It is a very great honour to be invited to give the 1998 Australia Day Address. I am passionate about our country and aware that opportunities of this kind are rare, so I thank the Australia Day Council for the invitation and you, the people, for listening.
I am speaking from the site of one of our most significant historical institutions; our first colonial Parliament. Here democracy has been at work for over a hundred years. It still is. The sound, the fury, the what often seem tedious business of law making, take place in this the engine room of NSW politics. Yet this place, like others around the nation, is a visible sign that Australians inhabit that rarest of domains, a civil, democratic society. Here, to paraphrase Niebuhr, is a place where the best method of finding approximate solutions to insoluble problems is sometimes made possible.
I wish to acknowledge and honour the past, as a way of remembering that events and people in history shape our character in ways personal and national. I acknowledge the Eora people on whose land we stand. I also acknowledge my own forebears, my elders - descendants of Flemish and English stock whose considerable efforts of labour, child-rearing, service in Two World Wars, and furtherance of higher education enabled their descendants to grow up peacefully and securely. It is scarcely imaginable that the journeys taken by my grandparents up and down the Brown Mountain from Bowral to Bega for dentistry locums were by horse and dray, taking weeks at a time and seeing them camping out on the track as they went. A mobile phone and a Commodore would make light work of that journey in 1998.
I also want to acknowledge the presence of former Prime Minister Gough Whitlam, and Young Australian of the Year as well as distinguished guests, and friends. And finally I want to commend to you last year's Australia Day Address by author Tom Keneally who said a good deal of what I think needs to be said on a day like this and in ways more erudite than I.
Ostensibly marking the date of the first Fleet's entry into Botany Bay,
Australia Day means different things to different people. For some it
is an occasion for further holiday, to toast the Southern Cross around
a barbecue with mates and simply hang out.
Others view all the fireworks and speeches with a measure of
scepticism. "What is it we are meant to be celebrating?" they ask,
"when there is all around us a 'sea of troubles'." For the indigenous
people of this land the term "Invasion Day" is sometime used, rightly I
think, as they see little cause for dancing in the street with joy.
I guess it depends on your circumstance and frame of mind. But my hope
is that Australia Day can include both celebration and reflection, and
with a specific purpose; the consideration of what it is that should
constitute the goals of our national life - in other words where we, as
a nation, are headed.
There are those who maintain that the end of this century heralds the
end of history and possibly democracy as well and that public affairs
are in a state of flux as between nations and people as never before.
Now that the fate of communism - a topic which greatly exercised the
minds of Australians and their leaders for decades - is settled, our
era has witnessed the rise of powerful trans-national corporations who
in a deregulated world economic system have outstripped many nation
states in economic power.
The old certainties are giving way. Governments, never mind the people,
it is said, are powerless to influence events as it is market which
rules, and which interacts with the world regardless of ideology or
national policy. Indifferent to social outcomes, the market sets its
own rules based on the laws of economics and played out on a mythical
entity known as the level playing field.
A sense of nationhood and with it the possession by Governments of
autonomous law making and money raising powers maybe considered one of
the few bulwarks against this kind of global corporatism which eschews
any notion of national or public interest.
Fortunately, countries as joined communities have responsibilities
which lie outside facilitating the economic system, especially a system
that can produce losers as well as winners.
We share a common language, institutions which allow us to participate
in society and to provide for those less well-off. We share a way of
life. Interstate sporting rivalries and 'locals only' mind sets
ultimately fade in real significance, particularly in a time of crisis,
but the fact of nation still remains.
I like to think of us as a community of people living in a place where
the skies stretch out forever and where the land and sea whisper to
those who listen. The sound of a kookaburra heralding summer rain, the
cricket commentary on the radio mean more, I hope, than anything you
can rent from Video Ezy. This is Australia.
We enter 1998 with several momentous debates raging; Wik and The
Republic. It seems to me there is no way of avoiding these topics and I
think it no exaggeration to say that the way in which we as a nation,
conduct and resolve these contentious matters will directly shape our
I am not convinced with the debate over Wik that Australians have had
sufficient opportunity to complete that discussion. We need a national
dialogue, conducted with a spirit of tolerance, faithful to history,
which thoroughly canvasses the issues in such a way as to resolve
anxiety and concern in the community.
And as we embark on considering the question of the desirability of
becoming a Republic, here too we need a national dialogue. And I don't
think it can be sound bite conversation conducted in a breathless rush
just to make the 2001 deadline. We will have to make the effort to
understand an often difficult document - our constitution, and
qualities like patience, diligence and trust to name just a few will be
As well as these two identity issues of Wik and the Republic I want
make brief mention of a third matter close to my heart which presses
upon us and is at a critical stage , and that is the desirability of
adopting a conservation ethic as part our way of life.
In the report to Government, 'Australia: State of Environment 1996'
read "Australia has some very serious environmental problems. If we are
to achieve our goal of ecological sustainability, these problems will
need to be dealt with immediately."
True, but we urgently need not the words but the actions that will
repair our natural life support systems - the rivers and forests, soil
and oceans. Rehabilitation is an urgent requirement across much of
rural Australia and whilst there are welcome signs from initiatives
such as Landcare that we have begun to repair the damage, still we
continue to clear the bush, lose the topsoil and the farm income that
goes with it and plan ever more encroachments into our undisturbed
To try and get a bearing on the extraordinary scale and momentum of
growth and development, consider that one years economic growth in the
1820's is equivalent to only one day's growth at the present time. All
the birds, plants and animals, the lagoons, creeks, rivers, mountains
and gullies that make up Australia are not static entities sitting
postcard-still in their own place and time. Healthy ecosystems are as
responsible for our standard of living as anything we can produce.
If we fail to stop drawing down our natural capital then convict
Australia will revisit our children in the 21st century as they become
"prisoners of unmanageable processes" swinging from one eco crisis to
But this profound change of outlook I am advocating is unlikely to be
realised until we translate our love of the bush, of fishing, of
surfing into a practical ethos which lodges in our actions and in the
policies and activities of our political and social institutions.
It may be said that any attempt to argue or articulate national values
is so much paspalum blowing in the wind, but I don't believe this to be
a fruitless exercise at all. One likely cause of lack of confidence in
our political system, especially among young people, is that we have no
real goals to aspire to as a nation. I'm using Australia Day as an
opportunity then to talk about our goals and aspirations. That way we
might reach them.
If I was invited, as locals sometimes are, to conduct a guided tour
Australia for a visitor from abroad, lets say France or Cambodia, where
would I take them, what would I show them, what stories would I tell
Well I'd probably start at Sydney Cove, the place of first settlement.
With the dramatic and highly photogenic Opera House and Harbour Bridge
as our backdrop, we'd view the harbour by ferry, crossing over water
"....like silk, like pewter, like blood, like leopard's skin......" 1
I'd caution against swimming if it had rained, to avoid our guests
getting any nasty infections, and instead suggest we visit the first
farm of the colony now the Botanic Gardens and then up to the Art
Gallery to see how the artist's view of Australia changed over time
from quasi-English idylls to romantic bush landscapes through post
modern industrial installations and now includes deeply evocative
Aboriginal Art from the remote regions.
I'd take them to a few pubs to hear Australian music and meet people,
people from all walks of life. We'd go to a bush dance and hear songs
sung from the heart about billies and swag men and monstrous cities
that swallow you whole. I would fling our vibrant culture at them. I'd
lend them books by Carey and Jolley and Facey and Winton and tell these
visitors we've got some of the best filmmakers and poets in the whole
We'd go and see plays, dance, we'd go to the cricket and attend a surf
lifesaving carnival. I'd take some pleasure in pointing out that the
lifesavers on the beach did just that, save lives, and that no one paid
them to do it. "Now that's Australian", I'd say.
I'd play them some of my favourite CD's; Hunter and Collectors, the
Gurge, the Mavis', Bernie Gannon, Vince Jones, Kev Carmody,
Coolangubra, Crowded House and a host of others. And then we'd go to a
milk bar with frosted glass surrounds, if we could find one, and have a
burger with real beetroot.
We'd drive up the coast and explore on the cheap, staying at caravan
parks, dining at barbecue areas, the outdoors would be our realm and
we'd surf the surging Pacific every day.
And then, if circumstances allowed I'd send on a trip across this Great
Included in the itinerary would be Uluru and Kakadu in the Top End,
Daintree Tropical Rainforest and The Great Barrier Reef, all natural
wonders of the world. With luck they'd get to the exhilarating
escarpment country of the Kimberleys in Western Australia and of course
to the Blue Mountains here in NSW. This would be the tip of the iceberg
but enough to gain a sense of the amazing panorama of Australia.
I'd explain with a mixture of pride and frustration that these places
were must sees; all of outstanding scenic value and in some cases,
where indigenous Australias lived of incredible cultural values as
well. Here were Australia's great treasures, a living culture with a
range of species and ecosystems unmatched anywhere on earth.
As an aside I would point out that in our recent history there had been
ordinary citizens - sometimes called 'greenies' - who had banded
together to try and keep these places protected. That from the
beginning Australians had created a system where pristine land was
quarantined from development. Everyone could visit and enjoy these
places of special beauty that we called National Parks. At Uluru,
formerly known as Ayers Rock, the Aboriginal people who lived there had
agreed to lease back the land to be administered as a park by the
Government. And tourism, whereby many people from other countries
visited places like these, was now our single most important source of
I would caution that Kakadu with its ancient rock art, extensive World
Heritage recognised wetlands, rugged escarpments and dramatic
waterfalls is soon to host a second uranium mine, (the first an anomaly
from an earlier time) against the wishes of the Mirrar people, the
traditional owners. And that there are a dozen others planned for
inland Australia, including in Western Australia at Kintyre within the
Ruddal River National Park.
I would note that despite real misgivings about the effects on the
environment there is a massive dam intended for the Kimberley where
extensive cotton farms are planned.
Here in Australia's largest city; described only 150 years ago as
consisting of "......an orphan school, a commodious jail, a military
hospital, a naval yard and a good market...." we had reached our limits
of growth. Whilst the Blue Mountains were due for World Heritage
recognition and were still spectacularly, beautiful and relatively
unspoiled, they were being faced down by suburban sprawl and choked, as
we all were, by the pollution of Sydney.
I would point out that, despite these instances, there is a movement
led by large and often overseas-owned companies to allow other
activities like mining in National Parks. For the visitor they are
natural icons of great beauty, symbols of Australia, for the scientist
they are places of research and critical nurseries and habitat for our
native plants and animals. But for some, the fact that other than for
limited tourism they couldn't be exploited was an anathema and they
used their best efforts, sometimes successfully, to persuade
Governments to allow "multiple-use"; so see them quick before it's too
late, I urge.
On returning to Sydney we'd meet outside our State Government House
nice looking building! - and I would try to explain that because modern
Australia started life as a series of British colonies our State
Parliaments had their own Governors who were the Queen of England's
representatives here and that it wasn't until 1901 that we had agreed
on a national Constitution and the States linked up to become the
Commonwealth of Australia.
We'd then visit the Olympic site at Homebush and marvel at the scale
building activity for a country with such a small population and I'd
indicate that when we won some medals, and nothing could be surer, then
our national anthem 'Advance Australia Fair' would be sung, not 'God
Save the Queen' although the Queen of England was still our Head of
Naturally, they would be amazed at this news but I'd quickly go on to
explain that the Queen's representative, the Governor General, was the
nominal Australian Head of State but his powers were mainly
The Prime Minister, was the head of the Government, but wasn't even
mentioned in the Constitution. Although the Governor General is the
head of the Armed Forces (section 61) and could appoint and dismiss
ministers (Section 68) and dissolve parliament (section 57) all by
The Constitution isn't the only rule book though, I'd say, because we
also have 'conventions' which apply to Governors General and
Parliaments. In our only national constitutional crisis in 1975 when
the Governor General dismissed the Prime Minister the Constitution and
the country hung together but in the process all the relevant
conventions - that is the unwritten codes of practice everybody was
expected to follow when a situation isn't covered by the Constitution -
such as not replacing a dead senator with a senator from another party,
were broken. But we survived.
I finish this convoluted explanation by saying we're having a People's
Convention next month to discuss whether we should have own Head of
State, and thus become a Republic, what powers if any they should have
and how they might be chosen, and it's going to be an interesting time,
and I was hopeful we could work it out.
Let's look closely now at the matter of relations with Aboriginal
In "An Account of the English Colony in New South Wales" by Captain
Collins, he writes, "But strange as it may appear they also have their
real estate. Ben-nil-long, both before he went to England and since his
return, often assured me that the island Me Mel (called by us Goat
Island) close by Sydney Cove was his father's and that he should give
it to By-gone his good friend and companion. To this little spot he
seemed much attached; and we have often seen him and his wife Ba-rang-a
roo enjoying themselves on it. He told us of other people who possessed
this kind of hereditary property which they retained undisturbed".
But not undisturbed for long. Within a few short decades of the arrival
of the tall ships from the east, which occasion we are marking today,
all but the most remote regions of this country has been wrested away
from the people whose real estate it was. As we now know, this takeover
can accurately be described as a savage war of occupation which
culminated in the almost total destruction of a people, who, were not
considered of equal human nature with Europeans and thus capable of
being civilised, and so, were consigned to the margins of the new
arrivals' society to await their fate.
This then was a kind of original sin, in Xavier Herbert's words, and
may be that "Until we give back to the black man some of what we have
taken from him and give it back in the same spirit that it was
taken-without proviso or strings to snatch it back we shall remain what
we have always been, a people without a soul, not a nation, but a
community of thieves." This Australia, in AD Hope's word "tender
breasted (of) dry womb" 2 is the reverse side of the generous open
place that I have such affection for.
Of all the subjects that bedevil Australians, our relationship with
indigenous peoples is, by my reckoning, one of the most troubling. Why?
This issue is reaching climax with the government response to high
court decision in the Wik case.
Partly because a real challenge to find an acceptable accommodation
with Aboriginal people whose land was taken often by force and who now
suffer "....disproportionate disadvantage in social and economic terms"
to use the words of various parliament's resolution. This challenge
presses upon us, because at it's core, it defines our character and
delineates what it means to be Australian. The matter is still
And also, because it is an issue confined to our national boundaries,
whose history lies in our past actions, it is something we are singly
accountable for and thus capable of resolving.
The physical facts are clear. The need to fence tracts of land which
was and is, so much a part of the private utilisation of property,
essential to the creation of wealth had run head long into a semi
nomadic culture who constantly travelled the land, lived off it but who
were not capable of defending or defining it in terms that could be
comprehended by the squatter and the soldier.
The validation of the original theft by the political and legal
institutions of the new nation via the legal fiction of terra nullius -
that the land was unsettled "an empty place" prevented us addressing
this stark history earlier. Until Mabo that is.
When, after 100 years of undeclared warfare, the consensus was reached
that the Aborigine could in no way manage their own affairs, they were
subject to separation from their traditional way of life and placed
under State control via the Protection Acts of the 19th century.
This measure, though well meaning was a miserable failure. Aboriginal
society continued to inexorably come apart until by the early 1950's
they suffered the ignominy of being described in that now notorious
phrase as a "dying pillow". Ravaged by smallpox, venereal disease,
alcoholism, diabetes they were deemed to be incapable of survival, a
race of peoples consigned, rather quickly it seems in retrospect, to
the graveyard of history.
This bloody experience of settlement where violence was commonplace
something I didn't learn about at school and neither I regret to say
have my own children been fully appraised of it. Still this is not to
say that all settlers lacked compassion of the plight of Aboriginal
people. There were some in the churches, some in society and
Parliament who spoke out and intervened and in later years a response
of sorts by governments was begun.
As early as 1824 and then in 1867 senior figures in both Protestant
Catholic churches attempted to oppose the majority opinion that
Aboriginals were " a set of monkeys, a despicable and brutal race..."
by asserting the common humanity of Aboriginal people. But theirs was a
voice seldom heard.
The methods later chosen to improve the Aboriginal condition;
assimilation and separation of children from their families and people
from their hereditary land, had, in many instances, compounded the
original felony and left most Aboriginal people without home, family or
I hope it isn't too obvious or patronising to tell this story or to
describe the kind of culture that European explorers and settlers found
when they ventured across the continent. To begin with, they found the
oldest extant, meaning still existing culture, on the face of the
earth. This fact in itself is remarkable enough. The Aboriginal
occupation of at least 40,000 and possibly 50,000 plus years being a
phenomenal period in terms of human history.
Secondly they found a collection of societies that were highly evolved;
not in the sense of material development as this was absent altogether.
But this apparently simple hunter/gatherer existence was in fact a
highly sophisticated living culture. Central to it was the notion of
the Dreamtime (tjurkurrpa) when "Groups of ancestral beings crossed the
landscape, leaving their mark in the form of hills, caves and other
topographic features"3 these ancestors adventures were - and still are
- recorded in rituals and epic song cycles, their rich detail commented
on in stories, myths and highly sophisticated paintings.
On top of this, these stories established the rules of Aboriginal
social life as well as explaining how the landscape came to be. It was
a truly integrated and synergistic cosmology. The great Aboriginal art
tradition seen in the magnificent rock painting at Kakadu in Arnhem
Land pre dates the Palaeolithic European rock art sites of Lancaux in
France and Altimira in Spain along with numerous other sites
constitutes an extraordinary creative heritage.
A mini thumbnail sketch might observe that Aboriginal life was one of
complex social organisation, featuring rich ceremonial participation,
with numerous kinship obligations. Through trading, art, dance and
stories communities managed their various relationships. In many
places the constant search for game and vegetation in the driest
inhabited continent on Earth was a daily chore.
From what can be pieced together about the first
contact it seems unequivocal that the initial and subsequent acts of
aggression were perpetrated by the British and that it took some time
before any organised resistance to the newcomers was mounted as it
dawned upon the indigenous people that these visitors were here to stay
and that their land was being stolen.
Knowing this in theory and experiencing it in real time are two
different things and it wasn't until ten years ago - whilst touring
Central and Northern Australia with Midnight Oil we visited in a remote
desert community with a group of elders as our guides - listened to the
songs of the Pintupi people and were shown the law sticks of the tribe.
This was a rare honour and our hosts emphasised that the law contained
therein could not be changed by whim but had remained constant over
aeons. It was then that the real import of this culture hit me.
Here were a people who had literally walked back to their ancestral
lands some 100 kilometres from the camp west of Alice Springs where
they had been placed during the assimilation drive of the 1950's and
begun the process of reinstating their way of life. Central to their
identity was their land and their law and they drew great strength from
them. But they were luckier than most for their tribal territory was so
dry and remote, so devoid of mineral seams that it held no attraction
for the outside world. Indeed they had featured in the Guinness Book of
Records in the 60's as amongst the poorest peoples on Earth but unlike
many others their land had not been taken from them.
Somehow Aboriginal people have managed to survive, their culture has
proved resilient, their creative capacity continues to astound but the
way high levels of infant illness, early death, incarceration and
suicide of youth, indeed of most indices of human well being that are a
feature of Aboriginal communities ought to trouble any fair minded
Yet these statistics have come to mean different things to different
people. For despite the history of war and dispossession I have just
sketched out there are some who contend that Aboriginal people are
actually privileged. For these people and for the politicians who give
them implicit support, the Aboriginal population has already been given
too much. The time has come to get some balance into the debate, the
pendulum has swung too far, there shouldn't be any special treatment
for anybody they say.
They refer in angry tones to the "Aboriginal industry"; made up no
doubt, as some one recently remarked, of numerous Aboriginal judges,
media magnates, the many Aboriginal heads of large companies, and black
politicians, which need to be restrained.
They complain about a black armband view of history, a malignant phrase
which manages to imply "brown shirt" and wearing one's heart on one's
knee at the same time. Apparently the knowledge gained by a fresh
generation of researchers and the stories told by survivors which fill
a large gap in Australian history so that we come to understand what
happened when Europeans arrived now needs to be rejected. And if anyone
counters that the views of those who prefer to white-out the past
appear to have elements akin to racism, then they in turn are shouted
back into the corner and branded hypocrite or even worse "politically
The discontent about Aboriginal people asserting their legal rights
demanding a response to the Black Deaths in Custody Royal Commission or
the Stolen Children Report of the Human Rights Commission stems in
part, experts tell us, from the psychic trauma associate with
confronting massive end of century change.
But these reactions are a crunching reminder that our past is racist
the extent that race was an issue in immigration, that racial
discrimination was part of the policies of the major parties and is
explicit in the stance of Australia's newest political party.
What is most challenging is the fact that we are being asked to
reconsider our view of what constitutes our national make up as
informed by the history. Is it more than a series of explorer figures,
colonial tales and victorious adaptation by Europeans to a hostile and
different environment, and if so, then what does this new history tell
us about ourselves.
In this case if the most poignant observation in Mabo by Justice
Brennan that "Their (the Aboriginal people's) dispossession underwrote
the development of the nation" is correct and I believe it is, then the
process of reassessment and reconciliation that must follow is
difficult and challenging and most of us are ill prepared for the task.
Especially if our source of information for making a judgment is a
sensationalist media, who often amplify all things negative.
If our leaders fail conspicuously to grasp the opportunity to right
wrong, evince shame (which is different from guilt), apologise or even
display a comprehension of the acute suffering of another group then we
as a nation are the lesser. If our leaders for reasons of political
expediency retreat to the position held by those who have benefited
most from dispossession- the pastoralists and the miners- and who in
the past most strenuously resisted any accommodation with Aboriginal
interests we as a nation are the lesser.
If our leaders deny this historical accounting we are lesser. If our
leaders refuse to accept the High Court finding of a limited right,
which brings law and history into sync, we are the lesser. If our
leaders, in watering down native title, allow the alienation of nearly
half the continent which is currently held in trust via leaseholds,
into private hands, this will be the biggest land grab since Governor
Phillip's appointment at the beginning of the first European settlement
we will be the lesser nation for it. If all this happens reconciliation
becomes an exceedingly difficult task.
The way forward, and surely we cannot expect much if we retreat to mean
self interest, was clearly enumerated by the Governor-General Sir
William Deane in the initial Vincent Lingiari lecture titled "Signposts
from Daraguru" at the University of the Northern Territory in 1996.
Implicit in Reconciliation are the elements, partially identified by
the Governor-General. They include recognition of past wrongs and an
apology for those wrongs, the acknowledgment of differences, the
setting in a place of process of increasing understanding, arriving at
a formally agreed set of words, perhaps present in a revised preamble
to the Constitution, which express this understanding and to be
genuine, giving proper consideration to the provision of compensation
to the provision of compensation, reparation or the means to establish
an independent economic bas e for Aboriginal people in the future.
So for us the question simply is: Can modern Australia, peacefully,
settle the account and square up to the facts of our history and
accommodate the interests of those people whose lands we took but with
whom it is jointly shared?
I believe we can, but it requires an extra effort from all people of
goodwill to be active in the movement towards reconciliation.
At present there seems to be some kind of surreal idea abroad which
insists that there can still be in 1998 a quasi-static Europeans only
rural/suburban nirvana. Here the clock can be turned back and all those
puzzling challenges like the greenhouse effect, el nino, increasing
numbers of refugees, continuing unemployment and so on can really be
sorted out if we stop pandering to fringe groups and minorities and
simply get on with running the country like a business.
When we really need leadership to draw out a path and start sketching
twenty first century identity that goes to the core of our historical
experience and to our aspirations, instead we often find that the
people's representatives have retreated into their bunkers, wrapped
themselves in cotton wool and the union jack and put up a white flag
which says the passion for our own indigenous people is a luxury, like
education and a healthy environment, that we the nation of one of the
highest standards of living in the world cannot afford. Oh woe to the
nation that swallows this bitter pill. Aren't we so much more than
that? I would like to think we are.
Whereas the traditional ideas of Australian identity have been located
in a mythical past or constructed out of ideals of literature or from
sporting endeavors or even from beer and telecommunications
advertisements, there has up to this time been little mention of the
foundation culture in our notion of what it means to be Australian.
But already this is changing. As we present ourselves to the world as
desirable location to visit, to host the Olympics and so forth, we
increasingly do so by use of Aboriginal/Australian images. Images whose
deeper meanings of respect for land and culture we continue to deny for
as long as we postpone the reconciliation reckoning.
Are we able to baulk at this key moment, and thus fail to cross the
bridge to the other side, or can we successfully make the journey to a
fair and just accommodation to the first Australians so that we can
move on to other urgent tasks at hand. What a tangible and positive
sign of national identity that would be!
It is time then to draw on the best of Australian traditions of
tolerance and serving community. They can be found in numerous
volunteer organisations like Meals On Wheels or Life Line. Adaptive
traditions which featured uniquely Australian responses to the day like
the establishment of the Flying Doctor Services. And finally we on the
tradition of sacrifice displayed by the ANZAC's and continued
especially at this time of the year most notably in volunteer bush fire
brigade's courage and heroism.
Moreover we will need to draw on the tremendous energy and capacity
youth already displayed before our eyes. Our young people excel in
sport, and are creative music-makers, and can be found on the
front-line of struggles to preserve our precious environment. The kind
of selflessness action of a boy in Townsville only last week rescuing
people from the floods with no thought of personal safety or reward
provides evidence enough of the qualities of young Australians.
Once thought of as inhospitable and not worthy of settlement Australia
has now become beacon for people, drawn to our tolerant, free and
vibrant society. Enchanted by the space and beauty of our natural
heritage. We are stable and we are mainly peaceful and we rightly
celebrate all these endowments on Australia Day.
It's ten years down the track and I'm again meeting my friends from
abroad who are returning from a holiday. I'm pleased to tell them we
eventually negotiated the transition to a constitutional republic with
overwhelming agreement. We have repaired relations between black and
white, and town country, and we are bringing our rivers back to life
and children swim freely in Sydney Harbour.
We still face problems and doubtless others will merge but we are
walking in the "Avenue of the Fair Go" 4 proud of our ancient
indigenous heritage, firmly committed to the ideals of caring for
community and country, to the preservation of democratic freedom and
endeavouring to cast a peaceful disposition to our neighbors.
That's all well and good and it's what we expect from a nation so
singularly blessed in the world, but the important question we want to
ask is do you still have those astonishing places where families can
pull off the road, gather under the gumtrees and enjoy good food and
each others company? Do you still have the barbeque area?
1 Kenneth Slessor
2 A.D Hope
3 Wally Caruana
4 Donald Horne