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Michael O'Connell, Australia Day Ambassador: Australia Day Address 2019

Posted on March 21 2019

Michael O'Connell - Australia Day Ambassador
The following blog post was the Australia Day speech given by Michael O'Connell Australia Day Ambassador on 26 January 2019
I acknowledge we meet on the land of the Kaurna people. It is good that you all came here. Welcome (How are you?)' My name is Michael O’Connell. I am a non-Aboriginal person. I am an English-Australian person.

The area where we have - as the Kaurna people would say ‘taikurrendi’ - that is ‘come together’ - as well as that extending from the Adelaide Plains, along the coast to Rapid Bay features in Kaurna dreaming. Tjilbruke is the creation ancestor who lived as a mortal man entrusted with the law that governed the Kaurna land. Tjilbruke was deeply saddened after his nephew was killed as punishment for killing a female emu, which was contrary to the law. Tjilbruke carried his nephew’s body along the coast of that we call the Fleurieu Peninsula. As he did so, wherever he rested, his tears formed fresh water springs at places non-Aboriginal people call Hallett Cove, Port Noarlunga, Port Willunga, Sellicks Beach and near Wirrina Cove. Tjilbruke eventually laid his nephew’s body to rest in Ngarrindjeri country near the place we call Cape Jervis. Tjilbruke’s coastal journey while grieving is the Tjilbruke Dreaming Tracks.
Perhaps many of you are also unaware that unlike the rest of Australia, South Australia was not considered to be terra nullius, that is nobody’s land. Rather, the British law that enabled the province of South Australia to be established, acknowledged Aboriginal ownership of the land, including that on which we stand. The British law also acknowledged the rights of any Aboriginal people to occupy and enjoy their land. Alas, the South Australian Company authorities and squatters ignored that law. Fortunately, however, modern native title law has led to recognition at least of the Kaurna people as the original custodians of the Adelaide plains and surrounding country.
We have a shared history with the Kaurna people and other first Australians who were the original inhabitants of this country. Disgracefully too many versions of our history disregard the dreaming and the plight of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples. Reconciliation gives us chances for all Australians to learn about our shared history, cultures and achievements.

Today, one might ask why are ‘we are collected here – a place where the Kaurna people used to meet the Ramindjeri people’? The simple answer is for Australia Day but what does the day mean. That is the question I have been asked several times as an Australia Day Ambassador and as someone the people of Australia honoured by bestowing on me an AM (that is, a Member of the Order of Australia). Last year I committed my reply to an acrostic poem through which I was able to express personally my ‘true meaning’ of Australia Day. This morning I share a version of the poem with you:

A (is for) - ADMIRATION FOR THAT ACHIEVED -  in technology: whether that be the humble boomerang, woomera, lifesaving medicines and treatments (for example, penicillin that has saved countless lives and artificial skin that has significantly improved the lives of many burns victims) or e-technologies O (such as wi-fi). In addition to these, there are the advances in social policy such as:  allowing women to vote and to sit in parliament (and this year marks the 125th anniversary of that reform in our state); introducing victims’ rights and victim assistance programmes (to which I add that you might not be aware that Australia played a lead role in crafting the United Nations Declaration of Basic Principles of Justice for Victims of Crime and Abuse of Power); and, recently, equity in marriage law.

U (is for) - UNUSUAL FLORA AND FAUNA - For instance, the bright yellow flower and brilliant green of the wattle (which are colours we identify with our men and women cricketers, men and women soccer players, men and women rugby players, men and women basketball players, women netball players and other sports people); and, a wholesome vegetation that sustained the Indigenous peoples for thousands of years that many of us only discovered in recent decades. Australia is also the home to the majority of the world’s marsupials, which include the wombat, the koala, the kangaroo, the wallaby, the echidna and the platypus.

S (is for) - SEA As we sing in our National Anthem - Australia is girt by sea  or as the Northern Territory Aboriginal people say, ‘CUDDLED BY SEA’ that brushes gorgeous beaches – Normanville and nearby Carrickalinga are prime examples – but also crashes against stunning cliffs. Sea that has wrecked many a ship full of people desperate to reach our shores. Many of these people might have chosen other countries, yet they did not. Instead, they sought (and some still do) a better life with us.

T (is for) - TRANSPORTED After-which many were given a chance to make a new life and some seized it. Such chance was also offered to the emancipists who settled in our state – a planned utopia, rather than a penal colony. Yet, South Australia was the first colony to have a state-wide police force to deal with, among other problems, the rowdy and unruly ‘drunkards’ on the streets of Adelaide. We owe our gratitude to those willing to take a chance – for some it might have been a ‘carpe diem’ moment but for others it was a genuine aspiration for a ‘new world’. Shortly, we will welcome by citizenship people who also want a chance to share this land with us.

R (is for) - RACE and ETHNICITY Australia today is enriched by its diversity.  A striking feature of Australia’s population is the large number of immigrants who have settled since world war II. About one in every four persons is either a first- or second-generation settler. My life as a migrant and my family’s lives are evidence of this reality.

A (is for) - ABILITY TO HELP THOSE WHO FALL VICTIM OF DISASTER, OF CRIME, OF MISFORTUNE OR OTHER THAT MIGHT CAUSE DISTRESS Joint Australians of the Year, Richard Harris and Craig Challen vividly and courageously showed this admiral character when, as central members of a team, they rescued the stranded young soccer players in Thailand … This want to help has thankfully prevailed albeit tested by an undercurrent of conservatism and me-ism. Australians in the main are respectful, compassionate, and openly and willingly treat people with dignity – although this might not be evident in Ozzi-isms. I urge you to welcome those who become Australians today, here and everywhere.

L (is for) - LOVELY LANDSCAPES The beauty of the Flinders Ranges, the harshness of the Simpson Desert, the wonder of Uluru and the glory of Kakadu as well as the ‘winter wonderland’ of the snowfields. The McLaren Vale and other great wine districts in our state as well as the rolling hills and pristine valleys of the Fleurieu Peninsula, on which early settlers mustered sheep, grew potatoes and wheat, and set-up dairies. Further south is the remarkable Kangaroo Island while to the north is our state capital, Adelaide, that is one of the most liveable places in the world.

I (is for) – ISLAND We are islanders who identify with ideals like the rule of law, liberty, honesty, and ‘the fair go’ but alas these do not always translate into realities. We struggle still with our shared history – especially the horrors of colonisation of the Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples. On the world stage, however, we have endeavoured to be good global citizens voicing our abhorrence for violence against women and children as well as facilitating international justice by, for instance, helping to establish the International Criminal Court to try those who perpetrate crimes against humanity.

A (is for)- ALTOGETHER We should acknowledge our past, our present and forge a future we can share. We can no longer ignore our history, for instance, the injustices inflicted on the Kaurna people of the Adelaide Plains, the conquest of the neighbouring Ngarrindjeri of the lower lakes of the Murray and the Ramindjeri of the southern Fleurieu, and the devastating impact of ‘whitemans’ diseases on the Peramangk people of the Adelaide Hills7. There is still much hurt to be addressed and much healing to be done. Together, however, we can forge a future grounded on fairness, equality, equity, tolerance and justice. A future that emphasises all we share but also acknowledges our differences.

D (is for) - DELIGHTED TO BE AN AUSTRALIAN Delighted from the moment I stepped from an aeroplane as one of six children with our 10-pound pom parents. Delighted to be called a mate. Delighted to have married an Australian, to have to Australian daughters, a son-in-law of indigenous decent and another born to an Italian father and a Brazilian mother, and delighted that of all nationalities in the world, my grandchildren are Australian.

A (is for) – AUSTRALIA, which is the largest island and the smallest continent. It is also the largest continent occupied by one nation and the least populated. Its people accepted me, and I am proud to say I am Australian. For those who seek to be Australian, you too are very welcome, but please, please honour the oath you will make today.

Y (is for) - YOU … THE PEOPLE GATHERED HERE AND IN PARTICULAR TODAY THE PEOPLE WHO HAVE CHOSEN TO BECOME AUSTRALIAN The candidates for citizenship among us. From today you will be entitled to cry aloud – Ngayu juyu Australian Yagarrjin - I AM, WE ARE AUSTRALIAN!

Thank you. And as the Ngarrindjeri say, nakan – see you later.
 For more information about the Australia Day Ambassador program click here 


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