Posted on March 24 2020
The following blog post was the Australia Day speech given by Bill Denny AM BM, Australia Day Ambassador at the Rural City of Murray Bridge on 26 January 2020.
Good morning and happy Australia Day to you all!
I too would like to acknowledge that we meet on the traditional lands of the Ngarrindjeri people and we acknowledge their elders, past, present and future.
I would particularly like to acknowledge Clyde Rigney Jnr for his warm, dignified, generous and insightful welcome.
I know Clyde from the Raukkan Aboriginal Community where he helped establish a beautiful memorial that recognises Aboriginal service to our nation during both World Wars.
Many people see this day as immensely challenging for our First Peoples. I understand and sympathise with that view.
I want to re-assure you that from an Australia Day Council perspective our First Peoples are and will always remain “Front and Centre” in our contemplation and that we do understand the difficulties that arise.
Mayor Brenton Lewis and Councillors of the Rural City of Murray Bridge,
Adrian Pederick, MP, Member for Hammond,
A special mention to our Australia Day Award winners. Congratulations on your wonderful contribution to your community.
Finally, our Guests of Honour, the 11 new citizens that we are about to welcome.
As an Australia Day Ambassador, I represent the Australia Day Council and I am privileged to join you on this important day.
Murray Bridge is a very impressive community. This event reinforces that.
I am pleased that my links with your city run deep.
I have lived and holidayed on the Murray River since a child – indeed for 10 years I had a shack just up the river at Murrawong.
When Minister for Repatriation my grandfather, Bill Denny, MC, a returned man from World War I, was the instigator of many of the Soldier Settlements established in this area.
Australia Day is about “Unity”.
It is about all of us, coming together, as fellow members of one very special family.
This year the Australia Day Council has asked us to “Reflect, Respect and Celebrate.”
I would like to dwell briefly on how I think we might do that.
Reflection implies we “look back”. We “reflect” upon the past.
There is much in our history to be proud of.
Reflection reveals that in large part we are a nation that exemplifies and values positive characteristics like mateship, tolerance, generosity, compassion and resilience.
One particular aspect of our recent past we can be proud of is our “acceptance” of everyone who calls Australia home.
This is important because we are a nation/family made up of many cultures.
“Acceptance” should apply to everyone, from the very First Australians, our Aboriginal brothers and sisters who are members of the oldest continuous civilisation on earth, to our most recent arrivals.
The contribution of each culture is invaluable and adds fulsomely to the rich tapestry that is modern Australia.
Our State Governor, His Excellency, the Hon. Hieu van Le, a refugee from Vietnam, spoke of Australia as being like a “salad bowl”. Each ingredient can stand alone, but as in a salad, it is the blending of the different flavours that enriches the wonderful finished dish!
As a truly multicultural family, our differences should unite us, not divide us.
There can never be true “Acceptance” without mutual respect.
If we are to be true to what our day stands for, we must, within the rich fabric of our shared nation, respect every race, creed and colour of person who calls Australia home.
However, if we don’t recognise that there are aspects of our past we regret or would do differently if given the chance, we risk a shallowness that I believe diminishes us all.
I am sure you will understand, that in common with many other countries, Australia has a “complicated history.”
Aside from the good, there are some tragic aspects of our past that deserve the dignity of recognition.
For example, we would all benefit from understanding better the devastating impact white settlement had on the First Australians,
The uncomfortable fact is that their land was occupied, their labour exploited, and their culture and identity almost destroyed.
We should also learn about the “Frontier Wars”. These were the conflicts that occurred when expanding pastoralists came into contact with Aboriginal people on their lands on the very frontier of civilisation.
These “conflicts” or “wars” were a feature of our nation during our first 130 or years or so, and they tragically and permanently impacted the First Australians.
There is no doubt that those early experiences resulted in inter-generational grief and trauma that still impacts our Aboriginal brothers and sisters to this day.
While a terrible part of our history, those years are as much a part of our national story as Waltzing Matilda, ANZAC Day and Ned Kelly.
A bit of “Truth Telling” or “Honesty”, is the best cure!
Fortunately, we have not been asked to accept personal responsibility for this part of our past, however, to truly go forward as one, we must accept that these things did happen and that they are now a source of profound regret.
We should also reflect on the fact that every one of us living in Australia today has, simply by our presence, benefitted massively from Aboriginal dispossession.
I now want to turn to the last of the characteristics the Australia Day Council asked us to embrace.
Today is a day to celebrate!
We are about to experience something immensely uplifting and totally positive – we are about to embrace 11 new members into our family!
Thank you for choosing Australia as your new home. You are truly welcome.
You are about to become citizens of one of the greatest nations on earth.
As I’m sure you appreciate, your citizenship delivers many blessings and some responsibilities.
Responsibilities to your new country and to your new family.
Right now our country is in exceptional need and we face extraordinary challenges.
One challenge is “environmental” and no part of our natural heritage is impacted more than our beloved and iconic River Murray.
As new members of the Australian family I encourage you to take your responsibility for our environment seriously.
In conclusion, may I suggest a simple road map for the future.
The song “I am Australian” was first sung by The Seekers in 1987.
I’m sure you recall the chorus.
“We are one, but we are many,
And from all the lands on earth we come,
We share a dream and sing with one voice.
I am, you are, we are Australian.”
Well, it is true!
We are one and we are many.
And we do come from all the lands on earth.
Today I invite you to share the dream and to sing with one voice.
Because, we are, all, very proudly, “Australian”
For more information about the Australia Day Ambassador program click here