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What it means to be an Australian and what Australia Day means to us all - Francene Connor, Australia Day Ambassador

Posted on March 24 2020

 Citizen of the Year Recipients for the District Council of Cleve with Francene Connor, Australia Day Ambassador

The following blog post was the Australia Day speech given by Francene Connor, Australia Day Ambassador on 26 January 2020 at the District Council of Cleve

Today I join you to reflect on what it means to be an Australian and what Australia Day means to us all. 

I begin by acknowledging the Barngarla people, the Traditional Owners of this land and I pay my respects to Elders past and present. 

As we gather to celebrate Australia Day, there is no question for me, that our nation’s story begins with the history of its Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples who have known this land for more than 65,000 years and are part of the oldest living culture on Earth. They were the first astronomers and even the first makers of bread. Rebecca Richards is a proud Barngarla and Adnyamathanha woman. You might know her, but did you know that she is also the first Aboriginal Rhodes Scholar and now works as a researcher at the South Australian Museum? 

Perhaps there is no better time than today for us to reflect on our combined history and on what we now know about the rich cultural practices and the deep knowledge and understanding of the environment that Aboriginal people have of this land that we all call ‘home’. 

Thank you to Mayor Phil Cameron; Council Chief Executive, Peter Arnold; and Lions President Warren Elson for their kind and generous welcome to your District; to Councillors; to Distinguished Guests; All. 

I am delighted to have been invited to Cleve. I am a passionate Australian, and I enjoy celebrating and sharing all the good things that we have achieved as a nation. 

I am one of more than 300 Australia Day Ambassadors across Australia who are adding our voices to The Story of Australia, in a program that began 30 years ago. You are one of 13 million people who will participate in some sort of celebration today – whether it be an event like this here today, or a BBQ with friends. 

I have been actively involved in my community all my life and ‘my community’ has gone with me, wherever I have lived. I think that is something that will resonate with those of you who have come to Cleve from nearby or from afar to be part of this community. You have come to build your future in this District. Regardless of the circumstances of our arrival, each of us aspires to live a secure, positive life, as decent Australians. We have it within ourselves to contribute to our country in a way that enriches the lives of those around us and those who need our help. 

And what about those fires?? We have certainly seen enormous contributions and sacrifices from across the nation during the past few months. In South Australia, we have seen the Cudlee Creek and Kangaroo Island bushfires wreak havoc on people’s lives and on the wildlife, homes, businesses, tourism and community facilities. Across Australia there have been fires, floods, hail, rain and dust storms – it’s hard to imagine anything worse happening. 

The public response has been overwhelming. We have cried a river of tears. We have raised millions of dollars. We will help rebuild. People will keep going, even after losing everything. But they haven’t lost the spirit that is at Australia’s core – the spirit of ‘never giving up’; of caring for others; of pitching in when help is needed; of ‘having a go’

Over my working life, I’ve had the chance to make a difference to people’s lives, and I’d like to share some of my experiences. My first full-time job was working in the Department of Agriculture in Adelaide – where I was fortunate to work with an amazing woman named Cecily Bungey, who ran the Women’s Agricultural Bureau and encouraged me in my career. I then worked for Treasury in Canberra until love brought me home to my husband, Robert – this year is our 50th year together!! 

Later my career took me the health sector where, as a young woman, I worked with the NHMRC’s ad hoc committee on venereal diseases!!! My time in consumer affairs was somewhat less challenging, but its moments included gathering evidence for a case against a company alleging that its massage lotion could stop stretch-marks in pregnant women. Ladies, it didn’t work!!! 

At Austrade I advised cut flower exporters and textile, clothing and footwear producers, among others. I made silk purses out of sow’s ears during my marketing role at Adelaide’s Bid for the 1998 Commonwealth Games and then joined the SA Tourism Commission team. One memorable job was to assist a film crew retrace the early life of travel writer: Eric Newby in his book: The Last Grain Race. His was a spellbinding account of the year 1938, when he was a young apprentice on the last of the four-rigged clipper ships that sailed from Ireland to Port Lincoln to take on a cargo of grain, before racing home to ‘win’ with their load. 

All of this prepared me for my role at the Royal Adelaide Show as Marketing Manager. Have you competed at the Show? I think it is the best in Australia. On my first day I was in Sydney, observing its Royal Show - it was larger in size but did not hold a candle to ‘our Show’. I worked with wonderful people who helped to bring the Show to life – our campaign was: ‘Miss it and you’ll have to wait a whole year’. I started the Show’s City Parade of sheep and other animals (aided by Leith Jenkins) and created a Show mascot: Banjo, the border collie. Banjo also helped the Country Shows Association to promote regional shows throughout the State. 

I was the first woman at the Show Society to hold an executive position and I made sure that my voice counted. My legacy? I hope there were many improvements, but the newest building: the Goyder Pavilion, has the largest toilet cubicles anywhere I know – take a look next time you are there! The toilets are big enough for a parent, a child, a stroller and showbags – and you can shut the door, too! 

During this time, I came to better appreciate what Australia has to offer as an agricultural and horticultural producer to the world. Our pioneering of dry-land farming has helped some of the poorest nations in Africa to produce more food. By sharing that knowledge, our nation is much the richer for it. I enjoyed visiting regional South Australia and sharing marketing ideas for their local shows. My tip: Try to excuse yourself if you are ever asked to judge the Miss Showgirl contest – it is a poisoned chalice! 

In four terms as an elected Member of the Adelaide City Council I gave a voice to those in need. I fought against the loss of some of our beautiful Park Lands and heritage buildings, as well as for better community services, especially for the homeless. I tried to make a difference – I hope I did. 

I know that many of you volunteer in this community. Whether it be at the CFS; working on new walking trails; or helping neighbours in need, you probably feel that you get back more from volunteering than you could possibly give. I volunteer at the Adelaide Festival, at Writers’ Week, and work and volunteer at the South Australian Museum. I love it – you should give it a try if you haven’t already. You will make lots of friends! 

I have loved volunteering and being a member of the SA Country Women’s Association. As Chair of its Marketing Committee, I helped to bring a fresh face to the 90-year-old institution that is part of the DNA of our nation. 

Every year the CWA raises much needed funds at its Pop-up Market and Country Cafe at the Royal Show. Those funds assist regional communities experiencing times of crisis, including during bushfires or floods, as well as in situations where domestic violence means some families need an extra helping hand. 

As Australians we take pride in being Australian. On Monday evening, I attended a Citizen of the Year Awards celebration at which some remarkable people were honoured. Many of them were migrants to this country. To hear their stories first-hand, and to hear what they are doing to give back to their communities across the State made a big impression on me. It made me realise that not only do our experiences define us, they also unite us. 

We acknowledge on Australia Day just how far we have come as a nation, how our diversity has become our strength, and how our past journeys have inspired our present and will shape our future. 

We celebrate unity in a divided world. We celebrate our democracy. We celebrate our freedom of opinion, our power to debate, to agree and disagree and we celebrate the Aussie ideal of a ‘Fair Go’. Australia Day is an opportunity to acknowledge and learn about our nation's past. 

I hope that we can see the coming together on Australia Day with a solemn reflection of the earliest indigenous beginnings followed by a celebration of our multicultural country as we know it today - with each element being given due recognition. 

The Australia Day Council of South Australia is committed to reconciliation and inclusiveness, we welcome debate and discussion about our national identity because it will strengthen our resolve as a nation for all of our people. 

Happy Australia Day everyone, enjoy your time today and my best wishes to you for the coming year. 

For more information about the Australia Day Ambassador program click here  

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