garrett to sign.
‘‘I’m a big fan from way back in my uni days,’’ Ms Reid said.
‘‘Whoo hoo. I’m very excited, I can’t contain myself.’’