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Michael O'Connell AM APM Aus Day 2022

"Thank you, Deputy Mayor Daryl Sparks, CEO Martin Borgas – Sarah who has played a key role in organising today, award recipients, their families and friends, all. I also pay my respects to Mayor Caroline Phillips who cannot join us today.


I acknowledge we meet on the country of the Ngarkat people. Hello (How are you)? It is good that you all came here. My name is Michael O’Connell. I am a non-Aboriginal person. I am an English-Australian person.

Most locals would know that the Ngarkat people were the first known occupiers of this region, including the Mallee scrub belt lying east of the Murray River. They were a nomadic people, who pitched camp in, for instance, mallee groves where they drew water from the mallee roots. In periods of severe drought, the Ngarkat withdrew to a place they called Ngaut Ngaut, which became known by the white settlers as Devon Rocks on the Murray River.

In local ‘Dreaming’ Ngaut Ngaut was a Being who is described in different forms. In a ‘Dreaming’ story Ngaut Ngaut was a woman who one-legged woman who stole children who wandered into the bush alone – not dissimilar to ‘stranger danger’ stories many parents still tell their children today. In another Dreaming story, Ngaut Ngaut was a giant-man who lived near a waterhole where Aboriginal peoples drew water to quench their thirst, and some say the giant-man was murdered. Interestingly, the waterhole associated with this story stopped providing fresh water after non-Aboriginal settlers drilled a bore nearby; after which the water in the hole became too salty to drink. Perhaps this event confirms the mythology on the killing of Ngaut Ngaut.

Today Ngaut Ngaut is the name given to a conservation park on the eastern bank of the Murray River in the neighbouring Mid Murray Council, which is co-managed by the Government of South Australia and the Nganguraku people.

When compared with other Aboriginal peoples, little is known about the Ngarkat because most the tribe, if not all, were deceased by the 1800s when non-Aboriginal people began settling in the region.

While reflecting on the history we share, some of you might also be 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 the actual occupation and enjoyment in their own persons or in the persons of their descendants of any land therein now actually occupied or enjoyed by [them]”. Alas, the South Australian Company authorities and squatters ignored that law. Fortunately, however, modern native title law has led to recognition of the original custodians of much of South Australia.

We have a shared history with these the original inhabitants, and steps towards reconciliation have given us chances for all Australians to learn about our shared history, cultures, and achievements.

Today, Australia Day, we are collected here at Karoonda meaning winter camp to remember and to celebrate. As an Australia Day Ambassador I am often asked what Australia Day means for me. I was not born here. I am, like many thousands of people from across the globe, an immigrant for whom Australia became home. My parents made the decision in the mid-1960s to migrate from England to Australia. They were faced with the prospect of having to leave Woolwich, near London, as my father’s employer was shifting its factory to a place near Cardiff in Wales. My mother apparently said that if we are to move countries, we should make it worthwhile, so to Australia we came – two adults, with six children, on a four prop aeroplane via the kangaroo route – London, Rome, Bombay, Singapore, Darwin, to arrive in Melbourne, where rain was pouring rather than bathed with the warm sun we believed would greet us. Next, we transferred to a TAA jet aeroplane for the final hop – Melbourne to Adelaide.

We arrived on the promise of a better life, and on reflection I certainly have lived that better life than that I would have likely led if we moved to Wales. My childhood in the north-east of Adelaide was wonderful. There were few houses, plenty of open space and from near farms my parents bought milk and eggs. There was also a piggery and horse stud, plus a then ‘country’ golf club.

Having undertaken primary schooling at a public school, my parents sent me to a private Catholic high school that was about 10 kilometres away. This seemed to me a tyranny of distance, yet daily children in rural parts of our state travel longer distances for school, and some are required to board.

It was during my teens that I decided to apply to be a teacher or a police officer, and as the offer to be a police officer came first, I entered the Police Academy in 1977. As the Deputy Mayor said, I served as a police officer for over twenty years before resigning to become our State’s first Victims of Crime Co-ordinator and later our State’s (and Australia’s) first Commissioner for Victims’ Rights.

So, against this backdrop, what does Australia Day mean for me? This morning I have committed my reply to an acrostic poem, which I will now share with you. An acrostic poem is one where the letter of each line spells out a word, name, or phrase when read vertically – my poem when read this way, spells Australia Day.


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, and triggering the search for a coronavirus vaccine ) OR E-TECHNOLOGIES (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). South Australia was the first place in the world to hold a commission of inquiry into victims of crime, it was the first Australian jurisdiction to promulgate a declaration on crime victims’ rights, and the first to appoint a Commissioner for Victims’ Rights.

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, paradoxically, 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. The police were also tasked with protecting our borders from the ‘east colonies’ convicts.

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 AS 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.

R (is also for) reflect on our shared past and respect for others’ stories, and as we do today to celebrate people’s contributions. Shortly the Deputy Mayor and I will present the awards for Community Event of the Year Presentation, Young Citizen of the Year Presentation, Citizenship of the Year Presentation, and Citizen of the Year.

A (is for) - ABILITY TO HELP THOSE WHO FALL VICTIM OF DISASTER, OF CRIME, OF MISFORTUNE OR OTHER THAT MIGHT CAUSE DISTRESS … And this 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 and the remarkable Kangaroo Island. As well as the Karoonda East Mallee region that is described an agricultural heart, which supports cropping and livestock; however, as those who made the heart found and those who keep it beating, this country and its climate can be challenging. Some have found it unforgiving, whereas others have persisted and found it forgiving. Karoonda is also known internationally as the place where in 1930 a meteorite fell to earth on the night of 25 November.

I (is for) - ISLAND, so we are islanders who identify with ideals like ‘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 and the devastating impact of ‘whitemans’ diseases on the Ngarkat people of this region.

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 – Anne, my gorgeous wife who has accompanied me today as she has done for four decades - 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 honour the oath you will make today.


Today we join them in reflecting and respecting what they have achieved. And today, we are invited with them to cry aloud – Ngayu juyu Australian Yagarrjin - I AM, WE ARE AUSTRALIAN!

Thank you. And as the Ngarrindjeri say, nakan – see you later.

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