Address to AALD, New York

19 July 2012



19 JULY 2012



This Australian American Leadership Dialogue – 20 years old – and the collective passion and intellect in this hall, is part of a broader friendship between Australia and the United States.

I'm reminded of the footsteps we have walked in when I look at the roll of honour at the entrance of the University Club. A roll call of alumni who died in the south pacific in WW2 and at the western front as well. We have identical rolls of honour in Australia for our heroes who made the ultimate sacrifice alongside American comrades.

In World War I, the boys from the farms of Ohio and Illinois and Oklahoma were indistinguishable from those of the Darling and the Wimmera: the same energetic bravery; the same valid innocence; the same good manners with the parents of their sweethearts; the same love of poetry and football and athletic achievement; the same well-written letters and earnest stares captured immortally in sepia photos and; the same yearning for home.

The same tradition of Irish melody infected their folk songs and their country-and-western or “hillbilly” music. The same sorts of personalities came out of the coal mines in both countries.  Photos like those of Walker Evans in the Depression could have been taken in Australia.

The great unionists like John L Lewis had equivalents in Australia like William Spence and “Red Ted” Theodore. 

One of the great union figures in America, Harry Bridges, was an Australian.  FDR reminds us of John Curtin; Harry Truman of Ben Chifley. 

It was our war and America’s war, a war we shared, and we, the Australians, won the first land battle against Japan on the Kokoda Track.

General MacArthur ran the Pacific War from Melbourne.  His friendship with John Curtin was pivotal to victory in the South Pacific. 

An Australian rescued JFK in that war, changing world history. 

An Australian, Sir John Monash, arguably sped the end of World War I with his breakthrough of German lines in 1918, with combined American and Australian troops and changed world history.

Compare Sargeant York and Frank Partridge VC; the tradition continues today.

I remember flushing with pride on board the air control deck of USS John R Stennis, when Marine air pilots upon hearing my accent, said the last time they heard an Aussie was an Australian Special Forces voice guiding Marine pilots on their mission from the ground in the midst of the Taliban in Afghanistan.

But our friendship has been in peace as well as in war.

The pioneer animator and inventor of Felix the Cat - Pat Sullivan- was Australian, as was the great Hollywood director John Farrow, Mia Farrow’s father; Errol Flynn, Peter Finch, Mel Gibson, Russell Crowe, Cate Blanchett, Nicole Kidman, Geoffrey Rush, Hugh Jackman … you all know the list.

In Hollywood, Australians are well regarded by Americans as amongst the best and swiftest cameramen, and the actors who make the least fuss and arrive on the set knowing all their lines by heart.

Just as in both world wars Australians are known as the most reliable warriors alongside Americans, Australians are known in theatrical circles as the most professional equals to American home-grown talent.  Like the rest of Hollywood, Australians do not measure their greatness by how much they are forgiven for their tantrums and absences from the sound stage.  Australians turn up and do the work.

Our friendship shares the mutual trust of shared values.

We Australians welcomed our share of the poor, the huddled masses, striving to breathe free after World War II and like you, made them part of a great, free unanimity of purpose and variety of cultures and cuisines – Ukrainians, Maltese, Italians, Estonians, Greeks.  After 1956 Hungarians, Yugoslavs and South Americans.

Out of this rich recipe, one of the world’s great multi-cultures is made – Melbourne -  a city founded the same year as Chicago, with its great intellectual life, its great theatres and stand-up comics and radical politicians and painters and authors.  It is, of course, my home town.

More and more Americans live and work in Australia now – in our film festivals, arts bureaucracies, our financial institutions and mining towns.  Indeed the greatest number since the great World War 2 trans-Pacific families forged between Australians and Americans.

We are both countries of the new world, with convicts, and slavery, with similar gold rushes and occupy continental land masses, democratic politics, British connections, suburban aspirations, devastating depressions and shared overseas wars – except Grenada was over before we could help.

It would be wrong to call us siblings, but we are “kissing cousins.”

We have trod the same hard roads to uncertain prosperity, in always-challenging times; cherishing liberty and personal property, wanting our kids to do better, to have a better life than their parents, just as our parents wanted us to have a better life than they did.  We are DNA hard-wired hoping it will go well for them, praying it will go well.

The AALD renews our shared convictions. Tonight, in this place, we continue the long proud tradition.