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Australia Day – is it really such a big deal? Should we celebrate it at all? - Bruce Mellett, Australia Day Ambassador

Posted on February 13 2019

Bruce Mellett, Australia Day Ambassador

The following blog post was the Australia Day speech given by Bruce Mellett, Australia Day Ambassador on 26 January 2019

Thankyou to Mayor Bim Lange and the Barossa Council for the invite to share this day with you.

I’d like to acknowledge the traditional owners of the land on which we gather today. 

Australia Day – is it really such a big deal? Should we celebrate it at all? Personally I say an emphatic YES!   Because I think a national day of celebration is a great anchor point – so that we can reflect and think about how truly privileged we are – where we are often more concerned about our profile on Facebook and why our latest friend request went unanswered than we are with the daily human survival against war, famine, disease, poverty or cruel regimes.

So what is this day –Australia Day - and why do we come together.  For some of you today it will be the generosity of your local council to provide the breakfast, for some it will be the superb cooking skills of the local service club, for some it will be a chance to meet friends and for many it will be to support and celebrate the amazing contributions to your community by selfless volunteers and individuals and we will hear from them a little later this morning. I suspect at a deeper level, for all of us….Australia Day is a mixture of emotions and feelings - from pride to gratefulness, from reflection to anticipation, that our shared history – yes Australian history - is so important to embrace and cherish and that history reaches back 60-70,000 years. Today is also a day to be so excited about our future dreams,  and the enormous potential we have as a world leader in so many facets from the arts, sport, science and innovation.. and through it all – our unique Australian humour and the art of the understatement shines through – this Summer, for example, has been a bit WARM!!

 I know this date is contentious for some and this controversy seems to grow by the year –but debate is healthy, embrace it and seek out all the opinions, do not sit back in our respective silos. As a young child growing up Australia Day had no meaning for me, it was a day thrown onto a weekend – for me Australia Day was synonymous as Holiday Monday. So I feel it is imperative that we have a national day when we can ALL come together to recognise all that it is so great about being Australian. A day when we can EACH and EVERY one of us, stand as one, proud to call this nation our home.

 So what of this 26th January - Some think today marks the arrival of the First Fleet in Australia, but that is incorrect, fake news  – they were already here on the 26th January 1788 – more specifically they were in NSW, because then our nation was then known as New Holland in the West and NSW in the east. Regardless, Capt Arthur Phillip and the convicts were too busy reading all the great Trip Advisor and Facebook posts about how good this place was they sailed straight past Sydney Harbour and landed in Port Botany on the 18th January – wow, they must have got a shock, instead of paradise they landed in a mossie infested swamp with no fresh water. So they applied for the NBN, were told to wait a few months until the next available service was connected and then consulted Google Maps on January the 26th and sailed back up the coast and landed at what is now Circular Quay between the Sydney Harbour Bridge and the Opera House. And so we mark the 26th of January, not as a political moment, perhaps not even an historical one – but more as a collective thank you from all of us to those from every corner of the globe who have made this country all it is right now. We are all immigrants to this country, from the First Australians to the latest arrivals!

It is said we are a young country, but that is not true – a young nation yes, but geographically we are one of the oldest places on earth, we are home to the oldest surviving civilisation on the planet – and that is both remarkable and well worth celebrating. Sadly we know more of our recent history than the past. We know more about other cultures and very little about those that started this great country. So much of the culture, language and knowledge of the First Australians has been lost. But the fact they are the oldest surviving culture on earth should be a sense of immense shared pride for each and every Australian!

The bottom line is we are all boat people, we are all immigrants to Australia. The First Australians knew it – they came in small canoes, island hopping 60-70,000 years ago and they saw, what we all see – what an amazing bountiful place this really is. And they did it all without GPS!! They posted relentlessly on Facebook, took selfies on Instagram but the network was down – yes, remarkably even back then NBN had issues - and it didn’t get fixed for another 60,000 plus years!! And when it was, wow didn’t the world catch on quick! The Dutch came first, then the Portuguese, then the English, French and wave after wave of migration has followed. The Migrants saw what the First Australians saw – a lucky country full of promise, of hope and opportunity,  of untold wealth in our land as well as in our shared culture and social fabric.

We are often called THE lucky country, and we are –  But I wonder how many here today can truly appreciate just how lucky we really are. Our own Governor Hieu Van Le fled the war in his home country of Vietnam as a refugee in the 70’s. He, his wife and 40 others risked their life crammed into a tiny boat to come to Australia. His is a story of remarkable courage but also speaks of the immense risk to come thousands of kilometres on the chance of a better life. He openly speaks of his luck in coming to Australia – but it is reciprocal – as much our luck for meeting him as his for finding us. For he has given back to Australia way more – and continues to do so.

We should be proud today – proud to be Australian and all that stands for, but let us not buy into the recent rise of nationalism. Recently the world stopped briefly to mark the 100th anniversary of the end of World War One. At a ceremony with world leaders to mark this, the French President Emmanuel Macron reflected that – Nationalism is the antithesis of pride and patriotism. Nationalism is corrosive, selfish, divisive and leads to the erosion of our national morals, ideals and values. Tragically, we have seen all too well the destructive force through two world wars of what nationalism can render.

So celebrate today, this Australia Day, not because we are lucky, not because we wear green and gold – yes we should applaud ALL our cultural, sporting and academic successes,  and we celebrate because we have woven such a rich fabric of diversity from all the peoples that have come here and that melting pot remains the envy of most other countries…. Australia is something very unique, a great melded society where there’s freedom, opportunity and potential. We have survived wars, depressions, droughts, floods and fires because of our strength and unity. We are stronger together, the sum of all our parts. Above all else today, this Australia Day, it is about the strong significance to the local community, your community here in the Barossa, where we all celebrate the achievements, the commitment and the bucket loads of generosity of people right here in this community that each and every day enhance and empower us. Because by making this, your community, richer and stronger you are also making Australia bigger, better, brighter. Happy Australia Day – enjoy and above all else reflect on what we have, where we want to be and where we have all come from – 70,000 years and counting!

 For more information about the Australia Day Ambassador program click here 


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