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Brendan Nelson’s Australia Day Address

This is the transcript of Dr. Brendan Nelson’s address to an Australia Day ceremony at Wahroonga Park, Sydney.

Well thank you much Bob for all of the work that you do in leading the Rotary Club of Wahroonga. Councillor Nick Ebbeck, Barry O’Farrell, Member for Ku-ring-gai, Jonothan O’Dea, the other members of the council, Rachel Coxon, thank you for your inspiration, congratulations on what you have achieved already in your relatively short life and thank you for being here today and reminding us of what it means to be an Australian and indeed what our future is really all about.

I firstly recognise, and all of us should remember as Australians, whether by birth or migration, that long before what happened 220 years ago when the First Fleet arrived, Indigenous Australians were here and they made involuntary sacrifices over which they had no choice, to make possible the economic and social development of this nation of which we are so proud – quite different sacrifices but no less important – in making Australia what it is today. I often like to follow the Mayor, Nick Ebbeck, but I promise that I won’t give you any detail about the meeting of my first girlfriend and if you’re often wondering what Australia is like, or what the adult Australia is like, you only need to ask a six year old – and for four years I had the privilege in the earlier part of this decade to be Australia’s Minister for Education, and I had arrived for the opening of a early childhood education centre, and there was a young six year old girl who didn’t seem all that happy with the occasion, so I got down on my knees to ask her what the problem was and engage in some dialogue, and she said every time someone comes to my school wearing a uniform like yours there’s a lot of talking and I get very sleepy. So in sitting here watching you all out in the sun, and we’re under this Rotunda, I suspect you might have some of that.

Today is an extraordinarily important day for us as Australians. It’s a day upon which we reflect on who we are, where we come from and where we want to go. The first line of our National Anthem is: ‘Australians all let us rejoice for we are young and free;’ and indeed we are young by international standards and we are free. On Tuesday, earlier in the week, I was in Emerald. In a street called Churchbank Avenue. Very much like any street in any city, regional or large outer suburban area in Australia, and as the flooding waters began to lap on the back porch of the homes, the brick and tile homes in the cul-de-sac, as I sat on that porch with Andrew and Kerry-Anne who owned their home, and the same thing approaching that of their neighbours, they told me almost casually that some 50 people had arrived from nowhere, people that were unknown to them , some of them were neighbours, people who just arrived to help them remove their furniture, to fill sandbags in crippling humidity, to then provide some protection for their belongings as the floods came into their homes. It’s hard to define the things that are most important to us in our lives but you know them when you see them. And that is what it means to be an Australian.

We celebrate many things today. But it’s interesting that we’re here today, under the auspices of our council, of Wahroonga Rotary, in part through Arthur Pearce, our church, in his case a Christian faith, but Rotary’s motto is service above self. The Christian churches, their model is, Christ life of service leadership. For other great religions of the world it’s the same thing, that in the end the best way to serve yourself is to serve others. Our country as we heard 220 years ago with the arrival of the First Fleet, from 11 ships which we would probably call boats by our modern standards, some 1400 people came ashore and against enormous adversity that would be unknown to most of us, they made this country what it is today. Those of you who are new to our country, unlike those of us who have been born here, except for those of you who are refugees, have made what I can only consider to be perhaps the most painful decision you must have ever made. It’s a paradox to me that the things that are most important to us in our lives we too often take for granted. Whether it’s families who love us, and give meaning and care to our lives, whether it’s being citizens of a country like Australia and having an Australian passport or freedoms for which our forebears have made enormous sacrifices, and in some cases given their lives, armed only by vision, inspired by the confidence and hope in creating a better future for their children and subsequent generations of Australians.

There are 100,000 Australians who lie in distant parts of the world, from New Guinea, through to many other remote parts of the globe, who gave their lives in our name wearing the uniform of the Australian Defence Forces. They lie as silent witnesses to the future that they have given us. We honour them by the way we shape our nation and the way we live our lives. One of them was a man called John Simpson Kirkpatrick, and if you have been or when you go to the Australian War Memorial in Canberra, one of the first things you will see is a bronze of a man in an Australian army uniform with a donkey, with another man who is clearly very unwell who’s sitting on top of that donkey. Kirkpatrick was a jordy who’d questioned the morality of war, he’d embraced Australia as his own, he had decided to join the Australian Infantry Forces as a way, in part, of getting back to his mother in England. But over a three week period at Gallipoli, in an act of fatal selflessness, he rescued some 40 dying and injured men – and that in a sense embodies who we are and what we strive to be. We call it mateship, but what it really means, as lead and driven, whether by the volunteer organisations that Rachel mentioned, whether by Rotary and other service organisations, whether by the great churches and religions of the world, in the end that life and being an Australian is about service to other human beings and placing the interests of others ahead of our own.

You have left your country, your families, you’ve made a conscious decision to become Australians, we thank you, we honour you and most importantly for all of us as Australians – whether by birth or migration, whether recent, whether today or many years or decades before – the most important thing for us is with imaginative capacity to see the world through the eyes of other Australians and through the eyes of others in other parts of the world, that we will be at our best if we are outward looking, if we are confident people, if we reconcile ourselves with our indigenous history, if we (inaudible) ourselves with values of hard work and self sacrifice and tolerance and courage. And Barry O’Farrell and I last night were at a function for the United India Associations of Australia and I reminded them in part of what India’s father of the Republic of India and its independence, Mahatma Gandhi, had once said, he had said to his people that we should cease to see ourselves exclusively as Hindus, Passes, Christians or Jews, he said we are Indians first and we are Indians last – so too for Australians. Wherever we come from, wherever our place of birth, we are Australians first and we are Australians last, we are proud of who we are and we understand that our values and our beliefs, the way that we relate to one an other and see our place in the world will ultimately be shaped by the things that we do for one an other and are determined to serve the interests, of not only other Australians, but others who live in other parts of the world who cannot even begin to understand the privileges that we enjoy and the sacrifices made by those who have made us who we are.

Have a wonderful Australia Day and thank you very much.

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Malcolm Farnsworth
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