Tuesday, 26 January 2021
The Headland, Barangaroo Reserve
Her Excellency the Honourable Margaret Beazley AC QC
I, too, pay my respects to Elders of the Gadigal of the Eora Nation, and all Indigenous Nations of New South Wales as we gather on the Headland at Barangaroo, for WugulOra - the first ceremony of the day, with song, dance and a smoking ceremony - a symbol of respect and of cleansing as we look to new beginnings. WugulOra tells us we are “one mob”.
Today’s ceremony has given me cause to reflect on why we have ceremony, why we have anthems, what they symbolise and, most particularly, the language that accompanies them.
Language, in all its forms, is the heartspace of a people: Language explains and records the stories, emotions, the aspirations and needs, the social connections and ways of living of a people. The law is stated in language, including the law which resides in the Dreamtime. Language, ultimately, is intimately related to the way we think and act.
Australia is, and has always been, a country of diverse languages, deriving from the many ancient nations of this land as well as from the many lands from which our peoples have come.
In all, over 300 languages are spoken in modern Australia, 60 of which are ancient languages of the original Australians, spoken every day by people throughout the country, revealing the deep layers of our continent and its peoples. Many more are being revived - and so they should be.
In Australia, in addition to our many languages, symbolism and commemoration are refracted through many lenses, reflecting our history and our diverse peoples.
The first Australians draw on 65,000 years of living history and knowledge, passed down through language, art, performance and songlines.
It is a history of adaptation: to seasons, to climate, to visitations from afar; of trade, diplomacy and social interaction.
Noel Pearson described this history as Australia’s ‘Iliad’ and ‘Odyssey’, the song cycles of central Australia as “Australia’s Book of Genesis”.
An anthem is also a symbol of who we are and who we want to be as a nation. To the extent that an anthem reflects a national conversation, it, too, can and should change and adapt, just as we have changed our anthem in the past and as we adapt it today in words that reflect who we are: a people who “are one and free.”
A mere change of words will not, of course, address all the issues, or of themselves, bring about equality of opportunity - and there is much to do.
However, reminding ourselves that an anthem is a symbol, and that language reflects our thoughts and enables our actions, that phrase “we are one and free” is a powerful one and will be one of the ways which will enable us all to walk together.
Just as we sing our national anthem with pride, let us also absorb the language and the meaning of today’s ceremony: WugulOra - “one mob”.
As “one mob”, we had all hoped that 2020 would see us in a different place as we recovered from drought, fires and floods. We had many, many brave people to thank last year - our firies and emergency services - and you remain at the forefront of our consciousness. We will always thank you.
But then the pandemic took over and, as we moved into 2021, has remained with us. I join with the voices of thanks to every single person here in New South Wales, and Australia-wide, who has helped contain the pandemic: to every essential worker who had borne the brunt of keeping us safe and keeping us going, thank you. To the whole community, let us make sure we look after each other. And, as Yvonne tells us, ‘let us walk together’.
That is the ‘mob’ we are, and certainly the “one mob” we want to be.
 Translation: “Good day, men, women and friends/comrades. Gadigal country”.
The Australian Policy Handbook: Althaus, Bridgman, Davis, 2018, p 15.
Songlines’ First Knowledges: The Power and Promise, pp 108, 185: Margo Neale and Lynne Kelly
 Noel Pearson, 'A Rightful Place: Race, Recognition and a More Complete Commonwealth': Quarterly Essay 55, 2014.