‘Here’s to Australia’
Our recent chapter started out as a faraway prison settlement, a Siberian prison camp, from which no exile returned; but it turned out better than that. It started out as where you went instead of the gallows if you were a thief or a poacher or a forger, or a highway robber, and you yearned lifelong for the family you left behind; but it turned out better than that.
It became by the 1820s a doorway to the second chance, where liberated convicts found new honest work, or farmed unyielding tracts of land, found husbands and wives, built houses, raised families, went fishing, learned to read, and for the first time in a hundred generations owned property and passed it on to their sons and daughters.
By the 1850s it was a pot of gold at rainbow’s end, to which from across the world adventurers came, to make a killing in Ballarat, and Bathurst, and Kalgoorlie, and build big boom towns in Melbourne.
By 1910 it had the highest living standard on earth, in spreading suburbs on commuter lines, and country towns with big backyards and local sporting heroes, impressive cathedrals, town halls, brass bands and cinemas.
By 1920 we were known as the best fighting men who ever gave their lives in the terrible wars of empire, and some of the best cricketers, and swimmers, and opera stars, cartoonists, inventors, raconteurs, ever to make their name overseas.
By 1967 we were at last a democracy, after leading the world in votes for women, according full civil rights to the Aboriginal peoples we had mostly treated shamefully in centuries of plunder and murder and dispossession.
By the year 2000 we were the envy of the world, at the best Olympic Games, on show in a city voted the best or the second best to live in on earth, and we didn’t have to go overseas any more to show what we could do, and be, and boast of.
By 2012, in times where many nations are in turmoil, or apprehension or crippling debt, we’re doing ok and we will see it through, if the luck, as it tends to, goes our way this time as it had before. And partly because we are innovative, passionate, hardworking and love our families.
We’ve got a number of big things right. We have a multiculture second to none on earth, vibrant and vigorous and proud, a mixture of tribes in great cities that excite and inform and enrich our politics, our music, our sporting prowess and cuisine. We have a responsive democracy that both speaks and hears, consults and heeds, adapts and alters its focus as time goes on and needs change. We have minimum wage, Medicare, superannuation, an aged pension and, sometime soon, a National Disability Insurance Scheme. We have a consultative workplace, a participative economy, a wide shareholder base of most our enterprise, and a chance, a good chance, to see things through the bad year ahead, and the year after that, and the Gallipoli centenary, in which, once more, we will reassess our adventure and measure ourselves against our ideals.
For many we are still the land of the second chance, where fugitives from catastrophe overseas come bruised and bereaved to a place of quiet and hope among sympathetic neighbours and a level of prosperity they have not seen before, where good schooling is free and university affordable and careers in the great professions imaginable; and a team to barrack for, and a rock band to play guitar in, a local swimming pool, a local congregation, a volunteer bushfire brigade, a surf life-saving club, a participative library where one may meet a wife and make a lifelong friend, are among the guaranteed civil rights, or just about, of a society still evolving, still finding its feet in an always changing world of seismic chase and ominous weather, a way of living, and being, that is neighbourly, decent of heart, and striving for justice and the fair go that still defines us, Australia.
Here’s to it.
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Speech: Brimbank Citizenship Ceremony, Australia Day, 26 January 2012
27 January 2012