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Gillard Lauds “Aussie Mateship” in Australia Day Speech

Prime Minister Julia Gillard has praised the spirit of “mateship” and “a fair go” in an Australia Day speech in Adelaide.

Julia GillardGillard spoke glowingly of the Australian spirit of informality and lack of deference, “the informality that rejects deference and snobbishness and makes it all right to just call out ‘Julia’.” She talked of mateship in the Changi prisoner-of-war camp and compared it to the courage shown this month in the flood crises around the nation.

Gillard paid tribute to “working Australians” and again spoke of “the dignity of work” in a society where success is defined “by your preparedness to work” and where “demography is not destiny”.

The Prime Minister said Australians would be celebrating Australia Day “from the rock to The Rocks” and said her message was “don’t let go – we will hang on to our Aussie mateship and our Aussie fair go in the worst of times and in the best because we are Australians”.

  • Listen to Gillard’s speech (16m)

Transcript of Julia Gillard’s Australia Day speech in Adelaide.

Australians all,

It’s always wonderful to be back in my home town. I was last here for a family Christmas and the celebration of Proclamation Day, a celebration of the spirit of South Australia.

Nothing better symbolises that spirit than the place we gather in today – Adelaide Town Hall.

Nearly a hundred and fifty years ago Adelaide’s citizens decided to build the largest municipal building in the Southern Hemisphere.

There’s much I wouldn’t recreate about nineteenth century politics!

But that optimism and confidence, that vision for the future and practical will to build it now, is something we should hold dear, in the best of times and the worst of times.

Today, we come together to celebrate the spirit of our nation.

The days of summer have an iconic appeal for Australians. We hope for lazy days, watching the cricket or playing it in the back yard, time at the beach or around a barbie, the special joy of more time with family and friends.

But this summer, such hopes have not been realised.

Instead, as a nation we have endured some of the worst floods in our history.

Together we have shared the shock and then the horror at the scale of the destruction.

Together we are grieving for the lives lost.

And we have bonded together and worked together to see the nation through.

From Premier Anna Bligh, who faced the floods with steel in her backbone and occasional tears in her eyes, to the volunteers who have been in evacuation centres with a cup of tea and a welcoming smile, even when their own homes were threatened, to the soldiers who cancelled their leave to move mountains of rubbish, to the unbelievable number of Queenslanders who turned up to help a stranger, we have pulled together.

I have been privileged to share some precious moments with those whose courage in adversity simply takes your breath away and those Aussies whose good humour has never failed them not matter how hard life is.

– the teenager evacuated in the middle of the night sitting still wearing her Hello Kitty pyjamas and a big smile as she sits in an evacuation centre surrounded by strangers;

– the Mayor of Lockyer Valley Steve Jones who saved so many with a friend, a bulldozer and a truck;

– the child in the Helidon evacuation centre who told me her story of sitting on the roof hoping for rescue and who survived even as half the house fell away;

– the brave man from our Defence Force who waded through chest high water to rescue an elderly lady and get her on to a helicopter even though a nearby live electrical cable could have ended both their lives;

– the clown who turned up to entertain the kids in an evacuation centre clutching a chicken called “KFC”.

Even as I have listened, held a hand, shared a laugh, helped dry some tears … even in the depths of the sorrow, I have been so very proud.

I’m proud of everyone associated with the rescue and recovery effort – both those on the ground and those who have expressed their concern through donations, prayers and every kind of support.

I’m proud of the evacuees.

I’ve met people who lost everything they owned, people with nothing but the clothes on their back and their wedding photos under their arm and who said to me over and over:

We’ll be alright, there are plenty worse off than us.

You couldn’t make it up. It’s just so humbling to meet people like that.

I’m proud of the thousands of clean up volunteers.

They are amazing. Brisbane needed help. And so who helped? First of all, Brisbane.

With sun hats and strong gloves, with long pants and work boots, with complete determination and complete good humour, they came.

Some people said it’s incredible, the generosity of strangers. But they weren’t strangers, really.

They were Australians.

This Australia Day, mateship lives.

When things get hard, Australians stick together. We just do.

I’ve long admired what historian Gavan Daws said about the Allied prisoners of war under the Japanese in places like Changi:

…all the way down to starvation rations, to a hundred pounds of body weight and less, to the extremities of degradation – all the way to death – the prisoners of the Japanese remained inextinguishably American, Australian, British.

The Americans were the great individualists of the camps.

The British hung on to their class structure like bulldogs.

And the Australians kept trying to construct little male-bonded welfare states.

While time has moved on, and today we have moved beyond simply “male bonding” and “welfare states”, when things are tough, Australian mateship comes through.

Over this devastating summer, Australians have reached out to each other with the hand of mateship and we haven’t let go.

The force of the story about Aussies in Changi isn’t the mateship that was shown on the first day of imprisonment, it is that the mateship endured through the continuing hell.

On this Australia Day, I am calling on our nation to dedicate ourselves to continuing the spirit of mateship, to not letting go in the hard days of recovery and rebuilding to come.

And on this Australia Day, I am calling on our nation to pursue with new determination the Aussie fair go, which alongside mateship, defines the spirit of our nation.

Here in Adelaide, I grew up surrounded by this kind of Aussie spirit and I am still driven by those values today.

From their little Welsh town to Pennington Migrant Hostel to their own home in the suburbs, Dad worked two jobs and Mum worked the afternoon shift to buy a home and educate their kids.

And they thrived in this egalitarian country with its larrikin embrace of informality because they are egalitarian by instinct. They embraced the sense of opportunity and community that they found in Australia and the sense of future possibilities for their children that Australia so clearly offered them.

They always taught me that everyone is equal and worthy of respect.

It’s wrong to view yourself as better than the person who waits on you in a restaurant – or at a flash Town Hall lunch.

It’s wrong to believe that you should defer to anyone simply by dint of them having a title, occupation or background different from your own.

I was a shy child, who through the nurture of my family found the sense of self to face the world with confidence, to look others in the eye and greet them with a firm shake of the hand.

I grew up an Australian.

And I’ve always known that the overwhelming majority of Australians are as thoughtful and tolerant and compassionate as we’ve seen these last two weeks.

I know this because they are my neighbours and friends.

And as Prime Minister I am reminded of it every day.

Through my work, I have met some remarkable Australians. Some famous, most unknown. I’ve learnt so much from meeting them and been reminded of many things I already knew.

In the plants and mines in the west and the north I’ve seen the great Australian cultural tradition of informality that rejects the sort of snobbishness and expectations of obsequiousness that infect other societies. “Oi Julia, give us a wave.” They don’t talk like that to the President of France. And I love it.

In Afghanistan, I’ve met Australian soldiers, and I’ve seen Australian strength and compassion.

As our diggers risk everything they have, to deny terrorism a safe haven, while protecting the weak and allowing little girls to learn to read.

And in schools and hospitals and at factories and on farms all over Australia I’ve met all sorts of workers whose very lives show the benefits and dignity of work itself.

It’s when I am lucky enough to share the life stories of working Australians and their families that I renew my determination to make Australia fair forever.

To make sure Australia is a place where demography is not destiny and where success in life is defined by preparedness to work hard not by where you are born or what your parents did.

A place where you get a fair go.

This week we will be reminded of so much that is good about our country.

I’ll be privileged to travel from here to Sydney, and Perth, and Canberra, and see so many Australians in so many phases of life.

Raising our flags, singing our songs, sharing our sorrows, celebrating our achievements.

I’ll meet a new Australian of the Year and I’ll meet new Australian citizens.

Australians will picnic and barbecue, read poems and give speeches, from the Rocks to the Rock.

Play cricket and tennis and probably crack whips and chop wood too.

It’s a time to celebrate, and we will. And we’ll reflect.

Of all the unforgettable things I heard in Queensland last week, one that will live with me through my life as Prime Minister is the families who were together in the worst moments as the water tried to tear them apart and who told me that in that moment all they could say to each other was

Don’t let go.

And they made it, together.

As people, as families, as a country, we have so many good things already in our hands, good things to pass on for the future.

Our wealth, our way of life, our values.

As we prepare for Australia Day my message to you here and to Australians all, is simple.

Don’t let go.

We will hang on to each other in the worst times and in the best.

We will hang on to our Aussie mateship and our Aussie fair go in the worst times and in the best.

Because we are Australian.

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Malcolm Farnsworth
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