WugulOra Morning Ceremony
Wednesday, 26 January 2022
Her Excellency the Honourable Margaret Beazley AC QC
Diyn Babana, Gamarada Gadigal Ngura
Thank you, Yvonne, for your Welcome to Country. I acknowledge Traditional Owners and pay my respects to Elders past, present and emerging of the First Nations of our State.
Premier, Ministers, to all here this morning at WugulOra, performing, participating, watching, experiencing, learning -
WugulOra means “One Mob”, an expression which signifies that happy lack of formality which characterises our nation. The last few years have been more challenging than happy, although there have been a few highlights: Scottie Boland’s 6 wickets for 7 runs probably being a standout, although I lost money on picking him as player of the series.
These past difficult years have brought forth many phrases, emphasising that we do things as “one mob”, phrases such as:
- We are all in this together
- Together, we will make it through.
But for many, the elderly, peoples who have more recently made Australia home, and for many First Nations people across New South Wales, WugulOra – a sense of one mob was not a universal experience. Sadly, history tells us that such differential experiences have too often been part of our story.
From 1833, North Head, called Car-rang gel by the local Indigenous people, a significant place for teaching and ceremonial practice, was a Quarantine Station. By the time it closed in 1977, over 13,000 people had isolated there, as infectious diseases including the Spanish Flu wreaked their havoc.
However, the most tragic disease to hit the Sydney area was the 1789 smallpox epidemic. Up to 7 out of 10 First Nations people died. It was a massive blow for local communities, impacting their social structure in ways from which it never really recovered.
Today, the pandemic we are experiencing provides an occasion to reflect on what COVID has taught us about ourselves and the spirit of WugulOra.
It is a mixed picture.
The early rushes on supermarket supplies, including by city visitors to country towns was not particularly edifying behaviour. There were the early difficulties in communication, especially in culturally diverse communities. There was fear. There were the responses in trying to get it right.
In September last year, my office received a distressed call from a grandmother we had met in Wilcannia. “What do we do? How can we isolate? We need help!”
The community certainly needed help. It should have arrived earlier, but help did come: from local and extended family communities, from health workers, the defence services, the Royal Flying Doctor Service, the Principal and teachers at Wilcannia Central School, who spent 10 hours one Saturday packing food boxes.
This is what we mean by ‘One Mob’, but it is a reminder that communities too often can be left behind.
There are many other stories. Some get media attention. Some don’t. One important initiative was the work of the Department of Justice which helped find temporary accommodation for 4,350 rough sleepers.
St Vincent’s set up a street vaccination hub down in Woolloomooloo for homeless and disadvantaged people. There were real estate agents who delivered care packages to troubled tenants.
Throughout it all, our health care and other frontline workers have served the community tirelessly and selflessly.
These are the stories of the true spirit of WugulOra.
In the Sydney language, the words of our National Anthem “Advance Australia Fair” translate as “Yirribana Australiagal” – “This way Australians”.
So, I will finish with those words: “Yirribana Australiagal” - Let us learn from these difficult years, celebrate the good and walk this path together as WugulOra.
 North Head First Nations Consultation Report: https://haveyoursay.awe.gov.au/north-head-sanctuary-draft-concept
 Department of Agriculture, Water and the Environment – North Head Summary Statement of Significance: http://www.environment.gov.au/cgi-bin/ahdb/search.pl?mode=place_detail;place_id=105759
 National Museum of Australia: https://www.nma.gov.au/defining-moments/resources/smallpox-epidemic